Tag Archives: Ian Kennedy

Blood Hostage [1993]

Blood Hostage cover

Published: Commando #2721 (1993)

Reprinted: Commando #5086 (2018)

Artist: Richardo Garijo (story); Ian Kennedy (cover)

Writer: Alan Hebden

Plot

Aboard a warship at Gibraltar, senior British officers are holding a top secret meeting. They are unaware a German spy is taking photographs of them doing it, so Berlin is alerted to the Allies planning something there, but they don’t know the details. Commodore Henry Dorning is one of the privileged few to know the officers were discussing plans for Operation Torch, the upcoming Allied invasion of North Africa.

Dorning has two additional problems, both of which have direct bearing on the story. The first is his nephew Ralph, who is trapped in the Nazi-occupied Channel Islands. The second is just being diagnosed with a heart murmur. Unfortunately the doctor cannot determine the severity of the murmur and advises a heart specialist. But there is no heart specialist in Gibraltar available for Dorning to consult.

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While Dorning is being flown home aboard a Mosquito a German plane shoots it down. Dorning manages to bail out, but unfortunately he unwittingly parachutes into the Channel Islands. By the time he realises this, he has been captured by German naval officers.

The shock turns Dorning’s heart murmur into a full-scale heart attack. His condition is so serious that the usual Gestapo interrogation methods are out of the question, much to the chagrin of Gestapo rep Joachim Stoltz. After exchanging notes with Berlin, Stoltz knows Dorning is carrying vital information about what was discussed aboard that warship, but has to find another way of getting it out of Dorning. Then, while sifting through Dorning’s belongings, Stoltz finds out about Ralph. Immediately he hits on the idea of using Ralph as a hostage to blackmail Dorning into giving the information.

Meanwhile, Ralph has been using his catapult to help Dimitri Solkhov, a Russian prisoner, escape Nazi slavery. The Nazis give Dimitri up for dead after he goes over a cliff, but arrest Ralph for helping him. Ralph is sentenced to death, but is rescued from the firing squad in the nick of time by Stoltz’s order to turn Ralph over to his custody.

Elsewhere, Dimitri survived long enough to be rescued by Flyn MacCreedy. Flyn is wheelchair-bound after being wounded in action, but despite this he is as strong as a bull. Flyn has managed to hide a boat, “Beauty”, from the Nazis. Unfortunately Beauty has no fuel and Flyn, being paraplegic, can’t go out and steal any from the Nazis. Dimitri enthusiastically offers to do the job.

Flyn directs Dimitri to a local airstrip as the best place to steal fuel. Dimitri is aided by the fact that the guards have grown slack with security because they find the Channel Islands Occupation one great big bore. (Even for Stoltz, it was Dullsville before Dorning came along!)

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After loading several stolen loads of fuel for Beauty, Dimitri sees Ralph being flown in to be delivered to Stoltz. Dimitri immediately recognises the boy who helped him escape and naturally wants to help him. Fortunately one of the escort guards stays behind because his just-about-had-it motorbike is acting up. Dimitri clobbers the guard and takes his uniform and motorbike.

At the hospital, Stoltz shows Dorning he has Ralph in his clutches. He informs him of the death sentence that hangs over Ralph and how it will be carried out if Dorning does not tell him what he wants to know by next morning.

But as Stoltz and Ralph come out of the hospital, Dimitri catches up. He bowls down the Gestapo and tells Ralph to get on. It’s then a matter of fleeing through town while keeping ahead of the Gestapo with a double load and a sub-standard motorbike. They make it back to Flyn’s, but don’t realise the defective motorbike has left an oil trail, which the Nazis soon find.

After comparing notes they realise the Gestapo is trying to force vital information out of Dorning. As they can’t make their escape until dark anyway, they fill in time by hatching a plan to rescue Dorning. Ralph and Flyn put together their combined knowledge of the hospital for Dimitri and Ralph to get into Dorning’s ward and rescue him (they are further helped by carelessness from yet another bored guard).

Meanwhile, the oil trail has led Stoltz straight to Flyn. Despite his wheelchair, Flyn puts up quite a fight, including breaking Stoltz’s wrist. He then sends himself over the cliff, and Stoltz assumes he’s dead. In fact, Flyn had swum his way to Beauty.

However, Stoltz guesses what Ralph and Dimitri are up to. He arrives at the hospital just as they are about to make their getaway with Dorning in an ambulance. They put up enough fight to stall Stoltz and get in the ambulance. They head back to the wharf where Flyn and Beauty are waiting, but Stoltz is right behind.

