Monday, April 28, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 26: July 1961

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

Joe Kubert and Jack Adler
 GI Combat 88

"Haunted Tank vs. Ghost Tank!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Don't Dig In!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Everything's a Straight Line!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Peter: The "Jeb Stuart" aka The Haunted Tank comes up against its stiffest competition yet: a "Ghost Tank" that can seemingly appear out of nowhere, blast its enemies to Kingdom Come and then vanish in a poof of smoke. With the aid of his namesake, who now regularly appears in the sky, GI Jeb Stuart uncovers the secret of the "ghost tank": an elaborate elevator system that enables the tank to disappear into an underground fortress. When Jeb gets wind of the cave, he manages to infiltrate and destroy the Nazi hideout. Even though this predates the James Bond extravaganzas of the mid-60s like Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, the hydraulic elevator certainly brings those films to mind. Even if so amazing a feat could be accomplished,  I'd question whether the Nazis would build the fortress out in the boonies. How many tanks could they destroy out there and at what cost? That military sky is getting pretty crowded; I just hope Jeb Stuart doesn't get run down by Johnny Cloud's Great Spirit! I love Russ Heath's art (as always) but I'm not sold on a series about a haunted tank just yet.

Jack: First of all, what a cool cover! It took me a minute to figure out what the green thing in the foreground was, but when I did--yikes! The colors are also really impressive. As for the second haunted tank story, I thought it was cool! A ghostly Jeb Stuart in the sky is better than the Great Spirit any day. He's kind of like Yoda, dispensing nuggets of wisdom at opportune moments. One question: will the tank crew get knocked unconscious once per issue?

Peter: Charlie Cigar, Big Al, and Little Al, aka The Three Stooges/The TNT Trio, are given explicit orders to check out Area Green and "Don't Dig In!" but when the trio is buried under tons of sand the lieutenant is the last of their worries. Like targets in a shooting gallery, the boys are attacked first by a Zero and then a tank. Ingenuity and a little luck see them through. I've a feeling that this series will make me wish I was reading Sarge and Gunner. There really is no story here; it's just a punch line dragged out over four pages. Just like the previous installments.

Jack: Bob Haney has no better luck with these awful characters than did Bob Kanigher. This was a very long four pages! I was hoping that the tank would squash the Trio but they escaped once again. They have been gone since issue #85 and hopefully we won't see them any more.

Peter: Your prayers are answered, Jack. That's the last of the TNT Trio. GIs are told by their C.O. that everything's a straight line. It's a straight line to the beach. It's a straight line into the jungle. It's a straight line over the rickety bridge. It's a straight line up the mountain. Only it's not. Obstacles are thrown at the men right and left to throw them off their straight line but they do, finally, make it up the mountain. This is not a story but more a series of incidents stuck together with chewing gum and bad pencil scratchings. I'm not even going to take the time to count how many times Bob Haney uses the words "straight line." Let's just say that it's omnipresent and let it go at that. Well, I will throw in that this is the worst story of the month hands down. My favorite line (one I shouted out a few times) is when Joe asks Rusty, "Everything's a straight line?" and Rusty replies, "C'mon, Joe! Stop talking' to yourself!" It seems that when Haney and Kanigher got writer's block, they'd crack open a dictionary, throw two words together and write a story.

Jack: The very definition of a filler story. My brain took a straight line from start to finish as quickly as possible.

Jerry Grandenetti
 Our Army at War 108

"The Unknown Sergeant!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Ace on My Wing!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Passing through a battered French village, the men of Easy Co. are stunned to see a statue of a WWI doughboy who bears an uncanny resemblance to Sgt. Rock. "The Unknown Sergeant" had saved the village but his identity was unknown. In Easy's next battle, Rock commandeers an enemy tank and sustains a head injury, which leads him to imagine that he's a soldier in past wars, saving the day each time but never being identified. He finally comes to and saves the day again but no one knows it was his doing. Since I am firmly a member of Team Kubert and Peter is on Team Heath, I'll say that I missed big Joe this time around. I wish I liked this story more, but it's corny and dull.

Sgt. Rock dreams it's 1776 all over again
Peter: Russ Heath is my favorite DC War artist but it's pretty startling to see him assigned to Rock. Russ does his best Kubert impersonation at times (especially that second panel on page two) but seems to shy away from close-ups of the Sarge as if to fool the customers into believing it's really Kubert at the stick. The story didn't win me over, too long and predictable, but I appreciate the sentiment and then there's Heath's art. Three Russ stories this month! I'm going to get spoiled.

