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COMICS 101

By Scott Tipton
Scott Tiptons Comics 101

2006-09-27 - GIVE PEACE A CHANCE?

In past editions of COMICS 101, we've discussed some old favorites from the now-defunct Charlton Comics Group, such as classics (and personal favorites) like Steve Ditko's reconceived Blue Beetle and the Question, perhaps Ditko's trademark solo creation. However, it has to be admitted that not everything that came out of Charton's "Action-Heroes" line was a home-run success. Example, you ask? Well, let's take a look at one such creation this week, in the oddly aggressive pacifist known as The Peacemaker.

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Created by writer Joe Gill and artist Pat Boyette, the Peacemaker first made his appearance in November 1966, as a backup feature in issue #40 of the war comic FIGHTIN' FIVE. When that comic was canceled after only one more issue, the situation was reversed, with the Peacemaker getting his own series in March 1967, the logically titled THE PEACEMAKER, and the Fightin' Five settled into a backup-feature role in that series.

But who was the Peacemaker? Well, the blurb on the cover of his very first issue says it all: "A man who loves peace so much that he is willing to fight for it!" Well, that's not at all hypocritical, is it? And in case the oh-so-subtle slogan is lost on you, just take a look at the Peacemaker's chest insignia: a dove, bearing lightning bolts...

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Talk about your mixed messages...

I'll let the comic itself explain the premise:

This is another chapter in the career of Christopher Smith, peace envoy and diplomat...a man whose entire life is dedicated to the elimination of war between men! A man who willingly risks his life to banish the use of violence...A master of the weapons he pleads with the world to lay down!! Christopher Smith...whose alter ego is ...The Peacemaker!

In THE PEACEMAKER #1, by Gill and Boyette, the Peacemaker tackles The Commodore, a seagoing villain who is disrupting commercial fishermen, destroying their boats and jeopardizing the ability of millions of people to, well, have fish for dinner, I guess. Not exactly Blofeld and an orbiting laser satellite, is it? When Smith travels out by trawler to investigate the shipwrecks, his boat is targeted by the Commodore's men, who plant an explosive charge to the hull of the ship, and then helpfully warn the ship's crew that the boat will be destroyed in sixty seconds.

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Smith quickly changes into his garb as the Peacemaker (which included just about the silliest helmet I've ever seen in comics, and I'm including the Serpent Crown in that list. It looks like he's wearing a toilet seat on his head), and dives into the water, locating the explosive and defusing it (apparently just by peeling it off of the boat) with just a second to spare.

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After blowing up a few sharks with the explosive, the Peacemaker follows the saboteur to a nearby nuclear submarine and knocks him out, then heads inside for a face-to-face confrontation with The Commodore. Naturally, The Commodore begins monologuing, explaining his great motivation: "The fish are mine!" Ooooo-kay...

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Claiming dominion over all undersea wealth (which apparently includes mackerels and cod), The Commodore promises to destroy all who trespass on the oceans. Having heard enough, the Peacemaker lets loose with his helmet laser, setting fire to the atomic sub's control room. And check out this witty banter:

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"I know!" That Peacemaker, he's the life of the party...

The Peacemaker and The Commodore and his crew manage to make it out just before the sub goes kablooey, and with The Commodore in custody, the Peacemaker heads back to his chateau in Switzerland (Switzerland, see? Because he's peaceful. Ay caramba.), mulling over The Commodore's parting words, about plans to meet allies at the South Pole.

There's almost zero character development in this first story, very little action, and not even much suspense -- I mean, the villain was stealing fish, for god's sake. Does it get better? Eh. Not really.

In the second Peacemaker story in the issue, Smith gets some answers about the South Pole when a small, previously defenseless Balkan country unexpectedly starts threatening the major powers, prompting the U.S. and Smith to investigate. They discover that the tiny country suddenly has nuclear reactors, and Smith decides to head to the country (in his brand-new MACH 3 "PeaceJet," naturally) and figure out where they're getting uranium from all of a sudden.

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Flying over the Balkan nation, Peacemaker discovers not only bombers and missiles, but also tracks a series of cargo jets heading south. Following them to the South Pole, he learns the secret of the nation's sudden courage: a secret facility under the ice, allowing them to develop huge quantities of uranium and other valuable elements and minerals. Clearly, this can't be allowed to stand. Rather than waste valuable time with the international rule of law, the Peacemaker instead decides to trash the joint.

