Published: Commando #5277
Artists: (cover) Ian Kennedy; (story) Vicente Alcazar
Writer: Georgia Standen Battle
In Norway, 1943, a heavy water plant is located on a high cliff above a dark forest where nobody goes in because something evil is said to lurk there. In the opening scenes of the story, the evil in the forest claims the life of one German soldier. The odd thing is, the evil that attacked him was in German uniform too…
A Commando team is dispatched to destroy the plant. Its members are Sergeant Manktelow, the team leader; Corporal Lionel Stone, who cracks unfunny jokes; Erik and Harald, who come from the Norwegian area in question and have a brother, Knut, in the Resistance; Private Joe Burn, a Cockney; and Leo (last name and rank not given). They parachute in, and the Resistance fighter meeting them is Anna Bang, who takes them to Knut.
The Commandos are informed of the difficulties. The plant is up a large cliff with a steep drop, and there’s a minefield. The plant is surrounded by a dense forest that nobody goes into after dark because of something evil in there. Apparently it’s the draugr (Norse word for the Undead) that the Nazis are creating from the corpses of German soldiers. Trucks come in bringing those corpses to the plant. The draugr are the reason why they must destroy the plant. The Commandos are sceptical about the draugr bit and think Anna’s been eating too much snow or something. For this reason, they do not fully trust her. Still, their mission is to destroy the plant.
They intercept one of the trucks (which contains barrels of heavy water, not corpses) to get into the plant. Unfortunately they get tripped up by Joe’s garbled German. They still manage to get in, but Joe is now relegated to lookout. He gets grabbed by some very sinister-looking hands.
Inside the plant, the team is shocked to find heavy water chambers containing corpses. Then they get caught by German soldiers and a Nazi scientist, Adolf Wuest (because they lost their lookout). Wuest explains that he is indeed reanimating the corpses of Nazi soldiers as Undead (zombies) so they can serve the Reich in death as well as life. But there is one drawback: to replenish themselves and stay Undead they must consume the living. So the Commandos are taken to the feeding chamber along with one bungling German soldier to be fed to the Undead. Anna is taken for interrogation.
The German is first to be thrown into the Undead feeding chamber. The Commandos put up a fight, but Harald falls victim to the zombies. Anna breaks loose, joins the fight, and provides the Commandos with weapons. They apologise for doubting her. Fortunately bullets work against the zombies and they are soon overcome. The Commandos then set explosives to blow up the plant. They are rejoined by Joe, who managed to escape from the zombies.
Unfortunately the explosion does not destroy the plant all at once. Worse, it releases the zombies from their cages and they are coming out in swarms. The Commandos open fire, but there are too many zombies and they just keep coming. Wuest meets his end at the hands of his own creations (below).
The Commandos flee to the forest but forget the minefield. Lionel steps on a mine and gets a leg blown off, but he bravely continues to fire on the zombies and give the others a chance to escape. In the forest, the Commandos mow down the remaining zombies who have followed them. The plant is going up in flames, and they are satisfied the evil has been destroyed and it’s all over.
They don’t realise Lionel has now become a one-legged zombie…
It was extremely rare for Commando to use supernatural elements in a story. This one does so in ghoulish, visceral style with zombies, so I’ve been saving it for Halloween month.
We also get a dash of Frankenstein, what with it being an evil Nazi scientist rather than a voodooist who’s behind the zombies. Wuest never explains exactly how he creates the zombies, but judging from the wee glimpses provided, it is some kind of science that needs heavy water. And like Dr Frankenstein, Wuest meets his downfall at the very hands of the monsters he created.
A heavy water plant being used to create zombies makes it an even more exciting story than if the Commandos had simply had to stop the plant from the usual (nuclear bombs). We are sure the plant was being used for that as well, but the zombies make it far more interesting. In the words of the Commandos: “Well, the zombies are a surprise.” And they are even more surprising because they are real and not some ruse to scare people off or a figment of superstitious minds affected by eating too much snow.
The story is a pretty simple, straightforward one, and takes no detours with twists or turns. Perhaps this is why we get so many large, expanded page layouts and very little cramming. It’s because the simplicity of the story allows enough time for it. For example, the opening scene of the zombies attacking the German soldier takes five pages with almost no dialogue, and no text or SFX, only closeups of the German’s terrified eyes, his running feet, and shadowy attackers progressively closing in. Similarly, when the zombies attack the Commandos, we get plenty of page spreads on this, including one complete image that covers two pages. Other key scenes are also given expansion with large panels. For example, the scene where Lionel loses his leg is given a single panel on one page. What is even more unusual is that a number of scenes showing the zombies, explosions or action scenes are done without any dialogue, text or SFX; the scene is left to speak for itself.
The inking has a charcoal effect that lends well to the horror scenes. Unfortunately it loses detail when showing scenes of more distant figures in the background, such as the Germans (Undead and living) chasing the Commandos into the forest. The artwork and inking in this story are more suited to closeups, large panels and action scenes than fine detail.
The story is another addition to the growing list of Commandos to feature female protagonists. Anna Bang is another proud addition as well. She is not the main protagonist but shows plenty of courage and is everything you’d expect from a Resistance fighter. For example, when Wuest takes her for interrogation, her response is “Nazi pigs!” She is the one to save the day when the Commandos try to fight the zombies without weapons by breaking through and supplying them with much-needed weapons. Her patriotism makes her a fearsome foe for Nazis; when she helps gun down the final wave of zombies, she yells, “This is for Norway!” But perhaps her greatest show of courage is staying resolute in the face of those Commandos who laugh at her for saying the Nazis are creating draugr. When they hint they don’t trust her, she doesn’t plead with them to do so or go off in a huff. She just gets on with the job and helps them anyway.
On the female protagonist front, what’s even more noteworthy is that the story has a female writer, Georgia Standen Battle. Are female writers now making their way into a title where male creative teams have predominated since issue 1? It’s hard to say, as Commando does not always give full names in its credits.
Of all the characters, Corporal Lionel Stone is the one to get the best character development, and ironically it’s because of his unfunny jokes. Weak though they are, they still provide light relief against a very dark tale and make him more distinct and rounded. And he can still crack those jokes while staring in the face of danger, even in the face of terrifying zombies. In so doing, his lousy jokes become an act of courage. It even seems to rub off on the others a little; for example we hear a bit of jokiness from the Sergeant: “The only good Jerry is a dead one – a really, really dead one!” the Sergeant says as he shoots the zombies. Lionel shows the best show of courage of the entire story when he stays behind to shoot more zombies even when he has just lost a leg. We can just see him receiving a posthumous medal. Sadly, the final pages have us shedding a tear when we see the soldier who had showed such courage even with his rotten jokes is now a hop-a-long zombie.