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It's been a while. How about we crank up the paper time machine and take a little trip back in time for a Longbox Junk Retro Review? Ready?
And here we are. . .1966! Watch your step when exiting the cabin.
We've come to the sixties to take a look at the single issue Gold Key put out featuring a character called G-8 and his sidekicks, The Battle Aces. I bought this comic as part of an auction lot several years ago and have absolutely no idea who G-8 is. . .but part of the fun of doing these Longbox Junk Retro Reviews is being able to educate myself a little bit through these older comics in my collection, and then passing that along. So bear with me for a moment.
A bit of research shows me that G-8 is a character hailing from the pulp fiction era, with 110 (!) books featuring the character written by Robert J. Hogan between 1933 and 1944. . .meaning he wrote a full book roughly every month for ten years straight! I can barely manage to get a blog post out every week, so I stand and give the man a round of well-deserved applause!
G-8 himself is an American adventurer, spy, and aviator operating in the thick of World War I. There's not much representation of WWI in comics. . .the only thing that jumps to mind are the "Enemy Ace" stories. . .so the setting is definitely an interesting choice.
G-8 seems to have been fairly popular, but without the staying power of pop culture stalwarts such as The Shadow, Green Hornet, Tarzan, Zorro, and The Lone Ranger. . .characters also hailing from the same period. I'd say he's more on the level of a Doc Savage, The Spider, or The Avenger. . .pulp fiction characters that were very popular in their time, but faded from view as the years went by.
One of the interesting things about G-8 is that through all the stories written about him, his true identity was never revealed! He was always just G-8. I'm not sure if there's any other character that I know of that can claim the same thing. So I give a nod of appreciation toward Robert J. Hogan for keeping the mystery going for so long.
I'm not sure exactly WHY this comic exists. It seems a bit of a strange bird. It doesn't adapt any of the published G-8 stories, and even though it was written 20 years after the last G-8 novel, it seems to assume that the reader knows everything about the character already.
That tone of assumption is sort of interesting and makes me wonder where the demand for this story came from. It doesn't look like any of the original stories were reprinted until the 1970's, when Doc Savage reprints started fueling a resurgence of interest in pulp fiction, so it's a bit of a mystery to me how this obscure character was even in mind for a comic book. Maybe someone on the editorial staff was a fan of the G-8 stories when they were younger.
ANYWAY. . .
Enough of that. Let's take a look at this comic and see what's going on.
G-8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES
GOLD KEY (1966)
G-8 AND THE SECRET WEAPON
SCRIPT: Leo Dorfman
PENCILS: George Evans
INKS: Mike Peppe
COVER: ??? (George Wilson)
There's no information out there on who painted this cover, but I'm going to hazard a guess of prolific Gold Key artist George Wilson, based on the resemblance of the main character to Wilson's version of Tarzan (and Korak, Son of Tarzan). Wilson was also sort of fond of using dark orange as a background color. So I'm fairly confident in my guess on this. It's not exactly a burning question demanding an answer, but feel free to correct me if you have information otherwise.
MOVING ALONG. . .
The cover itself is a glorious example of Gold Key's trademark painted covers. I love the orange background, and the explosions are EPIC! This is a cover packed full of motion and action brought to life by the painter. It's not my favorite Gold Key cover (I'd say the King Kong one-shot from 1968 is my favorite I've seen so far), but it's definitely a great piece of eye-catching art. Let's get inside and see what this is all about!
We begin our tale during World War I, deep behind the German lines, as G-8 parachutes through the darkness after his plane is shot from the sky. . .
Disguising himself as a woodcutter, G-8 makes his way to the German field headquarters at Feldhausen. His mission: to gain solid information regarding rumors of a massive German offensive.
Once inside the base, G-8 trails a German Lieutenant he overhears saying that he works in the planning department. At the Lieutenant's house, G-8 knocks him out and then skillfully disguises himself as the German.
The next morning, G-8, in disguise, goes to the planning department. He quickly discovers that he's too late and the plans for the offensive are already being delivered to the front lines!
G-8 quickly pursues the German messengers in a stolen car. He runs them off the road and steals the secret battle plans. As he reviews them at a nearby inn, G-8 is baffled by a missing piece of information. The plans call for a massive attack carried out by dozens of units. They are to strike after something first occurs. . .but that something is not described.
After making copies, G-8 heads to the front lines to deliver the plans to their original destination, to avoid suspicion. While he is there, the allies attack. G-8 uses the artillery fire as a distraction so that he can leave the German trenches and make his way across the dangerous stretch of no man's land in order to deliver the battle plans to the allied command.
Once across friendly lines, G-8 returns to his home base at Le Bourget Airfield, where he is reunited with his "Battle Aces" comrades. . .wingmen Nippy and Bull, and his manservant, Battle. Reporting to Chief of Staff General Frazier, G-8 discusses the stolen battle plans and his concern over the missing information.
Over G-8's protests, General Frazier decides to attack before dawn on the day of the planned German offensive, hoping to take them by surprise. He orders G-8 and his men to take part in the attack.
The next morning, G-8 receives a frantic message from General Frazier. It seems that G-8's fears of the missing information being part of some sort of German secret weapon have come true. The allies are under attack and being decimated by an unknown force!
G-8 and his wingmen rush to the scene to find the allies in disarray as German forces move in to take over their abandoned positions. G-8, Nippy, and Bull dive in on the attack!
A fierce battle against German fighter planes leads to G-8 being shot down over no man's land. After making his way back to friendly lines, G-8 visits the field hospital in search of information about the attack.
