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Gravedigger (Captain Ulysses Hazard) (DC Comics)

Gravedigger


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

War comics were big from the 1950s to the late 1970s. Gravedigger appeared during the twilight of this era, in 1977, in DC Comics’ Men of War.

It wasn’t the first time a heroic Black soldier was a recurrent character. The two most famous are Gabe Jones of Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos, and Jackie Johnson of Sgt. Rock’s Easy Company. But having him as the lead was, as far as I remember, a first.

Though it started strong and appeared in every issue, Gravedigger’s run soon became generic war stories of that era. His role in the story could have been played by any other heroic soldier character.

By 1984, most such books were gone.


Background

  • Real Name: Captain Ulysses Hazard.
  • Other Aliases: Le Fossoyeur (alias in French Resistance).
  • Marital Status: Single.
  • Known Relatives: Unnamed mother.
  • Group Affiliation: U.S. Army.
  • Base Of Operations: Mobile.
  • Height: 6’2” Weight: 201 lbs.
  • Eyes: Brown Hair: Black


Powers and Abilities

Gravedigger is a man of extraordinary prowess. His sheer strength and stamina go well beyond that of most athletes. He is a most effective unarmed combatant, able to single-handedly beat up a dozen MPs ganging up on him. He is also an incredible marksman with pretty much any firearm, from the .45 sidearm to a bazooka.

There are few athletic exploits that he cannot accomplish. Gravedigger once climbed the sheer wall of a church’s bell tower with his bare hands and while carrying a full kit.

Hazard is also sharp, observant and creative. He consistently comes up with daring and successful tactics on the fly.

He excels at indirect attacks. Examples include :

  • Ricocheting his bullets with a bell to hit the troops under cover below that bell.
  • Shooting off stalactites to kill the German troops below.
  • Triggering an avalanche with dynamite to bury enemy troops.
  • Packing gunpower into a hankerchief to create an improvised flare and then attack his dazed enemies.
  • Etc.

He also has a highly-developed intuition.

Gravedigger seems fully ambidextrous, and very well coordinated. He will often pick up an extra firearm or knife from fallen soldiers and attack with two weapons. He is also :

  • An excellent knife thrower.
  • An expert combat diver and powerful swimmer.
  • A skilled parachutist.
  • A solid equestrian and camel-rider.

Segregation in the US armed forces

African-Americans have always fought for the US – from the Revolutionary War onward. Yet much of this military history took place under a regime of segregation. With some exceptions usually caused by dire shortage of manpower, Black soldiers and officers fought in “Negro units” (or “Coloured Troops”). In those, the only White persons were the commanding officers.

Several units, such as 9th Cavalry Regiment  or the Harlem Hellfighters  (369th Infantry) distinguished themselves through great valour. But generally the African-American units tended to be used as glorified menial servants. The would be assigned to the least glorious support tasks such as digging ditches or unloading boats. More rarely, they’d be used as cannon fodder.

In many cases, it seemed that the goal of the White officers was to reproduce the plantation model, with whip-driven slave labour. During World War One, Black soldiers made up about 33% of the Army’s labour units at home and 3% of its combat forces. .Yet they were 13% of the entire Army population

The military successes of African-American soldiers were systematically downplayed, as the view from White officers that they were lazy and stupid was far too ingrained. However, when deployed with lesser levels of racial prejudice — as when African-American units were placed under French command during World War I — they actually performed well.

Oppression

Typical examples of strong bias in reporting or assessing the combat skills include the struggle around the recognition of the heroism of cook Dorie Miller  at Pearl Harbour, or the controversy about the 24th Infantry  in Korea. One would imagine that Gravedigger’s successes were treated much like Miller’s exploit. That is, celebrated in the African-American media and under-reported anywhere else.

During WWII, despite growing activism from African-American soldiers since the 1910s, this apartheid was still in effect. While there existed some renowned all-Black units (chiefly the Tuskegee Airmen ) the condition of other African-American units was not much improved. yet the need for troops led to larger and more numerous “Negro units” than ever before. This in turn led to African-American commissioned officers.

Evolution

Various pressures led to desegregation in 1948. These included :

  • The early Civil Rights movement catalysed by the fledgling “Negro press” .
  • The brief Double-V-for-Victory campaign .
  • The necessity of rejecting values shared with the Nazis.
  • Attempting to deny Communists some easy propaganda points.
  • The successes of the most prestigious African-American units.

In practice, the desegregation process was a decades-long process rather than a stroke of Truman ’s pen. Even as late as the 1970s and the war in Việt Nam, African-American soldiers and officers faced issues of racism, hostile commanders and administrators, and unofficial segregation.

Stealth discrimination and discreet abuse remained common. Particularly when it came to ensuring that African-American officers did not command White troops or shoulder key responsibilities.


