Commander Battle's sub under attack. Artist: Sheldon Moldoff.

COMMANDER BATTLE AND THE ATOMIC SUB

Medium: Comic books
Published by: American Comics Group (ACG)
First Appeared: 1954
Creators: Richard E. Hughes (writer) and Sheldon Moldoff (artist)
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In the 1950s, putting the word "atomic" in the name of a fictional work was as much an indicator of technological up-to-dateness as "electric" had been in earlier generations (cf. the Tom …

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… Swift Jr. and original Tom Swift novels, respectively). Today's equivalent would be "digital", which has supplanted "cyber" in recent years. But when, with a cover date of July-August, 1954, The American Comics Group (Herbie, John Force) launched Commander Battle & the Atomic Sub, it missed the boat on placing the series in the near future — atomic (or "nuclear", as they're now called) submarines had been part of the real world since January.

The real atomic sub was apparently a bit more complex and challenging to deal with than the comic book one. Commander Battle's got along with only four men aboard — Bill Battle (the boss), Champ Ruggles ("the most powerful man on the American continent", and maybe even the other American continent as well), Doc Blake (the scientific genius) and Tony Gardello (only mildly ethnic). Another crew member was introduced in #3, Jonnie Flint (the kid, often left behind when they went into danger so he'd be available to rescue them when, inevitably, they wound up needing it), and Tony was soon written out. Considering the ship was big enough to store an atomic plane capable of carrying the lot of them, it may, perhaps, have been a bit under-manned.

Together, they were called The Atomic Commandos. While the word "commando" is seldom used in connection with a submarine's crew, neither is it commonly used to denote an American fighting unit in World War II. But Sgt. Fury's outfit eventually took an issue to explain the apparent misnomer, and if Commander Battle had lasted into the 1960s, when people became more likely to make a big deal over these things, maybe he would have too.

The writer who co-created Commander Battle et al. isn't known for sure, but was probably the line's editor, Richard E. Hughes. In earlier years Hughes had co-created Doc Strange, The Black Terror and more for another company (which was known by several different names over the years). The artist was Sheldon Moldoff, who did Hawkman for DC Comics, Kid Eternity for Quality, Moon Girl for EC and more, but spent the bulk of his career ghosting Batman for Bob Kane.

Even discounting the "atomic" part of the title, Commander Battle & the Atomic Sub was very much a product of its time. The villains tended to be Commies, and the stories played out before a background of quietly intense struggle for the political fate of the world. Also, in keeping with the contemporary trend toward adding depth in visual artforms such as comic books and movies, Moldoff drew the first issue in a style the publisher called "Truevision", which used overlapping panel borders and exaggerated foreshortening to simulate a 3-D effect.

But despite its trendiness, Commander Battle failed to catch the public's fancy. Only seven issues were published, the last dated September, 1955.

— DDM

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Text ©2007-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Roger Broughton.