RetroFix: Unknown Soldier

Note: When the Project: Rooftop community finds a forgotten hero or villain in need of a rescue, it’s time for a RetroFix! This month: The (Golden Age) Unknown Soldier! Our guest artist is my collaborator on my new book, STRAY, Edi Torres! – Vito Delsante

Who was the Unknown Soldier?


“When the cause of freedom and democracy is threatened, then, from out of the blue sky, shall come the Unknown Soldier – dauntless American champion of all who fight under the Stars and Stripes – from the smallest child to the bravest doughboy. Who is he? Nobody knows! Where does he come from? Nobody knows! He is just…the Unknown Soldier.” His abilities include superhuman strength,invulnerability, flight, and the power to spin in the air fast enough to generate a tornado. He carries a “nitro gun” which fires explosive bullets.” – from http://pdsh.wikia.com/wiki/Unknown_Soldier

Why the Unknown Soldier?

Vito: I like this version of the Unknown Soldier, but, pardon the pun, I know very little about him. My affinity is based purely on what I see. A soldier in a mask is quite possibly the purest of comic characters. Captain America came out first (March of 1941 as opposed to Unknown in August 1941), so we know the Solider is an imitator (one of many patriotic heroes that surely followed in Cap’s wake), but his name is so strong, that when DC created their own version, they had a strong enough concept to really give Cap a run for his money (let’s call it down the middle…DC War comics in the 60′s were absolutely brilliant!). Seriously, this dude is money, the way his hat and mask are one piece…that’s a win! Those shorts are such a Golden Age trope, though, and I have no idea who started it. In most cases, this is an OK, kitschy costume, but for our purposes, we need to change it up.

Note: Read on after the jump for Vito and Edi’s discussion, as well as the initial sketches and final RetroFix redesign! – Dean Trippe

The RetroFix

Vito: The biggest hurdle with the Unknown Soldier is the fact that DC Comics/Vertigo already has an Unknown Soldier. So, first things first; we’re changing his name. Our version will be called Sergeant or Captain Secret. There is another public domain character whose name we could steal, but when I think of Phantom Soldier, I think of something else entirely.

Edi: I agree; name changer needed. “Sergeant or Captain Secret” still feels old fashion to me. This list can be strange or weird but there is something I like about them:Top (Cop) Secret, Secret Agent or Soldier or Sentinel, The Privateer or something with Private (like Steve Rogers was, infantryman before the serum made him super), Foo-Fighter (UFO’s, Bogey)—unidentified names—he’s the first hero/man to take flight into space, never before seen?

Vito: Right. He’s the first person to actively hunt and fight aliens. He’s a one-man army, hence the powers needed to take the task on. The best way to think of him is that he is an anonymous volunteer. He can be from any branch of the Armed Forces. I like the Secret Soldier…or what if he was just The Soldier? If no one knows who he is, then does he need more than that? Or how about the Unknown Sentry?

Edi: I like keeping the name simple, one word. Ellis created a character named The Captain in the book Nextwave. I like the Soldier, yet still generic, very used. Let’s call him The Private (a nice double meaning, a double entendre)

Vito: Let’s go with The Privateer! It has a great meaning (check out the definition on Wikipedia). Ok, second, those powers are overkill. Strength and invulnerability, you come over here. Unassisted flight, I have an idea for you, so stand still. Nitro gun and tornado powers, you need to leave. Thank you for coming.

Next up, I thought we could take the character in a different direction. Rather than just be a patriot protecting the US and it’s allies, we’re going to have him protect the world, or even the universe. The Axis were bent on taking over the entire globe, so why should our character be limited to just the Earth? So, we’re going to take him into outer space. My idea is that we combine two of the best “Rogers” that have ever hit comics; Steve (aka Captain America) and Buck. So what we’re looking at is a patriotic hero that is also a space faring adventurer, sort of Captain America meets Adam Strange (but be careful…Captain Battle had a jet pack!).

