Regarding DC's SHOWCASE PRESENTS series of black and white collections, I certainly feel that older material should be available in an affordable format for all to experience, but I consider very few of those volumes to be essential reading. Many of them have shown me just how quickly some of DC's flagship titles lost steam in the `50s and `60s. Flash, Green Lantern, Atom - while I love these characters, it was difficult to stick with their various collections. Others weren't so difficult; specifically, their non-superhero titles such as Jonah Hex, The Haunted Tank, and now, The Unknown Soldier. In fact, SHOWCASE PRESENTS: THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER VOLUME 1 is my favorite entry in the series so far (sorry Jonah!).
The Unknown Soldier... the man whom no one knows, but is known by everyone! Created by Joe Kubert, and first appearing in Star-Spangled War Stories #151 (1970), his face was ruined in a grenade attack that killed his brother. Remaining in the service as a covert operative for US intelligence, this master of disguise moves behind the enemy lines of World War II like a ghost, supporting the troops of Europe, Africa, and the Pacific Theater through his espionage activities and impersonations of both Allied and Axis figures.
This collection features tales from Star-Spangled War Stories # 151 - 190, written by Kubert, Bob Haney, Frank Robbins, Robert Kanigher, and Archie Goodwin; and illustrated by Kubert, Jack Sparling, Dan Spiegle, and Gerry Talaoc. Good grief, could the talent roster be any more impressive? The stories are quick and to the point, yet packed with tons of plot and action; seriously, even the shorter stories in this collection contain more action than many of today's full-length comics. The stories pull no punches when it comes to the realities of the war - spies, concentration camps, and death around every corner. Also of note is the obvious research the writers did in order to stage the Unknown Soldier's missions during actual events of World War II, such as the cracking of Japan's Purple Code, the Casablanca Conference, and the German Resistance's plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The art is consistently stellar, even though it moves through a number of contributors. These guys all knew how to draw normal, everyday people and military hardware, exhibiting much more talent than many of the artists on DC's superhero titles.
I'm hoping for more volumes featuring DC's war characters, and the Unknown Soldier is at the top of the list.