Tag Archives: Italian Campaign

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.

Genius 1

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.

Genius 2

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.

Genius 3

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”.

Genius 4

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.

Genius 5

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.

Advertisements

To Kill a Rat… [1976]

1066_to_kill_a_rat

Published: Commando #1066

Artist: Cortiella (cover); Cecil T Rigby (story)

Writer: Bernard Gregg

Reprints: None, but the story has been reused. The difference is that the uncle lied about killing the soldiers after the nephew talked.

Special thanks to Colcool007 for the information

Plot

Doug Watson is subjected to bullying and psychological abuse at the hands of his cruel, bullying pro-Nazi Uncle Hermann Braugen during his six-month stays with his German relatives (the other six with an English aunt). During one stay Braugen develops his favourite torture of Doug: lock him in the rat-infested cellar to be terrorised by the rats. As a result, Doug develops an extreme fear of rats (musophobia, also known as murophobia and suriphobia), which Braugen just loves to play upon.

Rat 1

After this particular stay, Doug vows never to go back to his German relatives again, though Uncle Braugen and the rat torture continue to give him nightmares. Fortunately the trauma fades in time, and Doug grows strong enough to join the army when World War II breaks out. He rises fast to corporal rank. He is among the British forces that try in vain to stem the Nazi invasion of France and end up being evacuated from Dunkirk. Doug then moves up to second lieutenant, and he leads his men to a sweep forward against the German forces in North Africa.

But what Doug does not realise is that the man in charge of the German forces against him is none other than his Uncle Braugen, now a colonel. Doug’s forces are successful in driving Braugen’s back. They get cut off and soon Braugen is the last man standing, but he isn’t giving up that easily.

Braugen pretends to surrender when Doug’s forces arrive. Doug is shocked to recognise his Uncle, but Uncle Braugen does not recognise his nephew because Doug has changed quite a bit over the years. Braugen is quite surprised to realise it is Doug when Doug speaks to him alone. Braugen pretends to have reformed, repents the past and asks to bury it. Doug falls for it and foolishly allows Braugen to escape.

Rat 2

Doug then continues to press against Rommel in North Africa and eventually the front into Sicily and then Italy, by which time he is a lieutenant. Then they plan to assault the German forces in Italy. But Doug does not realise Uncle Braugen is up ahead with the German forces in the German-held Castle of Monte Lucia. They consider their position impregnable, but they do not have the much-needed information about the strength of the Allied forces.

The carelessness of one of the British soldiers (lighting up a cigarette) betrays the position of Doug’s forces to the German forces, who surround them and force them to surrender. They are taken to Monte Lucia, but none of them yield the information the Germans want.

Then Braugen walks in, and Doug instantly realises how Braugen had tricked him in North Africa. Braugen takes Doug over for interrogation. Beating him up doesn’t work, but then Braugen recalls the musophobia he had instilled into Doug. He locks Doug into a rat-infested cellar where the sewers are, and tells Doug he will not release him until he is ready to talk. In the cellar the phobia is doing its work. Doug can see there is a sewer in the cellar that could be an escape route, but he is too terrified to use it because of the rats. Eventually the phobia makes Doug tell Braugen everything he needs to know.

Braugen shoots all the other Allied prisoners as he has no further need for them. Doug, having recovered sufficiently from the rat ordeal, manages to break free from Braugen’s goons and escape from Monte Lucia. Braugen does not search for him because he thinks Doug is not worth bothering about.

Rat 3Doug makes it back to his lines, where he reports everything in shame at H.Q. The colonel is not at all understanding about Doug talking under torture and has him arrested for court-martial. However, en route to face the court-martial, Doug just snaps, seizes a gun from his guards, and makes a run for it.

He returns to Monte Lucia to avenge his soldiers, get even with Braugen, and make amends for talking under torture. However, the only way in is through the rat-infested sewer pipe Doug saw earlier. He forces his way into it and the rats. This time hatred helps Doug to overcome his fear when it makes him lash out at the biting rats. By the time Doug is back in the cellar, his musophobia has dissipated and he hardly notices the rats now.

