Who knew Nazis could be hilarious? In 1965, 20 years after Herr Hitler went kaput, CBS produced Hogan’s Heroes, a TV series about POWs (Prisoners of War) that secretly performed sabotage, espionage, and general havoc while imprisoned deep in German territory. The titular character, senior prisoner Colonel Robert Hogan, commanded an eclectic group of fellow soldiers as they went about their heroic business. The camp, Stalag 13, was run by an inept Luftwaffe Colonel named Wilhelm Klink (played by Werner Klemperer, a German Jewish refugee, no less. How about them apples, Heinrich “Chicken Farmer” Himmler?). Klink was proud of the fact that no prisoner had ever escaped Stalag 13, something that elicited surprise and suspicions on the part of his superiors and members of the Gestapo. The other major German character was Sargent Hans Schulz, the good-natured and dim-witted sargent-of-the-guard who was easily bribed by food and really wasn’t too keen on the whole war thing. He just wanted to avoid getting into trouble. The television program afforded audiences an opportunity to enjoy plenty of stick-jabbing at the German military, the Gestapo, and the Nazis as a whole during a time when the world war was still somewhat fresh in many viewers’ minds.
As was fairly common in the day, a comic book tie-in was created to take advantage of the popularity of the series. Hogan’s Heroes in comic book form was published by Dell from June 1966 to September 1967. The 12-cent comic ran for only eight issues with original stories. A ninth issue was released in October 1969 as a 15-cent reprint of #1. All issues had staged photographic covers with various players in humorous situations (see covers at ComicVine).
During the summers in the 1970′s and 1980′s when there wasn’t much else to do inside and we were bored of playing outside, we sought comfort from the idiot box. To ensure we did not overexpose ourselves to the dangers of television watching, we were allowed just one hour of TV per day. Because this period was during the primitive stages of cable television, there wasn’t much on but re-runs of the The Love Boat and Charlie’s Angels. Yes, we appreciated the ladies in bikinis, but ultimately The Love Boat and Charlie’s Angels were chick shows and there was too much talking and not enough running around on a beach in “not-much” or lounging poolside in the same. However, one of the channels played back-to-back syndicated episodes of Hogan’s Heroes. World War II has always held a special fascination for us and so has zany humor. What then could be better than keeping up with the antics of Colonel Hogan and his men as they toyed with their captors and frustrated the plans of the Third Reich? Oh, those characters! Oh, those contrived situations! Oh, those jokes! Hogan’s Heroes was the perfect two half-hour bucket of laughs we youngsters could hope for before being whisked out of the house again to go play in the dirt.
Who needs the Angels anyway? With the likes of Sivi Aberg, Barbara Babcock, Brenda Benet, Antoinette Bower, Thordis Brandt, Marion Brash, Victoria Carroll, Isabelle Cooley, Susanne Cramer, Pamela Curran, Yvonne Dardenne, Angela Dorian, Marj Dusay, Norma Eberhardt, Janine Gray, Katherine Henryk, Marianna Hill, Heidy Hunt, Elisa Ingram, Inge Jaklin, Joyce Jameson, Gail Kobe, Hannie Landman, Ruta Lee, Claudine Longet, Cynthia Lynn, Arlene Martel, Marlyn Mason, Jayne Massey, Barbara McNair, Lynette Mettey, Mary Mitchell, Marion Moses, Britt Nilsson, Lyn Peters, Ann Prentiss, Anne Rogers, Sabrina Scharf, Christiane Schmidtmer, Doris Singleton, Fay Spain, Margareta Sullivan, Karen Steele, Paula Stewart, Inger Stratton, Ulla Strömstedt, Louise Troy, Sigrid Valdis, Ina Victor, Eva Lynd, Inger Wegge, Wendy Wilson, Celeste Yarnall … gracing the show practically every outing, three broads in tube tops just didn’t compare. Did we miss anyone, by the way?
The show ran for six seasons and a total of 168 episodes. One might think the basic premise was too constraining to come up with that many stories. After all, just how much goes on in a prison camp? Ah, but with Hogan and friends taking on the German war machine’s nefarious doings, the opportunities for outrageously funny subversion was practically endless. Besides, if Sanford and Son could run for six seasons, there’s no reason Hogan’s Heroes couldn’t match that. For crying out loud, The Andy Griffith show made it eight seasons! Holy smokes, Charles in Charge made it all the way to five seasons, which was six seasons too many. Anyway, what now? Oh, yes. Hogan’s Heroes, the TV series, was very good and we liked it very much in case that wasn’t apparent. The comic books are more of the same, but the people don’t move around as much as they do on TV. In fact, they don’t seem to move at all. Rather annoying. We like moving pictures. We have discovered, however, that if we shake our comic books, the characters appear to be moving … although the dialogue bubbles are then hard to read. And this type of activity tends to reduce “Near Mint” comics to the ubiquitous “Very Good” status (which will be translated into “Very Fine minus” when listed on eBay, which will in turn lead to rather negative feedback and a pointless discourse on what constitutes “wear” and “spine stress marks” and “missing entire pages” and that sort of thing). Again, where were we?
The trouble with comic book tie-ins for movies and TV shows is that they often try too hard to be print versions of the originals. As an example of doing it the right way, the better Star Wars stories in comic form are those that diverge significantly from the core movie elements. This gives the creators opportunities to stretch concepts while still staying within the framework of the overarching story. For the Hogan’s Heroes comics, it was a difficult task to make them as good as the TV series because even though the program’s theme could be played out with a lot of variation, the location and the small cast didn’t give the comic books room to do anything particularly unique from the TV show. If we were running the project back then (rather than sitting in our armchairs criticizing other people’s work), we would have tried a parallel story line that loosely affiliated itself with the TV series. Maybe something like the antics of Captain Scott Ajax and his Marauding Marines at Stalag 12 running their operations directly under the SS’s nose in a camp just outside Berlin. So, same idea but a different cast, different location, and a different group of enemies. Or, we would simply have scrapped the whole comic book thing before it even got off the ground. Just as with the Dr. No comic book, which was published in conjunction with the iconic James Bond movie, Hogan’s Heroes as a comic book is really nothing more than a novelty. So for that reason alone, we own a copy of #1. The story isn’t so hot. The art isn’t spectacular. But, it’s Hogan dammit. Plus the cover is cool.
Historical note for those that have not yet learned how to use Wikipedia: contrary to ancient rumors, Robert Crane’s death did not precipitate the demise of the series. He was murdered about seven years after the show ended. For those that prefer being shown stuff rather than reading stuff, Greg Kinnear starred as Bob Crane in the 2002 film Auto Focus, a bio-pic with an emphasis on his relationship with murder suspect, John Carpenter, a video technician that shared Crane’s unusual and unhealthy sexual appetites. The premise is that Carpenter was the one that did Mr. Crane in. Beware, the show has some very adult themes (which is why we aren’t allowed to watch it).
And so we end with what Klink blurts out whenever he realizes he is being duped: “Colonel Hogan!” … Hmm. That’s funnier in audio/visual format than in written form. So, go buy the DVD series. It will keep you in stitches … 168 times.