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Stoltz commandeers the whole German flotilla on the island to go after the fugitives. The naval commander is furious at this because Stoltz is non-military, but knows it is no use protesting. Knowing the fugitives are heading north, Stoltz has the flotilla drive them west, where they will run out of fuel and be sitting ducks for recapture.

After being informed what the date is, Dorning persuades Flyn to play into their hands and do exactly what they want. When Beauty does run out of fuel in the western approaches it looks like Stoltz has won – but then he runs right smack into the first wave of Operation Torch crossing the Channel. Of course this was Dorning’s plan all along. The German flotilla disappears into the mist. Stoltz’s vessel turns the wrong way and gets dashed to bits against the approaching convoys. The convoys rescue the fugitives. They don’t yet know the fugitives saved them from “a hot reception” at the hands of the Germans (though it’s not clear on whether it was because they actually diverted the German flotilla at a critical moment or stopped Stoltz from forcing Operation Torch out of Dorning).

Thoughts

One of the most striking things is how the artwork makes Stoltz the star of the show in every panel he appears. In his first panel he looks like a dapper old man that could be taken for a clerk. But as his character develops he looks more like a weasel while the artwork still gives his face a dash of humour. And then there are brilliant panels where he looks truly sinister, such as where he stares down at where Flyn went over the cliff.

The Channel Islands occupation holds a particular horror about Nazi rule because it was the only British territory occupied by the Nazis and therefore a microcosm of what would have been if Hitler had conquered Britain. We certainly see horrors in the slave labour of the Russians and the Ralph, the meagre rations the islanders get, and Ralph, a mere boy, almost getting executed by firing squad.

Yet there is humour too, in the way the Germans are so bored stiff with an unexciting occupation that they have grown sloppy in their security. This has the bonus in that it is so easy to take advantage of. And so we get to see some of the resistance activity on the island. It begins with Ralph and then Flyn who by turns help Dimitri to escape. Both Ralph and Flyn show real courage in the face of their physical deficiencies against the Germans (Ralph being so young still and Flyn being wheelchair-bound). These acts of resistance turn into full-scale action when Dimitri rescues Ralph and then all three set out to rescue Dorning. The motorcycle and ambulance chases are real highlights. They would look really exciting on a movie screen, perhaps even more so than a battle scene. Putting the motorcycle chase on the cover is a master stroke. It immediately catches the reader’s eye and the angry German in the background is a hoot.

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The action scenes make a nice change from the battlefield scenes that appear in so many Commandos. In fact there are no battlefield scenes at all until where the flight on Beauty ends up. The escape on Beauty is not just a mere chase; Dorning actually turns it into part of Operation Torch itself and helping the operation to succeed. It is also turned into an ironic punishment for Stoltz where Dorning actually gives him what he wants to know – Operation Torch – but in a manner that causes Stoltz’s downfall.

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Fatherland [2017]

Fatherland cover

Published: Commando #5053

Art: Ian Kennedy (cover); Rodriguez and Morhain (story)

Writer: Iain McLaughlin

In the previous Commando entry on this blog we profiled Operation Nachthexen, the first Commando to have a female protagonist after over 50 years of exclusively male protagonists. All the same, the main protagonist was still male and the female protagonist was more in a supporting if major role.

This Commando is the first to have a female protagonist who is the star of the show in her own right. It is also the first Commando to have a female antagonist.

Plot

In March 1933 Hitler and his Nazi Party gain absolute control over Germany (and absolute is the word). For Hans Fischer, a German diplomat and Nazi living in London, this means benefits and promotion, but his Nazism is tearing his family apart. Hans’ wife Elizabeth is British born and therefore does not support “that funny little man Hitler” (say what?). She is appalled at how her husband has changed for the worse ever since he embraced Nazism, and with fanatical zeal. When Hans says they are all moving to Berlin so their children, Kurt and Lisa, can be brought up as proper Germans (Nazis, he means!), Elizabeth tries to do a runner with the children. Unfortunately she only succeeds in getting Lisa away. Kurt remains in the clutches of his fanatical Nazi father, which does not bode well for him.