History

Ulysses Hazard grew up in the ghettoes of the American city of Birmingham. Unfortunately, his body had been practically crippled by childhood polio . He had to use crutches to move around. Ulysses was mercilessly taunted and harassed by local kids at all times.

Hazard decided he would force his body to overcome the effects of polio, no matter how much pain and effort this involved. He pushed himself beyond all reasonable thresholds in his exercise regimen.

Then he furthered his body development by studying the martial arts with the same intensity. The lad started with jiu jitsu, and continued with forms that were practically unknown in the Western world during the 1930s.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed , Hazard immediately enlisted. That was both out of patriotism and to prove that he was now as physically adept as any man. Even beyond boot camp, he continued to exercise and train with extraordinary stamina and dedication. As a result, he may have been the fittest and most intensively trained infantryman in US service.

But a stamp on his papers reads “Negro” (part 1)

However, in these pre-Civil Rights times, Hazard’s skin colour meant it was impossible for him to join the elite unit to which he would normally have belonged. He was relegated to latrine duty. He eventually made Sergeant, but he was in charge of a gravedigging Negro unit.

(The “Negro Battalions”, units composed of Black soldiers commanded by White officers, did not exist at that point of the war.)

In 1942, Hazard and other US forces were in Southern France, which is historically impossible. One gets the impression that in the DC Universe, the invasion of continental Europe started earlier and progressed much more slowly. Perhaps this was due to magic and/or superhumans.

Many wartime adventures by DC characters such as Sgt. Rock thus take place in France or Italy. There are probably too many for their timeline to be possible by the real world chronology.

But a stamp on his papers reads “Negro” (part 2)

The humiliations continued to mount. Hazard and one of his men, Andy, managed to scatter a German patrol threatening French civilians. They did so while armed with but their shovels. However their White lieutenant refused to believe them, pretty much calling them liars.

On the next day, Andy was killed while pushing the lieutenant to safety from a Stuka ’s fire.

Grabbing a nearby bazooka, Hazard made an incredible shot and downed the Stuka. He then demanded to be transferred to a combat unit. But the shaken lieutenant couldn’t due to segregation.

Finally giving up in anger, Hazard decided to demonstrate his astounding skill in the clearest fashion. He single-handedly invaded the Pentagon. Although he was spotted well inside the building, he waded through dozens of truncheon-armed military policemen with his bare hands. Hazard succeeded in throwing an inert grenade in the midst of a full meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Buffalo soldier, part 1

Hazard surrendered and was finally arrested. The Secretary of War, who was at the meeting, saw the benefit he could gain from Hazard’s unbelievable strength and fighting ability. In his view, Hazard was both an expendable pawn to send on suicide mission, and an interesting way of attracting the “Negro vote”.

Hazard was made a commando, codenamed Gravedigger. He received his orders directly from the Secretary of War. That usually meant extremely dangerous solo missions to solve situations in the worst hotspots of WWII.

Though he was a one-man unit, Gravedigger may have been one of the first commandos deployed by the US Army after the British model. Both he and the Army Rangers  were active around the Summer of 1942.

Gravedigger’s first mission involved taking out an impregnable strong point. There was a panzer and an infantry section controlling a pass from within a deep, fortified cave.

His second mission had him trigger an avalanche to take out Nazi forces occupying a French village blocking the US Army’s progress. Gravedigger also saved some devout Catholic civilians whom military intelligence thought were already dead.

Buffalo soldier, part 2

Hazard’s third mission had him invade the fortress of Remanchant. Gravedigger was to rescue pillaged French art and Jewish prisoners before the US Air Force would bomb the place. Although some of the Frenchmen died while saving the paintings, Gravedigger was able to get most of the civilians and their treasures out before the bomb came. He fought off the Nazi garrison all the while.

At this point, Gravedigger had attracted the attention of the Third Reich. A highly skilled German spy and disguise expert was sent to replace Major Birch. Birch was a Royal Commandos  officer who was Gravedigger’s case officer and trainer in Great Britain.

Using drugs and exhaustion, the spy brainwashed Gravedigger. He then sent the fearsome commando to kill… Winston Churchill  !

However, British intelligence had heard enough about a plot against the Prime Minister’s life to set up a decoy. Thus, the man whom the drugged Gravedigger tried to shoot was the Unknown Soldier, who stopped him. The Unknown Soldier then stopped the German spy. Meanwhile, Gravedigger was sent to Berlin to rescue the actual Birch from the Gestapo.

But the plane carrying Gravedigger was downed over Germany, and the pilot killed. Hazard was rescued by a family that was part of the Jewish underground. After the grandfather — the only adult — was killed, Gravedigger joined the teenagers in their desperate attempt to free their mother from the Berkstaten death camp .

