I had no idea who the Nazis were until the 1978 NBC miniseries Holocaust, which chronicled the fate of the German-Jewish Weiss family during World War II. I was in fourth grade, and I remember being proud of teenage son Rudy Weiss, who fought with the partisans in the forest. At the same time, my other primary education about the Nazis came from Lynda Carter, star of TV’s Wonder Woman.
Lynda Carter didn’t need tanks or B-29 bombers to defeat the Nazis. She just twirled around in different outfits and brought them to justice—every single week. Like every other 10-year-old boy, I thought Wonder Woman was hot—but kicking ass against the Nazis made her even hotter.
As an adult, my love for superhero movies from Marvel and DC has inspired me to buy a bunch of old 1970s and ’80s comic books to catch up on stories I missed. Many of the bad guys are Nazis and eventually, they lose. Whether it’s watching Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics, footage of American troops blowing up concrete swastikas, or Captain America defeating Hydra (or joining them, as writer MaNishtana explains today in Tablet magazine), I like watching Nazis lose.
Here’s a look at some of the more unusual World War II stories from the comic book bin.
Wonder Woman vs. a Time-Traveling, Robotic “Nazi Genius”
Red Panzer, a time-traveling Nazi general with a robotic suit of armor, has looked into the future and witnessed the Allied victory in World War II. He plans to use time travel to reverse the course of history, and his first objective is killing Wonder Woman (or “Vunder Fraulein” as he calls her in a stereotypically evil German accent). Panzer places her in a giant maze and says her life will be spared if she can outrun his guided missile that he’s testing for the Axis powers.
One might assume from the comic-book cover that Wonder Woman uses her breasts to block the missile, but she never tries this approach. Instead, she figures out that the missile’s homing device is attracted to her Amazonian bracelets, which she removes and throws at her would-be assassin. The explosion does not penetrate the armored robot suit but weakens Red Panzer enough to be captured and put in prison. At one point in the fighting, an adrenaline rush mixed with vengeance fuels Wonder Woman to nearly pummel the Nazi general to death with her fists. But her boyfriend, U.S. Col. Steve Trevor, stops her from landing the fatal blow—presumably because that would make her just as immoral as the Nazis.
Captain America Fights For the Nazis … at Yankee Stadium
Meglomaniac Red Skull, a former hotel bellboy who became Hitler’s No. 2, turns Yankee Stadium into his own Roman Colosseum for demonstrating his power to the masses. Using a brainwashing machine called the “Nullatron,” he hypnotizes Captain America, the Human Torch, and the Sub-Mariner to fight for Hitler and orders them to destroy a team of seven lesser-known American superheroes (“The Liberty Legion”) in front of an SRO crowd. In the midst of the fighting, the Human Torch accidentally ignites Red Skull’s blimp and causes it and the Nullatron to explode. The hypnotic spell broken, the Liberty Legion heroes return to their soapbox. “We’re not letting down our guard again,” they vow. “Not any of us … till Uncle Adolf and crew learn that when they tackled free men, they bit off more than the Third Reich can chew!”
Brainwashed Nazi Gorillas vs. American POWs
If Nazi mind-control technology can take over Captain America’s brain, then certainly jungle apes are no match to resist. Deep in the heart of “untamed Africa,” a platoon of brainwashed gorillas serve as the Nazis’ brutal enforcers, hitting American POWs with clubs if they don’t obey orders. The Americans speculate that Germany is training the gorillas to be guards so they can free more soldiers to fight on the front lines. If the test succeeds, the Nazis plan to breed “a whole army of intelligent apes.”
Capitalizing on the gorillas’ “instinct to imitate,” the Americans draw how-to diagrams explaining how to use the German weapons. The gorilla guards then trade in their clubs for stolen guns and kill their Nazi captors. There’s no explanation why the gorillas don’t turn on the Americans instead, given their past behavior, but hey, this is a “Weird War Tale,” after all.
Batman & Aquaman vs. “Swastika Sharks”
What’s the best way to neutralize a Nazi submarine? Ask a friendly blue whale to help you. That’s Aquaman’s strategy and it’s extremely effective. In this buddy-buddy tale, Aquaman and Batman must recover a secret military satellite accidentally turned over to a Nazi war criminal posing as a United Nations official. Batman explains his frustration as he clenches his fist: “Incredible! So we were victims of a bold hoax! The message and the U.N. insignia on the plane were both fakes, of course!”
The Nazi fugitive, who has a team of frogmen as his disposal (disparagingly called “swastika sharks” by the heroes), is named Baron Mannheim. No relation to Kurt Waldheim, the Austrian Nazi who got a real job as United Nations Secretary General from 1972-1982.
Sgt. Rock Gets Rescued by Heidi
Sgt. Rock, DC Comics’ most famous World War II soldier, is strafed by machine gun fire from a Nazi plane as he is scouting enemy positions. He is knocked unconscious and wakes up in an idyllic mountain village (presumably in the Alps) dressed in lederhosen instead of his uniform. His friendly captors are a young blonde girl in braids inspired by the fairy tale “Heidi” and her pacifist grandfather, who tries to convince Sgt. Rock that he is better off without his weapon. The girl disagrees and secretly gives him his military gear back. Inexplicably, the story then moves to Sgt. Rock’s men trying to steal Nazi gold for themselves instead of turning the loot over to the army. Sgt. Rock convinces them to do the right thing. The villagers then read a fairy tale about a noble knight slaying dragons. But you see, that story is really a metaphor. On another note, this comic book has nothing to do with its cover. There are no scenes of Nazis destroying books inside.
