Hey there, comic book fans and monster aficionados. Today, we’ll be reviewing a brand new DC Comics collection and delving into an unconventional, fascinating corner of the DC Universe – a corner that is home to the legendary series known as WEIRD WAR TALES. This war comic anthology introduced us to an eclectic mix of characters, but none were more unusual than the Creature Commandos.
If you’ve been keeping an eye on DC Universe news lately, you’ll have caught wind of James Gunn’s May 2023 announcement. The acclaimed director, best known for his vibrant take on the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise over at Marvel Studios, is bringing the Creature Commandos to life in a brand-new animated series for HBO Max.
With production already underway, this series marks the first new DC show on HBO Max, part of the highly anticipated DC Universe “Gods and Monsters” slate revealed by Gunn on January 31, 2023. Fans and newcomers can expect a projected release between 2024 and early 2025. Yay!
This buzz around the Commandos has prompted DC Comics to re-release a brand new edition of a 2014 trade paperback collecting all of the CCs’ comic book adventures in Weird War Tales. This latest edition was released in early 2023 and contains stories from Weird War Tales no. 93 -124 (1980-83). It features stunning art by the likes of Fred Carillo, Dan Spiegle, Bob Hall, Jerry Ordway, and Frank Giacoia, with cover art (that’s right, all the original covers are included) by the great Joe Kubert, Rich Buckler, Joe Staton, Romeo Tanghal, Jim Aparo, Gil Kane, and Dick Giordano. The writing, for the most part, is done by either J.M. DeMatteis or Robert Kanigher. With creators like these, no wonder Weird War Tales was such a hit among comic readers at the time.
Before we get into the collection’s contents, let’s briefly look at the Creature Commandos themselves and how they came to be.
War’s Weirdest Warriors
The Creature Commandos are not just your average super squad; their originality and bizarre charm set them apart. Making their debut in 1980, this motley crew of classic movie monster facsimiles has been battling villains in the DC Universe in one form or another for over four decades, giving Gunn and his team an abundant source of potential stories to adapt.
Picture this: it’s World War II, and who’s fighting the Nazi menace? The products of the Allies’ top secret Project M (‘M’ is for Monster) – A team comprising a patchwork monster, a lycanthrope, a bloodsucker, and a reject from Greek Myth. Yes, you heard that right. So without further ado, let’s explore the history of the Creature Commandos.
I. Conception and Debut
The Creature Commandos are a unique creation of J.M. DeMatteis and artist Pat Broderick. This extraordinary team first appeared in “Weird War Tales” #93, published in November 1980. What set the Creature Commandos apart was their distinctive makeup, being composed of versions of classic movie monsters – A Boris Karloff-like Frankenstein monster, a Dracula-esque vampire, a Lon Chaney-inspired wolfman, and a beautiful but deadly Gorgon. Together they formed a formidable fighting force that made the Nazis quake in their boots. And yet, though heroes through and through, the Commandos suffered prejudice at home and the ridicule of their commanding officer, who often reminded them that they were nothing more than experimental freaks, weapons in service of a country that did not love them.
II. The Squad Members
1. Lt. Matthew Shrieve: Lt. Shrieve, the only human member and the leader of the Creature Commandos, is an accomplished military man who isn’t easily fazed, as you can imagine, given his unique squad. He is abrasive and quick-tempered, abusive and ruthless, totally unsympathetic to the plight of his monstrous squad, but a highly effective field commander with “jungle training” that sees him through most supernatural scrapes.
2. Sgt. Vincent Velcro: Scientifically transformed into a unique type of vampire, Sgt. Vincent Velcro underwent this transformation as part of Project M’s experimentation. Velcro possessed all the usual vampiric traits, including immortality, super strength, and a thirst for blood. However, with his strong willpower, Velcro managed to control his bloodlust most of the time.
3. Pvt. Elliot “Lucky” Taylor: Blown apart after stepping on a landmine, Pvt. Trainor was patched back together by the scientists of Project M using augmentative surgery. As a result, Taylor gained superhuman strength and resilience, becoming the giant shambling patchwork powerhouse of the team. He is also mute, and seems to be the most introspective of the Commandos.
4. Pvt. Warren Griffith: Griffith was an average soldier until Project M exposed him to a formula designed to simulate the Jekyll-Hyde transformation. Subjected to the serum designed to trigger lycanthropic traits, Warren Griffith found himself transformed into a werewolf, a humanoid wolfman with feral powers.
5. Dr. Myrra Rhodes: Dr. Rhodes, a scientist, was a later edition to the squad, transformed into a medusa-like gorgon by unknown experimental chemicals. Her poisonous snakey locks caused many a death among the Nazis who stood in her way. Ultimately she would prove to be one of the most popular members of the Creature Commandos.