Edi: Totally, no weapons needed when he has a jet pack and himself a living weapon. Especially when he has no idea what he’ll be up against or what will and won’t work on his enemies from outer space. Just crash their vessel and use their own devices against them. Like a self propelled missile. A hero who likes to get his hands dirty, your down to earth kind of guy. Maybe his creators are the UN of Earth’s interest, the first green team. Not caught in national disputes but the Earth’s well being and all life that lives on it. Thus creating a “Captain Planet” hero in the form of a super soldier.

Vito: Guys your age all seem to love Captain Planet, heh heh! But you’re on to something. Coming out of the Depression, he would be someone that is very hands on, and since he’s invulnerable and has the strength to match, he could do a lot of damage. I would hesitate to call him a “human bullet,” but he’s a soldier; point him at the enemy and let him go. As for the “greener” aspects of what you suggested, keep in mind he’s a product of his time; there wasn’t a UN yet, so he’d probably be a, pardon the term, “tool” of the Department of War.

Edi: I hated Captain Planet, but he was the modern Voltron, “with our forces combined” thing, that’s always cool. It’s funny The UN and NASA were created after WW2, maybe there is a link somewhere, our character could be the start to those organizations.

Vito: Let’s do this Who’s Who style, since that’ll answer some more questions and flesh him out a little more:

Real Name: Unknown
Identity: Secret
Occupation: Captain (US Army)
Place of Birth: Washington, DC
Citizenship: United States of America
Marital Status: Single
Height: 6’4″
Weight: 250 lbs.
Eyes: Brown
Hair: Black
Brief History: While the Earth made first contact with alien life in 1898*, there have been several subsequent meetings between man and alien. It was during the Second World War that one of these meetings occurred when a race of alien called the Thules made contact with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. While many heroes fought the Thules off, only one was sent into space to battle them directly and prevent them from ever returning. This unknown soldier volunteered for a secret procedure that would make him the pinnacle of human achievement, giving him super strength and invulnerability. Just before he entered the rocket that would take him into space, a nurse offered to contact his family for him, in case the mission failed. She asked his name, and he replied, “The Privateer.”

Vito: What I attempted to do here is give a reason for him to be “unknown,” so I chose a top secret mission, an anonymous volunteer, and something so fantastic, that no one would believe it was true.

NOTE: We’re referencing War of the Worlds with this date, tying Unknown Soldier to not only the Wold-Newton Universe, but also to many other public domain characters, so he’ll feel as if he already fits in fictional literature. – Vito

Initial Sketch

Edi: For the uniform let’s say goodbye to: the shorts, the hat/mask. The keepers: color and stars. By instinct a darker brown and green color to the uniform could really modernize the military aspect of this character. What’s New: A jet pack, but because they are overused, lets get crazy with some kind of device around the waist, a harness of sorts. Overall I envisioned “the Privateer” to look be a mixture astronaut meets soldier meets mysterious superhero, who fights on land, sea, air, and space. A patriot of Earth. The terra defender.

Vito: I dig it! I really like the colors and the pattern of the stars. The accessories and the use of color are all appropriate for military wear. The Earth patches are a nice touch, but I think we should reference his military status on one of his arms…or maybe elsewhere? Maybe captain’s bars or some other rank? They can be painted on the helmet, on a lapel or maybe we save the original hat for his “down time/at ease?” This way we have a connect. Helmet for business; hat for other times. Either way, we should see some reference to his military service. Let’s kick this into overdrive and take her home, Edi!

Final Redesign

Edi: Better yet let’s leave everything secret about “the Privateer” except for his affiliation with the US military. Let his rank equal that of a hero and his badge be the 5 pronged star icon on his chest. As for the harness it’s fitted with disk propelling devices by twin ion thrusters, able to rotate in any direction to give him unsurpassed maneuverability. And top it off a helmet/visor mask fit for air/space flight, with a decal design of the electro-powered age and a homage to the original alien’s hairstyle who crashed to earth. Awe yeah!