Why Is Hitler Afraid of an American Mummy?
The Unknown Soldier is the Allies’ secret weapon, a “man of a thousand faces who proves that one man in the right place at the right time can make the difference.” According to the DC Comics Encyclopedia, his face was disfigured by a Japanese grenade, motivating him to keep his head covered in bandages. The Unknown Soldier has the ability to disguise himself as anyone and easily infiltrate behind enemy lines. Hitler hates the American so much that he is willing to commit the resources of his entire army, plus the SS, the Gestapo, and his army reserves to kill one man. The reason he’s mad? The Unknown Soldier just tried to kill him with a surprise birthday present: a classic Rembrandt painting containing explosive paint!
Hitler Almost Killed by Booby-Trapped Painting
I read my Unknown Soldier comics out of order. This is the reason why Hitler is going ballistic over just one man. An American secret agent mixed explosive chemicals into the paint on a “lost Rembrandt masterpiece” presented at his birthday party. Unfortunately, the James Bond-like (or Austin Powers-like) plan doesn’t work. But you have to give the Unknown Soldier points for attempted in-your-face irony. Hitler, of course, originally wanted to be a famous artist. And the Nazi theft of precious art continues to haunt the art museum world today. Killing him with a paintbrush would have been most appropriate.
The Unknown Soldier Visits the Day Before the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
The Unknown Soldier disguises himself as a Polish vegetable peddler, trying to sell a cart of rotten potatoes to starving Jews in the ghetto. His undercover mission is to meet an old Jewish chemist who has a secret formula to help the Allies build a “super weapon” to use against the Nazis. He manages to steal an SS officer’s weapon and contribute to the uprising before smuggling out the formula hidden in a prayer book—and also rescuing the chemist’s angelic granddaughter. “The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was ultimately doomed to failure,” he concludes. “But the story of those valiant people and their glorious courage is immortal.”
Superman & Batman vs. the Ku Klux Klan
One might wonder why Batman and Superman would express fear while being surrounded by a mob of hooded KKK thugs. Even if they hate Kal-El’s Kryptonian heritage, the Man of Steel could quickly immobilize them all with his heat vision or super cold breath. But these aren’t normal KKK thugs. They worship Satan and are backed by a mysterious gray cloud of supernatural evil. At the end of the story, this “cold and deadly presence” takes over Batman’s mind and body. Superman notices that Batman appears to be“a little tense,” but the Caped Crusader assures him everything is OK. A glazed look in his eye suggests otherwise, but I’ll never know what really happens unless I track down the January 1983 issue.
Captain America Get Rescued From Nazi Superhero Wedding
Led by Captain America and his best friend, Bucky Barnes, the Invaders are a team of five superheroes united to “battle the Axis powers to the death in the name of freedom.” The heroes are the unintended guests at the wedding of Master Man and Warrior Woman, the Nazi equivalents of Superman and Wonder Woman (forgive the DC analogy for Marvel characters). After the uber-villains say, “I do,” Hitler plans to order his firing squad to kill the Americans. Before he can utter the command, a grenade drops from the sky and takes out the SS gunmen. Ruining the wedding reception is the musclebound Union Jack, the United Kingdom’s answer to Captain America. “Don’t lose heart, Invaders,” he says. “ We’ll take the Jerries yet!” he says. “Jerry” was British slang for bedpan and is what they called German soldiers instead of the American slur, “Kraut.”
The Invaders vs. Nazi Exotic Dancer
Again, I read my comics out of order, learning about the origin of Nazi “Warrior Woman” after I saw her get married. Madame Mystery is a Nazi interrogator and evil scientist who is able to hypnotize victims with the dangling end of her whip. While trying to create a formula for superhuman strength, she is caught up in a lab explosion. The blast causes her body to grow to goliath proportions and she inexplicably sheds her military uniform for a tight leather exotic dancer costume. Maybe it was the only clothing she could find in her new size. The most bizarre moment in this story is an interrogation scene where Warrior Woman beats an American private with a rolled up comic book. Really.
Batman Joins the Simon Wiesenthal Center?
Most people associate Batman with hunting down the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, or Catwoman. But Batman also takes Nazi-hunting gigs. In this story, he meets famed Nazi hunter Leon Weiner, who is clearly modeled after Simon Wiesenthal. Weiner shows Bruce Wayne a concentration camp number tattooed on his arm. “If the few survivors like me do not remember, Mr. Wayne, who will?” he asks. “Will you?”
As Batman, he tracks down Nazi war criminal Martin Bormann in Brazil, which prompts an air battle between the Batplane and a Messerschmidt over the Amazon jungle. The real Bormann was reported missing on May 2, 1945, and was rumored for decades to have escaped to South America. However, 1998 DNA tests on a skeleton dug up in Berlin confirmed he died during the end of WWII.
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Darren Garnick is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker.