Published: Commando #2472 (1991), reprinted Commando #4085 (2008)
Artists: Janek Matysiak (story); Ron Brown (cover)
Writer: Alan Hemus
Many names of the artists in girls’ comics are now very familiar to us, such as John Armstrong, Mario Capaldi, Douglas Perry, Veronica Weir, Maria Dembilio and Norman Lee. But what about their offspring? How many of their children have followed them into the comics industry, and what samples of their work might be around? Here is one sample, which is drawn by Janek Matysiak, the son of popular DCT artist David Matysiak.
In the Savoy Alps, 1943, Andre Huot has lived peacefully as a shepherd after losing his father Henri in the Battle of France. Then his Uncle Humbert, a small-time crook, arrives to rope him into joining “the gang”. No, not gangsters, he says (well, not gangsters of that variety, anyway). He means the Milice, also known as the Militia, the (hated) French anti-Resistance paramilitary organisation with a reputation to rival the Gestapo. It’s all in a good cause, he tells Andre: “we are the law…the noble service that keeps peace in France”. And to show he means business in having Andre join the Milice, Humbert casually shoots Andre’s beloved old dog dead, saying it would have been left to starve: “I did it purely out of kindness”. Of course, he just considered the dog a liability that would have no place in Andre’s Milice career.
Andre is soon picking up Milice training and impresses their lieutenant, Bernard Aubray. But despite the indoctrination from Uncle Humbert and his Milice training, he isn’t developing a genuine belief or loyalty in the Milice because he has no loyalty in serving the Germans as they do. Moreover, he came in from a sheltered, quiet country life. This made him a bit green and naive, and therefore hardly one for committing atrocities. So he soon has doubts about what he is doing, which causes increasing confusion about which side to be on.
It starts when Andre meets the Gestapo man the Milice serves: Doctor Gert Sigmund, known to them as “Herr Doktor”. Herr Doktor is, of course, one very nasty Nazi, and the Milice fear him as much as they respect him. When Andre protests to his uncle about serving Germans, the reply is that the Germans are the bosses now, and serving them is the way to keep you out of trouble.
Andre grows ever more troubled at the brutality of Herr Doktor’s Milice operations. He is dragged into watching acts of torture, roundups, and slaughter of fellow Frenchmen in retaliation for acts of sabotage and being forced to kill some people himself. He is revulsed to see his uncle torture an elderly man (watch this space) for information about a sabotaged train. Uncle Humbert reassures Andre it’s all a necessity to keep the peace, but that doesn’t help Andre’s conscience or clear up his confusion. And Andre is soon finding other reasons not to enjoy life in the Milice. He has noticed how his fellow Frenchmen hate the Milice, and for this reason none of them go outside their HQ alone. He feels an outcast among his own people and a virtual prisoner at Milice HQ. Even so, he doesn’t seem to realise what he is in the eyes of his fellow countrymen – a traitor.
But that changes one spring day in 1944. Andre is part of a raid on a house in Burgundy to bring down four Maquis (French Resistance) members. One Maquis man survives, Diderot (probably an alias or code name, as his name is later revealed as Marcel Blum). He got shot in the leg and finds himself facing Andre. He says, “Militia, eh? A traitor who serves the Boches.” Because of his injury, Diderot is taken to hospital for treatment before being turned over to the Gestapo.
Being called a traitor is the turning point for Andre. Though still a bit confused about which side to take, he decides to rescue Diderot, and takes advantage of his guard duty at the hospital to do so. There are problems in gaining Diderot’s trust, even when Andre allows Diderot the use of his gun. When Andre shoots down pursuing Germans during the getaway (in a car with the licence plate JANEK1), Diderot finally believes him and directs him to a safe house, where they part ways. Diderot rejoins the Resistance and Andre takes off quick, not wanting the Resistance to see his Milice uniform; at least he is now clear he does not want to take the Milice side anymore. After a change of clothes, he is heading home to his shepherd’s hut.
