Monday, April 29, 2013

Star-Spangled War Comics!: An introduction

by Corporals Jack Seabrook 
& Peter Enfantino

Our Fighting Forces #1

The Korean War was half a dozen years in the past but you'd not have known that staring at a comics spinner in 1959. War is Hell but war was also profitable if you were a comic book publisher in the 1950s. Literally dozens of titles popped up on the already cluttered newsstands attempting to take a chunk of Little Johnny's allowance. The major publishers were involved: Charlton (Battlefield Action, Submarine Attack, War at Sea, and the four "Fightin" titles: Fightin' Air Force, Fightin' Marines, Fightin' Navy, and Fightin' Army among others); Atlas (Battlefield, Battlefront, Battle Ground, Battle Action, etc.); and of course, most famously, EC (Two-Fisted Tales, Frontline Combat). The publisher renowned for Superman and Batman got into the act in August of 1952 when it retitled one of its superhero books (Star-Spangled Comics, which had been showcasing the adventures of Dr. Thirteen, Tomahawk, and Robin, the Boy Wonder) Star-Spangled War Comics and introduced a second title, Our Army At War. The following month the company again confused rack-spinners looking hungrily for All-American Western #127, only to be turned away in sadness when the realization sunk in that AAW was now All-American Men of War! October saw the release of Our Fighting Forces #1, and the final piece in what DC War scholars dubbed "The Big Five," G. I. Combat, debuted under the DC logo in January 1957. This last title may have been the most confounding for collectors as the first 43 issues were published by Quality Comics. When that company went belly-up in '56, National (DC) acquired the rights to many of the titles and characters published by Quality, including G.I. Combat (as well as the quasi-war title Blackhawk and Jack Cole's Plastic Man), which didn't even miss a month of publication between publishers. Beginning next week (with June 1959) we'll take a look at the best stories that were published in each month's output of "The Big Five."

Star Spangled #3 - First issue
Our Army at War #1
Those of you who followed our "Batman in the 1970s" series will be a little shaken by the change in format. Since there are a lot of issues involved here (and they're all anthology titles), we don't have the time or space to cover every story, so we'll mostly discuss those that are outstanding in each issue. There's still going to be a lot of meat on these bones, though, don't worry. With respected writers such as Robert Kanigher and Bob Haney, along with artists as varied as Jerry Grandenetti, Ross Andru, Alex Toth, Russ Heath, and Joe Kubert, how can we go wrong? In addition to Rock and the Easy Company, we'll thrill to the adventures of The Unknown Soldier, The Losers, Enemy Ace, The Haunted Tank, Lt. Hunter and his Hellcats, and the kitsch classic, The War That Time Forgot (with an assist on the latter from John Scoleri).

GI Combat #44 - First DC issue
Jack: This is all new for me. I never read war comics growing up in the late '60s and '70s, except for the Unknown Soldier series in Star-Spangled War Stories. I am really looking forward to learning more about these comics!

PE: Neither of us are all that learned about the wars in the background of these dramas so don't be surprised that we're focusing instead on the characterization and plot lines rather than whether a Panzer II was the right defensive weapon to be used in Ardennes or the calibers of different handguns. We'll concentrate instead on the outstanding writing and jaw-dropping art. We'd also like to hear your views on the DC war titles. Stick around and let us know how we're doing.

John Scoleri: Though I'll remain a conscientious objector for much of what is covered here, I begged Peter to let me in on the War That Time Forgot stories. I can't be the only one whose green army men regularly went to battle with plastic dinosaurs, can I?


All American Men at War #1


AndyDecker said...

This sounds interesting. The only war comic I really read was the Showcase Presents: Enemy Ace. And I liked it because it was different. The few Sgt. Rock I sampled I thought very formulaic, the restrictions of the Code not very helpful.

So, maybe I missed the good stuff. Who knows.

Peter Enfantino said...

Hey Andy!

Thanks for checking us out. We're actually done with the next couple war posts so I can attest to the fact that the genre can become very formulaic (in fact I discuss just that next week) but I'm hoping it opens up a bit. I know that in the 70s, when I was reading Sgt Rock now and then, it was quite a bit grittier than these 1950s stories.

Greg M. said...

I'm really looking forward to this new column. DC's war comics, especially Our Army At War with Sgt Rock, are my chief buy at comic book shows. There's just something about them that draw me in, time after time. The stories may be formulaic, but the art is magnificent.

Can't wait for the first column, guys.

Jack Seabrook said...

Greg! Very glad you followed from Batman. Inspection at 0600!

Peter Enfantino said...


So glad you're staying with us as we switch gears and go down a different path (actually two different paths at the same time!). I love Kubert's stuff and I'm looking forward to delving into Heath's and Grandenetti's as well. Have to admit I wasn't fond of Grandenetti's work over at Warren but this early stuff looks incredible. Check out his cover for Our Fighting Forces #71 over at the Grand Comics Database. Almost gothic.

Greg M. said...


I will be along for this one and for the horror one as well (another comic show target of mine). If you guys later decide to do a Jonah Hex column, I'd never leave! :-)


I checked out the cover you mentioned. It's a wonderful piece of art. Pooch, Gunner & Sarge are some of the only characters I've never really explored in any great degree (except after they join The Losers). Mlle Marie is another character I'd love to read more of (plus she has ties with the Batverse).

All in all, it's gonna be a fun ride. I can't wait to get started. :-)

Matthew Bradley said...

I'm looking forward to this series (as I do all Enfantino, Scoleri and/or Seabrook blogs). When I was a wee lad and still reading whatever comics my older brother Stephen bought, I saw scattered issues of Sgt. Rock, The Losers, Enemy Ace, and The Haunted Tank. I'm sure reading this blog will dredge up many buried memories.

Even after becoming a certified--or is that certifiable?--Marvel maniac, I still acknowledge the raw power of Kubert's work in particular, which lingers in my mind's eye to this day. And I was amused last night to learn that Kanigher has a single Marvel writing credit, on IRON MAN #44.

Maybe you guys can help me solve a long-standing little mystery, i.e., which issue of The Losers had the immortal line (probably on the cover, but I wouldn't swear to it), "Even when we win, we lose!" I've long since forgotten the circumstances under which it was uttered, but I presume it was a little bit analogous to the time when Charlie Brown finally won a baseball game...and then had his victory taken away after it was revealed that Linus's little brother, Rerun, had bet on it.