Artist: Khato (story); Ian Kennedy (cover)
Writer: Colin Maxwell
As the winter season is approaching, we take a break from girls’ comics and bring you a Commando with a winter theme.
In Verdalsora, occupied Norway in World War II, Major Walther Brandt has been ordered to crack down on any Resistance activity. As Brandt is an utter psycho, his methods are insane as well as brutal. He forces locals to clean off the anti-Nazi graffiti that keeps appearing – then has them all shot. When a suspect (who looks like the correct one) refuses to talk, Brandt goes berserk, kills the man with his bare hands, and then orders more suspects to be rounded up.
Hauptmann Georg Fischer, recently transferred to Brandt, can’t bear to watch his atrocities, and Brandt has noticed “he has a bad habit of disappearing at times like this”. Though Fischer still wants to serve his country, he does not want to go on serving that “madman”, or the Reich if it’s producing people like him. So, one winter’s night, Fischer puts on his skis and deserts.
When Fischer’s desertion is discovered, it puts Brandt’s promotion on the line, as it came just when the Oberst (Brandt’s commanding officer) was making an inspection. So Brandt is demanding a swift recapture, but his goons lose the trail in the falling snow, which forces them to abandon the search. They are confident the winter conditions will soon deal with Fischer, but this cannot save Brandt’s promotion, and he is left seething over it.
Meanwhile, Fischer is having problems finding proper shelter against the winter conditions, which are indeed threatening to finish him off. When he tries to get help from some Norwegians in a remote area, he gets shot at because of his German uniform. Eventually, he finds a mountain hut. As he can’t travel any further in the winter season, he winters at the hut and passes the time surviving, growing a beard, and learning what Norwegian he can from a phrase book he brought along.
As winter turns to spring, Fischer’s thoughts turn to how to get out of Norway. He notices an increase in Allied/Resistance activity in the area, in the form of Allied reconnaissance aircraft and a seaplane using a fjord as a landing strip to make deliveries to the Resistance, at the place where he was shot at before. He considers approaching the Allied aircraft to surrender and make safe haven in Britain, albeit in a British POW camp.
Then Fischer observes one Allied plane being shot down. He rescues the only survivor, the wireless operator Peter Blance, who has sustained a foot injury. When a German patrol approaches, Fischer downs them, but does so while wearing German uniform himself. One of the soldiers survives to report this. When Brandt receives the report, he realises the truth. Hellbent on revenge for the lost promotion, he takes a party into the region in search of Fischer.
Meanwhile, Fischer brings Blance to the hut. Blance is rather surprised at a German helping him, but guesses Fischer is a deserter. Neither can speak the other’s language, but they both have some knowledge of Norwegian and establish rough communication and an odd Allied-German friendship that way. Fischer does what he can for Blance’s injury, but he does not have the proper resources to treat it, and then infection sets in. The only way to get treatment is to ask the Resistance at the fjord for help. Fischer takes Blance to them on a makeshift sled and this time engages in a more prudent approach to avoid being shot at: the white flag of surrender and calling for help in his limited Norwegian.
Blance’s injury is soon being treated, and he helps to convince Resistance leader Ivan Petersen that Fischer, who has been locked up by the Resistance as a precaution, is friendly and wants help out of Norway. Petersen trusts Fischer enough to explain his Resistance movement is growing but still incipient, and they need the Allied supplies to make more impact. The remoteness of the fjord makes it an ideal place to set up shop, as theirs are the only houses for miles. They arrange to help Fischer and Blance get to Britain via the seaplane. But when the seaplane arrives, Brandt spots it too. Realising the seaplane is how the Resistance gets its supplies, he sees his chance to impress the Oberst.
Brandt utterly blows that chance once he sees Fischer on the boat to board the seaplane. As with the graffiti suspect, rage overtakes him and he goes utterly berserk. He orders his men – only a small party – to open fire. Fischer and the seaplane return fire, decimating Brandt’s goons. The revenge-crazed Brandt orders his remaining goon to cover for him while he takes an outboard motor and goes wildly after Fischer himself, firing his gun all the way. Fischer fires back, rupturing Brandt’s fuel tank. Brandt’s boat erupts into a mass of flames and he perishes in the icy waters. Nobody in Brandt’s party is left to make a report, so operations are still safe.
After his final confrontation with Brandt, Fischer changes his mind about seeking refuge in Britain. Deciding he should now fight instead of run, he wants to join Ivar’s Resistance and fight men like Brandt in the Reich. And so he does, under the codename Snowbound. To protect his identity, British Intelligence only ever refers to him by his codename.
