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I have purchased a 1994 Gemstone Publishing re-print of the first five
issues of "Two-Fisted Tales". This was an Entertaining Comic publication
devoted to conflict- war stories and revenge tales. The cover dates are
October 1950- July/August 1951.
The first issue (cover gives it as # 18, October 1950) features piracy,
conquistadors, and tales of spies/insurgency in Hong Kong and Central
America, but no mention of the then current conflict. Issue # 2 (cover gives
it as # 19, January 1951) features *one* story set in Korea ("War Story")-
which turns out to be the frame for a WWII tale. The Korean material even
makes it onto the cover.
Issue # 3 ("# 20", April 1952, likely a misprint of 1951) gives us the first
unashamedly identifiable Korean tale. "Massacred!" credited to John Severin
and Bill Elder is an eight page well executed revenge tale. A party of
American soldiers find a group of "United Nations" troop shot to death,
hands tied behind their backs with their own shoe laces. One is found to be
alive, he tells the story in flashback. His squad had been taken prisoner
when they came face to gun with "Russian T-34's" [SIC], this legend floating
over the tank in rough shock script. They are taken before Colonel Jun, the
villain of the piece. He orders all but two of them tied up and shot. Their
uniforms are stolen, the intent is to use these and the two surviving
captives to infiltrate UN lines. Encountering more North Koreans, one of the
captives attacks, only to be gunned down. This self sacrifice seals the fate
of the wannabe spies, they are tied and massacred just as they had killed
their own captives. Only our narrator survives.
The cover shows one US soldier warily watching a line of evacuees asking his
friend how thy could recognise infiltrators. Behind him, in the foreground,
an apparently black soldier is lying crumpled while an obscured figure with
a dagger advances on soldier one.
Issue # 4 ("# 21" May, 1952, likely a misprint of 1951) continues the
pattern of one Korean War to three non-KW stories. "Ambush!" by Jack Davis
is set near the Yalu River, being an infantry to infantry conflict it
suggests the intended date to be October 1950. Two jeeps of GIs are mined
and ambushed by "North Koreans" (who never the less appear to be wearing
Chinese uniforms). Both sides rack up casualties in fierce fighting, leaving
only the characters with names- "Pretty Boy" and "Lucky". Lucky is sure of
his invulnerability due to the Kewpie doll inside his helmet, however the
relieving solders reveal the unfortunate Pretty Boy had swapped helmets with
him to no effect.
The cover shows the first jeep flying momentarily as it is blown up, with
the second jeep in the foreground, dialogue in balloons - "*The road's
mined! It's a guerrilla ambush!*"; "We're in a crossfire! *Get this jeep out
Issue # 5 ("# 22" July/August 1951) breaks this pattern with two Korean War
stories, half the publications comic strip content. The first of these
"Enemy Contact" by Jack Davis is a fairly ubiquitous war tale. An orderly
succeeds in performing an appendectomy on the front (Inchon), only to lose
his patient to enemy mortar fire.
This strip makes the cover with the first real identification of the war-
"*Take cover!* There's a *North Korean* machine gun out there!".
"Dying City" (Alex Toth) presents us with two survivors of bombing raid, a
blinded North Korean and his Grandfather, who castigates him for involving
his family in the war. It transpires through flashback that the ruins are
their family home, the family were just massacred by a grenade thrown to
kill an American soldier who had sought refuge there. This last tale, along
with "Massacred!" are the most identifiable as Korean War fiction, the
others could easily have been Pacific WWII stories.
For a publication devoted to war, published during a war there is
surprisingly little about the Korean war here. "War, Presidents and Public
Opinion" by John Mueller uses
poll data to compare Korea to Vietnam, finding overall that Korea was little
more popular to the US public than Vietnam. The main difference was the
Vietnam opposition was quite vocal, where the respondents who didn't support
the Korean were motivated more through apathy.
Another explanation could be that there would have been a run in in
commissioning Korean stories, a time lag between the start of the war and
the artists/writers responding to it.
Alternately, a hybrid explanation. Two-Fisted Tales was evidently rebadged
from another publication. Perhaps William M. Gains was simply being cautious
with this second launch of his war comic, testing the waters with more
Korean material as the war progressed. Certainly "War Story", the first
tentative KW tale published here ends with a request for feedback from the