Unknown Soldier (DC Comics)
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|First appearance||Our Army At War #168 (June 1966)|
|Created by||Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert|
|Team affiliations||U.S. Army
|Abilities||Weapons expert, master of disguise, and expert combatant.|
The Unknown Soldier's first appearance in Our Army At War #168 was in a Sgt. Rock story, "I Knew The Unknown Soldier!", written by Kanigher and drawn by Kubert. Kubert, who also edited the DC Comics line of war comics at the time, decided that the character was interesting enough to be featured in his own series, which began some years later in Star Spangled War Stories, running from #151 (June–July 1970) to #204 (February 1977). Eventually, Star Spangled War Comics began featuring the Soldier exclusively. With #205 (May 1977), the book changed its title to The Unknown Soldier, continuing the numbering and running for another 64 issues, ending with #268 (October 1982).
The series originally takes place during World War II, and focuses on the missions of a United States intelligence agent code-named "The Unknown Soldier," whose head and face are so severely disfigured that he typically has it completely wrapped in heavy bandages. Despite this, he is a master of disguise who can assume the identity of almost any man using latex masks and make-up. However, his disguises occasionally itch where they meet the scar tissue of his face, forcing him to be conscious not to give himself away by scratching. He is also prone to loss of temper at enemy atrocities and has been seen to blow his cover in this manner.
The character is named after The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia (which occasionally makes appearances in the series). The character of the Unknown Soldier is symbolic of the nameless soldiers that have fought throughout America's wars; as stated in his first featured story "They Came From Shangri-La!" (Star Spangled War Stories #151, June–July 1970), he is the "man who no one knows — but — is known by everyone!" Another nickname for the character used in the series is "The Immortal G.I."
Other writers contributing stories to the original run included Bob Haney, Frank Robbins, Archie Goodwin and David Michelinie. Artists also included Dick Ayers, Doug Wildey, Dan Spiegle, Jack Sparling and Gerry Talaoc. Backup features included "Enemy Ace" by Robert Kanigher and John Severin, and "Captain Fear" by David Michelinie and Walt Simonson.
The second series, also titled The Unknown Soldier, was a twelve-issue limited series published in 1988 and 1989, written by Jim Owsley and drawn by Phil Gascoine. It was a top vote getter for the Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Award for Favorite Limited Series for 1988. However, its depiction of the Soldier is radically different from the original comics, with the Soldier being literally immortal and more cynical about the United States than the patriotic character of the original series. As a result, its place in "official" continuity is unclear.
In 1997 Garth Ennis wrote Unknown Soldier, a four-issue mini-series under the Vertigo imprint, featuring art by Kilian Plunkett. A much darker portrayal of the Soldier, the story is about a CIA agent tracing the post-war activities of the Soldier and the Soldier searching for a replacement for himself. This story appeared to ignore the 1988–89 mini-series, and was collected into a trade paperback in 1998.
A "DC Showcase" black and white trade paperback collection, The Unknown Soldier Volume One, reprinting stories between 1970 and 1975, was published in 2006.
A new Unknown Soldier series from Vertigo, set in Uganda, was written by Joshua Dysart, with art by Alberto Ponticelli. It began publication in October 2008. In 2009 this run was nominated for an Eisner for "Best New Series of the Year".
Fictional character biography
In Star Spangled War Stories #153, a soldier named Eddie Ray is introduced. His Serial Number is 32891681 which can be read on pages 5–6. Although he is not confirmed as the identity of the Unknown Soldier, it is strongly hinted at because his face is never shown. Another possibility is that the identity of the unknown soldier refers to the reader; because none of the characters know the name of who is reading the comic except that person himself. The origin story in Star Spangled War Stories #154 (December–January 1970 – 1971) reveals that the Unknown Soldier is an unnamed young man who joins the United States Army together with his brother Harry less than two months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Assigned to the Philippines when the Pacific War breaks out, he and Harry are present when the Japanese sweep across the islands. In their foxhole, Harry tells his brother not to lose hope even though they are outnumbered, because "one guy can affect the outcome of a whole war! One guy in the right place... at the right time..."
