One thing that grabbed my attention right away is that the Creature Commandos were created by none other than J.M. DeMatteis, whom most people know for his work with Keith Giffen on the various incarnations of the JLI (though I'm personally more a fan of his Hal-Jordan-as-the-Spirit). The copyright information dates this comic to Nov. 1980, and I had no idea DeMatteis was doing comics then. In fact, I expressed my incredulity on twitter, only for the man himself to explain that this was one of his first gigs, DC having put him on an anthology book much like an MLB team might sign a fresh face to their minor league affiliate.
Anyway, moving on. As I said, Death is the star of the show, besides the Creature Commandos and later G.I. Robot, I guess. If you've ever read House of Mystery or House of Secrets, Death's role is very similar to that of Cain and Abel in those comics -- he introduces the stories at the beginning, then closes the book out in the end. In this case, each time he's wearing a different uniform, though this is one of fairly few times I've seen him with hair. He's wearing a helmet all of a sudden on the next page.
Our "heroes" -- Left to right, they're Sgt. Vincent Velcro, Lt. Matthew Shrieve, Pvt. Elliot "Lucky" Taylor, and Warren Griffith. Missing is Dr. Myrra Rhodes, a woman with living snakes for hair; she joins the group in WWT #110 (which is only like five CC stories from now).
Not to spoil it right now, but while Shrieve is the ranking officer and leading man, the "hero" of the feature is probably Velcro or maybe even Lucky. In any case, the story opens in a Midwestern US Army base in 1942, where Shrieve, an agent of US Intelligence, presents some VIPs with the fruits of secret project "M." He claims, and this is going to get mentioned in every DeMatteis CC story, that the idea was to personify primal, archetypical fears that dwell within every human being. I find this a little silly -- the primal fear of Universal movie monsters? I get that they can be construed as representing primal fears of, uh, nasty killers, wild animals, and big scary guys, maybe, but just face it, they're just plain monsters, that's the psychological effect they have.
I have to stress that this is my one complaint about an otherwise really solid feature. Moving on, Shrieve profiles three individuals: Pvt. "Lucky" Taylor, a bumbler who was stitched back together after stepping on a land mine, Sgt. Vincent Velcro, who was looking at 30 years in prison if he didn't cooperate and basically had his every cell soaked with vampire bat blood, and Warren Griffith, a 4F farmboy who thought himself a wolf and was turned into one by scientists. The guys Shrieve is presenting to don't buy it one bit, thinking Shrieve is playing a sick joke on them, but they clam up pretty quick when he calls the boys in.
Things get off to a bad start when Velcro assaults a general for calling him a "Hollywood hoax", turning into a bat and back as he does so. Velcro now needs to ingest human (or animal) blood to survive, and thinks the general's will do nicely. That's when Shrieve sics Griffith on him. Griffith is the berzerker of the group, constantly itching for the chance to kill and never tiring of the sight of blood. However, the serum that gave him his wolf powers is unstable, and he'll randomly change back to his timid weakling human form. This is exactly what happens as he leaps at Velcro. Sorry if I'm kind of novelizing here, but this IS their first appearance, you can take all this stuff for granted later. Anyway, Lucky, who has no vocal cords ever since his accident, grabs Velcro and throws him clear across the room, defusing the situation. The general Velcro accosted is disgusted by the team's brutality -- which is why he thinks they're the perfect weapon.
So, blah, blah, shipped immediately to take a French castle from the Germans. Their plane gets kerblooeyed by German air patrols seconds after they jump out; Lucky cries for his fallen comrades. One thing I want to get out of the way: it's not clear just how intelligent Lucky is or isn't, but he's pretty much definitely not in the "mentally challenged" range like Shrieve thinks he is. Anyway, Griffith and Velcro scale the walls of the castle and take out the watchmen.
Then, with no explanation, all four men are together and it's not entirely clear just where they are. Okay, two complaints so far, still like this comic, eat me. So they barrel through a huge gaggle of guards and have Lucky smash open a reinforced door to find, and I'm serious, robot duplicates of Allied heads of state and military leaders. Then more German soldiers show up, along with the guy who spearheaded the "robot duplicate" thing. Naturally, the CCs take care of them with little trouble, though Lucky starts to cry again and Griffith eventually changes back to human form. Everyone makes a death-defying leap from a castle wall on Shrieve's order, and sees the castle explode behind them after running a bit. Turns out Shrieve had planted a bomb just in case things went sour -- a time bomb.
This is a common theme throughout the stories -- Shrieve represents humanity in the menagerie of monsters, and he's the most vile by far. He's the real monster, we're the real monsters. He's an insulting bully who hates the freaks he helped create. Velcro and Griffith aren't shy about the fact that they hate him, with Velcro being constantly thiiis close to killing him.
Alright, stay tuned for more Creature Commandos!