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The Unknown Soldier
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Fred Hembeck

The Unknown Soldier
Uploaded January 1, 2002

"Neil, you got some 'splainin' to do…!"

That's been the basic message that several people have sent over the last few months, regarding my apparent unexplained sabbatical from Hembeck updates.

Simply, my attention has been pre-occupied by a number of significant events in my personal life since late last year. I won't go into details, but I would ask for your indulgence and understanding.

Bottom line, the storms have passed, the world is still turning on its axis, and the site will soldier onwards.

Speaking of axis and soldiers (Hah! Best segue ever!), behold the Unknown Solider.

While he looks like an extra from some high-concept movie cross between Saving Private Ryan and The Mummy Returns, he's been a low-key mainstay of the DC multiverse for a few decades, performing all sorts of dangerous undercover missions for the U.S. intelligence community. Oh, stop snickering.

Legendary comics artist (and comics artists progenitor!) Joe Kubert created the Unknown Soldier for Star Spangled War Stories #151. Never named, the soldier and his brother Harry had been assigned to the same unit in the Pacific Islands during WWII. Harry gave his life saving his brother from a Japanese grenade, but the explosion left the soldier's face tragically disfigured, and swathed in bandages.

Aiming to make a difference nonetheless, he became an uncanny master of disguise, able to create flawless physical and verbal impersonations. (Hey, DC - here's a plot idea, if anyone wants to follow up on it - maybe there could be a connection between the Unknown Solider and the other masters-of-disguise in the DCU, e.g., Black Orchid and Christopher Chance a.k.a. The Human Target, something comparable to the way that Wildcat has been established as the grand poobah of super-hero fight training in the DC Universe.) This allowed him to be the ultimate undercover agent, traveling to all WWII theatres of operations, furthering Allied goals and undermining those of the Axis.

Conceptually, the Unknown Soldier was brilliant. It evoked a noble historical impulse, giving it major street credibility, and the infiltration/espionage direction gave huge latitude in the story-telling possibilities. The lone wolf nature of the stories also presented opportunities to tell stories far from the usual 'donner und blitz' of World War II stories.

Sadly, as is often the case with well-executed story concepts, someone decided that a team-up with Superman was a worthy idea, as part of the DC Comics Presents series (an 87-issue succession of Superman team-up stories). Ideas like this are always a little distasteful; there's a subjective reality in story concepts such as the Unknown Soldier that gets completely gobsmacked when someone in tights flies into the room.

One final note: in the grand super-hero tradition, the editorial powers-that-be saddled the Unknown Soldier with a telling weakness, a tendency to scratch at his neck, ostensibly due to the irritation caused by his latex masks.

Two words, guys: calamine lotion.

- NP

The copyrights, trademarks and publication rights to Fred's cartoons belong to DC Comics, Marvel Comics, and Fred Hembeck where appropriate. Proud Robot Productions graphics, site design, cartoon re-coloring and commentary copyrights belong to Neil Polowin and Proud Robot Productions.

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