Tag Archives: Norway

Snowbound (2022)

Commando: #5517

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.

Plot

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.

Thoughts

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.

Song of the Fir Tree (1975-6)

Sample Images

Fir Tree 1

(click thru)

Fir Tree 2

(click thru)

Fir Tree 3

Publication: 6 September 1975-31 January 1976
Artist: Phil Townsend
Writer: Unknown
Summary
Solveig Amundsen and her brother Per are two Norwegian children who are prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp. They and their mother (now dead) were sent there by Grendelsen, a rich and powerful man whom Mrs Amundsen accidentally found out was a traitor who had betrayed their Resistance group. Solveig draws strength from the resolution that they will return to their home with the big fir tree and the song their mother used to sing, “The Song of the Fir Tree”, hence the title of the story. She is also determined to return to Norway and expose Grendelsen, as she and her brother are the only ones who know what he has done. (As the story develops, one gathers that Grendelsen is regarded as a respectable man and there are no suspicions that he is a Nazi collaborator.)

From the outset, Solveig proves the stronger one, with spirit, strength and determination to survive and make it back home, while Per has a weaker constitution. He is more prone to illness and demoralisation, and almost succumbs to the camp conditions. He needs constant buoying up physically and mentally, and he would never survive without his sister.

The end of the war comes and the Allies liberate the camp. But Solveig recognises Grendelsen among the Norwegian officials who have come to collect them. Realising he has come to silence them, Solveig and Per go on the run, with Grendelsen in relentless pursuit. And Grendelsen soon proves he knows what he is doing in tracking people (and Solveig and Per never think to cover their tracks), and is very clever at tricking the authorities into helping him. And so the stage is set for a fugitive story going all the way from Germany to Norway, and all the assorted adventures, betrayals, misfortunes, lucky breaks, helpers and enemies the two children encounter along the way as they run for their lives. And all the while Solveig sings the song of the fir tree to keep her brother’s spirits up.

As the story progresses, another man joins the hunt for Solveig and Per – their father, Captain Amundsen. Captain Amundsen has returned from the war, discovered his children are alive, and is trying to catch up with them. He finds out about Grendelsen’s manhunt, and Grendelsen discovers the father is also searching. So it is a three-way journey and hunt, with Grendelsen and Captain Amundsen coming close to each other as they both search for the children, with the father constantly coming tantalisingly close to his children. However, the children’s constant attempts to evade Grendelsen also mean that their father constantly misses them. Each time Captain Amundsen comes close, he finds they have just taken off because of Grendelsen or whatever, which is heartbreaking and frustrating for the poor father and the reader. His biggest heartbreak comes when it looks like Grendelsen has finally killed the children by setting them adrift in a derelict boat and left it to sink. He does not know the children were rescued in the nick of time. He heads home for Norway, vowing to make Grendelsen pay.

Along the way, the children also become entwined in the fates of the sadistic Sergeant Strang and their fellow inmate Rachel Brodsky, the two concentration camp characters introduced in the first episode (above). The first occurs when the children go on a path that a local warns leads to a bad place rumoured to be haunted – haunted by Holocaust victims apparently, because the bad place turns out to be an abandoned concentration camp. The children take shelter in it anyway, not realising that Strang is doing the same thing.

We see that Strang has fallen a long way down from the hulky bullying Nazi with the whip and vicious dog. Forced into hiding from the Allies, he is now living rough, ragged and scared. Also, his mental state has deteriorated, exposing the coward he really is – or maybe a guilty conscience, as Grendelsen suspects? Strang even believes the voices he hears (Solveig and Per) are the ghosts of the people who died in the camp. It gets even worse for Strang when Grendelsen shows up (he would) and gets Strang to help him. Strang ends up breaking his leg and Grendelsen abandons him: “Then that’s your hard luck!” Fortunately for Strang, a more decent man is about – Captain Amundsen, who gets help for him. So Strang is not left to die a slow, painful death, but his final fate afterwards is not revealed. The story turns back to Captain Amundsen, whose quest to catch up with his children and Grendelsen has failed yet again.

The second occurs towards the end of the story. The children bump into Rachel, who is trying to get to Palestine. But she is doing it illegally with the help of an underground group because Palestine will not take any more immigrants (the strongest inference to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust in this story).  Grendelsen stumbles across them and holds all three at gunpoint – something he has been doing several times already, but the children always escape with the help of a rescuer. And this is no exception; the smugglers arrive and rescue the children. Rachel is soon on her way to Palestine, but Grendelsen has the authorities arrest Per and Solveig for helping illegal immigrants. However, the children escape once more with connivance from a sympathetic soldier (the only one who shows any good sense in this story – for the most part, authority figures think Grendelsen is the one to believe).