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Ten years later World War II is on, and Lisa (now Fisher) joins the fight against Hitler. As Lisa can speak German, she is chosen for a special assignment. After two months of intense special training, she is sent to the Nazi-occupied Channel Islands, where she goes undercover as Greta Kruger, a German auxiliary the Resistance intercepted. Her task is to work at one Colonel Schaudi’s office to gather information on the shipping. The German supply shipping has the infuriating habit of arriving at different times, which makes it difficult for the Allies to know when to intercept and destroy them. So they need information on the times those ships are coming.

As per training, Lisa also spends a great deal of time observing the routines of the German guards and patrols – with particular attention to the gaps and blind spots that she can take advantage of in order to move around without being caught.

Lisa also has to tread carefully around her roommate, Hannah Muller, who is a committed Nazi and a callous cold fish. Hannah looks upon the islanders as scum who are beneath the superior Germans and badly need German discipline to turn them around. She does not approve of Lisa saving a local boy from being run over by a German motorcyclist (and taking some injury herself) or Lisa going to church.

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Hannah has no idea that the real reason for Lisa going to church is that the minister, Reverend Letts, is Lisa’s contact. Lisa gets the E.T.A. of one German supply ship, the HSK Wagner. However Lisa nearly gets unstuck at the rendezvous on a cliff to pass the information to Rev. Letts when a sentry catches her. She ends up slugging him and he falls to his death at the bottom of the cliff. As predicted, Schaudi puts the sentry’s death down to an accident (and orders it to be hushed up because he does not want the islanders to hear about such embarrassments). But Lisa and Rev. Letts are not going to use that cliff for a rendezvous again.

Lisa’s information enables the Allies to succeed in intercepting and destroying the Wagner. But when word reaches Berlin they (correctly) suspect their security has been compromised and send in one of their leading and most ruthless SS Oberfuehrers to investigate the matter. And guess who it is? Yep – Lisa’s father! What’s more, Lisa’s brother Kurt is in tow too, as an SS Hauptsturmfuehrer on Dad’s staff.

Lisa is unaware of this complication as she gathers evidence that the Germans are going to use the Channel Islands as a stockpile for German weapons. Rev. Letts tells Lisa the RAF is going to bomb the munitions store that night and she is required to light flares for them to see by.

Finding pretexts to get away from Hannah for night missions has been another problem for Lisa. The first time, Lisa said she was laid up because she was injured from the motorcycle incident, which worked. But the second trick – giving Hannah drugged coffee – does not. By the time Lisa is at the rendezvous lighting the flares, she finds Hannah has followed her; obviously she smelt a rat and has now discovered everything. A fight breaks out, and Hannah ends up out cold due to Lisa’s superior fighting training. The ensuing bomb raid does the rest in finishing off Hannah. Lisa then proceeds to frame Hannah for everything in order to cover her tracks.

The frame-up of Hannah works, but Lisa is in for a shock at the debriefing over Hannah – her SS father and brother. Fortunately they do not see through her disguise, but she realises their presence is now making things too risky for her. Things get even more risky when Schaudi wants to plant Lisa on the church as a choir member because he suspects it is linked to the Resistance.

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Orders come for Lisa to be withdrawn because of the increased risk. A plane will come for her in two days and the Germans will discover her ‘fall over a cliff’ later. During those two days, Lisa is appalled to see what a pair of vicious bullies her father and brother have become, as shown in the way they treat the islanders.

Lisa has one final task on the night she is to go: steal detailed orders of naval schedules from Schaudi’s office. Unfortunately Kurt has picked that night to start changing the guard routines, which impedes Lisa’s progress in getting away to meet the plane after stealing the papers. At one point she has no choice but to slug a guard, and she barely makes it in time for her plane. Unfortunately, Hans and Kurt discovered the guard, which alerted them, and now they arrive on the scene.

Still thinking she is Greta Kruger, Hans confronts her about her treason to the Fatherland. A moment later, Hans is quite taken aback and confused when she suddenly starts calling him “[Daddy]” and confronts him on the way he ripped his own family apart in the name of Nazism. Kurt, however, immediately understands what it’s about.

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As the family squabble unfolds, it becomes clear that years of abuse and bullying from Dad are responsible for Kurt being a bully himself. However, unlike the merciless Nazi fanatic father, there is still good in Kurt, and now it comes to the surface. He cannot bring himself to send his own sister to the firing squad and finds the courage to say this to his bully father. Dad’s response is more bullying of Kurt: he lashes out at his son and knocks him to the ground. He then points his gun at Lisa, telling her that she’ll be interrogated until she talks and all the rest of it. Moments pass as they just stare down each other. However, those moments give Kurt time to recover and he shoots his father dead to save Lisa: “Your cruelty and obsession has hurt me on many occasions. You will not do this to my sister.”