Vito: This guy is AWESOME! He’s a very real character to me now! I can’t wait to see this guy in action!

40 comments on “RetroFix: Unknown Soldier
  1. Parts of the design seem a little uncomfortable, and the lines connecting the 5 stars on his suit makes it all a little busy. I would also have lowered his jacket, it’s not so impractical as it is just strange to have his midriff exposed (well…not the skin, but you know).

    But the helmet is cool. I would axe the design on the glass portion of it, but otherwise it’s really interesting.

  2. I admit, I kind of hurt myself laughing at the original design. Let’s take a regular uniform and replace the pants with swimwear, add a mask, and voila! Costume! Clearly he needed the swimwear so that there would be something to distract the bad guys. The mask by itself just wouldn’t have made him unique enough.

  3. I like it but i prefer the sketch version to the final illustration. No pouches, moon icon belt and earth badges are way cooler than yet another star and stripes military guy.

  4. I like the infantry feel of the uniform. The design overall has a retro 50′s space-age feel. Unfortunately, I see the pentagram on the chest and makes me think occult immediately.

  5. I like it a lot. It’s so re-imagined it may as well be an original character. And I like the idea of a space-faring Captain America, a Captain Earth. Not crazy about the chest symbol or the flags, but everything else is top notch!

  6. The Privateer sounds like a pirate…. Why not just go with “The Unknown”? The shrine to unknown soldiers is actually called the Tomb of the Unknowns, so you are keeping with the original spirit of the name.

  7. Pretty cool, I agree with lowering the hem of the jacket. And if he’s functional in spaces, should the glass helmet be covering up his entive face?

  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentagram#Satanism : “Satanists use a pentagram with two points up”
    I don’t like the completed pentagram either, would have gone with the stars as in the original, unconnected.

    The design is pretty cool, although I see little similarity to the original, EXCEPT for the five stars and the color scheme. As a character in its own right, it’s okay, but I can’t get my self to seeing it as a contemporary “U.S.”

    Which gets me to the final point: I absolutely object the name, because it lacks any and all symbolism. The Unknown Soldier explicitly bears the initials U.S., which is pretty well used in his original logo design.

    “The Privateer” makes him a mercenary, basically, and those I never deemed worthy of a full “hero”-status, rather “anti-hero” at best.

    My proposition would be something like “Soldier Of Liberty”, making his initials SOL, which is the astronomical name for our sun. This would go with his new space-based theme.

  9. I’d like it a lot if not for the flags and star. Maybe lose both of those and just have a colorless (meaning same brown as the jacket) flag debossed into the chest?

    Have to agree with thekamisama about the name. I think most people would be expecting a pirate, regardless of the term’s real meaning.

  10. A great redesign.

    I agree with the comments about though –

    Privateer makes me think pirate, The Unkown is better. (You could have ‘The Private’ but with that harness shape around his “nethers”, you could send the wrong message!)

    I would lose the lines between the stars too, as the iconography says occult.

    I actually like the short jacket, though.

  11. I’d loose the helmet completely, the design with the crest throwing back to the old hat looks much more interesting, in my opinion.
    Those straps on the crotch also look a bit uncomfortable.

  12. This one’s got a lot of great work put into it, but I agree with the folks above – too many disjointed elements, and there’s a lot I love in the exploration sketches that didn’t make it to the final design. I feel as if you’ve changed -too- much: once you’ve drastically altered the costume, the name, the power set, and the genre, it feels less like a makeover of The Unknown Soldier and more like totally new concept.
    The Pros:
    -The idea. A U.S. Government backed Flash Gordon is just a goldmine.
    - Probably one of the best uses of brown I’ve seen for a superhero costume. I dig the color scheme more than I ever thought I would.
    - The Helmet shape – Nice mix of glass and mask that feel instantly retro sci-fi without feeling like it’s been done before.
    The Cons:
    - The Name – “Privateer” makes me instantly think “Pirate.”
    - The Symbol – I like the 5-star grouping in the sketches. Connecting them makes it look occult-ish.
    - The Helmet paint job – That shape at that angle doesn’t make the star/lighting bolt/alien haircut look like much of anything. Loved the two stars in the sketches.