Fortunately the trap door into the cellar is not locked, so Doug is free to make his way into the castle. He finds Braugen’s ammunition stores and uses them to rig the castle to blow from petrol trails and improvised rope fuses, which are to dangle through the sewer pipe. When everything is ready, Doug ignites the petrol with his gun and the Germans’ impregnable fortress goes up in flames.

At a distance, Doug waits for Braugen – the biggest rat of them all in his opinion – to show up among the fleeing Germans. When Braugen does, he is scared for the first time his life, and his shots at Doug are wide. By contrast, Doug is calm and quick to shoot his uncle dead.

The British forces have been approaching Monte Lucia with speed. They are surprised to find its impregnable defences broken and burning, and it is deserted except for one British soldier sitting beside a dead German. Doug goes back to H.Q., confident that everything will be cleared up in view of his heroic action in blowing up the impregnable Monte Lucia single-handled.

Thoughts

Historically, the climax at Monte Lucia is based on the Battle of Monte Cassino. Very loosely, mind you, and it has little bearing on the actual battle.

The issue of child abuse in the story feels ahead of its time (1976) when read today. Abusive guardians were a common feature in girls’ comics, but the abusers were, in essence, doing it to exploit and take advantage of the protagonist one way or other. Uncle Braugen, on the other hand, is not bullying his nephew in order to exploit him. This is deliberate, intentional torture inflicted for sadistic purposes. For this reason, Uncle Braugen could well be the most evil child abuser ever to appear in comics. In any case, he deserves to appear near or even at the top of a list of the top ten child abusers in British comics.

Rat 4

It’s a wonder Uncle Braugen didn’t go into the Gestapo or SS. He has everything it takes to rise quickly there and he would love every minute on the job. He likes nothing better than cruelty, bullying, torture, and showing off his arrogance and huge muscles whenever he gets the chance. He torments his nephew because he is British and he also regards his nephew as a weakling because he is not physically strong. There are no redeeming qualities about Braugen whatsoever, unlike his wife Meg. Aunt Meg is kind and tries to protect her nephew, but there is little she can do against her hefty, bullying husband. Thank goodness the Braugens don’t have children of their own. Why the heck did Meg marry Hermann in the first place? Talk about a mismatch.

There is some stereotyping of Uncle Braugen’s nationality with the line: “The German, like many of his kind, was a bully”. Uncle Braugen is a bully because of his nationality rather than his personality and Nazi sympathies? That comes across as a bit offensive. To add to the stereotyping, Uncle Berman has a scar on his right cheek, presumably from World War I, and is also portrayed as your typical arrogant German, with extra-nasty qualities that make him the ideal Nazi.

Rat 5

It is surprising that Doug Watson makes it into the army, much less rise to the status of lieutenant, considering what a physically weak and emotionally abused boy he was in his childhood. But it is a delightful surprise, an ultimate triumph for the abused boy, and it would be one in the eye for Uncle Braugen. Indeed it takes Uncle Braugen himself by surprise when he first meets his nephew as an adult. By the time Uncle Braugen is actually holding Doug prisoner, Doug himself declares that he is not the frightened little boy anymore. Now he has become a man who can stand up to his uncle and the physical torture Uncle Braugen inflicts on him. He does not even call Braugen “Uncle” anymore; it’s just “Braugen”. But all it takes is the rat phobia to undo all that and turn Doug Watson back into the frightened little boy again, for all the confidence, courage and strength he has gained through the army.

It is fortunate that Doug gets a chance to redeem himself and overcome his rat phobia into the bargain. However, it takes more than determination to succeed and shame over breaking down and talking to overcome the phobia. Although Doug tries, it takes another extremely strong emotion – hatred – to counter the extreme terror because it was the stronger of the two. And the rat torture ultimately backfired on Uncle Braugen because it unwittingly exposed the chink in the armour of the supposedly impenetrable fortress.

When Uncle Braugen initially tortured and terrorised his nephew, he never in his wildest dreams ever thought that the boy he considered a weakling would be the one to cause his death. And on the battlefield too! But that is indeed the case, and it is a most fitting and ironic twist. Mind you, what Aunt Meg would say about her own nephew killing her husband in action we can’t imagine.