I recently read “Somebody’s Soldier-Son,” published in G.I. Combat #281 (January, 1986, DC Comics). It’s the first “Mercenaries: Soldiers of Fortune” story I’ve read even though I’ve had their adventures in my comics collection for years.
This particular story follows the Mercenaries (Gordon the American, Prince the Englishman, and Horst the German) through their daring infiltration into mid-1980s Cambodia to locate and return the remains of an American soldier who was classified MIA during the Vietnam War. It’s an exceptional story written by Robert Kanigher; it’s right up there with his strongest work on Sgt. Rock.
Unfortunately, Vic Catan Jr.’s artwork loses detail in the Cambodian landscapes until the last four pages when it kicks into gear from climax to conclusion and really shines. The Mercenaries reach the alleged location of the soldier’s grave where, after exhaustive digging, they find no body. Members of the Khmer Rouge then attack, which the Mercenaries survive in one brutal, explosive sequence.
The skeletal remains of an American soldier are then discovered nearby–though they can’t be certain if it’s the soldier that they had offered to find for the long-grieving family (at no charge, by the way; a merciful rather than mercenary touch).
The team successfully leaves Cambodia with the remains, which they return to the family. In the final, poignant scene at the soldier’s gravesite, the father’s thoughts reveal the truth. He knows that it is not his son, thanks to the soldier’s intact set of teeth with no single gold tooth (yes, I know, dental records would confirm identity; however, let us not be too picky of a 12-page comic book story). Nevertheless, some solace and closure has been attained: “What difference does it make?” thinks the father. “He was somebody’s son!”
Kanigher was known for both superlative and goofy super-hero material. He was also praised for some great creations–notably by himself. What’s most important, though, is that he was the best war-comics writer the industry has ever had–and he has hundreds of stories, over forty years of writing in the genre, to prove it. I just never imagined that a “Mercenaries: Soldiers of Fortune” backup would reaffirm that fact. It’s a nice surprise!