Monday, January 20, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 19: December 1960 / Best and Worst of 1960

The DC War Comics 1959-1976
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 101

"End of Easy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"One of Our Jets is Missing"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. are sent by plane to parachute into enemy territory without any idea of how they will get out. The jump is interrupted when an enemy jet starts firing on their plane, and Rock and the last few men are lucky to survive the crash when the two flying machines collide. Rock and Co. escape through the treetops and destroy a Nazi ammo dump, still uncertain of their escape plan.

Ordered to head to a hill in open territory, they battle bomber planes and see the enemy army moving quickly toward their unguarded position. In the end, Allied planes arrive and bomb the enemy; Easy Co. had been used as bait to draw the enemy into the open so they could be wiped out. Hands down the best story I've read in some time, and one of the best Sgt. Rock stories I've read yet. Kanigher's tale is filled with suspense and excitement and Kubert's art is excellent.

I don't think it was a strawberry ice cream soda
the men of Easy Co. were picturing . . .
Peter: The perfect mesh of enthralling story and breathtaking graphics make "End of Easy!" (SPOILER ALERT!) the best all-around story of 1960 in my mind. So many iconic images: Rock using his shoulder as a tripod for a machine gun; the Messerschmitt crashing into the plane delivering Easy to the line; the hopeless march up the hill; and the sight of what appears to be an entire army heading towards that same hill moments before the sky lights up with Allied gunfire. Usually the mantra in these stories can be tiresome but Rock's repeated "The army won't let us down," used to calm his men (and probably fool himself), is chilling. We see the doubt begin to form on the Sarge's face, fighting for room with the weariness, amidst the unbeatable odds. A classic!

Jack: Fighter pilot Hank James returns to Korea after spending time at home as instructor only to find his brother Bill, another pilot, listed as missing. No one will talk to him about what happened, so on his next mission in the air he takes out his frustration on the enemy. He later learns that Bill is suspected of having turned traitor and flown off to join the Commies. During Hank's next mission he pretends to surrender and follows enemy jets to what looks like a secret airfield. He is warned off by signals flashed by an American P.O.W. on the ground; he blasts one of the jets that had been escorting him to bits and zooms off to find the real hidden airfield. Back home safely, the footage recorded by his jet's camera not only shows the other airmen what he has done, but also reveals that the P.O.W. who flashed the signals was none other than his loyal brother Bill! I am thrilled to see a longer back-up feature instead of two short ones, and the extra pages allow the creative team to develop the story a little bit more. As Peter has pointed out recently, Jack Abel's art is improving, and this tale is another winner!

"One of Our Jets is Missing"
Peter: The fact that the signaling POW will be Brother Billy is one of those DC war coincidences we just have to swallow (as well as the fact that this is yet another tale in The Fighting War Brothers sub-genre) but the climactic panels are bleak as hell. It's vague as to whether a rescue party will be mounted for Brother Billy or if his life of imprisonment will continue. A rare bit of grey amidst all the black and white and, seriously, did Jack Abel become a really good artist overnight? A very strong issue of Our Army at War!

Irv Novick
All American Men of War 82

"The Flying Chief!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"The Fighting Links!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

Peter: All his life, John Cloud has fought bigotry. Christened Flying Cloud by his Native American father and dubbed "The Flying Chief" by his fellow airmen in the service, Cloud finds himself irritated by every mocking word the men throw at him. None of them seem to take him seriously until he proves himself in battle. When the leader of the fliers is killed during the battle, the rest of the men turn to John Cloud to be their new "chief." John decides it's "not what you're called but what is meant that matters." The first appearance of new regular star Johnny Cloud, Native American fighter pilot, is a well-written, if a tad predictable, drama predicting the minority hero craze of the 1960s-1970s. John Cloud's acceptance by his comrades is a foregone conclusion but his sudden acceptance of their continued "Indian nicknames" doesn't ring true for me (nor does that funky cloud that follows him around). If he hated the treatment prior to the death of the group's "mouthpiece," he should hate it afterwards. Hopefully, further adventures (and there will be 29 more Johnny Cloud stories between here and the cancellation of AAMOW in 1966) will step away from the bigotry issue and concentrate on more intriguing story lines. I'm not saying that racism is acceptable, I'm just saying that 30 stories of Indian mockery in the skies of battle can tend to get... samey. Irv Novick's art here is very reminiscent of Joe Kubert's. I wonder if Robert Kanigher urged his staff of war artists to head in that direction. Certainly Jack Abel's work is evidence that that may have been the case. In 1969, Johnny Cloud, Gunner and Sarge, and Captain Storm (a DC war character who helmed his own short-lived title from 1964-1967) would form The Losers (the DC War answer to the Justice League), a series that would run  in OFF for nearly a decade.

Jack: Other than the unfortunate dark pink hue that the colorist insists on giving "redskin" Johnny Cloud, and our hero's penchant for spouting wise aphorisms every few panels, this was a good story. Novick's art is solid and the originality of the character makes up for any plot holes. For me, this is much more promising than that other series about the soldiers who keep running into dinosaurs. Thank goodness we don't have Andru and Esposito trying to draw Indians.