But shortly before he gets there, he sees German soldiers opening fire on a British unit (Birdy (Sergeant), Whacker (Corporal) and Eustace (Private)) who drove up from the Mediterranean. His confusion finally clears up about which side to be on, and he joins in to help the British against the ambush, forming an inseparable foursome with them. And so he joins the unit known as the Kitehawks, an unusual unit consisting of British soldiers and Maquis men. The latter Andre had been trained to regard as terrorist-saboteurs during his time in the Milice, but now he is accepted as one of them. The Kitehawks take their name from their leader, Captain Jim Hawkes. They accept the story Andre gives, but he has kept the Milice part secret. If they find out, it’s the firing squad for him.
Andre becomes part of Dog Section, the S.A.S. section of the Kitehawks, and his knowledge of the region makes him a useful guide in their sabotage missions against the Germans. They make rapid progress in the region, and when D-Day comes, they enter the south of France on Operation Anvil (later Dragoon) to liberate France from the south, making more and more progress in liberating the country. Andre, who had joined the Kitehawks with no rank, is promoted to Private, but then gets wounded and put in military hospital. And the more the Kitehawks penetrate France, the more the risk grows that Andre’s Milice past will catch up one way or other…
And then, while Andre is still recovering in military hospital, it finally happens. How exactly it happened is not explained, but in comes the old man tortured over the sabotaged train incident. He identifies Andre as one of Aubray’s unit, adding that Aubray has now been hanged for his crimes.
Andre is court-martialled and sentenced to death in a drumhead trial that has little regard for his good record in the Kitekawks: “Too many of your kind turned their coats when it became obvious their German friends were losing the war”, ignoring that Andre joined the Kitehawks before D-Day. It’s a French military court, and the French didn’t have much mercy for collaborators when France was liberated from the Nazis. Fortunately, Diderot/Blum happens to be there for another hearing, and gives evidence that Andre went against the Milice and saved him from the Gestapo. The court agrees to reverse the verdict and release Andre.
Andre, still recovering from his injury, is given a month’s sick leave. He heads back to his shepherd’s hut – only to find Uncle Humbert, Herr Doktor and a Gestapo goon named Bloch have taken refuge there as fugitives from justice and planning to flee over the Alps. When the Nazis see him in British uniform, they turn on Humbert. Humbert tries his usual ploy of talking his way out of it, but Herr Doktor orders Bloch to shoot Andre. Humbert tries to intervene, which causes him to take the bullet instead. It also gives Andre the chance to draw his concealed weapon, enabling him to kill both Nazis. He burns down the cabin along with the corpses of the Nazis and buries Uncle Humbert next to the very dog he killed. He then departs, vowing never to return, and hands in Herr Doktor’s ill-gotten gains along the way.
We begin with the Matysiak Jr artwork, as this was the reason for the entry. Matysiak Jr’s website shows that military history and Commando are a huge part of his portfolio. The illustrations of his war scenes on his site at https://janekmatysiak.carbonmade.com are utterly breathtaking and make your mouth water so much you could laminate them and put them on your wall.
A large proportion of Matysiak Jr artwork in Commando are covers, and examples include “The Fighting Sappers” #4691, “Night and Fog” #4464, and “Desert Heroes” #4697. Given how beautiful his digital/painted war scenes are, it’s no wonder he was a popular choice for Commando covers. A site of Commando listings where Matysiak Jr is listed as a creator can be found at https://commandocomics.fandom.com/wiki/Category:Janek_Matysiak. Oddly, “Traitor’s War” is absent from the list. Perhaps it was an oversight, but there are always updates.
Viewing interior Matysiak Jr artwork in Commando gives a different perspective of his style, as it appears in black and white instead of the colour and paintwork of the Commando covers. So the pencils, pens and inkwork can be seen more clearly. They render war, amiability and brutality with refined lines and elegant cross-hatching, which does not make it look heavy or rushed. The artwork really gives the impression that time and care were taken in rendering each line. The style is one that can bring off so many different sides to the story: the sinister Nazis, the gentle demeanour of Andre, more hardened commanders, the loud, brash Uncle Humbert, the battle and sabotage scenes, the time period, and the background scenes in which the various parts of action take place, from the Savoy Alps to the train tracks where enemy trains get blown up.
Now, we move on to the story and the character development. First, the villains.
Herr Doktor is pretty standard Commando fare of being one sinister, cruel and totally irredeemable Nazi. But he gets little development and far less part in the plot than Nazi nasties usually do in Commando. He isn’t playing the role of the main antagonist who drives the story all the way to the final panels, which is what Commando villains usually do. Neither is Aubray. Although the old man calls Aubray “the accursed Aubray”, he remains a minor villain who appears even more briefly than Herr Doktor.