Jack: Newly assigned to a WWI flying unit, Lewis wants to fly alongside Hawkes, the ace, but Hawkes always flies alone, ever since his kid brother was killed by the German ace Von Bock while flying with Hawkes. Lewis can't seem to get through to Hawkes but when Hawkes is captured by the Germans, it's Lewis to the rescue! He pulls Hawkes out of danger on the way to a POW camp and then must fly him back to base, as an "Ace on My Wing," pursued by Von Bock. Can Hawkes manage to cling to a strut on the wing of Lewis's plane while Lewis does aerial stunts and engages in a dogfight with the enemy? You bet he can! This story starts out seeming as if it's going to be another one where the same thing happens over and over, but it really gets going once Lewis heads off to rescue Hawkes. The concluding flight, with Hawkes clinging to the strut, is exciting.
"Ace On My Wing!"

Peter: This one borders on "it was all a dream" territory with its outlandish panels of the Ace surviving massive speeds and stomach-churning dips on the wing of the spad. Perhaps most fantastic of all is that our green pilot spots the Ace far below him, riding in the backseat of a car. This guy's got an eagle's vision. I never saw that climax coming when the Ace (after being such a wienie to our young hero all through the story) smiles and tells the kid he wants some flying lessons. I'm being sarcastic. Funny that I noted Heath doing a Kubert impersonation in the Rock story because it seems as though Abel is aping Heath here (not a bad thing, it turns out). So, this issue is all art, no story.

Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
Star Spangled War Stories 97

"The Sub-Crusher!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"The End of Lady Luck!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

Peter: Brothers Nick and Petey, one a PT Captain, the other the commander of a submarine, are given the top secret assignment of finding out what is capturing and squishing American subs like soda cans. Assuming the Nazis must have devised some nefarious new secret weapon, the brothers head out to sea to find "The Sub-Crusher," only to be caught in a deadly storm. Amidst the roiling waves, Petey witnesses a fearsome sight: a huge claw rising from the deep, holding his brother's submarine in a death grip. The sub is pulled below the water and all aboard are presumed dead. The PT boat, lost in the storm, arrives at a mysterious island populated by giant creatures. At every turn, the small boat is attacked and pummeled but, through the ingenuity of its captain, the craft manages to make it off the island, where they discover the (very much alive) crew of the submarine, a little worse for wear and tear. As we salute our heroes, the Air Force flies in to bomb the living crap out of the island and blow the monsters from the prehistoric age back into... the prehistoric age. At least until next issue!

There's no getting around that the entire Allied militia knows about the dinosaur-infested Pacific at this juncture so there should be no excuses in our next chapter. This installment is so much fun and just so silly I can picture Bob Kanigher playing out the plot in his bathtub with toy boats and plastic dinosaurs. Things don't start out so well when we're introduced to (surprise!) two brothers serving in the same objective. I'd like to see that cobwebbed cliche put to rest for good but I'll bet dollars to donuts we haven't seen the last of that one this year.The Pterodactyl comes off as pretty darn smart when it drops a torpedo on our guys. Maybe the Army should think about training these birds for active duty? And, call me silly, but I buy the giant ape but not the huge coconuts. Right, selective gullibility. My most important question this issue would have to be: why is Nick the PT Captain and not Petey?

Jack: This is just lost on me. I like dinosaurs as much as the next guy, but when I read these War That Time Forgot stories I can't help thinking that this would have seemed childish when I was eight years old. Some of the images are cool, like the claw rising out of the water holding a sub or the pterodactyl's wings expanding beyond the panel borders, but Andru and Esposito's parade of sweaty, bug-eyed men and Kanigher's paint by numbers plotting, where the soldiers proceed from dino A to dino B to dino C, fails to capture my interest. At least this time they went back to base and told someone about it. I love how they blow up the island so they can get back to the serious business of fighting the war. Why not train some of these monsters to attack Nazis? Now that might be a story I'd enjoy.

Paging Jack Driscoll!

Peter: The crew of the "Lady Luck" have run 24 bombing missions without a scratch, earning the amazement and, yes, ire of the other bomber crews. For its 25th, and final, flight, the bomber draws a "milk run" (a low-combat mission) and the men prepare for yet another round of boredom. Unexpectedly, the "Lady Luck" begins drawing fire and flak and it becomes her duty to make sure the other bombers finish their mission. Could this be "The End of Lady Luck"? Once again, I'm out of superlatives for Russ Heath's astonishing art. The panels of the disintegrating bomber are gorgeous and wrought with fine detail. Let's not forget Bob Haney, who comes through with an exciting story yet again. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Haney is emerging as the real star of the writing staff.

Jack: You just knew Lady Luck's last mission was not going to end well! I was starting to wonder if we'd get a downbeat ending for a change, but miraculously the crew of Lady Luck all survived intact, even though the plane crashed and disintegrated. You're right about Heath's work on this one--it's stellar!


No comments: