Wednesday, September 24, 2014


I’m always more than a little surprised that Buster Crabbe doesn’t maintain a higher profile in nerd culture. The former Olympic athlete, after all, played the title roles in movie serial incarnations of Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and Tarzan and was the star of two individual runs of self-titled comics from different publishers. Conceivably the first comic book movie action hero, at the very least, he’s got to be equivalent to, I dunno, The Rock. And nerds love the Rock, man, they love that guy. I love that guy. Heckuva guy, Rocky.

Crabbe was also the star of the short-lived Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion, a series which ran two seasons and spawned a quartet of comics, one issue of which was sponsored by Heinz. This may be the only comic book ever produced by a ketchup company, although I bet Del Monte sponsored Heroes Reborn or something.

Ennnhhhhh, sorta?
Set in the deserts of Northern Africa, Captain Gallant led a multicultural cast of Foreign Legionnaires which included Crabbe’s real life son Culen Crabbe as murder-hungry team mascot Cuffy. Not included in the show were Crabbe’s other children, King, Horseshoe and Moon Unit.

To lighten the mood among Cuffy’s many assaults on the raiders, ne’er-do-wells and general foreign people which occupied much of the Foreign Legion’s time, the show and book also featured character actor Fuzzy Knight playing … um, himself. Apparently times had gotten tough for the cowboy comedian, maybe he killed a man, maybe he’s just running from his responsibilities, whatever happened it drove him to join the Foreign Legion. Anyway, he played the actual, factual Fuzzy Knight on the set (and in the pages) of Captain Gallant, which I guess makes him the team’s Creed Bratton.

Fuzzy Knight, Camel pimp.
The first issue of Captain Gallant contains a quartet of stories, the first of which basically behaves like a recruitment drive for the Foreign Legion.  Cuffy in particular gets a big thrill in listing all the people the Foreign Legion has been assigned to kill, because it gives him hopes and dreams to aspire to. There is something about Cuffy in this book that seems to imply he’s on a real short leash, possibly for his safety and possibly for the safety of others. When an American movie company is filming nearby, Cuffy ends up violating direct orders so he can break into the company’s supply of cold ice cream. I’m comfortable in suggesting that he murdered seven, maybe eight people in the process.

Another weird highlight – or lowlight – of the story involves Fuzzy’s relationship with a prize camel, Josephine, upon whom he dotes limitlessly and to whom he coos loving babytalk. It gets cold in the desert at night, I think we can all understand.

Being a comic produced by a condiment company, one of the highlights of Captain Gallant is that the back of the book lists a bunch of products which Heinz was, at the time, selling. Very few comics include a list of meats. They release all these ultimate editions and omnibuses, but I’ve never seen one with a checklist of sausages or anything, a grid of baloneys. The Jack Kirby Fourth World Omnibus doesn’t have a Venn Diagram of cold cuts in the back. What I’m saying is comics are a sham.

The book concludes with an official certificate you can sign and hang on your wall, and which certifies you as a member of the Junior Legionnaires. Among the rights and privileges this confers upon the signatory would be, I assume, a license to kill, a camel of your very own, a piece of the human trafficking pie and Cuffy moves your name to the bottom of his list – for now.

Oh, well, stick around for a few decades, things really pick up.


John said...

Your caption made me look up the Legion's participation in WW II. Technically the kid is right. It just happens that he's right regardless of which side you're talking about. This is inspiring for bloodthirsty men of all ideologies!

Calamity Jon said...

As a conceivably interesting counterpoint to this representation of the Legion in comics, there's also DC's somewhat obscure Ghost Patrol, whose fatal final mission was a bombing raid ordered by their Vichy superiors on a village of helpless women and children ... (they had a mutual fit of conscience at the last second, right before their planes exploded, so justice sort of prevailed there I guess)

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