Kurt helps Lisa to escape and cover it up afterwards. He declines to go with her as he is still loyal to Germany, but promises to find her after the war ends. As Lisa flies to safety, Kurt silently wishes her luck.

Thoughts

It is not surprising that the first Commando to have a female lead as the main protagonist puts her into undercover work and espionage rather than into combat as the male protagonists most often are in Commando. It also makes a change from making her a Resistance fighter, as girls’ comics so often did. Lisa is working with the Resistance, but she is in the role of the specially trained operative sent in by Intelligence, so we get insights into how the British Intelligence and special operatives worked from that meticulous military Commando research. We also see several of the techniques and tips Lisa provides from her special training, such as familiarising herself with the guards’ routines in order to get around them and how to handle interrogation. And the scene where she beats up that callous Hannah is absolutely priceless! Though Hannah does not get the chance to do anything that’s actually horrible as the Fischer men do, her unfeeling, arrogant remarks and her Nazi devotion make us all yearn for her to get her comeuppance.

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Lisa’s mother Elizabeth is of course the other female protagonist in the story. We really feel for the mother as we have seen so many similar situations in stories of domestic violence and parental abductions. She is faced with an increasing shadow of domestic violence from a husband who is turning bad, and then it’s compounded by the threat of being dragged off to a grim life under the jackboot of Nazi Germany. She attempts a desperate flight from that life and tries to save her children, but it’s heartbreaking to see she is only half successful. She failed to save Kurt because of his childlike naivety in hopping out of the car and asking Dad where they are going. This of course tipped Dad off at once and he threatened to take the kids away to Nazi Germany without her and she would never see them again. Mums and Dads who have lost their children to international custody disputes and parental abductions would really feel for her there and applaud when she at least manages to save her daughter. But we can imagine her heart must have been bleeding at being forced to leave her son behind and imagining what his upbringing will be like in Nazi Germany under his increasingly tyrannical father and without any motherly love. When we see how Kurt turned out because of this, Mum had every right to be concerned and how Lisa had such a lucky escape in not being dragged off to Nazi Germany as well.

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Kurt Fischer is another first in Commando: he is the very first sympathetic SS Officer to appear in Commando. Up until this point, whenever Commando used stories with sympathetic German WW2 soldiers, it made a strong point of never, ever using sympathetic SS or Gestapo officers. The sympathetic German soldiers always came from the forces and were portrayed as fighting for their country rather than Nazism and disliking the SS and Gestapo for their brutality. Sergeant Oskar Dietrich in Entry Forbidden! is one such case. SS and Gestapo officers in Commando were always just like Hans Fischer: cruel, brutal fanatical Nazis with no mercy or redeeming qualities whatsoever. They are shown to be bad because they have always been bad, such as Max Rudel, also from Entry Forbidden!

But this is not the case with Kurt Fischer. When we first see him as a kid, he looks such a sweet kid (unlike Max Rudel in childhood), and we are really worried about him when he gets left behind with his fanatical Nazi father. Sure enough, he’s the mirror image of his bullying father years later, but that’s because he’s an abused child. After the separation he was dragged off to Nazi Germany where he suffered a miserable, terrifying life under his bullying father and without even his mother to give him love. If Dad had married again, we imagine it would have been someone like Hannah Muller.

Yet Dad had not destroyed all the good in Kurt with his bullying. And we imagine that deep down, long-standing resentment from years of abuse is yearning to break out and take revenge. Both come to the surface when he is confronted with his sister and the fate she will face if Dad arrests her. When Dad shows utter lack of mercy towards his daughter, it turns out to be the last straw for Kurt. For all the bullying Kurt did earlier, we really cheer for him when he strikes back at his bully father by shooting him, and he redeems himself.

Even Hans Fischer may be a tad more tragic than SS officers in Commando usually are. Usually they are just simply bad, irredeemable characters like Max Rudel. However, the line “Elizabeth was shocked by the changes in her husband since he became involved in Chancellor Hitler’s party” hints that Hans may have been once a better man. However, becoming a fanatical Nazi destroyed all that. His fanaticism led him to destroy the family he probably once loved very much, and ultimately that same family destroyed him.