  13. I dig it! I’d probably lose the lines connecting the stars on his chest, just to help clear up the occult impression. Maybe lose the midriff. It does give a nice impression of a flight jacket though. Maybe replace it with a flight jacket instead?
    Guys, great job!

  14. dnwilliams:
    I like it a lot. It’s so re-imagined it may as well be an original character. And I like the idea of a space-faring Captain America, a Captain Earth. Not crazy about the chest symbol or the flags, but everything else is top notch!

    I think that’s what we’re left with in the end. The “problem” with Unknown Soldier is that when you start to retro-fix him, you still get stuck with the name that you can’t use. So, I think that’s one of the ways Edi and I approached this; let’s create a new character based on this old character.

  15. I totally love this design, Vito & Edi! I hope you guys find something to do with him. It’s so flipping rad! Unlike some of the commenters, I didn’t think of a pentagram, but maybe that’d make a good story element. Occult space adventuring?! YES PLEASE.

    Also, I’d just like to publicly thank Vito for coming up with the whole RetroFix concept for this column. It’s quickly become one of best features of the site! I look forward to it every time. :D

  16. Sam:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentagram#Satanism : “Satanists use a pentagram with two points up” I don’t like the completed pentagram either, would have gone with the stars as in the original, unconnected.
    The design is pretty cool, although I see little similarity to the original, EXCEPT for the five stars and the color scheme. As a character in its own right, it’s okay, but I can’t get my self to seeing it as a contemporary “U.S.”
    Which gets me to the final point: I absolutely object the name, because it lacks any and all symbolism. The Unknown Soldier explicitly bears the initials U.S., which is pretty well used in his original logo design.
    “The Privateer” makes him a mercenary, basically, and those I never deemed worthy of a full “hero”-status, rather “anti-hero” at best.
    My proposition would be something like “Soldier Of Liberty”, making his initials SOL, which is the astronomical name for our sun. This would go with his new space-based theme.

    Sam, of all the names suggested here, this might be the best (and with great reasoning too). As you can see, we struggled with it above. If Edi goes for it, do you mind if we steal your suggestion?

  17. Dean:
    I totally love this design, Vito & Edi! I hope you guys find something to do with him. It’s so flipping rad! Unlike some of the commenters, I didn’t think of a pentagram, but maybe that’d make a good story element. Occult space adventuring?! YES PLEASE.
    Also, I’d just like to publicly thank Vito for coming up with the whole RetroFix concept for this column. It’s quickly become one of best features of the site! I look forward to it every time. :D

    You just made me smile! Who says the internet is evil?! Thanks Dean!

  18. Dear Vito!
    I feel greatly honoured, and would see it as a privilege to have my proposed name STOLEN by you.
    However, I am afraid that I feel obliged to spoil this theft by actually GIVING it to you. Feel free to use it as you like.
    Might I, however, ask of you to maybe someday return the favour? I’m developing a set of heroes myself, and might need feedback.
    Yours,
    Sam

  19. Sam:
    Dear Vito! I feel greatly honoured, and would see it as a privilege to have my proposed name STOLEN by you. However, I am afraid that I feel obliged to spoil this theft by actually GIVING it to you. Feel free to use it as you like. Might I, however, ask of you to maybe someday return the favour? I’m developing a set of heroes myself, and might need feedback. Yours, Sam

    Absolutely!

  20. I do think it’s a fairly good remake of the character, all things considered, but the one thing that REALLY bugged me, and no one else complained about, is that you guys ditched his nitro gun! It was pretty much the only recognizable “power” of the original character and I think that you guys should have revamped that too, after all, who goes out to space unequiped?

