Sunday, February 13, 2011

Social History in Comics: Two-Fisted Tales 30 - "Bunker!"

The first occasion that I am aware of on which comics addressed the issue of inter-racial strife within the US armed forces was in Two-Fisted Tales 30 (Nov-Dec 1952), in the story "Bunker!", written by Harvey Kurtzman and drawn by Ric Estrada, with colors by Marie Severin. The famous cover of this issue is by Jack Davis.

The plot of "Bunker!" is straightforward. There's some Chinese soldiers holed up in a very strategically placed bunker, pinning down two platoons of U.S. troops, one segregated African American and the other segregated white. The two groups of American men are on different sides of the bunker, each trying to take the hill on which it is located.

The death of one of the African American soldiers spurs his comrades at arms to a heightened state of military aggression and they succeed in taking out the bunker with grenades, to avenge the fallen man. Consequently the hill is taken by the Americans, only it is the all-white platoon that reaches the top first and claims credit for the victory. This sparks a racist quarrel that looks like it could get out of hand.

The senior officer steps in and sorts out the argument before any damage is done. In classic EC style, the last panel is used to reveal the wording on the sign that has had the effect of bringing the African and white Americans together.

Published towards the end of the Korean War, this story involves segregated units, which still existed at the time in the U.S. Army, although full integration was not far away. The inter-racial conflict shown here is more of the nature of a rivalry, although there was definitely a hint that it could get nasty.

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