The comatose woman was murdered by the camp’s commander. However, Gravedigger escaped certain death when a teenage German soldier whom he had spared shot his commander rather than Captain Hazard. Gravedigger and the Jewish children then commandeered a train. They used it to evacuate many prisoners from Berkstaten.

Battling Britons

Gravedigger then parted way with the children so he could continue toward Berlin. Once in the German capital, he stumbled upon a British commando unit who was also after Birch. With the support of the British team, Gravedigger infiltrated the Gestapo building and spectacularly rescued Birch.

After delivering Birch in England, the battle-weary Gravedigger overheard the American Secretary of War mention he had never expected Hazard to come back from his missions. Gravedigger was so infuriated and tired, and nearly punched the official. However, he had also forged a relationship of respect with the British Commandos , who evidenced little racism toward him.

Thus, it was quickly agreed that Hazard would now receive his orders from the British Commandos rather than the U.S. Army.

The Northern African front

As part of Operation : GRAVEDIGGER, Hazard and three Commandos were parachuted in Northern Africa. They were to intercept an elusive Nazi courier carrying the secret plan for the defense of France. These plans were necessary for finalising D-Day preparations.

Gravedigger had a chance meeting with native raiders, who mistook him for an African bandit in a stolen uniform. After he defeated their powerful leader in single combat, Hazard became the leader of the band. Thus, he led them after the German spy, codenamed “the man with the opened eye”.

Some natives had served as guides for the Germans, providing the American with valuable intel. This information from the raiders led Gravedigger to discover that the German spy was masquerading as a British courier.

However, before Gravedigger and his native raiders could intercept the messenger, they were caught in a tank battle. Hazard was captured by the Afrika Korps.

Rommel wasn’t built in a day

The German spy had Gravedigger tied as a human shield on the Tiger tank he was now riding in. Nevertheless, Hazard freed himself. But the effort left him with serious wounds – including a cross-shaped scar across his face, reminiscent of a tombstone.

As he and his British comrades — who had caught up with him — reached the German spy their tank fell into a pit dug by the Nazis. It was buried under tons of sand.

Impossibly, Gravedigger emerged from this sandy tomb and killed the spy – only to discover the plans had already been handed over to a contact. Certain that the contact was travelling up the Nile in an experimental minisub, Hazard proved his intuition right when he caught the sub and stopped it.

The plans had been rendered illegible through exposure to water. But at least the Nazis couldn’t make use of them either.

Further exploits

Gravedigger was then sent back to France to rescue a French scientist doing research on heavy water . Captain Hazard was delivered via submarine, then was brought to the hospital holding the scientist by the French Resistance.

Escaping with the scientist, Gravedigger was again assisted by the Resistance to get out of the country. This is how he met the legendary Resistance chief Mademoiselle Marie (Anaïs Guillot). The American commando also helped Marie uncover a traitor within her current cell before leaving.

Gravedigger then succeeded in preventing the Nazis from airlifting supplies out of Sicily. He even arranged for said supplies to fall into American hands.

However, Gravedigger had attracted the wrath of Goebbels . The Nazi decided that the newest Third Reich super-science project would be modified so as to kill the American commando. Said scientific breakthrough allowed to mould human flesh through special plastics to turn German agents into doubles of a specific person.

The Nazis replaced most of the coastal watchmen in Atlantic City with such altered agents. Goebbels made sure that Rupert Johnson, an old friend of the Gravedigger, would be the last man replaced so the Nazi agent could kill Hazard. Gravedigger was then lured in by a telegram supposedly sent by Johnson. The message announced the imminent death of Hazard’s mother.

Home front

Hazard flew home. Upon discovering that his mom was alright, he tracked Johnson down. Ulysses arrived earlier than the Nazis had planned – just in time to prevent Johnson from being murdered and replaced by his double. Still, with all other watchmen being Nazi doubles, the coast was clear for a German raiding party to strike Atlantic City.

Johnson managed to sound the alarm before he was shot dead. Gravedigger fought stray German soldiers on the Steel Pier before they could reach the city. Hazard and Johnson’s valour allowed American forces to respond in time.

The Gravedigger next foiled another dastardly Nazi plot. Berlin was negotiating the exchange of the corpse of a Nazi general against that of an American general. The Allies couldn’t determine why this exchange was important for the Nazis. They sent Hazard in to investigate.

Gravedigger determined that the Nazis were not interested in the German corpse. Rather, their plan was to infect their enemies by contaminating the American corpse with a special plague. At the last second Gravedigger switched the flags over the coffins. Thus, the infected corpse remained in Germany, while Gravedigger was sent home hidden within a pine box.

VIPs

Gravedigger was next assigned to protecting both FDR and Churchill against a particularly cunning Nazi assassination attempt. Although it was a very close call, he saved them both. Impressed, the two legendary leaders decided to send Hazard on a critical mission. The job had originally been intended for their top agent, the Unknown Soldier.