He discovers from terrified survivors that the weapon threw off showers of sparks and made a weird howling sound before massive explosions caused panic along the allied forces.
Wanting to learn more about the strange German weapon, G-8 once again disguises himself as a German soldier and infiltrates the units at the abandoned allied positions. While there, he discovers a clue. . .a piece of metal in a bomb crater marked with the name of a manufacturing plant in the town of Steussel, behind enemy lines.
After evading suspicious German officers and killing a guard, G-8 escapes the German trenches and begins making his way toward Steussel to investigate the new information.
Once at Steussel, G-8 infiltrates the Rouse factory and witnesses trucks being loaded with crates of tiny aircraft engines. Not sure what to make of it, he dodges guards and goes deeper. . .not realizing that the front lines have called the German Intelligence Director about a possible saboteur who killed a soldier on the front line and that might be headed toward Steussel.
IN THE MEANTIME. . .
G-8's companions, Nippy and Bull are flying patrol when they spot a German Fokker. After shooting it down, the dying pilot deliriously mumbles directions. Nippy and Bull quickly realize that they have just been given the information that G-8 is risking his life behind enemy lines trying to gain. . .the location of the German secret weapon!
Back at Stuessel, G-8 has taken over a truck, disguised himself as the driver, and is following a convoy of vehicles that he believes is heading for the location of the German secret weapon.
Overhead, Nippy and Bull, flying a captured German plane that had been stored at their airfield, are headed toward the same destination.
As G-8 follows the convoy, they arrive at a hidden mountain valley with a base carved into the cliffs. G-8 finally spots the German secret weapon. . .a gigantic zeppelin, but also having the wings of a heavier than air craft, all done up to look like a huge eagle!
As G-8 investigates the huge hangar containing the hybrid zeppelin bomber, he discovers that the miniature engines are being fitted onto bombs to make a kind of guided missile. He also discovers his wingman Nippy in disguise as a German officer.
Nippy leads G-8 to where he and Bull have hidden their captured German plane and the three of them form a plan. . .attack with the German plane and drop down onto the zeppelin during the confusion and take it over, then use it and the guided bombs to attack the German front lines after destroying the base.
The plan to capture the hybrid zeppelin and destroy the hidden base goes as planned, with the bomber raining complete destruction down on the Germans, but before they can turn the weapon on to the front lines, a stray shot ignites the hydrogen gas.
Nippy and Bull manage to escape before the gigantic bomber explodes. Afterward, as they survey the wreckage and consider the devastating guided bombs, G-8 knows that the Germans aren't done with their diabolical schemes, and this is just the beginning.
Hmmmm. . .okay. Not bad. Not great, mind you, but not too bad.
What we have here is a decent little war story that remains very readable even 55 years later and me coming in with very little information on the main characters (just what was in a Wikipedia article).
G-8 is an interesting character that reads like a WWI James Bond as he dons disguises, infiltrates the enemy, and makes narrow escapes by using misdirection and his own considerable wit. Throw in some aerial combat in rickety WWI biplanes and you have a pretty exciting war story in an interesting setting.
Unfortunately, no comic is perfect and this comic is no exception.
While the main meat of the story is good, there are a couple of elements that fall flat. The objective of G-8's efforts. . .the German secret weapon. . .is the worst offender. There doesn't seem to be a clear reason as to why their gigantic hybrid airplane/airship has to be done up like an eagle. It just seems silly and doesn't make sense except as a visual cue that the Germans are insane. And really, it just seems like putting a hat on a hat when you consider that the rocket-powered bombs are the ACTUAL secret weapon.
The tone of assumption that the reader already knows everything about the character (that I mentioned above in the introduction) is the second most obvious stumbling block keeping this story at the level of "Pretty Good". The comic reads less like something meant to introduce and interest readers in a new character and more like an issue of a comic in the middle of a long-running series. There ARE small bits of exposition scattered here and there, but no more than a few sentences of it before heading back into the story.
That said, even with those two major missteps, the writing is good. The dialogue is snappy. The story moves along at a brisk pace from scene to scene. It's not a bad little story at all. . .it just could have been better with a bit more attention from the editor.
On the art side of things. . .
It's a sad fact that although Gold Key had some of the greatest covers in comic history, the interior art can never come close to what is promised on the front. This comic is no exception.
That said, the art in this comic is actually better than what's to be found in many Gold Key comics. It follows a rigid and unimaginative panel structure, but the art itself is dark and moody. Nicely-inked and surprisingly well-colored where a lot of Gold Key comics can be a bit sloppy and heavy-handed on the colors. The scenes of aerial combat are particularly well-done. It's not the best comic art I've ever seen, but it tells the story well without distracting from it. . .for the most part.
There IS one strange thing about the art that caught my eye and brought me out of the story a bit wherever it popped up. If you scroll up and look at the scanned pages above, take note of the German helmets. They look oddly different. . .like they were added later, possibly by the inker. They just don't look right.
Other than the strange German helmets, the art in this comic is pretty solid.
Overall, G-8 and His Battle Aces is a pretty good war story with an unusual WWI setting and featuring a main character that makes his way through the tale with an interesting mix of disguise, deception, and wit.
Assuming the reader knows everything about G-8 coming into the tale, as well as some pretty ridiculous visuals on the German secret weapon that is the main narrative drive, keep the story down at the level of "Pretty Good". But even with those couple of stumbles, this is still a decent read.
I got this comic as a random part of a comic lot at an estate sale auction, but I see that there are copies to be found for sale online for around twenty bucks. If you are a fan of war comics and want something a little on the unusual side, then definitely keep an eye out for G-8 and His Battle Aces.
Up Next. . .
Be there or be square.