Commando always made a strong point of showing there were good Germans in World War II, German soldiers who served out of loyalty to their country rather than Hitler and were repulsed by the atrocities committed by the SS and such. The Wehrmacht was one, and for this reason they and the SS were so often at odds with other. Commando often used this to have stories featuring sympathetic German soldiers, and always made the distinction between them and the likes of the SS or Major Brandt very clear indeed.
World War II Resistance stories in Commando usually focus on the POV of the Resistance and/or the agents dispatched to help them, and their reactions and responses to the brutalities of the Nazi regimes. The Holocaust is never mentioned, but even without it, Commando can depict the horrors of the Nazi regime clearly enough; it does not spare the scenes of the brutal arrests, torture, executions, and mass slaughter of innocent civilians in retaliation for anti-Nazi activity. One example of this is “Night and Fog” (Commando #4464).
However, “Snowbound” takes a different approach with WW2 Resistance by focusing more on the Germans than the Resistance fighters and has us thinking: What might the reactions of the Germans themselves be to these brutalities? Were there any German soldiers of conscience out there who said, “No, I can’t do this, I don’t want to be part of such barbarities”? Historically, the answer must be yes. Even in Auschwitz, there were examples of good Germans, such as Hans Wilhelm Münch, known as “The Good Man of Auschwitz”.
The case of Georg Fischer illustrates what must have been a common dilemma for German soldiers with a conscience: What can you do if you find yourself serving under a commander like Brandt? Or in a place like Auschwitz? Fischer initially chose to run from it, but eventually he decides to fight it. His initial decision to desert was a wise one. It was not just to stop being part of evil he despised – it was also because Brandt sensed Hauptmann did not agree with his “methods”, which in time could have put Fischer in serious danger if he had stayed much longer. When he meets the Resistance, he now has the option to fight, but still chooses to run and seek sanctuary. It takes the confrontation with Brandt for him to look at the fighting option, and make him realise he would achieve far more productive things in joining the Resistance than spending the rest of the war in a POW camp. Besides, he deserves far better than a POW camp.
Peter Blance is a very engaging person, and the Khato artwork of his somewhat dumpy appearance really brings him to life. He is a guy you instantly like and want to know more about, maybe even see again in a future Commando. His Norwegian exchanges with Fischer as they begin to communicate gives us some insight into their backgrounds and fleshes their characters out more. It’s an odd friendship, between a German and an Ally, but one that would have Blance realising there are good Germans, ones who are not like the psycho Brandt. When Blance and Fischer are forced to say goodbye, they hope they will meet again. Blance’s parting comment is that he thinks Fischer is the bravest man he has ever met.
Brandt’s lunacy is also brought to life by the Khato artwork, particularly the close-ups of his killer eyes and the rendering of his big square jaw when he’s in a crazy mood. The Khato artwork is also perfect for the harshness of the winter and living rough settings. The only artwork that lets things down a bit is the cover. The scene, which is not a snow scene at all, is a jarring match against the title “Snowbound”. Fischer in a winter scene of some sort (fighting in the snow as Snowbound or fleeing on his skis, for example) would have worked far better. Also, it is not very inspiring, showing someone’s back against a seaplane. Surely Commando could have produced a more exciting cover.
Ultimately, Brandt’s madness leads to his own destruction (what other kind of destruction is there?). His insanity, when a cool head would serve him far more, is also why he is not all that good at seriously crushing the heart of the Resistance. We see this twice, first with the suspect and then discovering the Resistance in the fjord. In both cases he throws a golden opportunity away by turning into a raving loony instead of keeping his head and using his brains more. He lost the suspect as a source of valuable information by just killing him in a rage instead of looking for other means to make him talk. When he spots the Resistance activity in the fjord, at first he does things right by observing it discreetly. But once he sees Fischer, he goes crazy again and starts blasting, alerting everyone to his presence and opening up their own fire. Even when he’s being fired upon and losing men, he recklessly chases after Fischer, not thinking or caring he’s only one man who’s outgunned and outnumbered. That sort of conduct would most likely get him killed, and it did. If the Oberst had been watching, it is hardly likely he would have been impressed.
The ultimate irony is, by compelling Fischer to desert and then to fight, it was the psycho Brandt who turned him from loyal German soldier to the Resistance fighter Snowbound. If Fischer had been transferred to, say, a front instead of Brandt, things could well have taken a far different turn for him. No turning away from the Reich once he’d seen what monsters it was producing, no desertion, no joining the Resistance, and still fighting for Germany, but for Germany rather than the Reich.