Thus did Gravedigger rendezvous with the legendary Easy Company in Tunis. His orders were to take a hill, then read his further orders once he was on top. However, the leader of Easy Company, wartime legend Sergeant Rock, was wounded early in the fight. This left Gravedigger to lead the legendary unit to take the hill, upon which they installed a critical radio relay.

After the war

This mission was the last chronicled mission of Gravedigger. The rest of his military career remains undocumented.

In 2011, a flashback set in 1976 asserted that Ulysses Hazard was at that point a middle-aged full-bird colonel in the desegregated U.S. Army. There is a chance that he eventually developed post-polio syndrome , but this flashback makes it unlikely.

Successor

In the late 2000s, it was revealed that another African-American soldier used the “Gravedigger” codename. Little is known about this man, Chief Warrant Officer Tyson Sykes. But he’s obviously also an exceptional and highly driven fighter.

This new Gravedigger was one of the four Rooks recruited by Checkmate. See the writeups.org entry for Cinnamon II for more about the Rooks.


Description

See illustrations.


Personality

Gravedigger is possessed by an all-consuming drive to demonstrate that he’s not only as good as any other man – but that he’s actually the strongest, scariest badass in this man’s army.

He has been taunted, bullied and abused for much of his childhood. Therefore, Ulysses now relishes in the sheer strength his incredible willpower gave him. His drive to overcome any obstacle and endure through any adversity sometimes seems inhuman in its intensity.

Gravedigger is an extremely serious man. He has his commission, his track record, orders signed by the Secretary of War, and the skill and power to accomplish barely human feats. Thus, he doesn’t fool around and doesn’t take no bull. He’s a soldier’s soldier.

Hazard speaks in a slang-heavy, accented Urban American English.

As an homage to his roots as a gravedigger, Hazard will bury his friends himself whenever possible. And his foes as well, if he has the time.


Quotes

“I worked hard… I spent so much time on the rifle range that I could shoot the tailfeathers off a rooster at 50 yards… I gave up furloughs, worked after hours… building up the skills and stamina that’d make me the best soldier this man’s army had never seen… only I had forgotten one little detail — the ’X‘ mark on my enlistment papers beside the word “Negro” — which turned out to be a ticket to unlimited latrine duty.”

“Wise up, Bogan ! You oughta know the only ’security‘ in this war’s a trip home… in a pine box !”

(While rescuing a woman from drowning in rapids) “No… it ain’t never too late ! Not it… you don’t… give up… don’t… give… up ! *ungh* Got ya !”

“My friends call me Hazard, kraut — but you… you can call me Gravedigger.”

“Back off, goose-steppers – Gravedigger’s comin’ through !”

“You can put the pop-gun down, soldier-boy — I just rescued one of your superior officers here… and besides — I can’t be no spy ! When was the last time you saw a Nazi with my kind o’ tan ?”

“What‘cha starin’ at, pilot ? These bars read ’captain’ ! So let’s get this bird up !”

“Shot toward France from a torpedo tube ? My momma never told me there’d be days like this.”


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Gravedigger

Dex: 08 Str: 05 Bod: 06 Motivation: Overcome
Int: 08 Wil: 07 Min: 08 Occupation: Commando
Inf: 07 Aur: 06 Spi: 08 Resources {or Wealth}: 002
Init: 027 HP: 070

Skills:
Acrobatics: 06, Animal handling (Riding): 05, Martial artist: 08, Military science: 06, Thief (Stealth): 05, Weaponry (Knives, firearms, heavy): 08

Advantages:
Credentials (British Commandos, Medium), Familiarity (SCUBA diving, Parachuting), Iron Nerves, Language (a bit of French, some German), Lightning Reflexes, Rank (Captain – but giving orders to White soldiers and officers is usually problematic), Schtick (Paired knives, Paired firearms), Sharp Eye.

Connections:
US Army (Low), French Resistance (Low).

Drawbacks:
Creepy Appearance (after he acquires his distinctive facial scar), Misc.: Gravedigger is Black and suffers from constant discrimination.

Equipment:
Gravedigger was usually armed to the teeth. A typical list of equipment includes :

  • Combat knife [BODY 08, EV 03 (06 w/STR, 09 w/Martial Artist), Note: can be thrown].
  • Thompson M1 Submachinegun [BODY 04, Projectile weapons: 05, Ammo: 07, R#3, Advantage : Autofire].
  • Fragmentation grenades (x4) [BODY 03, EV 07 (Area of effect 1 AP), R#02, Grenade Drawback].
  • Colt M1911A1 .45 pistol [BODY 05, Projectile weapon: 04, Ammo: 07, R#02].
  • Entrenching tool [BODY 08, EV 03 (06 w/STR, 09 w/Martial Artist) – a military spade].

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: Men Of War comic books.

Helper(s): rpg.net, Darci, William Chamberlin.

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