  21. Dean:
    Unlike some of the commenters, I didn’t think of a pentagram, but maybe that’d make a good story element. Occult space adventuring?! YES PLEASE.

    I guess when you’re so close to something it’s hard to see the smaller picture. Like Dean I never realized the pentagram. Or the combination of the chest emblem and design would give you a satanic hero, which could be really cool.

    The thought process behind the emblem was evolving his classic design and relate it to the new twist, the space adventurer. So the designed stemmed from the constellations and how those stars are connected. All the while crafting a patriotic star on his chest. A simple fix. Even now to avoid any confusion to those with knowledge and experience of the dark arts I see ways to tweak and still achieve the overall goal. Thanks for your input.

    And that’s what I love about this column, the ability to see the process behind creating characters, what went wrong, what was so right, and what can be made better.

  22. tbolt: tty cool, I agree with lowering the hem of the jacket. And if he’s functional in spaces, should the glass helmet be covering up his entive face?

    Mike S.:
    I dig it! I’d probably lose the lines connecting the stars on his chest, just to help clear up the occult impression. Maybe lose the midriff. It does give a nice impression of a flight jacket though. Maybe replace it with a flight jacket instead? Guys, great job!

    The midriff jacket is my homage to the vest on some retro space suits. You either hate it or love it like myself. I’m glad some appreciated it.

  23. Pete Nicklis:
    I do think it’s a fairly good remake of the character, all things considered, but the one thing that REALLY bugged me, and no one else complained about, is that you guys ditched his nitro gun! It was pretty much the only recognizable “power” of the original character and I think that you guys should have revamped that too, after all, who goes out to space unequiped?

    I think the reason why I ditched it (I won’t speak for Edi in this regard since I more or less threw it out) is two-fold.

    1. I had no idea what it did. What does it shoot? Nitrogen? Does it freeze things? It’s a similar approach to what Whedon did when he did Astonishing X-Men; his team was made of characters whose powers he could explain.

    2. It was overkill. When Unknown Soldier was created, they wanted Superman in a soldier’s uniform…and then they went crazy. They added tornado powers (???) and in looking at it, and him, it was just unnecessary.

    In the end, it’s an accessory. As soon as I learn what the thing does, maybe we’ll bring it in. Again, we plan on actually using this character in our creator owned series, Stray, so it’s safe to say that he is 99% print ready.

  24. Pete Nicklis:
    I do think it’s a fairly good remake of the character, all things considered, but the one thing that REALLY bugged me, and no one else complained about, is that you guys ditched his nitro gun! It was pretty much the only recognizable “power” of the original character and I think that you guys should have revamped that too, after all, who goes out to space unequiped?

    In my humble opinion, equipment is for non-powered heroes like Batman, delivering the message: “Dear reader, you, too, could and would accomplish my astonishing feats, if you just had the proper equipment. At heart, you are a true hero yourself!”

    Guns, again, are a completely different thing. They don’t fit easily with a hero theme, rather an anti-hero theme (Punisher, Deadpool), and they certainly do not qualify as “power”! Batman once stated that a gun is a coward’s weapon. Heck, even the “Mystery Men” movie had the Blue Raja mock: “What? That’s your power? That you have GUNS? *burbling laughter*”
    The redesign has the hero befitted with extreme powers of his own, so a weak “nitro gun” would look like an understatement. Nitroglycerin makes for a moderate explosive these days.

    However, I could think of a way to include a “nitro gun”, but not as a weapon, but as a medical tool, a “nitro injector gun”. Nitroglycerin has been used in supporting heart activity for decades ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glyceryl_trinitrate_%28pharmacology%29 ). How about the hero uses a “nitro”-injection as a temporary power-boost? The injector could have the shape of a gun, and thus become the modern equivalent of the nitro gun.

  25. I agree with Pete Nicklis. If you guys are going to take away the Soldier’s nitro gun, can I have it? That would be a cool thing to own.