So, get this: Peacemaker heads down the ventilation shaft to break in, but the evil Balkan dudes detect him and turn on the nuclear furnaces, sending billows of white-hot atomic flames up the airshaft. The Peacemaker, in his short-sleeve t-shirt and white Dockers, mind you, flies straight down through the flames, thanks to the shoulder-mounted jetpack of his own invention.

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He then busts through the walls of the furnace and destroys the facility, sending what looks like an oven door right into the neck of one of the enemy scientists. Ouch.

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So how does the Peacemaker chalk up his survival, both from the flames and the impact of smashing up the facility?

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"Shockwaves cushioned the impact"? Pretty weak, even for comic-book science.

So how did Christopher Smith become the Peacemaker? Well, that wouldn't be answered until THE PEACEMAKER #4 (September 1967), once more written by Joe Gill and illustrated by Pat Boyette.

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Here Smith is interviewing for a new assistant at his "Peace Palace" in Switzerland, with only one applicant arriving: Nora O'Rourke, who shows up for her interview with a black eye. As she explains, all the applicants for the job were threatened with violence, and she was the only one who made it, having whooped the ass of a thug trying to put a bomb in her luggage.

As the job interview continues, Smith tells her a little something about himself, how his father was an army officer and his mother was a lab researcher, and how he's learned a wide variety of skills from flying fighter planes to spear-fishing.

Unfortunately, the interview is interrupted by a sniper's bullet, but Smith pulls O'Rourke to safety and calmly pulls a pistol from his jacket, returning fire and downing the sniper.

Naturally, it's just a medicated pellet gun, what with Smith's pacifism and all. Anyway, after dinner, Smith elects to take Nora into his confidence, and reveals himself to be the Peacemaker. And by the way, look behind him at what he's got down in the "Peacecave": rockets, missiles, jet fighters, what looks like a Howitzer anti-aircraft gun.

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When asked why he chose to become the Peacemaker, Smith replies, while curiously bathed in a red light:

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More specifically, when working diplomatically to nullify an international madman named Bork, Smith realizes that diplomacy won't work against him, and elects to "resort to the violence which [he] despised," using the weapons he'd invented (as a hobby, mind you) to end Bork's threat, turning Bork's missiles on his own jet bomber, killing him.

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Before Nora can accept the position, Smith's chalet is suddenly attacked by Colonel Uz, a "Bulgar arms thief," but the Peacemaker makes short work of him, thanks to all the extra explosives he carries on his person:

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THE PEACEMAKER was cancelled with issue #5 (after debuting a new "extreme-temperature-use" helmet that just might be sillier than the first one), and the character sunk into limbo for nearly 20 years. He made his return in 1985, when he and the rest of the Charlton characters were purchased by DC Comics, and he made a brief "blink-and-you'll-miss-it" appearance in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS.

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DC attempted to revive the character in the revised post-CRISIS continuity in 1988 in a miniseries by writer Paul Kupperberg and artist Tod Smith, in which Smith was rethought as the son of a Nazi death camp commandant, driven to atone for the sins of his father, and even tortured by constant visions of his father, criticizing his every move.

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The character was occasionally seen here and there around the DC Universe for a few years, before being killed off in a helicopter crash while battling Eclipso alongside the secret espionage agency Checkmate in the pages of the short-lived ECLIPSO series.

A second Peacemaker was introduced in September 1999 in the pages of the unsuccessful Charlton-heroes revival series L.A.W. (LIVING ASSAULT WEAPONS).

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The new Peacemaker, former surgeon Mitchell Black, had no relation to the original save the name and a somewhat similar uniform, and, much like the L.A.W. series itself, failed to make much of an impact. In fact, the new Peacemaker's most recent appearance, in INFINITE CRISIS #7, was his last, with the character being killed off by Prometheus in the colossal melee.

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However, it's rumored that the original Peacemaker will be returning in the pages of Keith Giffen's new BLUE BEETLE series, so it's a sure bet we haven't seen the last of the world's least committed pacifist.

But for pete's sake, man, get a new helmet...

Scott Tipton thinks that it's probably pretty hard to stay a pacifist when you walk around with a toilet seat on your face. That may be the problem. If you have questions about the Peacemaker or comics in general, send 'em here.

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