The two are fighting off wave after wave of invading Japanese soldiers when a hand grenade lands near their foxhole. Harry throws himself on the grenade and is killed instantly, but the explosion also injures the unnamed soldier's face. In a rage, the soldier defeats the remaining Japanese single-handedly, but his face has been obliterated by the grenade and doctors are unable to restore it. Turning down a Medal of Honor for his actions, the soldier instead volunteers to be that "one man in the right place" that Harry spoke of. His previous identity is erased and he undergoes intensive training to become an intelligence operative code-named "The Unknown Soldier".
The series does not take place linearly, but has individual stories scattered throughout all the years of the war and in various theaters. Over the course of the series, the Unknown Soldier also builds up a supporting cast, including Sergeant Chat Noir, an African American soldier and former French Resistance leader whom the Soldier first encounters a few days prior to D-Day. The Soldier also occasionally uses the services of an informant known only as Sparrow, who works behind enemy lines.
The last issue of the first series, The Unknown Soldier #268, "A Farewell to War" relates how during the Battle of Berlin, the Unknown Soldier is sent on a mission to stop a Nazi super-weapon, vampiric octopi called "Nosferatu". During the course of the story both Sparrow and Chat Noir are killed. On April 29, 1945, the Soldier infiltrates Adolf Hitler's bunker, killing him and assuming the dictator's identity to call off the weapon's deployment. He then makes Hitler's death look like a suicide so people will assume Hitler took the coward's way out. As the Soldier makes his way to the Allied lines, he saves the life of a civilian girl from a bomb blast, apparently being killed himself. However, the last panel, taking place on May 7, 1945 after the city's surrender, shows an American staff sergeant scratching his face in the Soldier's distinctive manner, suggesting that he survived.
In DC Comics Presents #42 (February 1982), "The Specter of War!", Superman's alter-ego Clark Kent receives a mysterious note from an unidentified soldier that leads him to uncover a plan by a renegade Army officer to cause a nuclear holocaust. Throughout, Superman is assisted at key moments by the mysterious soldier, whom he later believes could be the legendary immortal G.I. However, it is left ambiguous if the Unknown Soldier is still alive or a ghost. At the end of the story, Kent visits the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, while a gardener in the background is seen scratching his face as the Soldier used to do.
In Swamp Thing #82 (January 1989), "Brothers In Arms Part Two", it is revealed that the Soldier did survive World War II, but his continued existence is kept top secret, having been officially declared dead by his superiors.
During the Blackest Night event, the Soldier is depicted as one of the Black Lanterns, attacking his tomb in Washington proclaiming "I have a name." The Unknown Soldier appears in the Arlington National Cemetery, alongside the Black Lantern Maxwell Lord, and is attacked by Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman uses her Lasso to reduce Unknown Soldier, Max, and the soldiers to dust. However, as she leaves, the dust begins to regenerate.
In the backup story "Snapshot: Remembrance" in the retrospective mini-series DC Universe: Legacies #4, set during a reunion on July 4, 1976, it is implied that the Soldier did survive the war, when the bartender at the reunion vanishes leaving behind a mask. The other attendees are Jeb Stuart of the Haunted Tank, the Losers, Gravedigger and Mademoiselle Marie.
The Second Unknown Soldier
Unknown Soldier was re-imagined by writer Joshua Dysart in 2008, under DC's Vertigo imprint. This new version moves the story to Africa, set against the backdrop of the ongoing Lord's Resistance Army insurgency of Uganda in 2002. The series features artwork by Alberto Ponticelli, Pat Masioni, Oscar Celestini, José Villarrubia, Dave Johnson; and lettering by Clem Robins.
Fictional character biography
Dr. Moses Lwanga is a philanthropic-minded doctor. Born in Uganda, his family fled to the United States when he was a child, escaping the rule of Idi Amin. A born pacifist, Moses excelled academically in America, eventually becoming a medical doctor. In 2000, Moses returned to Uganda to work with the disadvantaged people of his native land. There, he met his wife, Sera, a Christian doctor from the Ganda people. Moses and Sera work together to help the Acholi people of Northern Uganda, refugees caught in the middle of the Lord's Resistance Army insurgency in Acholiland. During the conclusion of the series, it is revealed that Moses Lwanga is in fact a replacement for the original Unknown Soldier, who tells him that the Unknown Soldier is more than just a figure, he is the very face of violence and conflict who must throw out morality and conscience in favor of becoming a force more than human to fight because war is an eternal reality.