"The Fighting Links"

Peter: When running relay with his three older brothers, Tommy Link could never convince them he would make a good "anchor man." None of them thought he was fast enough. Once all four enlist in WWII, a freak coincidence forces "The Fighting Links" to run a relay that means life or death and Tommy's true abilities come to the surface. I'm sure it was a tough job for Bob Haney to consistently come up with 3-6 fresh ideas and craft them into stories with substance each and every month but, for some reason, there seems to be a wealth of "War Brother" stories lately and this is the worst of them all. It goes past coincidence and into parody that a brother is rescued by another brother and it's repeated three times in the space of hours. Poor Russ Heath is given nothing exciting to work with here, no elaborate battle scenes, just a whole lot of little panels of soldiers running around. That's a waste of the most talented DC war artist of the time.

Jack: Silly and far-fetched. I was waiting for a brother to say, "fancy meeting you here"! The worst Heath art we've seen to date.

Jerry Grandenetti
Our Fighting Forces 58

"Return of the Pooch!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"UDT3 is Missing!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Arf! Arf! Yes, he's back, to the never-ending delight of Peter--it's the long-lost Pooch! Last seen in Our Fighting Forces 51 (Nov. 1959), the K-9 superdog has been away from his human pals while he healed from an injury. Now, the pup is dropped by parachute with battle plans hidden in his collar. The wind carries him off course and straight into the hands of Japanese soldiers. Gunner and Sarge track him down and are captured; the enemy assumes something must be hidden in Pooch's collar but they can't locate anything. The U.S. trio makes a daring escape by jumping off a cliff into a river and then they make their way through the jungle back to base, fighting off an enemy sniper and tank along the way. Back at base, they discover that Pooch's collar tag held a tape recorder that captured the enemy's battle plans. Sarge translates them and the U.S. fighters are able to repulse Japanese attacks from land and sea. Hooray for Pooch! Did they really drop dogs by parachute in WWII? And how about the strange way Gunner and Sarge each seem concerned with looking like a hero in front of the dog? They are acting very much the way they did around Miss Julie last issue. What is the connection here?

Now coming down the runway is Gunner,
modeling the latest model in grenade bras!
Peter: If there's a bigger waste of 18 pages out there, please don't point me in its direction. This Gunner and Sarge series is the only real taxing part of our war journey so far. Yeah, we've encountered some lousy stories and bad art but, like the polar opposite of "End of Easy!" this is the perfect marriage of both. I'm still trying to figure out why this story's letterer granted Pooch 8 "Arf! Arf" word balloons but only one for "Arffff! Arf!" Seems as though the latter is much more expressive. Extra points in the "sheer lunacy" column for the scene where Pooch knocks Martin and Lewis Gunner and Sarge over a cliff and then proceeds to untie their bonds. This is the pits, a series only Jack could love! And how about that tape-recording spy device that knows exactly when to turn itself on?

By the Sun God himself!

Next up: the Go Go Gophers

Frogs are not fish, my friend
Jack: A frogman joins Underwater Demolition Team 8 and is told that Team 3 disappeared while tracking an enemy sub at TNT Reef. The new frogman is sent out alone to try and sneak through where the prior team had failed. With the help of some phantom frogmen, he destroys the sub. Who were the other frogmen? Ghosts? Fish? Who knows? Kind of a cool story, though. This issue demonstrates that, next to Jerry Grandenetti's art, Jack Abel's stylings look pretty darn good.

Peter: Sgt. Rock has tough time dealing with picky readers on his Combat Corner page. David Rollon of Houston insists there was "no such thing as a 'Crash Dive' in a sub" since "all dives are crash dives..." and Walter Greenfield reminds Rock that "no warships were ever sunk by explosive charges..." (as shown back in "School for a Frogman", Star Spangled #87). Rock sets them right but I wonder how these correspondents felt about Bob Haney's assertion that the Navy was assisted by ghost frogmen. Being a comic book writer wasn't all cocktail parties and sweet dames, was it?



Best Script: Robert Kanigher, "Big Gun-Little Gun" (GI Combat 79)
Best Art: Russ Heath, "The Toy Jet" (All-American Men at War 78)
Best All-Around Story: "End of Easy!" (Our Army at War 101)

Worst Script: Bob Haney, "The Last Commander" (Our Army at War 94)
Worst Art: Ross Andru/Mike Esposito "GI Shock Absorbers" (Our Fighting Forces 54)
Worst All-Around Story: Robert Kanigher/Jerry Grandenetti
                                        "Return of the Pooch" (Our Fighting Forces 58)


Best Script: Robert Kanigher, "End of Easy!" (Our Army at War 101)
Best Art: Joe Kubert, "End of Easy!" (Our Army at War 101)
Best All-Around Story: "End of Easy!"

Worst Script: Robert Kanigher, "Too Tired to Fight!" (G.I. Combat 83)
Worst Art: Jerry Grandenetti, "A Tank for Sarge!" (Our Fighting Forces 57)
Worst All-Around Story"Too Tired to Fight!"

Come in, Peter! Come in, Peter! Pooch needs us!


mikeandraph87 said...

What would you say is the best and worst of DC overall in 1960?

Peter Enfantino said...


I didn't care much for DC circa 1960 (at least the stuff I've read) and couldn't give you a best and worst. How 'bout you?

Jack Seabrook said...

It's amazing how many books they were putting out! I think the JLA books were the most exciting development, and those Flash comics were good too. Batman was at a low point. I never read the westerns but the covers look cool. There were tons of Superman family books and I saw a lot to like.

mikeandraph87 said...

I would have to agreewith the Batman statement and also go with Justice League of America that debuted that summer. I I were a child of that time that is what i would grab first. While its told in the certain fare of the time the concepts were fresh. The Challengers of The Unknown Concept interest me but I have read too little of it to really have an opinion of it.