James Gunn’s big DCU announcement slate was a mix of iconic characters like Superman and Green Lantern, mixed with deep cuts like The Authority. But among the deepest cuts was the news that a Gunn-written animated series based on the Creature Commandos was already in production. If you’ve never heard of the Creature Commandos, you’re hardly alone. This was a very short-lived DC group from the early ‘80s. It’s had one or two revivals in the decades since. Although largely, they’ve remained forgotten. So what’s the story when it comes to these kooky monsters? It all goes back to something that largely doesn’t exist anymore—war comics.
The Classic Universal Monsters, Only as Soldiers
Back in the ‘40s through ‘70s, war comics were a staple of the industry. Baby Boomer kids read dozens of titles about World War II exploits. Comics with titles like All-American Men of War, Our Army at War, and many more filled comic book spinner racks. Even Marvel got in on the action, with Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos. But by the late ‘70s, superheroes dominated. Together with the anti-war movement, exploitation of real-life bloody conflicts no longer seemed cool, and sales dropped. One of the few titles still limping along by the early ‘80s was Weird War Tales, which survived by mixing horror and sci-fi with military combat stories.
In 1980, writer J. M. DeMatteis, famous for his work on Amazing Spider-Man, and later, Justice League International, went to editor Len Wein with a concept of classic monsters fighting in World War II, called the Creature Commandos. The basic idea behind Creature Commandos was actually a pretty great one. Get the classic Universal Monsters, or public domain versions of them, and turn them into an elite group of soldiers. According to DeMatteis, Wein said, “‘That’s so silly that it will work. Let’s do it.’ And we did it and it was silly and nothing came of it and the book died anyway.”
Still, it didn’t die right away, and the book continued for two more years, until DC did away with all their war books for good.
Welcome to Project M
The monsters known as the Creature Commandos came from Project M, a top-secret government organization created during the second world war. They specialized in “experimental biotechnology and necromancy.” Project M (M for Monster, naturally) recruited Warren Griffith (a werewolf), Sgt. Vincent Velcro (a vampire), Pvt. Elliot “Lucky” Taylor (a Frankenstein-style monster), and Dr. Myrna Rhodes (a gorgon). They later added another weird WWII hero, the G.I. Robot, another creation of Project M. Once his own adventures ended, DC folded him in with the Commandos. Robots could be scary too, right?
For a couple of years in Weird War Tales, the Creature Commandos tore apart Nazi soldiers and fought dinosaurs in the South Pacific. Who wouldn’t want to read about that? After Weird War Tales ended, the Creature Commandos were spotted with the legions of characters fighting in Crisis on Infinite Earths. And then, they largely disappeared from comics for 15 years. In the grim n’ gritty ‘80s and ‘90s era of comics, DC perhaps considered them too silly. But by the early 2000s, writers like Grant Morrison made it okay to embrace wackier concepts at DC again. They gave the Creature Commandos another shot—this time, at last, in their own title.
21st Century Monsters
In 2000, writer Timothy Truman and artist Scot Eaton brought the team back from the grave (so to speak), in an eight-part mini-series. They upgraded the group for the 21st century. Luckily, as monsters and robots, the Creature Commandos were pretty much immortal. Except for their poor human leader, who they replaced with another regular Joe, Captain Lucius Hunter. They went by the name M-Team Alpha, and were a special ops unit. They added new members, analogues of other classic movie monsters. Aten was a living mummy, and Bogman was a riff on the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Aside from their mini-series, they only appeared here and there, like as unwitting agents of Maxwell Lord in a Justice League story.
In the New 52 line-wide reboot of the DC Universe, the Creature Commandos returned as agents of the secret organization SHADE. This time, the Frankenstein-like member was actually Frankenstein’s monster. His Bride also joined him. It’s unclear if they are still a part of the DC Universe, but since much of the old continuity was recently restored, we imagine the originals are still out there somewhere. About a decade ago, they even got their own animated shorts for DC Nation on Cartoon Network, which you can view above. The Creature Commandos also popped up in the animated kid’s show, Batman: The Brave and the Bold. But these were brief, under-the-radar appearances.
The Creature Commandos’ DCU Future
Regardless of their lack of any big comic book or cartoon success, the concept is ripe for exploitation in other media, and seems right in James Gunn’s wheelhouse. His seven-episode HBO Max animated series will feature Rick Flag, Sr., as well as Batman villain Doctor Phosphorus. Weasel from Suicide Squad is part of the group, as is Nina Mazursky, a Project M scientist from the comics. But the leads will be Eric Frankenstein and his Bride—no werewolves or vampires yet. Maybe Gunn thinks they’re played out, and wants less of a classic monsters vibe.
If anyone can make the Creature Commandos into household names, we bet it’s the guy who did the same for a talking tree and wise guy raccoon.