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The ending was crafted in a manner that left scope for sequels. So we might see Lisa again in a future Commando. Or we might even see Kurt in the first-ever Commando to use a sympathetic SS officer as the main protagonist. Certainly there have been serious questions raised about the consequences of that night for Kurt, which could be developed further. It’s all very well for Kurt to say he can’t go against his country, but he will find it’s not going to be that simple and he can’t really carry on with the SS the way he did before. The good in him has awakened now, and he will have to work on it if he is to keep his promise to his sister to reunite with her. After all, she’s not going to be very impressed with him if he continues to shove the islanders around or run up a list of war crimes a mile long. Besides, he now has a terrible secret that could have him executed, blackmailed or going on the run if someone finds out, and that worry is going to be a huge shadow over him. And now that Dad’s bullying dominance is gone, Kurt is more of a free man to make his own decisions. We do have to wonder if the SS was Kurt’s choice of career in the first place or if bully Dad forced him into it. It would not be surprising to see a future Commando where Lisa goes to the rescue of her brother. We shall just have to wait and see.

Nobody Loves a Genius! [1974]

Genius cover

Published: Commando #824, 1974

Reprinted: Commando #2084, 1987

Artist: Ian Kennedy (cover); Pat Wright (story)

Writer: R.A. Montague

Special thanks to Colcool007 for credits

Plot

Sergeant Jim Bates is in a platoon in the 8th army led by Commander Paul Rowland in the North African campaign against General Rommel “The Desert Fox”. But for them, a more aggravating problem than Rommel is Private Hubert Wellington, “the most gormless, useless lump Jim had ever come across”. Hubert is a walking disaster area, which is due to gawkiness and nervousness rather than stupidity. He is arguably the worst soldier in the platoon and seems quite oblivious to it.

However, Hubert has a good nature, and he does have his uses. For example, he has a magic touch with anything mechanical and can repair vehicles. All the same, only Jim has any patience for Hubert and tries to turn him into a soldier; the others all think Hubert’s efforts help Rommel more than them. When Hubert’s gormlessness blows up the lieutenant’s jeep with a Panzerschrecker (the German version of a bazooka), the lieutenant decides he has to go, and puts him into an explosives course in Cairo.

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After North Africa, the platoon goes on to fight in the Italian campaign. However, they keep running into booby traps set by a German explosives expert nicknamed “Wehrmacht Willi”. His nickname comes from the signature he always leaves with his work: “Ein Geschenk von Willi” [a present from Willi]. Willi’s booby traps are soon their biggest dread.

Then they run into someone else – Hubert Wellington, who had requested permission to rejoin the platoon. Hubert came out top in his explosives course, and is soon put in charge of setting booby traps for advancing Germans. Unfortunately Hubert overthinks things and does not set the explosives directly on the path but on the sides of it as he thinks the Germans would not take the direct route in case of a trap. They should have, but they take the direct route, bypassing the explosives completely. At least the platoon manages to fend off the Germans.

Next, the platoon approaches an old ruin that they suspect the Germans are using as an observation post. When they investigate the window they set off a booby trap, which alerts the Germans to open fire. After the barrage ends they send in Hubert to check for more booby traps. Jim is amazed at Hubert’s new calmness as he deactivates three more booby traps, which have Willi’s trademark signature.

After this, Hubert is appointed platoon explosives expert, and he gives the impression he is coming into his own at last. Hubert is soon setting up his own booby traps for the Germans and leaving his own signature a la Wehrmacht Willi. The thinking behind his traps is very ingenious and is getting into the heads of what the enemy will think when they approach the traps. Hubert’s nervousness is not a problem when he is busy, such as setting or deactivating traps.

But when Hubert has a lapse into nervousness because he’s not busy, it gives the platoon’s position away to the Germans, and they open up a ferocious barrage. The commander has serious thoughts about throwing Hubert out again, but Jim persuades the commander to give him more time to boost Hubert’s confidence.

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The advance starts again. The platoon has the job of keeping a bridge secure, but first they have to reach it. Their advance on the bridge grows fretful because of Hubert getting nervous again, which is what makes him such a problem. But things change when they advance the bridge and Hubert is quick to check the track for booby traps. Sure enough, it’s been rigged with Wehrmacht Willi’s handiwork, and very skilful handiwork it is too. The commander thinks Willi moves around quite a bit and wonders why.

The Germans arrive and prepare to destroy the bridge because of the advance. The platoon soon deals with them. Then evidence emerges that Willi has been setting up charges to destroy the bridge by remote control, so it’s Hubert’s job to deactivate them all. He does so in the very nick of time – the remote control is triggered just as the last charge is defused.