III. Origins and Adventures
Project M designed the Creature Commandos as a specialist unit capable of taking on high-risk missions during World War II, similar to a supernatural black-ops team specializing in wetwork. Each member, barring Lt. Shrieve, had unique powers that made them extremely effective in combat.
Their adventures spanned the course of World War II, during which they took on numerous dangerous missions and faced off against a wide range of enemies, from Axis forces to supernatural threats. The Creature Commandos’ stories combined elements of the horror, science fiction, and war genres, making them a unique offering in the DC lineup at the time of publication.
Here are a few stand-out stories from The Collected Creature Commandos:
The Creature Commandos! – The story that introduced the Commandos to the world. As Project M unveils its creations, to the astonishment of the War Effort’s top brass, the fearsome freaks are given their first mission: Infiltrate a German fort and thwart a group of Nazi Androids from infiltrating the Allied governments.
The Faceless Enemy! – The Commandos are led into a trap by a beautiful French collaborator, but love turns the tide at the end. Love… and a hefty dose of monstrous savagery. Nazis die by the scores in this one, folks.
Dinosaur Convoy – The Commandos are sent to the Pacific to hunt down a Japanese convoy but fall afoul of the sinister inhabitants of Dinosaur Island! It’s the classic War That Time Forgot, folks.
The Children’s Crusade! – Nazi Death Camp experiments yield superhumanly strong children who are weaponized by the Third Reich to kill. It’s Village of the Damned meets The Dirty Dozen as the Commandos face the true monstrous toll of war on the lives of innocents.
The War At Home – The CC faces their most unusual mission yet – scatter a bunch of American Nazi sympathizers by burning their homes to the ground and putting the fear of god in them. Predictably, Murphy’s Law takes effect and nothing goes according to plan. A truly chilling tale, bound to upset sensitive readers.
In The Kingdom of the Damned – The Commandos are sent to assassinate a scientist who developed an apocalyptic nerve gas. Captured, they face a firing squad while “Lucky” Taylor experiences a psychotic break as he contemplates the unthinkable.
Roses are Red, but Blood is Redder – The Commandos penetrate deep into enemy territory and eventually meet Dr. Medusa, their newest recruit!
The Doomsday Robots! – The Commandos meet another hero of the Weird War, J.A.K.E. #1 (The Jungle Automatic Killer Experimental), as they confront the threat of… Atlantis?? Get ready for a team-up that will knock your socks off.
The Medusa Sting! – Set in North Africa, this story is like Richard Matheson’s The Shrinking Man meets The Mummy’s Curse. It’s wild! You’ll have to read it yourself to experience the weirdness.
Circus of Madness – The Commandos go undercover as Circus Performers in the heart of Berlin! Needless to say, they fit right in, and the Nazis never know what hit them.
You Can’t Pin a Medal on a Robot – The Commandos team up with J.A.K.E. once again as the G.I. Robot returns!
Doorway to Hell – A story steeped in myth and magic. The CCs find themselves on Sicily and in the embrace of the fiery elemental being known as Inferna!
A Miracle for Monsters – The Commandos go in search of a cure to their monstrous condition while Lt. Shrieve quits the squad to face his most insidious foe yet – boredom!
World Under Glass – The Commandos are sent on a mission to save an Italian scientist who has developed a working time machine. They travel to a future Utopia, where fresh horrors await. All that, and we get the weirdest re-enactment of the tale of Androcles and the Lion. This is one for the books, folks.
Death Smiles Thrice – A submarine adventure that culminates in a showdown with three beautiful robotic Dutch Triplets in Windmill Land. Sounds weird? Well, that’s par for the course.
And if all these tales aren’t enough to whet your appetite for weirdness, let The Longbox of Darkness satiate your lust for four-color violence with the following panels featuring the Squad’s signature combat style:
IV. Later Appearances and Reboots
The Creature Commandos have had a rollercoaster ride in terms of continuity. They’ve appeared in several limited series and made cameos in various DC titles post their initial run in Weird War Tales. They’ve even had stints in the future, thanks to some time-travel shenanigans, and popped up in titles like “Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein”.
In the New 52 reboot, the Creature Commandos’ origin was reimagined: instead of being a World War II team, they were created during more modern times. They were also tied to S.H.A.D.E. (Super-Human Advanced Defense Executive) and worked with the likes of the DC Universe version of the Frankenstein Monster.
Ultimately, the Creature Commandos remains one of DC’s most unique and endearing teams, a testament to the creative risks taken during the Bronze Age of Comics. Their blend of war and horror narratives, combined with their monstrous yet strangely relatable characters, makes them a standout in DC’s rich universe. This collection is, naturally, a must-read and garners 5 out of 5 skulls.
Thanks for reading, horror fiends and friends. Remember to subscribe to the blog for more posts, and leave a comment down below if you have any fond memories of The Creature Commandos and DC’s Weird War Tales.
- Note: The above post contains affiliate links. Purchasing through them will help support The Longbox of Darkness.