Moses is constantly haunted by dreams of him killing the people around him easily and brutally, including his wife. Disturbed by these nightmares, the violence surrounding the field hospital and his treatment of various injuries caused by the fighting strip away his deteriorating moral compass. As the series progresses, Moses continues struggling to do what is right, his two personalities constantly battling. While he wants to do good and protect the innocent from those who would seek to exploit and harm them, he cannot repress his violent thoughts upon seeing how low mankind can sink.
In a flashback, it is revealed that the persona of Dr. Moses Lwanga is a fabrication resulting from an unknown psychological experiment overseen by the original Unknown Soldier. The man who would assume the identity of Moses Lwanga is a Ugandan-American man who came to the United States at the age of six, orphaned at thirteen, raised in foster care, and later served in the military to avoid prison. "Lwanga" is shown speaking with the original Unknown Soldier in a secret government facility. The Unknown Soldier tells "Lwanga" his story, detailing his exploits as a black operations operative for over a fifty-year period. He goes on to tell "Lwanga" that there have been numerous psychological experiments conducted in order to recreate the perfect soldier but that none of them have been successful; all of the candidates went insane. He tells "Lwanga" that instead of creating another operative whose sole purpose is to fight, he wishes to do the opposite; take a man who has known conflict for most of his life and make him an instrument of peace. He will not be a sleeper agent waiting to strike when ordered, he will be a man dedicated to doing good for the rest of his life. "Lwanga" agrees and the process succeeds.
In the final issue, Lwanga infiltrates the camp of Joseph Kony, intending to kill him once and for all. He manages to plant his knife in Kony's eye, killing him, and all his subordinates and wives celebrate at his demise. Sera appears, telling Lwanga that no matter who he is, she always loved him, and the two embrace; however, this pleasant vision is a dream, and it is shown that Moses has actually been killed, shot in the head by a child soldier, a smile on his face from his dream. In a symbolic conclusion of his morality arc, it turns out that he didn't kill a single person in Kony's camp, instead skillfully incapacitating and confusing its garrison of child soldiers, charging ahead in an ultimate pacifist bliss. Afterwards, Sera remarries to a Muslim journalist several years later, the two have several children and live as a family. The story then cuts to Tumbura, Sudan in 2010, where several child soldiers are gearing up for combat. One of the children wraps his face in bandages like the Unknown Soldier.
The series started in October 2008, and was planned as an ongoing series. However, as of May 22, 2010, the series is being canceled due to lack of readers. The series is scheduled to run another five issues, which will bring the series to end at 25 issues, spanning a run of two years. Joshua Dysart had this to say on the cancellation: "The gig is, literally, up. Since Rich Johnson posted the news yesterday that Unknown Soldier will end with #25 I've been swamped with... loving emails from readers. The outpouring of affection and praise has been amazing. Thank you. The book may not have moved "enough" of... You to keep it alive, but it moved enough of you for me. Thank you. I promise the book will end in an awesome, natural way and that when... read in trades, will feel like it was always meant to conclude this way. I've been preparing for this cancellation for a while and have... had plenty of time to sing it out right. I actually really, really like the way the series is going to end and feel like it should end... This way. Keep reading! Five more issues!"
The series has been collected into a number of trade paperbacks:
- Haunted House collects issues #1-6; released: August 2009
- Easy Kill collects issues #7-14; released: March 17, 2010
- Dry Season collects issues #15-20; released: November 11, 2010
- Beautiful World collects issues #21-25; released: May 25, 2011
The Third Unknown Soldier
The New 52
The character has appeared in The New 52 comic GI Combat written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti where he is in Afghanistan and is fighting for the Americans. After the cancellation of GI Combat in 2012, The Unknown Soldier appeared in the Suicide Squad, brought in by Amanda Waller to be a new team leader.
- The Unknown Soldier (1966) at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on September 2, 2015.
- McAvennie, Michael; Dolan, Hannah, ed. (2010). "1970s". DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle. Dorling Kindersley. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-7566-6742-9.
Writer Bob Haney and artist Dick Ayers had no intention of terminating the Unknown Soldier...allowing DC to rename the [Star Spangled War Stories] series after the [character], starting with issue #205.
- Exclusive Preview: Vertigo's Unknown Soldier #1, Newsarama, July 17, 2008
- McLean, Matthew. Out of Africa: Joshua Dysart on Greendale and Unknown Soldier, Vertigo Spotlight, Comics Bulletin, August 2, 2008
- Blackest Night #3
- Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #1
- DC Universe: Legacies #4 (October 2010)