But just as they finish with the explosives, the Germans open fire again. As the advance guard has not arrived, the platoon has to fend off the Germans alone, but they manage to do so. Hubert’s own booby traps repel any returning Germans, and he also gets the final triumph, with another Panzerschreck. The platoon has the bridge clear and secure by the time the advance guard finally arrives.

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They then stumble across another building the Germans could be using as an observation post. So they need to check it, but they sense a trap. The German soldiers fire shots from the building and then flee. Nonetheless, they feel this is where the remote control was activated, which means Willi and his booby traps could be around. So it’s a job for Hubert, who makes fast work of deactivating Willi’s traps. But there is someone upstairs, so Jim and Hubert go to investigate. Hubert says he is no longer scared, and from then on his nerves cause no more trouble.

Upstairs they capture Wehrmacht Willi himself, just as he is signing his last-ever booby trap. Jim is astonished to see that Willi is almost a twin for Hubert Wellington, only he looks even more of a nerd. The platoon can’t stop laughing when they see what the dreaded booby trapper actually looks like, but Hubert doesn’t get the joke at all.

Thoughts

Commando definitely meets “Revenge of the Nerds” in this issue. Although Hubert’s nerves and gawkiness gets on everyone’s nerves, the most irritating thing about him is that he is, in modern parlance, a nerd. Even after he overcomes his soldiering problems and becomes a model soldier, the others still find him a bit annoying because he’s “a bit of a genius”.

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The same could be said for Willi. When Willi is finally revealed to be a nerd too, and presumably got left behind by the other German soldiers because of it, you can’t help but feel a pang of sympathy for Willi. We have to wonder if Willi’s platoon ridiculed him a bit for being a nerd, despite his genius in setting booby traps. Could Willi have even had similar problems to Hubert and given his platoon aggravation before he discovered his own genius for explosives? Willi and Hubert are such peas in a pod in terms of genius, talent, appearance, and even in the way they think that you sure suspect this was the case.

Many Commandos go for grim and dark stories, but this one goes for more humour with the Gomer Pyle-type. Eyebrows are raised when Hubert is put on the explosives course. It sounds about as prudent as putting the Jinx from St Jonah’s on one. So it’s quite a twist when the explosives course proves the making of the kluzty Hubert Wellington. It doesn’t come all at once though; Hubert still has to overcome the nerves that made him such a disaster area to begin with and he still has lapses into his old jinxing. It’s quite realistic and credible for the making of Hubert Wellington not to come all at once but to develop through the fight against Willi.

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Even more humour comes from the final twist in the story and the joke that the irony has pulled on everyone. During the course of the story the commander comments that “Maybe [the Germans] haven’t any Hubert Wellingtons on their side. I wonder if they’d like one – free.” Little does he know that the Germans do in fact have a Hubert Wellington, in the form of the “Wehrmacht Willi” they dread so much. When this is finally revealed, the platoon realises that “even Hitler’s got ‘em!”. So it seems that even Hitler gets his share of nerds.

Always a Prisoner [1981]

Commando cover

Published: Commando #1502, 1981

Artist: Ian Kennedy (cover), Alejandro Martinez Ruiz (story)

Writer: Bill Fear

Reprint: Commando #2828, 1995

Plot

Harry Dane’s lot always seems to be brutal imprisonment, with him shoving his fist at it whenever he can. Harry begins to go this way in 1935, when desperation makes his friend Ted Taplow steal £15 from work to pay off a gambling debt while knocking out the elderly cashier in the process. But when the alarm is raised and police are searching all the men, Taplow panics and plants the money on Harry to save himself. Harry and his protests of innocence do not have a chance in court, not least because he cannot understand how it happened.

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Harry spends five years in “one of the hardest, grimmest prisons in England”, and the prisoners’ lot is harsh, backbreaking quarry work. While in prison, Harry’s cellmate, “The Prof”, helps him to figure out Taplow framed him. From then on Harry is fuelled by a near-monomaniacal determination to make Taplow pay, which helps him to survive. However, it also drives him into an escape bid that fails, and because of it he has to serve his full sentence before he can confront Taplow.