Of course it all comes to a head when the paths of all three parties finally meet. It happens at a port, where Solveig and Per try to catch a boat to Norway. Grendelsen arrives with the idea of stealing a boat, corners the children and holds them at gunpoint – again. He does the same with Captain Amundsen, who has (by fluke) arrived at the same spot. But then a bolt of lightning sends a tree toppling over Grendelsen, which kills him. And the tree is…a fir tree. Yep. After that it’s a happy reunion and return to their home with the big fir tree.

Thoughts
For some reason World War II stories were very rare in Jinty. The only other Jinty serials with this theme were “Somewhere over the Rainbow” (1978) and “Daddy’s Darling” (1975), which were also drawn by Phil Townsend. Perhaps Jinty’s emphasis on science fiction, fantasy and sport became so strong that other themes fell by the wayside? It is noteworthy that “Daddy’s Darling” also appeared in 1975, at the time when Jinty was still following Tammy’s lead in producing serials that focused on darkness, cruelty, hardship and raw emotion to tug at your heartstrings.

And this is what the story clearly sets out to do. The cover says: “They must escape – or die! A story to tug at your heart.” And it must have done, because this serial ran for five months!

“Song of the Fir Tree” had a mix of the usual three-page spreads and two page spreads throughout its run. This is very unusual. Occasionally an episode was reduced to two pages if space demanded it, or increased to four or even six if there was pressure to finish it quickly. Sometimes a story was reduced from three pages to two, as was the case in “The Secret of Trebaran” from Tammy. But what could be the reason for the mix of two and three page spreads for this story? Was the writer under pressure from the editor to condense some episodes into two pages for space reasons? Or did the writer sometimes come up with ideas that only required two pages?

But on to the story itself. “Song of the Fir Tree” certainly catches your attention for featuring the Holocaust – a subject usually delicately avoided or addressed fleetingly when girls’ comics ran World War II stories. Any use of Nazi prison camps tended to focus more on captured civilians or soldiers being used as slave labour, such as in “Wendy at War” from Debbie. But here you get an immediate taste of the Holocaust the moment you see the first episode. Of course you don’t get too much of a taste; once the children are liberated, the rest of the story is focused the fugitive issue once Grendelsen shows up. But as mentioned above, the concentration camp not only comes back to bite twice, but a second camp is introduced, with ironic consequences for the Nazi villains.

The journey also incorporates statements about Nazi Germany and the aftermath of World War II, such as in the devastation from the war bombing seen everywhere in the story. But the focus is more on the effects of the war on the people Solveig and Per encounter during their journey. For example, Solveig and Per take refuge at a farm where young Luise is sympathetic but warns that her Aunt Johanna will not be, so they have to stay hidden from the aunt. When Aunt Johanna discovers the fugitives, Per and Solveig find themselves caught between two Germans who were on either side of Hitler. Luise’s father was anti-Nazi and paid the price for it (taken away, never to be seen again), but Luise upholds his ideals. However, Luise’s Aunt Johanna still has her Nazi Party membership card, which Luise uses to blackmail her into putting up with the runaways until they are ready to leave. This encounter makes a strong statement that not all Germans liked Hitler. There were decent Germans in World War II, and being German did not necessarily mean being Nazi. Winston Churchill understood this – he always said “Nazis” in his speeches, not “Germans”.

Other good Germans are introduced too, such as the Schulmans, a kind farming couple who nurse Per back to health when he falls ill. Per wants to stay and is tired of running. But Grendelsen shows up again – yes, dear Per, as long as Grendelsen is around, you will have no peace wherever you go. Mr Schulman shows more kindness when he picks a fight with Grendelsen, who has cornered the children again. It looks like the fight ends in Grendelsen dying in a river, but the children take the hint and take off again. Just as well, because they soon discover that Grendelsen is not dead and is back to chasing them again.

People who are less kind (apart from Grendelsen and Strang) seem to be fewer, but they crop up occasionally. One example is a gang of street urchins that Per and Solveig fall in with. They leave Per carrying the can over a stolen watch, but Solveig pleads with the authorities that it is because the urchins are homeless and starving after the war, and the authorities take pity on the urchins.

Do we also get a sly message about environmentalism with the constant imagery of the fir tree, and its use as a symbol of hope, steadfastness and, ultimately, retribution and salvation? There is even a hint of prophecy, as the fir tree song speaks of “wild skies” and “storm” – and in the final episode, a storm does break out and sends the fir tree toppling over Grendelsen.

Indeed, “Song of the Fir Tree” ran about at the same time as Jinty’s best-remembered story about ecology, “Fran of the Floods”, where warmer temperatures cause world-wide flooding. So it is possible that they slipped an environmental message in here too. Or maybe somebody on the Jinty team had a fondness for fir trees and wanted to a story that incorporated them? Whatever the inspiration for the fir tree, you will emerge with a whole new respect for trees – especially fir trees – after reading this story.