    Or you could just give it back to the Soldier. Never give away the opportunity to Blow Things Up Real Good when you don’t have to.

    I seem to prefer a simple “The Soldier” as a name.

    But, if you want something that evokes a science-fictiony feel, perhaps “Soldier Omega”? (Hmm…. If he was a “Soldier Omega”, perhaps that implies he’s a member of a super-soldier corps: there’d be a Soldier Alpha, Soldier Epsilon, Soldier Gamma, etc. Sort of a home-grown Green Lantern Corps. If the US could make one super-soldier to guard against threats from space, why not more? It’s a big, dangerous universe out there.)

  26. On second thought: Don’t use it for a power-up. Have his heart almost fail from the strain of using his power, every time he puts it to full effect. So he is dependent on nitro injections, making the nitro gun his weak spot. If he loses it, he cannot risk using his power without facing a heart failure. This would take LOADS of “overpowering” away and give him a considerable secret weakness. To the unsuspecting enemy the nitro gun will look like any weapon, and an analysis shows that its charges contain minimal amounts of a moderate explosive, so the gun would be neglected in a tactical analysis, since the medical use of an explosive would seem irrational.
    I can see the master aliens engaging in heinous laughter at the sight of an OBVIOUSLY ineffective little sidearm drawn at their battleship. Right before the hero uses it on himself and comes crashing through their main screen.

  27. Bruce A.:
    I agree with Pete Nicklis.If you guys are going to take away the Soldier’s nitro gun, can I have it?That would be a cool thing to own.
    Or you could just give it back to the Soldier.Never give away the opportunity to Blow Things Up Real Good when you don’t have to.
    I seem to prefer a simple “The Soldier” as a name.
    But, if you want something that evokes a science-fictiony feel, perhaps “Soldier Omega”?(Hmm….If he was a “Soldier Omega”, perhaps that implies he’s a member of a super-soldier corps: there’d be a Soldier Alpha, Soldier Epsilon, Soldier Gamma, etc.Sort of a home-grown Green Lantern Corps.If the US could make one super-soldier to guard against threats from space, why not more?It’s a big, dangerous universe out there.)

    I like the way you think, Bruce. But, and I hate to spoil our upcoming story, but you’ve hit upon a plot point we will be discussing in Stray!

  28. Also, to avoid confusion with the occult, rather than the connecting lines making a star, why not make them a pentagon? (Another connection to the US military, no?)

  29. Awesome design. I love it. So much better than the original. The only thing I would change is the star chart on his chest. He would look much better with a single large white star on his chest.

  30. I want to thank everyone for their comments, recommendations, and just overall, the support for Project: Rooftop, RetroFix and the Solider above. I speak for Edi when I say we love that you guys all dug what we did so much, that you were so free with the ideas. It’s safe to say that some of the recommendations given were taken to heart, so consider the Privateer in “beta.” You’ll be seeing more of him in the near future! Thanks again!

  31. The midriff jacket is the best part. I love the colors and the helmet design in the last picture as well. I like the idea of the moon belt buckle too. I just really enjoy seeing all the ideas you went through in the sketches.

  32. This is actually very cool. I agree that with other comments about the lines connecting the stars. I also would have gone for a slightly different design on the mask, going for something similar to the original

  33. Vito Delsante:
    I want to thank everyone for their comments, recommendations, and just overall, the support for Project: Rooftop, RetroFix and the Solider above. I speak for Edi when I say we love that you guys all dug what we did so much, that you were so free with the ideas. It’s safe to say that some of the recommendations given were taken to heart, so consider the Privateer in “beta.” You’ll be seeing more of him in the near future!Thanks again!

    Well put. Thanks a bunch guys!

  34. While I like the whole look and back story, that glass dome has got to go. With part of his fave exposed it wouldn’t really serve any purpose other than to get shattered. If it retracts for when he doesn’t need it than it should disappear when not in use. Also would add a level of pain to drawing him over and over.

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