When Harry is released in 1940, it is World War II. He finds Taplow has gone into the army and his battalion is stationed at Hong Kong. He joins Taplow’s regiment in the hope of tracking down Taplow, and his brutal prison experiences help him adapt quickly to basic training and army discipline. He also fends off bullies who pick on a weedy cadet, Archie Duckfield, and he and Archie become friends. Harry’s battalion does meet up with Taplow’s in Hong Kong, and he finally finds Taplow (now an NCO). He then proceeds to give Taplow a revenge punch in the face.

Inevitably, this gets Harry court martialled, and he is sentenced to 12 months. The guards hate Harry for striking out at an NCO, so they go out of their way to break him, with little regard as to how they do it. Harry responds with thoughts and threats of punching them, and he has plenty of experience in handling prison brutality. Fortunately for Harry, Japan begins to attack Hong Kong, and all the soldiers in the detention barracks are released to join the fight.

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So now it is Archie and Harry’s first action, which goes badly, and Hong Kong falls. They are forced to retreat, and in the end the Japanese capture them. Now Harry faces a whole new brutal imprisonment, in the form of a Japanese POW camp and all the conditions Japanese POW camps are infamous for. But this time there is a consolation: Taplow has been captured too and is now a fellow prisoner, right alongside Harry!

When Archie hears about Taplow’s frameup of Harry, he points out something Harry had not thought of: get a confession out of Taplow to clear him. But although Taplow’s guilt is obvious from his body language, Taplow makes it obvious that he will not be easily persuaded to confess. Rather, Taplow is desperate to get away from Harry as much as the prison camp. He breaks out with several others, but the Japanese guards catch up and slaughter all but Taplow. He is brought back to the camp and sentenced to death. Archie and Harry save Taplow because they want that confession, but the ungracious Taplow refuses to give it. All they can do is hide Taplow in the roll call under the alias of Dyson and keep a close eye on him.

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Then the commandant is ordered to send the most able-bodied prisoners to Japan for slave labour. Harry, Archie and Taplow/Dyson are among those selected. They are locked into the sweltering hold of a rusty tramp steamer for the journey, which soon leads to an increasing mortality rate. Fortunately, fate intervenes in the form of a US submarine that torpedoes the steamer, which enables the prisoners to make a break for it. Harry and Archie find a raft, and pick up another prisoner in the water, Claude, which will prove very fortunate for Harry. Claude tells them they are not far from the Chinese coast. If they can make it, they stand a chance of escape.

Then they find Taplow about to be eaten by sharks and rescue him. Taplow’s water/shark ordeal has broken him down enough for them to finally succeed in getting a verbal confession out of him. Now all they have to do is get Taplow somewhere to make a written one.

When they reach the coast, Japanese soldiers arrive on a motor launch, looking for survivors from the prison ship. But Harry is not having another round in a Japanese POW camp; he says he has had enough of prisons. After getting a rifle off one of the Japanese soldiers, Harry uses it to take out all his long-standing anger against his brutal imprisonments straight out on the Japanese soldiers.

Unfortunately Taplow panics and gets shot dead when he tries to run. With Taplow gone, there can be no written confession and Harry is despondent. Archie consoles him with the thought that at least he and Claude know the truth.

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They make their way to the Japanese motor launch, and nobody seems to be there. But Archie discovers otherwise when a solitary guard on board shoots him dead. Harry and Claude are so enraged that they pump all their magazines into the soldier. After burying Archie, they make their way to China on the motor launch, where they meet up with Chinese forces and safety. Soon they are back in England.

Claude testifies on Harry’s behalf about the verbal confession Taplow made. As he is Lieutenant-General Sir Claude Trelawney, V.C., his word carries weight, and Harry is cleared of his wrongful conviction. Harry is promoted to sergeant, gets a medal and leads the regiment on D-Day.

Thoughts

This was the first-ever Commando I bought because it had themes that appealed to me: wrongful convictions, imprisonments, and struggles to survive and escape. It also has slave story elements, so it may have drawn some inspiration from girls’ comics. Yet there is still plenty of action in it – mainly from Harry Dane’s angry fist or his rifle when he has one – to keep the boys happy. The story clearly draws inspiration from “The Count of Monte Cristo” as well, which has always been a popular story.

Indeed, we see echoes of the Count (Edmond Dantes) in Harry himself with his early reactions to his false imprisonment. Like Edmond Dantes, Harry cannot understand the circumstances of his false imprisonment. He is still a good-natured naïve, trusting fellow who does not realise the one he trusted most is the one who is responsible. Like Dantes, it is not until he talks it over with another prisoner who can provide the right insights that he works out the truth. And like Dantes, it is from that point on that Harry becomes the angry, embittered man who is out for revenge.

