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Comic Book / Code Name: Gravedigger

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Code Name: Gravedigger was a feature about Captain Ulysses Hazard that ran in every single one of the original twenty-six issue run of DC Comics' Men of War from Aug. 1977 to Mar. 1980. The character has made infrequent appearances in The DCU since then. Code Name: Gravedigger was created by David Michelinie and Ed Davis. Gravedigger was one of the last major characters to be created for DC's war books before they were all cancelled in the mid to late 80s, and the last to be based in World War II. (The Mercenaries, who first appeared in 1982 and ran in G.I. Combat until its cancellation in 1986 were a modern day military unit.)

Ulysses Hazard suffered from polio as a child, and was tormented by bullies. After a regimen of exercise he was able to condition his body to optimal level. When the United States enters World War II, Ulysses joins the army but found himself in a segregated military, in which all Black soldiers are put to work in menial units: burying bodies, supply delivery, or kitchen work. Frustrated on being placed on permanent graves detail, he goes AWOL, and sneaks into a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. Impressed by his skill, they make into a special one-man unit codenamed "Gravedigger", and send him on dangerous missions throughout the European Theatre. Later, during combat with the Nazis, he receives a scar across his face that resembles a cross.

In the backup story "Snapshot: Remembrance" in the retrospective mini-series DC Universe: Legacies #4, set during a reunion on July 4, 1976, it is revealed that Ulysses Hazard did survive the end of the war, staying in the Army and reaching the rank of colonel. The other attendees are Jeb Stuart of The Haunted Tank, The Losers, Mademoiselle Marie and possibly the Unknown Soldier. Marie's son, who resembles Sgt. Rock, briefly appears.

A version of Gravedigger played by Wayne Brady appeared in the third season of Black Lightning (2018) as an antagonist.

Tropes in Code Name: Gravedigger:

