Writer: Chuck Dixon
Artist: Sergio Cariello
Letterer: Charles Pritchett
Colors: Rick Hiltbrunner
Editor: Stephan Nilson
Publisher: Image Comics
Plot: In the last days of the Second World War, Allied bombers pummel the smoldering ruins of Berlin City while the collapsing Nazi forces brace for the inevitable invasion of Russian troops. But amidst the chaos and confusion, a shadowy figure known only as the Iron Ghost is murdering high ranking SS Officers and it up to a pair of beleaguered German police officials to find out why.
Comments: It’s a well known fact among the annals of pop culture that Nazi’s make the best villains. Indeed movies, television and comic books are replete with images of evil, goose-stepping Germans getting the living crap beat out of them: from Captain America giving Hitler a star-spangled slug in the jaw, to Indian Jones outwitting a slew of diabolic Gestapo agents. So it is perhaps a little surprising that Chuck Dixon’s latest homage to 1940’s pulp serials—The Iron Ghost—portrays Nazi’s in both the typical vilified manner (complete with riding crops and glass monocles) as well as offering a rather unique (and not entirely unsympathetic) view of World War II from the German perspective. The result is a wonderfully entertaining comic book that reads like a combination of The Shadow radio plays, William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, with a bit of Robert Harris’ Fatherland, thrown in for good measure.
The issue opens with waves of Allied B-52’s carpet-bombing the already crumbling ruins of Berlin as the Third Reich is caught up in the early stages of its death throes. It is here, in the rubble strewn streets that a lone SS officer is planning on making his way out of the country armed with a brief case full of British currency. His plans however, are cut short when he is confronted by a shadowy figure who emerges from the darkness and coldly cuts him down with a pair of twin Luger semi-automatic pistols. In the bloody aftermath a pair of detectives from the scattered and undermanned Berlin Kriminal Polizei are given the task of tracking down the murderer—a seemingly pointless objective, as one of the detectives points out, given that thousands of Berliners are being killed each day during the Allied bombing offensive. With a direct order from the Gestapo however, the two detectives have little choice in the matter and are soon on the trail of an enigmatic (and possibly mystical) figure known only as The Iron Ghost, who has been systematically targeting high-ranking Nazi war-criminals.
Of course, in the tradition of the very best pulp heroes, the Iron Ghost is draped in a long billowing trench-coat, wears a shadowy top hat and glowing red glass monocle, and is armed with the aforementioned pair of Luger semi-automatic pistols.
The plot however thickens nicely with the involvement of a beautiful female operative, a German military industrialist and a pair of battle scarred war heroes thrown into the mix. Where these loose plot ends are going remains to be seen, but they are compelling enough to warrant picking up the second issue.
The issue rounds out with the Iron Ghost torching a German beer hall (which is conveniently full of drunken SS troops on leave from a concentration camp), and visiting a train yard littered with the empty box cars that had once been used to usher millions of innocent Jews to their deaths. Of course the Iron Ghost uses the potential poignant opportunity to cut down a few more Nazi goons, but it is a brief reminder of the horrifying and utterly despicable nature of the Nazi regime. Nazi’s after all, may make the best villains, but its important not to lose sight of the fact that they are torn from a dark chapter of human history.
Indeed this attention to history is really what makes The Iron Ghost #1 a remarkable comic all things considered. While at first glance it may appear to be your typical homage to the pulp comics of the 1940s, there is also a very subtle message about the futility of war beneath the seeming clichéd (yet entertaining) elements. It is after all, easy to think of the Allied Victory (the 60th Anniversary of which was celebrated on May 8th) as a simple and clear cut victory over evil, but in this seemingly simplistic super hero comic, it is pointed out that there were innocent causalities on both sides of the war, including hundreds of thousands of German non-combatants caught up in the Allied air-raids.
In the end though, lets face it, it’s really the Iron Ghost himself that’s going to draw the readers in, and as an homage to serial figures like The Shadow, the comic hits all the right marks in terms of the pulp genre (The Iron Ghost for example, has the whole “disembodied voice taunting the bad-guy” thing, down to a tee.) The script itself is also extremely well written and Chuck Dixon proves once again that he is one hell of a talent. Indeed, Dixon’s writing is easily on par—if not superior—to the work being produced by the Bendis’, Millars’, and Ellis’ of comicdom. The Iron Ghost #1 in particular shows Dixon’s flare for balancing multiple themes and genres, from over the top pulp super heroics, to a realistic war tale and a detective murder mystery. In all cases, the writing is sharp and compelling enough to draw readers in and the dialogue and narrative pace is nearly flawless.
Fortunately, artist Sergio Cariello’s visuals are equally on par to Dixon’s fine script work. The grainy, dark washed imagery captures the tone and feel of pulp noir comics perfectly and Cariello’s Iron Ghost is spot on in terms of a dark and brooding figure of vengeance.
Ultimately, The Iron Ghost #1 is a great read and well worth picking as an almost text book case for how to construct a well-paced and intriguing opening issue. Its clever mix of action and mystery along with the realism of war works brilliantly, thanks to Dixon’s steady narrative. But its most appealing feature is undoubtedly its homage to the old Golden Age pulp heroes. Which begs the question: does the Iron Ghost know what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Hmmmm…maybe not, but he’s still fun as hell to read about.
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