I’m sure most people reading this have heard the recent news about the newly established DC Studios’ upcoming slate of movies and television. We’re getting a full reboot (kinda) from James Gunn and Peter Safran, with a fresh new direction and a more interconnected world across film, TV, cartoons, video games, and all that fun stuff. These announcements have been the talk of the town, with a lot of buzz and excitement for a new Superman movie, a live-action adaptation of The Authority, and BOOSTER GOLD, to name a few. But one project I haven’t seen discussed a whole ton is Creature Commandos, a new animated series written by Gunn. To me, this is one of the most exciting announcements from this slate, and looks like it’ll be a ton of fun. The Creature Commandos are pretty obscure but incredibly fun characters, so I thought I’d break down who they are, what Gunn seems to be pulling from, and how I think they will factor into the wider DC Universe.
First of all, who are these freaky-looking fellows? You’ve heard of the Justice League, you’ve heard of the Teen Titans, maybe you’ve even heard of the Newsboy Legion, but Creature Commandos? What is that? Well, the Creature Commandos are a group of monsters operating in World War 2 for the US government. They were created by J. M. DeMatteis after the DC Implosion, during a period where DC needed new talent and new ideas. DeMatteis was pretty new to the business and was assigned to write an anthology series called Weird War Tales, a series that began with the legendary Joe Kubert. The book was a bit like if you smashed together The Twilight Zone with Band of Brothers, a strange mash of traditional war comics and bizarre sci-fi and horror concepts. It’s one of the last vestiges of DC’s era of bizarre war comics where seemingly every soldier enlisted in World War 2 had to fight a dinosaur.
When DeMatteis was assigned the book, he wanted to push this wackiness even further, and the wackiest thing he could think of was a bunch of classic monsters suddenly thrown on the front lines, and so began The Creature Commandos. The Commandos were part of one of those classic shady government branches called Project M, mixing science and psychology to create monster archetypes that could scare the pants off of the Nazis. This brings us to the initial team; it featured Warren Griffith, the team’s resident werewolf, who happened to be very timid and fearful. Elliot “Lucky” Taylor, a dead soldier patched together like Frankenstein’s monster after stepping on a landmine, Vincent Velcro, the team’s resident vampire, and finally, Lieutenant Matthew Shrieve, who was the team’s human leader. The team later added G.I Robot, a robotic soldier created and popularised in other issues of Weird War Tales, and Dr. Myrra Rhodes, a surgeon who basically turned into Medusa.
The team’s initial adventures didn’t last long, but they sure burned bright. DeMatteis is clearly having such a blast with this concept and is diving head first into completely ludicrous territory with a wit and silliness that makes it constantly entertaining. The first issue was given life through the pencils of Pat Broderick, who gives the Commandos a sense of grit and atmosphere that works wonderfully with the monstrous aesthetic but also juxtaposed hilariously with the absolutely absurd premise.
However, while he was replaced with rotating artists after this first issue with Fred Carrillo, Bob Hall, John Celardo, and some early work from Jerry Ordway, the art retained much of this aesthetic. Carrillo especially carried the baton from Broderick excellently with a rougher, more shadowy art style. These stories, unfortunately, didn’t last for long as DeMatteis would leave the book, and be replaced by Robert Kanigher with issue #109, however, his stories are still absolutely worth reading. The team’s adventures would eventually end in 1983 when Weird War Tales was canceled.
Following their book’s cancellation, the Commandos fell into total obscurity, becoming some of the many sadly forgotten DC characters from their era. They would eventually be revived for the modern era with a brief series by Timothy Truman and Scott Eaton that brought them out of World War 2 and into a contemporary setting. But of particular interest when discussing Gunn’s upcoming show is Frankenstein and the Agents of S.H.A.D.E.
This was a book released following DC’s New 52 reboot, which, while many saw as unsuccessful, thankfully saw an uptick in stories featuring DC’s horror and monster characters, whom I love dearly. Among them was The Creature Commandos, who were prominently featured in this brilliant but massively underrated series by Jeff Lemire and Alberto Ponticelli. This book follows Frankenstein’s Monster (a sleeper favorite of mine), who leads a team formed by S.H.A.D.E (think Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D but for monsters and magic) to stop supernatural threats. The series acted a bit like DC’s take on the BPRD and Hellboy but had a much faster pace and more of a blockbuster sensibility. The book followed a new version of the Commandos alongside S.H.A.D.E, making them two sides of the same coin. Again this series is just a blast, and I highly recommend it if you want to figure out what kind of stories the show might be telling.
What’s interesting to me is that Gunn seems to be combining both of these iterations of the Creatures. The lineup shown in the promotional art for the cartoon only features one of the members from that original series, G.I Robot. Frankenstein, the Bride, and Nina Mazursky are all from the S.H.A.D.E series, Doctor Phosphorus is a Batman villain, and Weasel is a carryover from Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. One character addition I find fascinating however is Rick Flag Sr.
Rick Flag Sr is the father of Rick Flag Jr (no duh), who in the DCEU and comics is the field leader of the Suicide Squad. In the comics, Flag Sr was a World War 2 hero who led the original Suicide Squad. Back then, the Squad consisted of soldiers sent on crazy dangerous missions they didn’t expect to survive. In those stories, Flag Sr’s death is what inspired Flag Jr to join the military, and it’s what eventually got him the job with the Squad. What’s interesting here is that this series is set in the modern day, so in this continuity, Flag Sr never died; instead, he’s been enlisted by Amanda Waller to lead this team, likely because of his son’s death in The Suicide Squad. So Gunn is setting up The Creature Commandos as another wing under the command of The Wall. This makes sense since Lt. Shrieve from the original run of stories had the same function, a human soldier who had to reel in all these abrasive livewires, much in the same way that both Rick Flags have to do.
So this show seems to be operating as a combination of the classic Creature Commandos from World War 2, the shadowy government agency stuff of S.H.A.D.E, and the ongoing Suicide Squad story Gunn has set up. What does this all mean? Are Flag Sr and the Commando’s going to show up in Peacemaker to avenge Flag Jr? Are the Commandos going to be sent after the rogue Squad team of Harley, Bloodsport, Ratcatcher 2, and King Shark? At this point, we don’t know, but what I do know is that it looks and sounds like a ton of fun. Gunn is all about mixing and matching obscure elements from comics, so I can’t wait to see what he does with these characters. In the meantime, why not read some comics? All of the original Creature Commandos stories have been collected in a single volume, and Agents of S.H.A.D.E is absolutely worth a read. If nothing else, it can whet your appetite while we wait to have our questions answered.