By far the best villain is Uncle Humbert. He gets the most development and substance, is a more rounded villain, and he is far more of a plot driver than the Nazis. After all, if not for Uncle Humbert, none of the action would have taken place. Besides, it is obvious Andre would never have gone to war without a push of some sort. Despite his father being killed in the war and now old enough to fight, he just spends his days as a shepherd. Uncle Humbert, in spite of himself, gave Andre that push.
From the moment Humbert appears, he grabs your attention, and he stands out in all the panels he appears in. One of his greatest strengths as a villain is that he’s smooth talker and has a knack for talking his way out of trouble or, as in the case of Andre, talking someone into something. And it’s easy to understand his motives. Having always been a crook, he went into the Milice because it enabled him to what he would do in the world of crime and gangsters, but without fear of the law, because it’s all within the jackboot law of occupied France. Also, in Humbert’s view (or what he says), it’s all righteous: “we are the law…the noble service that keeps peace in France”. Plus there are a lot of perks in being Milice, such as getting the best of everything from the Germans, including non-rationed food and living in style with flash cars and such.
Humbert has the distinction of being the only villain to redeem himself, with his action to save Andre from the Nazis. It is not clear if he meant to sacrifice himself by taking the bullet or just got in the way of it while trying to intervene, but he is still the only villain in the story to die an honourable death. He has earned a measure of respect from the reader and pity from Andre, who decides he was “foolish and greedy” rather than evil (though the people who suffered under him and Aubray’s unit might have different views!). Andre burying his Uncle next to the dog he killed was even a gesture to keep him company.
The theme of a good man who is initially on the German side but changes sides because of Nazi atrocities has been done elsewhere in Commando, such as “Snowbound“, Commando #5517. But because the villains take a bit of a back seat in the plot, it’s less of a hero vs villain and more the journey of Andre Huot, both in terms of his career in soldiering and his character development.
Andre’s growth starts with him being a simple, sheltered country youth who’s never been so far from his Alpine home before. So he’s not difficult to be led on, and Humbert takes advantage of that. And Andre does go along with Humbert, despite knowing his uncle is a crook and witnessing the shocking fate of his dog. Of course, if Andre had refused his uncle’s offer, he could have used force – he has the gun, after all. Also, arriving in town’s a real culture shock for the country boy. So he’s a bit bewildered, which makes him even easier to indoctrinate.
At first glance, there’s plenty to impress Andre in joining the Milice: the rich, non-rationed food of the best kind, the smart blue uniform that looks so intriguing, the smooth talk, the praise for good work, the weapons training, and the programming that the Milice is “the noble service that keeps peace in France” and the people they hunt are dangerous terrorists who must be crushed to keep that peace. Uncle Humbert would be great at running a cult, and Andre would be easy prey for it.
As Andre is still too easy to be led on, he’s not breaking away so readily as other Germans in Commando stories have against the brutalities of the Nazis. The indoctrination vs his horror at the atrocities and the red flags that being in the Milice is leading him down the wrong path can only cause confusion in his mind. The shock of discovering how the other side sees him – a traitor – must have reminded him that his father fought the Germans, not helped them as his uncle says they should do. At any rate, by now all Andre can really think is that he wishes his uncle had stayed away. Even when he makes the decision to help Diderot escape, he’s still not sure in his mind that he’s doing the right thing. It’s his heart he’s following, which must be the only thing he can follow at this point.
Even after Andre doesn’t want to be part of the Milice anymore and now regards that intriguing blue uniform as “traitor’s clothing”, he’s still got that confusion in his mind. And when he joins the Maquis section in the Kitehawks, he’s still affected by Milice indoctrination (looking on the Maquis as terrorist-saboteurs). This must have taken a little while to overcome, but finding himself much happier and productive in the Maquis than the Milice would have helped considerably. And so would the very core of Andre Huot – a good-natured man of integrity. This remains intact throughout the story and could not be destroyed or corrupted. It prevented Andre from actually succumbing to the wrong side and helped him to turn to the right side before he paid the price for being on the wrong side – and nearly did.