Monday, July 29, 2013

Star-Spangled DC War Stories Part 7: December 1959

By Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Russ Heath
Our Army at War 89 

"No Shot From Easy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Salute to a Buzzard!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Junk Pile Fighters!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

PE: Beginning with titles cover-dated December 1959, DC demoted four of its five war comics to bi-monthly status, leaving only Our Army at War as a monthly. Several factors may have led to the decision but, according to Robert Kanigher in Chris Pedrin's Big Five (Alton-Kelly, 1994) it certainly wasn't sales, since DC publisher Jack Leibowitz had proclaimed, "The war books are solid money-makers!" I'd guess that it may been Kanigher's work load; in addition to editing all five books, he wrote at least half of all the stories (and, let's not forget, he also wrote for the DC superhero titles as well!) and had been since 1952. How long can that go on before the inevitable burn out? In any event, Sgt. Rock had probably already risen to the rank of #1 War Character and to cut OAAW's yearly output in half would have been foolish. It would remain the only monthly war title in the line until February 1973 when GI Combat and Star-Spangled would briefly return to monthly status (Our Fighting Forces would be bumped to eight times a year in 1962).

JS: "No Shot From Easy!" is a tense story that suffers from sub-par art. Sgt. Rock must hold together his company as they take shelter in a foxhole under heavy shelling. To keep them from going batty he tells stories about other times Easy Company had been pinned down. The story is solid but the art by Grandenetti doesn't create the required mood.

A far cry from Kubert
PE: I've got the same complaint I had with the previous installment of Easy Company: it's not drawn by Joe Kubert. Rock is just another soldier who blends in with his comrades. Not so when Kubert handles the pencil. Grandenetti has been surprisingly effective in several of the strips we've seen so far but not this one. I would never accuse Kanigher of writing down to his artist but the thought must occur to anyone reading this weak effort. "No Shot From Easy!" covers ground we've been over several times already (in particular, the green recruit who becomes the savior) and then there's that awful art. Had I mentioned that?

JS: "Salute to a Buzzard!" isn't much better, with some of the most nondescript Ross Andru art we've seen.

"Salute to a Buzzard"
PE: The art on "Salute to a Buzzard" is a tad better than "No Shot" but it certainly isn't anything to get excited about. Bob Haney's script, about the thankless job of piloting a pathfinder ("a flying guide for the others who'll do all the bombing"), is educational and gripping. Not so the worst story of the issue, "Junk Pile Fighters!" One of those "two-screen" stories employed in the war titles quite a lot, "Junk Pile" concerns a lonely rifle accidentally discarded among junked rifle pieces. Its lonely cries go unheeded until an unarmed GI stumbles across the weapon while searching for defense against a Nazi breakthrough. The constant word balloons issuing from the barrel of the rifle ("Use me, soldier") make one wonder if Bob Haney were a/joking or b/lit up like a Christmas tree while writing that day. Perfect marriage of script and art, though. Jack Abel's illustrations are about as unimaginative as they come, with no excitement coming out of these panels at all. Altogether, a weak issue.

JS: I agree. By the end of "Junk Pile Fighters!" I was wishing the boy and his gun would get a room. It's odd that Our Army at War would be the only book to stay monthly with such a weak selection.

"Junk Pile Fighters"

Joe Kubert
Our Fighting Forces 52

"Biggest Target in the World!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Home Town Jet!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

"Non-Stop Patrol!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

PE: Just six months prior to launching "The War That Time Forgot" over in Star-Spangled, Robert Kanigher dishes up a nonsensical slice of fantasy and tries to meld it with a Gunner and Sarge story. The pair (minus pooch) are combing the shores for a sniper when out of the woods comes... a giant! This giant comes complete with uniform and rifle and kill-crazy instincts. Why is there a giant in the jungle? Who knows? At one point in "Biggest Target in the World!", Gunner is reading Jack and the Beanstalk so, when the big guy shows up, I naturally expected it to all be a dream in the end, the result of an errant bullet to the cranium or some such, but no explanation is forthcoming. The giant is dispatched when a fighter pilot comes to the aid of Gunner and Sarge and nothing more is spoken of the situation. If we were given some sort of reasoning behind the sudden appearance of this freakish soldier, the story might have been a bit easier going down, but it's just too goofy for my tastes.

That explains it!
JS: I was reminded of the David and Goliath story from the Bible when I read this oddity. Gunner does see a book in the middle of the story that states that human growth is based on the food we eat and the function of our pituitary gland. Another soldier, named "the Professor," tells him that "generation by generation, we've grown taller." What this has to do with the giant Japanese soldier, I don't know. Fortunately, they only seem to have had enough food to grow one giant! Like this month's lead story in Our Army At War, the Gunner and Sarge story in this issue is billed as a two-parter, though at 13 pages it is essentially the same length as every other lead story and becomes a two-parter by dint of a forced climax partway through.

Can anyone read that character?
PE: An American fighter pilot in Korea joins the Hometown Squadron in "Home Town Jet!"  The group is comprised of a band of pilots who have nicknamed their jets after the town they grew up in. Being an orphan, shuttled from shelter to shelter, our protagonist has no home town so doesn't really feel as if he belongs. That all changes when he defends a Korean village and becomes their hero, adopting their name for his plane. A nicely told, albeit predictable tale enhanced greatly by the art of... you guessed it!

