Favorite Fictional Characters, #284: Casca Rufio Longinus
The premise of the Casca series is a phenomenal and basic one. A Roman soldier, Casca stabs Jesus Christ with his spear while the Son of God hangs from the cross, and Christ lays a curse on the guy. He is damned to remain a simple soldier until the Second Coming. In the days that follow, Casca is surprised to learn that he does not age and cannot be killed, though he can be injured and does feel pain. In the centuries that follow, he wanders the Earth, serving as an eternal mercenary in all manner of conflicts, from Japan to Africa to the New World.
Barry Sadler, the creator of Casca and author of the early books, is not a gifted writer. (He passed away in 1988, and others have continued the series.) A Vietnam veteran best known for penning the Ballad of the Green Berets, Sadler's prose is juvenile and at times even clumsy, his dialogue Lucasian and characters frequently two-dimensional. And yet there's a charming sort of absence of pretension in all of this, the feeling of almost oral storytelling that's been captured by an imperfect speech-transcription software. The adventures are exciting, Casca encounters many historical figures, and it's fun to follow the rough-hewn, world-weary, vulgar Casca as he fights and grinds his way down the years. There's plenty of violence and sex and armchair philosophy, and it all blends together in a earnest-yet-sloppy miasma of narrative. A guilty pleasure, leavened with a tinge of nostalgia (I first encountered and enjoyed these stories as a teenager). Casca, you eternal, doomed bastard, I know you're still out there, probably fighting in Syria. Go get 'em, soldier.