Unlike Dantes, however, Harry never quite gets to the point where he fears things have gone too far and whether he really is in the right to pursue revenge. This could be due to Harry’s change of tactics towards Taplow. At first he is merely out for revenge against Taplow, which he expresses by beating him up. But when Archie points out that only Taplow can clear him by making a confession, Harry becomes more restrained towards Taplow and does not abandon him to his fate when his life is threatened. The only time Harry’s lust for revenge really gets out of hand is when he lashes out against the Japanese soldiers towards the end and pumps them full of lead. And it’s not even personal – he’s just taking out all his rage against all the prison guards in his life out on them. At least it sounds like Harry begins to find peace once he gives vent towards his anger. And he certainly does once his name is cleared: the story tells us he is a “changed man”.

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The story certainly makes a strong statement about the evils of prison brutality and human rights abuse. Still, it would be foolish to expect much from the Japanese guards of the POW camps. They had a different way of thinking that made them particularly cruel to their POWs during World War II. Perhaps we should not expect much of the HMS prison guards either. This story was set in the 1930s, and harsh prison conditions and treatment were considered more the norm than they are now. It is the guards of the army prison who come across as the most repugnant out of the assorted prison guards that Harry encountered. While the other guards are pretty much the same in how they treat Harry and their other prisoners, these guards deliberately go out their way to break Harry in any way they can out of pure viciousness.

As for Ted Taplow, the man responsible for all of Harry’s troubles, the only point in his favour was that he was driven into stealing the money out of desperation. The bookkeeper’s goons were leaning on him and making threats that he would end up in the river if he did not pay. He did not intend to slug the cashier, an elderly man. He only did so because the cashier had caught him by surprise and he felt he had come too far to turn back. Otherwise, Ted Taplow comes across as a despicable, cowardly, unsympathetic character with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He shows no remorse or guilt over what he did, or what Harry went through because of him. And he was supposed to a good friend of Harry’s, the two having been mates since school. He refuses to confess at all, not even when Harry and Archie save him from the death sentence. He only confesses because his defences have broken down, but we don’t trust him to keep his word to make a written confession once they return home. Getting shot while running away is a fitting end to a man who is at heart a coward and a weasel, and we are not sorry he died. Yet Taplow’s death is shattering because Harry’s chance of that written confession died with him, so it is one of the powerful dramatic points in the story.

The death of Archie Duckfield is even more powerful. Archie’s death is absolutely gutting for everyone because he is such a likeable, sympathetic character and had a somewhat nerdy look. Initially this made him a target for bullying, but Harry helped him there and we sense he grows into a more confident character, though there is little room in the story to develop this more. He also provides light relief against the grimness of the story, as does Harry’s cellmate, The Prof. The Prof comes across as a father figure. Although he is in for counterfeiting, we warm to him immediately because he is a likeable, sympathetic character. He likes to help prisoners out with their problems, which makes him even more sympathetic. He is definitely the equivalent of the Abbe Faria from the Count of Monte Cristo in the way he helps Harry to work out Taplow committed the crime he was convicted of.

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When Claude is introduced, his level head and his quiet modesty (not revealing himself as a senior officer and a knight to boot) are a welcome, calming contrast to the rage of Harry Dane. And when we see Claude’s leadership qualities and resourcefulness as they fight for survival against the Japanese soldiers, we can see why Claude has risen so far in the army.

The Prof, Archie and Claude don’t just provide light relief and offset the anger and bitterness of Harry Dane. All three of them, in their own respective ways, help Harry to clear his name. The first helps Harry work out the truth, the second points out a confession from Taplow is more in order than mere revenge, and the third provides the vital testimony to clear Harry.

It is ironic that Harry owes many of his qualities as a soldier and a survivor to Ted Taplow. If Taplow had not framed him, Harry would never have gone through the experiences that toughened him up physically and mentally to endure the rigors of basic training, the horrors of POW captivity, survival on the run, and ultimately to lead the regiment on D-Day as a sergeant. Had Harry simply carried on as a factory worker until World War II broke out, it is less likely that he would have cut it so well in the army. And he naturally comes to appreciate freedom and there are things far worse than being in combat. As he takes his regiment up Normandy Beach, his words of encouragement are: “Come on lads. There’s far worse places to be than this one. I know – I’ve been there!” One can only hope he was not captured again and found himself in a German POW camp.