JS: Heath sure can draw air battles well, and the ending, where the villagers paint a Chinese (?) character on the plane's nose, is impressive.

Nazis cleverly disguised as
Arab "camel jockeys"
PE: "Non-Stop Patrol" tells the story of the Tin Pot Patrol, a group of soldiers lost in the desert and constantly attacked by Nazis dressed as Arabs. It's a tense story, better than most Haney/Abel tag teams, marred only by the constant dirge of "If you stop on the desert, you're done" and an 11th panel rescue that defies logic (a rescue plane appears out of nowhere and drops supplies to the stranded men). Still, it beats "Junk Pile Fighters."

JS: I thought it was funny that the Arabs kept turning out to be Nazis in disguise! Never could trust a Nazi.

Joe Kubert
All-American Men of War 76

"Just One More Tank!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Ace Against Ace!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Russ Heath

"The Impossible Mission!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

PE: I'm not sure why "Just One More Tank!" is billed as a two-parter but I'm just as happy the second part never materialized as this one is awful with equally awful art (wasn't it just a couple months ago I was expressing delight at Andru and Esposito and now we've put up with two stinkers in a row). "Just One More Tank" follows the formula set forth in the first three installments of "Tank Killer": T.K. and his ever-suffering Boy Friday (known only as "The Kid") must seek out and destroy lots of tanks. The Kid does a lot of complaining because T.K. wants to get "just one more tank" before they're relieved by replacement soldiers but, before too long, "The Kid" is so thrilled by the sight of burning Nazis that he's the one refusing rest. There's seemingly no motivation behind the change in "The Kid" and, I guess, readers in 1959 didn't demand any. This was the last of the four "Tank Killer" stories. Good riddance, I says.

"Just One More Tank!"
JS: I thought this was a good story, one that could have been titled "The Kid Grows Up." The motivation for the change in attitude on the part of the kid seems to be the incident when he uses the bazooka to destroy the enemy ship and save his own and TK's life. I also thought he was surprised to feel affection for the job he always seemed to dislike. I know these Tank Killer stories followed a pattern, but I thought this was a good one. I also find myself wondering just how a bazooka works--if I write to Combat Corner (now called "Sgt. Rock's Combat Corner"), do you think they'll respond?

PE: "Ace Against Ace" utilizes the same split-screen gimmick as "Junk Pile Fighters" in Our Army #89 but that's the only similarity between the two stories, thank goodness. "Ace" benefits right off the bat from the usual stellar Russ Heath art. I swear in spots Heath's art almost looks rotoscoped, it's so clean and life-like. The story involves an American fighter pilot and his Korean counterpart locked in a battle to the death, first in the cockpit and, ultimately, hand-to-hand on the ground. It's a stark, violent climax and though we don't see a streak of blood, we do witness the aftermath of that violence. As writer Hank Chapman puts it in the final panel: "In the end, it is not science--not equipment--but the man--that counts..."

"The Impossible Mission"
JS: This was a fascinating story until the end. In alternating panels, we see parallel images of the US and Chinese fighters getting ready for their missions and boarding their planes. The approach is interesting because the Chinese pilot is not demonized; he is just like the American pilot. They battle with their jets, then shoot at each other as they fall through the sky with parachutes. Things get a little far-fetched at this point, as they trade blows while still falling. They then fight on the ground and the US soldier apparently kills the Chinese soldier. I would have preferred a more humanistic ending, something we might have seen in an EC comic, where they realize their similarity and no one is killed, but I guess that's asking too much of a DC war comic in 1959.

PE: I've been reading a few two many frogmen adventures lately and they all seem to run together in my brain. That may be because there hasn't been any straying off the path as yet. "The Impossible Mission" falls into that same trap but still manages to be readable and, unlike his job on the aforementioned "Junk Pile Fighters," Jack Abel brings his "A" game this time. A band of American frogmen, intent on planting explosives on a Japanese munitions ship, are continually sent packing by the enemy. Their job is labeled "The Impossible Mission" by their superiors but the men have no quit in them and the job eventually gets done. There's not a lot of peril since we know these guys are going to make it back but it's a fun read nonetheless.

JS: If you believe these comics, there were a heck of a lot of frogmen operating in "Big War Two," as this story calls it. When did World War Two start being called World War Two? Another question for Combat Corner! I think of the James Bond movie, Thunderball, whenever I see frogmen.


Coming Next Week!


Yankee Cowboy said...

Enjoying these war stories write-ups guys, even though I don't comment on them every time.

And I must admit, I really love those frogmen adventures!

Peter Enfantino said...

Thanks for the kind words, Yankee. Good to know you're still out there. I must say I dig those Frogman adventures as well!

Fred Blosser said...

"A famous story was written about people becoming giants because of the special food they ate" -- clearly, a reference to HG Wells' FOOD OF THE GODS. Thanks guys for revisiting these comics --these were some of the first comic books I ever bought. Was it really 50 years ago?!

Jack Seabrook said...

Fred, hang in there--the best is yet to come! (Imagine William Dozier intoning that sentence.)