Book (trade paperback collection) Review: M.A.R.S. PATROL TOTAL WAR: 
collection published 2004 by Dark Horse Comics; price $12.95 for the TPB edition  (I
think there may also be a hardcover, but not sure); ISBN  1-593070-262-7. 
Collects issues #1-2 of TOTAL WAR and issue 3 of M.A.R.S.  PATROL TOTAL WAR,
published in 1965-66 by Gold Key Comics.  Art (and  possibly plotting) in the
three issues reprinted is by Wally Wood with assists  credited to Tony Coleman and
Dan Adkins; no scriptwriter credited.  The  collection features an
introduction by Batton Lash (the SUPERNATURAL LAW  cartoonist, not the guy who ruined
the West) and an afterword by  Adkins.

Review by Bill Henley

When Gold Key Comics started putting  out original (non-licensed) adventure
comics in the mid 60's, I almost  completely ignored them.  I was a devotee at
that time of DC and then  Marvel, and I associated Gold Key (which initially I
didn't even realize was a  separate company from Dell) with "safe," mild, and
dull comics.  Later on,  I developed an interest in some Gold Key titles such
went under my radar.   Or so I thought anyway.  I vaguely remembered picking
up an issue or two  here and there, but when I went into my Dell/Gold Key box
preparing to write  this review, I found I actually own five issues (#4 and
#7-10) of MARS PATROL--  that's half the whole run.  But I don't have any memory
of actually  *reading* them.  I guess I'll read them now, and maybe do a
review of one  of the individual issues later on.

But those are the post-Wally Wood  issues.  This collection reprints the
three issues drawn by the legendary  Wood, and obviously his involvement is the
main reason for bringing this series  back into print.  Though his style here
seems a bit restrained compared to  his work on THUNDER AGENTS or DAREDEVIL
around the same time, it's certainly  still good to look at.

The story content is a bit surprising given Gold  Key's aforementioned
reputation for safe and mild comics.  This book is  their dipping a toe into the
war-comics genre, but in an unusual way.   Rather than dealing with an actual
historical conflict such as World War II,the  series takes place in the
"present", (that is, 1965) as the United States of  America is suddenly assaulted by a
horde of invaders coming almost literally  from nowhere!  All that is known
about them is that they appear to be human  (though they all have bald heads)
and they have a crab insignia on their  equipment and their purple uniforms. 
They don't come from any of America's  known adversaries of the time, such as
Russia or China, as those countries are  being attacked too!

The protagonists of the title are four members of an  organization,
previously unknown to the military table of organization, called  the Marine Attack
Rescue Service.  "Attack" and "rescue" seem to be  separate if not antithetical
functions, but it makes a neat acronym.  Our  heroes are leader Lt. Cy Adams
and his three man squad, Sgt. Joe Striker (an  early example of a
non-stereotyped African-American in comics), Sgt. Ken Hiro  (evidently a Japanese-American)
and Cpl. Russ Stryker (like Adams, a  Caucasian).   The four are among the
first U.S. soldiers to face the  purple crab invaders, and in succeeding stories
they keep being picked to  spearhead the defense, sometimes as a team,
sometimes one or another being  picked out to lead or assist another military group
(for example, in issue #2  Adams and Stryker fight alongside the Canadian Army,
since the Canucks are being  invaded too). 

About the only one of the four who really emerges as  an individual
personality in these first three issues is Hiro, and that's partly  because of an
ethnic stereotype-- he''s given to mocking the image of the  "inscrutable" Charlie
Chan type Oriental, for the benefit of both allies and  enemies.  (But in a
nod to the stereotype, Hiro is said to be an expert in  judo and karate.)

Anyway, as I started to say, the portrayal of this  hypothetical war, though
hardly as grim and gory as real combat, is surprisingly  graphic for a 60's
Gold Key comic book.  On the first page of #1 we see the  expression on the face
of an unsuspecting policeman as he is riddled with  submachine gun fire by
the crab invaders, and shortly afterwards we see  civilians killed in crossfires
and ruthlessly shot down by the invaders when  they try to defend their
families.  American forces led by the MARS Patrol  beat back one assault after
another, but the invaders keep showing up at new  sites and with new plans to
cripple America's defense.

On the other hand,  the portrayal of war is unrealistic not only in the lack
of really graphic gore,  but in ways that are common to most war comic books. 
The team of four men  is too small to be a viable combat unit by itself or
have much effect in battle,  and the casualty rate, or rather lack of one, among
the protagonists is highly  improbable.  This seems to be more or less a
storytelling necessity in  ongoing-series war comics, though.  You need to have
few enough regular  characters that the reader can keep track of them and
identify with them.   And you can't have your popular characters getting killed or
wounded and  replaced all the time.  (Once, during the 70's, Marvel had nearly
all the  members of one of its Sgt. Fury spinoff groups get killed on one
mission.   But though that was realistic enough, it only happened because the
title, COMBAT  KELLY & HIS DEADLY DOZEN, was being cancelled.) 

And the nature  of this quasi-sci-fi war in MARS PATROL raises additional
questions.  In  real war, soldiers need a base, a source of supply, a support
structure.   The purple crab guys don't seem to have any.  Where do they come 
from?  Where are they when they aren't actually fighting Americans (and 
others)?  What do they want, exactly?  (In these first issues, at  least, they don't
explain themselves or announce any kind of surrender terms or  war aims, and
the soldiers fight to the death rather than allowing themselves to  be captured
and interrogated.) 

Still, this semi-"lost" Silver Age  series is worth looking at for the
intriguing premise and the Wood art, and Dark  Horse deserves kudos for bringing
these issues into print, especially at the  very reasonable $12.95 price.