Now, who would have ever thought that one day this would be a comic book and a character of note. It simply goes to show: you just never know what some future creator is going to be able to make something out of. PEACEMAKER #1 was one of two issues of the series reissued by Modern Comics as part of their 3-Bag initiative that reprinted old Charlton books for sale in discount department stores, supermarkets, toy stores and the like. But it was the only issue I owned–I never got the second one, because I wasn’t all that wowed by this first one. Still, thanks to the efforts of filmmaker James Gunn, the character was both featured in a major motion picture and also received his own self-titled and well-regarded television series. What a country!
As we covered elsewhere (see the link embedded below) Peacemaker first appeared as a back-up feature in FIGHTIN’ 5, a series about a Blackhawk-like team of international troubleshooters. But somehow, in the super hero and spy-hungry days of the 1960s, the strip turned out to have legs, and so the situation was flopped: Peacemaker was given his own book, and Fightin’ 5 wound up running as the back-up strip. It was a series that was of its time, with a tag line that was kinda dumb if you thought about it too much: “He loves peace enough to fight for it!” But that’s a sentiment that no doubt echoed in some ways in those days of the Vietnam War.
This first issue of PEACEMAKER was comprised of two shorter Peacemaker stories–no doubt originally commissioned as further FIGHTIN’ 5 back-ups–and then a similar short Fightin’ 5 story. The two Peacemaker tales were both written by Joe Gill, an accomplished if hackish sort of a writer whose primary claim to fame is that he wrote enormous quantities of material, much of it of dubious quality. They were drawn by Pat Boyette, who had an appealing style to his work, though his action was always a bit restrained and realistic, and thus dull. He hadn’t absorbed any of the stylistic changes that Jack Kirby’s Marvel Comics were bringing to the field. But his work was very attractive nonetheless, in a sort of clinical fashion.
Because of their short length, the two stories are simple, straightforward capers without a lot of flourish to them. in the first, peace envoy Christopher Smith boards a fishing trawler headed into unsafe waters that have been steadily raided by agents of an enemy world power. And when this mysterious enemy strikes at the ship from a submarine, Smith dons his Peacemaker attire, goes over the edge and battles them on their own terms. In the space of eight pages, he’s able to annihilate their atomic submarine and stop the raiding of American ships in international waters while capturing the ship’s Commodore. But at the story’s end, he’s still concerned about the mysterious malevolent force waiting at the South Pole that the Commodore was intending to link up with. I’m not sure whether this plot thread was ever gotten back to.
In the second story, Smith is accosted by the ambassador of a hostile Balkan nation. Surveillance photos indicate that the country is developing nuclear weapons, thus explaining its aggressive posturing. So the Peacemaker heads out in his own special long-range Mach-3 fighter to locate the enemy installation and put it out of commission. Which he does in 9 pages–a slightly larger job than the sub in the first story, it seems. There’s a particularly absurd sequence in it where the Peacemaker is dropped into a nuclear furnace but survives by increasing his speed to supersonic levels and bursting out of the chamber. It’s utter nonsense, but that was often par for the course for adventure comics in the 1960s. And besides, likely I’ve already spent more time musing on this than Gill did when he wrote it–he was only getting two bucks a page, and the only way for him to make a living was to deliver volume.
The Fightin’ 5 story was also a Joe Gill story, this one illustrated by Bill Montes and Ernie Bache. The artwork was a bit stiff and crude, to be honest. The story also featured the unappealing machine lettering that Charlton often liked to use at this time. Apparently, the typesetting machine worked like a gigantic typewriter: you would roll the original artwork into it, then type out your copy for balloons directly onto the boards. It saved a few cents per issue, maybe, but it made the end product look cleap and chintzy. It wasn’t attractive or easy to read. The Modern Comics reprint cut a page out of this story, a pretty good trick considering that it was only 8 pages long to begin with. But 1970s comic books had more limited pages counts available to them.
The shtick of the Fightin’ 5 was that their unit was comprised of five soldiers, each one of whose name began with one of the letters in F-I-G-H-T. In this adventure, the team takes on a Dictator who intends to provoke a world war and then emerge afterwards to rule whatever is left over–a standard if absurd villain plot in the 1960s. The Fightin’ 5 bring his plans to ruin, but not without losing one of their own along the way: Irv “the nerve” Haganah is electrocuted when he goes to cut some high-tension wires that are still electrified. His death is handled in about as blase a manner as is possible–it occurs only two panels before the end of the story, and while the captions tell us that characters are affected by it, there’s no real evidence of that on the page. I’m not sure whether the group replaced Irv in the next story or changed their minocker to the Fghtin’ 5, but I assume the former.