If there’s ever an award given for the most tone-deaf comic book of the 1960s, then TOD HOLTON, SUPER GREEN BERET stands a pretty good chance of winning. It was published in the opening days of 1967 and attempted to introduce a new wartime super hero soldier character. Unfortunately for its creators, the war was Vietnam, and their creation, while echoing elements of the original Captain Marvel, starred in a series of jingoistic stories very much out of keeping with the popular sentiment towards that war, even in 1967. It was a crazy misfire in every way.
The Green Berets, U.S. Army Special Forces, had come to prominence in popular culture due to the twin releases of a book by Robin Moore by that name in 1965, and the subsequent hit song “The Ballad of the Green Berets” the following year. The song in particular was one of the few pieces of popular culture at the time to cast the military in Vietnam in a positive, even heroic light. And so using this iconography as the basis for a new comic book character must have seemed like easy pickings to somebody.
The origin story of Super Green Beret was written by Otto Binder, the most storied writer of Captain Marvel and later Superman, and illustrated by Carl Pfeufer, who is mostly recalled for his work on the Sub-Mariner in the 1940s. They both really should have read the room a little better, maybe. As the title of the book says, Super Green Beret is really Tod Holton, whose Uncle Roger is a Green Beret serving in the conflict in Vietnam.
On a furlough home, Roger gifts Tod with his own Green Beret, a special one that had been enchanted by the Jungle Wizard after Roger had saved the life of an Abbot who was about to be killed by a wild pig unleashed by the unsavory Viet Cong who had been raiding the monastery. But the Jungle Wizard told Roger that the magic power he conferred upon the beret could only be activated by one young and pure of heart. Roger didn’t really believe any of this malarkey, but he gave to cap to nephew Tod all the same.
When Tod puts on the beret and salutes, he’s transformed Billy Batson-style into a full-grown adult with magical powers–Captain Marvel if the Captain had a low lottery number. The spirit of the Jungle Wizard–basically a cut-rate SHAZAM–appears to Super Green Beret and instructs him that he must always use his powers to battle evildoers.
In practice, this means aiding the American military then engaged in armed conflict in Vietnam against the Viet Cong. By touching the beret, Tod discovers that he can pick up telepathic impressions from all across the globe, and he uses this ability to locate dire situations half a world away in the theater of conflict. Upon hearing about a G.I team in trouble, Tod becomes Super Green Beret and teleports to Vietnam and their rescue.
Super Green Beret can do pretty much anything, and he uses his vast powers in completely mundane fashion to vex the attacking Viet Cong and rescue his countrymen.
The Viet Cong troops are as badly caricatured as the worst racist depictions of the Japanese during World War II, and are treated almost indistinguishably from those former foes–they’re all shifty, evil-hearted and a bit dim, to say nothing of superstitious. It’s reducing a conflict in which thousands of young American boys were sent to die for vague and insubstantial reasons down to the simplest sort of a cartoon of good versus evil.
But beyond that, SUPER GREEN BERET is just bad, a far cry from the more inspired, imaginative and whimsical work that Binder had produced on Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family years before. There isn’t a drop of real joy to be found in this strip, and Pfeufer’s art carries all the excitement of Ikea furniture instructions.
It’s not even good propaganda given how tedious most of the stories are. I really can’t tell whether this was a project that Binder believed in where he was just out of step with the Nation or if it was simply a matter of taking the paycheck for the work, but either way, it’s awful.
Mercifully, there were only two issues of SUPER GREEN BERET published before Lightning Comics vanished from the scene, a victim of the super hero gold rush of the 1960s becoming tapped out and at least partly due to the fact that, like a number of other newcomers, they priced their books at 25 cents and made them double-sized. At twice the cost of a regular comic, even if SUPER GREEN BERET had been a winner, it would have had a tough fight to attract enough buyers to stay afloat.