The Death Patrol

Created by Jack Cole

FIRST APPEARANCE: Military Comics #1 (Aug. 1941)

APPEARANCES: Military Comics #1–12, 20–52

A stunning panel by Dave Berg that presages his future MAD magazine greatness. From Military #6 (1942).
A Jack Cole splash page from Military #28 (1944).

The creation of Death Patrol is documented with contradiction. Anyone reading Military Comics #1 will notice the similarities between this feature and the lead, “Blackhawk.” Both strips were populated by multinational bands of aviators, but they differed greatly in tone. It’s impossible to say whether Jack Cole was aware of Blackhawk when he created the Death Patrol. If he did, it might have been at the direction of Will Eisner, who edited Military’s content. The author of Will Eisner’s biography, A Spirited Life, twice credited “Death Patrol” to Eisner’s studio, and the writing to Bob Powell. But this is rather discredited by the additional, erroneous statement that the feature “later became Blackhawk”; they were published simultaneously. Editor Gill Fox confirmed that Jack Cole created the feature, but had to abandon it soon thereafter. Fox added, “They started out killing a character in every ‘Death Patrol’ story, but Arnold got annoyed and decided to cut that out. I don’t think he liked that strip. I followed Cole and Dave Berg on that strip and wrote it, too. And what a pair of artists to keep up with! That’s pressure.” Freelancer Dave Berg took over for Military #4-12.

The Death Patrol were a band of aviators—contemporaries of the Blackhawks. Led by Del Van Dyne, the group was rounded out by convicts: Butch, Hank, Peewee, Slick Ward and Gramps. When Van Dyne was fired from his airline pilot’s job, he decided to head for England to join their Royal Air Force. Just then, a gang of five prison escapees hijacked his plane. Van Dyne convinced them to join the war effort and atone for their crimes. In British airspace, Van Dyne made a show of taking down Nazi planes, which was noticed by the Colonel. The Colonel sent Del and the others on an impossible mission to prove themselves, but they actually succeeded—despite losing Peewee. They were awarded their own special uniforms and dubbed themselves the “Death Patrol.” (Military #1)

[ Read the full profile in the Quality Companion ]

Taking from the Top

“Hey kids! They’re back again!” declared the title of Military #20. Del explained their absence since #12: their adventures had been too top secret to be told in the wake of Pearl Harbor. So why resurrect the “Death Patrol”? (Only “Lady Luck” shares that distinction.) Most likely the feature ended when Dave Berg stopped freelancing for Will Eisner, or Busy Arnold finally killed it. Perhaps Arnold later recognized the benefit of having a Blackhawk clone in his line-up (as he’d done with “Midnight,” after “The Spirit”)? When “Death Patrol” was revived, Eisner was in the Army and the strip was produced in-house by Quality’s editor Gill Fox. That wasn’t the only change—there would be no more death for the Death Patrol.

The membership settled into a more regular cast, like the Blackhawks. The first new installment featured Del, Boris, Gramps and Hotintot, joined by a telepath/telekinetic, the Yogi from India. Their striped uniforms were temporarily gone, too. (#20-21)

[ Q. C. ]


There was also a one-time feature titled "Death Patrol" that ran in G.I. Combat #11 (Nov. 1953) and featured "true life" war stories.


Operative Appearances in Military Comics
Del Van Dyne, pilot, from America #1–12, 20–45
Butch, safe cracker, from America #1-4
Hank, cattle rustler #1–9, 12, 22–52
Peewee, from America #1
Slick Ward, from America #1–3
Gramps, from America #1–6, 12, 20–52
Stoney Rock, from America #2
Zazzy, from America #3–5
Chief Chuck-a-Lug, from America #4–12
King Hotintot, from north Africa #5–10, 12–52
Boris the Borsht Eater, from Russia #6–12, 20–52
Jackie aka Frere Jacques aka the Patchwork Kid, of France #7–12, 23–52
"Mademoiselle" from Armentieres, of France #8–12
Goucho, of South America #9–12
Prince Totinhot, from north Africa #10-12
Yogi from India #20–52

See also: Toonpedia: Death Patrol