THE UNKNOWN SOLDIERMedium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1966
Creators: Robert Kanigher (writer) and Joe Kubert (artist)
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The generically-titled, series-less anthology comic books published by DC Comics during the 1950s tended to sprout regular series right at the end of that decade — Adam Strange in Mystery in Space, The Haunted Tank in G.I. Combat, Space Ranger
in Tales of the Unexpected, etc. Not all of them lasted very long — for example, in 1965 Mark Merlin was replaced by Prince Ra-Man in House of Secrets and Gunner & Sarge by the Vietnam-era Fighting Devil Dog in Our Fighting Forces.
Star Spangled War Stories replaced its lead feature earliest and most often. It took less than a year for Mlle. Marie to give way to The War that Time Forgot. After featuring Enemy Ace during the late '60s, it finally wound up with The Unknown Soldier (no relation), whose series began in the 151st issue (July, 1970).
But that wasn't Unknown's first appearance. He'd been introduced in a Sgt. Rock story titled "I Knew the Unknown Soldier", which appeared in Our Army at War #168 (June, 1966), The story was written by Robert Kanigher (Trigger Twins, Rex the Wonder Dog) and drawn by Joe Kubert (Hawkman, Viking Prince). Kubert, as editor of the DC war line, decided Unknown was interesting enough to warrant a series of his own. He wrote and drew the series introduction for Star Spangled War Stories.
True to his name, Unknown's real identity was unknown not only to his few recurring associates (none as the series opened, in fact), but also to the readers. Even how he got to be how he was, wasn't known at first. It wasn't until #154 (January, 1971) that Kubert gave him an origin story, again written and drawn by himself.
He and his brother Harry had enlisted in the very early days of the war against Japan. Harry was killed by smothering a hand grenade, which also disfigured Unknown's face to the point where, like Dr. Doom before him, he was never again seen without a mask or gauze wrapping. Wracked with survivor's guilt, he went straight to the Office of Strategic Services (which survives as the CIA) and underwent intensive training so he could infiltrate the enemy at will.
He could craft latex masks so lifelike, so convincing, they could exist only in comic books and on TV. With these plus his uncanny acting ability, he was able to go anywhere and be anybody. There was only one way to spot him — the latex made the sensitive scar tissue on his neck itch. He tried to keep anyone from spotting his constant scratching, but it was a tip-off at least to the readers.
The Unknown Soldier remained Star Spangled's cover feature for years, and interacted with several of his DC contemporaries (including Mlle. Marie, who swore to kill him after the war, when his skills would no longer be needed).
Kubert kept the character to himself only for a year or so. Later creative personnel include writers Bob Haney (Metamorpho) and Frank Robbins (Johnny Hazard); and artists Jack Sparling (The Pirana), Doug Wildey (Jonny Quest) and Dan Spiegle (Space Family Robinson).
Unknown stayed the main feature in Star Spangled War Stories as long as that title lasted, and then some. After #204 (March, 1977), the title was changed from Star Spangled to The Unknown Soldier. After that it continued as before, a relatively lengthy story about the title character in front and a shorter piece, sometimes about one the many DC war comics characters who had formerly had series, but most often not. It kept going for more than five years, but finally ended with #268 (October, 1982).
He was back a few years later, in a 12-issue limited series that DC published in 1988-89. Some readers don't consider this one canonical, because it takes a nickname sometimes used for him, "The Immortal G.I.", and treats it literally, as if he were actually, physically immortal. Also, they consider him out of character there, because he takes an anachronistically post-Watergate point of view that the U.S.'s war-related actions aren't always just and good merely because they're done by the U.S. A 4-issue limited series, much darker in tone, came out under DC's Vertigo imprint (Animal Man, Hellblazer) in 1997, but the immortality had been dropped. A new, completely unrelated character called The Unknown Soldier is on the drawing boards.
Mlle. Marie seems not to have kept her promise to kill Unknown, as he's made several appearances with other DC characters, in post-war settings. A notable one is DC Comics Presents #42 (February, 1982), where he had a modern-day adventure with Superman. Swamp Thing #82 (January, 1989) contained the revelation that he was still alive — but since that was a couple of decades ago now, who knows if it's still true?