Friday, March 30, 2012

Forgotten Comics: Tod Holton, Super Green Beret

A Green Beret comes home on furlough from the combat in Vietnam, bringing his young nephew his beret, which had been enchanted with jungle magic by a jungle wizard summoned by a monk that the soldier saved from a rampaging wild boat. Upon saluting, the young boy was transformed into an adult Green Beret soldier, and the spirit of the wizard told him to his new magical power wisely against evil oppressors in all warfare.

Yeah, I know. Sounds dreadful, doesn't it? And the old wizard, boy, and adult hero shtick? It's been done before, and better. But the late sixties saw all sorts of this kind of oddness. And Tod Holton, Super Green Beret was one of the oddest.

The comic was published by Lightning Comics in 1967. If you haven't heard of Lightning Comics before, don't feel bad. They put out a grand total of five comic books. That's only a few less than M. F. Enterprises aspired to create. Besides two issues of this title, they also published three issues of Fatman, the Human Flying Saucer, which was created by the master of the boy-into-adult-via-wizard genre, C. C. Beck, the creator of the original Captain Marvel (a.k.a. Shazam!). You might've heard that about that one, if just the absurd title.

The person who handled the scripts for both titles was Otto Binder. Otto Binder was a popular and pioneering science-fiction writer who also dabbled in comic books. He wrote stories for a multitude of features over the years: Captain Marvel, Tommy Tomorrow, Congo Bill, the Superman titles, Mr. Scarlet, Bulletman, Captain America, and Zip Comics to name a few.

Tod Holton, Super Green Beret was an adequate comic, but hardly up to the thematic standards of even the late sixties. As Super Green Beret, he could instantly "teletransport" to any site of conflict or warfare, and had magical abilities that seem to rival the Spectre, if the Ghostly Guardian had been limited by the imagination of a child. Just touching the beret allowed the kid to monitor radio broadcasts from anywhere in the world, so he could pop over to Vietnam for a quick tussle as needed. In one instance, he heard radio broadcasts from Nazi Germany and his beret took him back in time to World War Two to save some commandos from the forces of the Hun. The next issue had him going either further back in time to the American Revolution, where Super Green Beret proudly trounced some Redcoats while proclaiming "I'm from the Pepsi Generation!"

Super Green Beret did have one weakness. If you took off his beret, he lost his powers and reverted back to young Tod Holton. Not a fun thing to have happen in the middle of a South American revolution or in the rice paddies of Cambodia. That's a weakness that makes the Green Lanterns' original weakness of wood and the color yellow actually sound not so bad. Much like colorists often had problems keeping yellow things out of the way of GL's ring, the writer also forgot about that little tidbit at least once (as he was hatless for most of this adventure in the 1770s').

Both issues also had a couple of "True Combat Action" and "Vietnam Vignette" pages, in which real-life stories from various theaters of war were related. The second issue featured a group known as The Fabulous Flying Musketeers, which was an attempt to meld Alexander Dumas and Blackhawk together. Another feature told the story of the "Arizona Balloon Buster" a real-life tale that was similar to DC Comics' Steve Savage, Balloon Buster feature.

The pivotal first appearance of Super Green Beret.

The stories were okay if you consider plot development, but they were really late forties' stories and not late sixties. At least the book wasn't as racist as it could have been. Asians are drawn fairly realistically for the most part, as are other non-white characters. I was glad that the forties' caricatures of the "enemy" weren't carried over to a new era.

I think the problems with Super Green Beret were consistency and timeliness. There wasn't a lot of that. Super Green Beret can teleport anywhere on the planet, travel through time, can make things out of thin air, turn things to stone and lord knows what else. He was the Spectre, Doctor Strange and Burp the Twerp all in one. But he's gotten himself tied up and nearly blown up by explosives, and got derailed because someone took his hat.

The character was both timely and untimely in a way. Vietnam was beginning to occupy a bigger place in most American minds back then, but I think sensibilities had changed; this new enemy was more of a faceless concept to us, rather than a definite person like Hitler was in World War II. So Super Green Beret was right there on the spot, but no one really wanted him there, a special reminder to kids all over the nation that a war was going on. Especially since the character could have stopped the entire thing as quickly as Doctor Manhattan.

Tod Holton, Super Green Beret isn't as bad a comic book as you would think. It was just trying to appeal to a market that wasn't there.


by Rich Meyer

Everyone enjoys a good game of trivia, whether it's pulling out the old Trivial Pursuit board or yelling out answers while watching Millionaire on TV, or just trying to stump your best pal. 
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