  • Bandaged Face: In Men of War #18, Gravedigger—who is black—has his face and hands swathed in bandages to allow him to infiltrate a hospital in occupied France.
  • Bayonet Ya: In Men of War #8, a Brainwashed Gravedigger uses rifle-mounted bayonet to skewer a British soldier as he infiltrates a boat to assassinate Winston Churchill.
  • Brainwashed: In Men of War #8, Gravedigger is captured by a Nazi posing as his liaison Major Birch and brainwashed into attempting to assassinate Winston Churchill.
  • Buried Alive: In Men of War #16, German agent Von King lures Gravedigger's tank into a Pit Trap and attempts to kill Gravedigger ironically by by burying him alive by filling sand in on top of the tank. However, he reckons without Gravedigger's legendary status as The Determinator.
  • Child Soldiers: In Men of War #10, Gravedigger is trapped behind enemy lines in Germany. He is rescued by a Jewish resistance cell made up almost entirely of children. These children become his companions for the next several issues, as he helps them achieve their goals, and then they help him achieve his.
  • Death by Origin Story: In Men of War #1, Ulysses' best friend Andy is killed saving their white commanding officer when the unit is strafed by a German fighter plane. His death, and the officer's reaction, is the final straw that makes Ulysses snap, go AWOL, and storm the Pentagon.
  • Desert Bandits: In Men of War #14, Gravedigger finds is captured by a band of desert bandits in North Africa, and then finds himself their leader after killing their chief.
  • The Determinator: Nothing will stop Ulysses Hazard from accomplishing a goal once he puts his mind to it. When he was young he suffered from childhood Polio and spent years struggling to overcome this crippling disease. He pressed himself beyond limits just to walk like a normal human being. With time and perseverance, he conquered these restrictions and trained himself to the peak of physical perfection. Later he would apply this same determination to overcome the limitations of serving in a segregated army, and taking the fight directly into the heart of Nazi Germany.
  • Dig Your Own Grave: In Men of War #5, Nazi troops force the residents of a French village to dig their own mass grave before machine gunning them.
  • Disguised Hostage Gambit: In Men of War #18, Gravedigger—who has infiltrated a hospital by covering his face and hands in bandages—creates a diversion by dressing a Nazi nurse in his bandages and civilian coat and trousers, and shoving her out into the corridor. Unable to speak because of the bandages tightly wrapped around her mouth, she cannot speak and is gunned down by her fellow Nazis.
  • Due to the Dead: Throughout the series, Ulysses would personally bury those who fell in battle alongside him whose sacrifice meant something to him.
  • Eyepatch of Power: German spy Eric Vonking, a.k.a. 'The Man with the Opened Eye', often wears an eyepatch to conceal his permanently opened blind left eye.
  • Fire-Breathing Weapon: In Men of War #4, Gravdigger grabs a flamethrower during a raid on a secret German weapons store. He fires it down the barrel of a tank's main gun just after the tank has fired, when he knows the breech will be open as they reload. This fills the cab with flame; cooking the crew and touching off the ammo.
  • Giving Them the Strip: In Men of War #16, Gravedigger is tied to the front of a tank as Human Shield. He manages to free his hand, but his feet are still tied and he is now being dragged face first over the desert. He escapes by dragging his feet out of his boots; leaving them tied to the tank.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: A run-in with a Nazi tank leaves Gravedigger with a cross-shaped scar across his face.
  • Grenade Hot Potato: In Men of War #4, Gravedigger has to knock a grenade out of the hands of panicked white officer who was about to throw it into a Nazi fuel dump, and then hurl it somewhere safe in a confined environment before it goes off.
  • Historical Domain Character: Joseph Goebbels is the Big Bad: obsessed with finding and stopping the activities of the black One-Man Army who is wreaking havoc with Nazi operations across Europe.
  • Human Shield: In Men of War #16, Von King ties Gravedigger to main gun of a panzer as a human shield: forcing his allies to either kill him by firing at the tank, or risk their own lives by holding off.
  • I Never Told You My Name: In Men of War #19, The Mole in La Résistance tips his hand when he refers to Gravedigger as Captain Hazard when surprised to see him still alive: the Resistance only knew Hazard by his code name.
  • Iron Maiden: In Men of War #12, Gravedigger has himself smuggled into Gestapo headquarters by concealing himself inside an iron maiden that is part of the personal collection of the Torture Technician and is being brought in to help him break a captured British major.
  • Kill and Replace: In Men of War #21, the Nazis use Magic Plastic Surgery to create doubles of all the spotters manning the watchtowers near Atlantic City, including Gravedigger's childhood friend Rupert Johnson. They kill all the spotters and replace them with doubles to allow an invasion force to land unnoticed. Additionally, they plan to kill Johnson, replace him with his double, and then have the double assassinate Gravedigger.
  • La Résistance: In Men of War #10, Gravedigger's plane crashes behind enemy lines in Germany. He is rescued by a Jewish resistance cell consisting mainly of children. These children become his companions for the next several issues.
  • Leave No Survivors: In Men of War #5, Gravedigger discovers the Nazis planning to massacre an entire French village: a village that Gravedigger's intelligence had told him was already empty. Even though it is outside his mission parameters, Gravedigger decides that he has to try and save the civilians; especially as he has just planted timed explosives that will bury the village under thousands of tonnes of rock.
  • Magic Plastic Surgery: In Men of War #21, the Nazis use 'advanced plastics' to reshape flesh to create exact doubles of certain Americans. This includes Gravediggers best friend, who is black.
  • One-Man Army: The Pentagon is so impressed by Hazard's combat prowess that they send him on one-man commando raids behind enemy lines.
  • Pistol-Whipping: In Men of War #19, Gravedigger is given a dud rifle, which he discovers as a German soldier is bearing down on him. He resorts to using the rifle as a club after diverting the German by throwing Throwing the Distraction.
  • Pocket Protector: In Men of War #10, Gravedigger is shot in the middle of the chest by the Nazis, only for the bullet to be stopped by a locket given to him by an elderly Jewish man earlier that evening. This allows him to seemingly rise from the dead a few minutes later and inflict righteous vengeance on the Nazis.
  • Politically Correct History: Averted. This was of the few mainstream comics set in World War II to acknowledge that the American military of the time was segregated, and that blacks were not allowed to serve in combat units. Hazard faces plenty of prejudice on both sides of the conflict.
  • Shovel Strike: In keeping with is background and code name, Hazard carries a shovel with him on missions, and it sees plenty of service as a weapon.
  • Sleeping Dummy: In Men of War #5, Major Birch leaves a dummy made of pillows in his bed and sneaks out of his military hospital to attend a secret rendezvous with Winston Churchill. Not bad for a man confined to a wheelchair.
  • Spot the Imposter: In Men of War #21, Ulysses Hazard interrupts a Kill and Replace plot of the Nazis and finds himself confronted with two versions of his old friend Rupert Johnson. He quickly realises that the phony was the one who recognized him straight away. The real Rupert hesitated, because he had never seen Ulysses with the scar on his face he received while serving overseas.
  • Super Window Jump: In Men of War #12, Gravedigger rescues a captured major from Gestapo headquarters and—with the major in his arms—jumps through a closed window on the second floor to land on top of truck the major's squad have placed there for this eventuality.
  • Throwing the Distraction: In Men of War #19, Gravdigger throws rocks across a clearing to cause a German soldier to turn in the wrong direction: allowing Gravedigger to slam him with a rifle butt.
  • Tree Buchet: In Men of War #12, Gravedigger bends back a tall, skinny tree and uses it to hurl a grenade far ahead of German patrol as a distraction.
  • Weapon Headstone: After shooting the scout for a band of Desert Bandits in Men of War #14, Gravedigger buries him and plants his rifle as a marker at the head of his grave.
  • What a Drag: In Men of War #16, Gravedigger is tied to the front of a tank as Human Shield. He manages to free his hand, but his feet are still tied and he is now being dragged face first over the desert. He escapes by dragging his feet out of his boots; leaving them tied to the tank.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: In Men of War #14, Gravedigger kills the chief of a band of Desert Bandits in a duel. He expects to get lynched by the rest of the bandits, but they instead hail him as their new chief.