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Commander Battle and the Atomic Sub

Entry updated 21 August 2023. Tagged: Comics, Publication.

US Comic (1954-1955). Titan Publishing Co/American Comics Group. 7 issues. Artists include Ken Landau, Sheldon Moldoff and Ogden Whitney. Scriptwriters include Richard Hughes. 36 pages. Each issue was dominated by a 2 or 3 part Atomic Sub story, broken up by brief fiction and non-fiction pieces; from #3 there would also be a 5-7 page Atomic Sub story focusing on one of the Commandos, except for #7, which concerns one of the sub's guards: of these, only the "Doc" Blake tale is SF.

The US Navy rushes to complete its first atomic submarine, with politicians being quoted off the record: "It's the greatest secret Weapon America's ever had" and it is needed urgently, "because we may be facing the most awful emergency in our history!" It requires a crew of only four, but they must be outstanding individuals: those selected are top secret service agent "Bill" Battle, who will be in charge; America's best Scientist "Doc" Blake; boxer, wrestler and weight-lifter "Champ" Ruggles and the modern day Houdini, escape artist "Tony" Gardello. These "Atomic Commandos" are briefed by the US President: reports of "flying saucers" (see UFOs) have been confirmed – though the suspicion is they are Russian secret weapons – and, as they have been seen diving into the Atlantic's deepest waters, only the Atomic Submarine can investigate.

And investigate they do, diving 50 [sic] miles deep into uncharted waters to discover a domed City: "Look at the topography, it's a regulation land mass." Blake suggests this is the site of Atlantis. Attacked and pursued to the surface, they manage to bring down one of the saucers: it appears empty, save for racks of tubes; but on entering the four are bathed in a paralysing light – then the ship begins to repair itself and the tubes fall and smash on the floor, with demon-like Aliens emerging. They explain they are from Mercury and plan to conquer the Earth (see Invasion), having spent centuries establishing their base on the site of Atlantis. Using their specialisms the four escape, then destroy the city with the sub's atomic torpedoes.

#2 has all major US politicians, save the President, kidnapped by Psi-Powered Titans from the centre of the Earth (see Underground), who fear radioactivity. If the US pledges never to use atomic power (see Nuclear Energy) they will be freed: but concern over a resultant Russian invasion means no such agreement can be given. A drill is attached to the atomic sub and so the four reach the underground white-skinned civilization, which has dark-skinned slaves. The Titan's leader threatens to cover Earth's surface in a flaming sea of lava, so the commandos release a radioactive cloud killing all the Titans: "not a single one was left alive. Let it be said they were not evil! Destiny had willed that they cross man's path ... and that only one race or the other survive."

In #3 the Moon turns blood red and launches atomic bombs at the Earth. As they currently lack rockets capable of reaching the Moon the US Government decides to send the Atomic Sub, converted for Space Flight by adding "jet propulsion with an atomic motivator". Suspicions of a Russian base on the Moon prove correct, and the Soviets have also managed to antagonize the locals, their experiments having somehow changed the colour of the surface. Our heroes manage to persuade the Lunar civilization that not all Earthmen are bad and have them destroy the Russian base – but only through the help of stowaway boy genius, M Jonathan "Johnnie" Flint and his invention, a Telepathic headset. He is rewarded by becoming a Junior Atomic Commando. However, they only number five for a short while: #4 has the Russians developing a monstrous plant with prehensile branches, whose extensive root system saps the life out of the soil for miles around – and they plan to release its seeds all over the USA. They're foiled, but Tony dies.

In #5 the Communist threat comes from China, who have a secret base in the Arctic preparing to launch atomic missiles at the USA. Fortunately the sub carries a collapsible jet fighter and Bill uses it to drop a nuclear bomb on the base. #6 shifts the action to the other Pole, which holds a Technologically advanced underground Antarctic civilization. Having been trapped under the ice since the time of the cavemen, using lava heat to power their civilization, they now launch an unprovoked attack on the USA. The Commandos manage to break though the ice into their underground stronghold by dropping the sub, head first, from a great height. Once in, they fire an atomic bomb that wipes out the civilization. #7 has the commandos discovering Russia's plot to invade the West on 15 August : they have been using flying saucers to spy on the USA, knowing any sightings will be dismissed, and these will next be used to drop nuclear weapons on America's cities. Fortunately the South American airfield holding them is downriver of a dam, so the sub travels upriver to blow it up.

Commander Battle and the Atomic Sub is drenched in Cold War Paranoia: with two acts of genocide on Lost Races, and Russia and China's intentions repeatedly stated to be the destruction of the USA, the inference is that similar acts against those nations would also be justified. Fortunately the comic's power fantasies and patriotic fervour are undermined by the absurdity of the attempts to crowbar the submarine into being essential to the story: only in #1 is it prominent as a submarine: in #2 it becomes a mole, in #3 a Spaceship and in #6 a sort of bomb; otherwise – due to the land-based plots – it is largely a means of transport. With forgettable, Clichéd characters, the first three issues are at least livened up by the appearance of giant Monsters: dragon, octopus and snake respectively. [SP]


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