Monday, May 26, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 28: September 1961

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

Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
Star Spangled War Stories 98

"The Island of Thunder"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"No Room to Fight!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Irv Novick

"Last Shot of the Triggerfish"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert

Peter: All his life, Nicky has been obsessed with dinosaurs, from building models as a youth to reconstructing the real thing in his job as paleontologist at a museum. When he's drafted and is sent into action, the only complaint he has is that the army doesn't send him to a part of the world rich with dinosaur bones. Very soon, of course, Nicky is up to his ears in the real live thing as his plane enters a mysterious white fog over an island in the Pacific and is gutted by a Pterodon. Once Nicky and his fellow GIs make it to "The Island of Thunder," they carom from one predicament to another until they are rescued by a passing plane. All Nicky can think, as the island's volcano explodes, is that he has no proof of his adventures.

Eight episodes in, the formula is running out of steam. Yeah, it's fun to see Andru and Esposito tackle all the possible combinations of thunder lizards you can imagine but, seriously, how about a little continuity here? This has to be the easiest series Bob Kanigher ever scripted and, perhaps, that's why he's doing it. Coming up with original plot ideas for Sgt. Rock had to be taxing (I won't even mention the demands of Gunner and Sarge) and how hard could it be to write: Panel 13: Stegosaurus. Panel 14: GIs throw grenades and say something along the lines of "I hope we can bomb this horror from the dinosaur age back into the past!" Considering we've got 38 more installments of The War That Time Forgot to come down the pike, I'm hoping the upcoming addition of series characters like The Suicide Squad will inject a little oomph! into the series.

Jack: I can only hope that's the case because the fun in this series right now is limited to wondering which dinosaur will pop up next. So far, they keep using the same ones over and over. The other thing I'm watching is how many times they rip off King Kong. In this exciting episode, we get the scene on the log over the ravine.

"No Room to Fight"
Peter: The men of ranger group Zebra Five must land on and conquer the smallest island in the Pacific, a piece of ground so small there is literally "No Room to Fight." I know these battles really happened in WWII and there were strategic reasons for holding down a piece of property this small but I'm not sure why a ship didn't just bomb the hell out of the island and take care of it quickly. We're not really educated to the reasons why this island must be taken and we just naturally assume, as we always do, that five good guys will win out over insurmountable odds. The climax is a bit rushed as well, while Irv Novick's art here resembles Jack Abel's.

Jack: I liked this story and Novick's art. There is a feeling that the men must keep driving forward relentlessly despite facing enemy threats at every turn. For some reason, the Japanese soldiers on this island are "giants," but our stalwart men defeat them anyway.

Peter: Frogman Brad finally gets to find out what happened to his submarine and its crew when the craft is found lying on the bottom of the ocean, emitting an S-O-S. Once he gets there, he finds that the experimental torpedoes, new weapons designed to lock in on sound, are operational. Lucky for Brad, since the enemy sub that sank the Triggerfish just happened to come cruising through the area. Brad activates the "Last Shot of the Triggerfish" but the captain of the Japanese sub is too crafty to fall for the new torpedo. Our hero must climb aboard the sub and make lots of noise before the torpedo will home in on it. Using a small replica of the Triggerfish and a whole lot of moxie, Brad makes the waters a safe place again. A rare non-Rock Kubert does not disappoint. Haney almost seems to elevate his writing (not that Bob is a bad writer) even more while he's got Joe on his team. It's a very exciting, unpredictable thriller with some very eerie scenes aboard the Triggerfish, now no more than an underwater tomb.

Jack: Easily the best story in this issue, "Triggerfish" boasts the usual great art from Kubert and a tense and thrilling story by Haney. Sometimes I really enjoy these frogman tales, especially after a lead story on Dinosaur Island! One notable thing about this issue is that two stories feature Japanese soldiers and there's not an offensive caricature to be found.

Jerry Grandenetti and Jack Adler
GI Combat 89

"Tank with Wings!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"Danger Sniper!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Russ Heath

"Nothing on the Nose!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: You'd think a Haunted Tank would have its share of problems, but hecklers? That seems to be the order of the day for the Jeb Stuart, the spookiest tank in World War II, and its crew, who are fed up being the butt of jokes from other tank crews. One of those crews, the Pershing, is manned by GI twins, both with a wicked sense of humor and a particular fondness for the smaller Jeb Stuart. About ten seconds after delivering their latest jibe, the crew of the Pershing is killed by a crimson-shaded Nazi fighter plane and Jeb and his men vow revenge. Their chance comes later when they are forced to load their tank onto a cargo plane and the aircraft is shot down by the same Nazi pilot. Loaded with its crew and a parachute, the Jeb is dropped thousands of feet up and becomes a "Tank with Wings," blasting the red buzzard from the sky. As far-fetched as it may be, there's no denying that the concept of a tank and a jet in a dogfight mid-air is the stuff of childhood fantasy. Kanigher and Novick pull it off nicely although (and here we go again), like The War That Time Forgot, I can see this "haunted tank" concept as being either limiting or incidental. This story in no way hinged on the appearance of a spooky tank. In fact, the biggest stretch this story was not a tank haunted by a Civil War General but the fact that the crew could survive the drop in the tank. A mite bit bumpy, I'd say. An extra half a star in my rating for offing the twins in the Pershing.

Jack: Do you think that the ghost of Jeb Stuart ever hangs out with Johnny Cloud's Great Spirit? This story features uninspired art by Novick and veers dangerously close to "repeat a phrase till it's worn out" territory, as ghostly Jeb keeps saying, "the war's full of surprises." It really wasn't that much of a surprise when the tank was dropped by parachute because that's what the initial splash page depicted. At least we didn't get the obligatory scene where everyone in the tank gets knocked unconscious and the haunted tank goes about its business on its own. This was the worst haunted tank story so far. I hope this is not the start of a downhill trend.

Peter: The most dangerous job in the army is the sniper hunter, one lone GI who must flush out the snipers perched on their tree limbs, waiting for unsuspecting soldiers. Our nameless hero shows us the tricks of the trade as he wishes he were anywhere but there. In the end, after flushing out several snipers, his CO grants his wish and reassigns him... to his own sniper's nest. This gets my vote for All-Around Best Story of the Year, combining stark Heath pencils with an unrelentingly suspenseful narrative, all topped with a big cherry of a climax. How could things get worse for our brave GI? By becoming the hunted instead of the hunter. I wish we could reprint the entire story here as bits and pieces don't do it justice. The splash of this story is a Russ Heath reimagining of last issue's cover by Joe Kubert (or was "Danger Sniper" originally scheduled for last issue and Kubert's cover based on the story?).

Jack: Wow! Easily in the top ten stories we've read so far. I got that EC vibe all the way through. Chapman doesn't churn them out the way Kanigher and Haney do, but sometimes he hits the nail on the head with a gritty tale of suspense. Heath's art is perfect. Once again, the technique of using the second-person singular for the narration ("You don't see the sniper . . .") works to create a mood that always reminds me of Cornell Woolrich's fiction. I agree with you, Peter--this is a classic.


Peter: Ensigns Joe Regan and Pete Dawson have a brand new TBF-Avenger with all the bells and whistles but the other guys in their squadron give them a hard time because the ensigns' bird has "Nothing on the Nose." All the other planes' snouts are decorated with kills but not this one. Jo and Pete do all they can to rectify the situation but their efforts continue to produce no results. "Nothing on the Nose!" That all changes when the boys have to eject and let their Avenger become a bomb, sinking a huge enemy battleship. Joe and Pete make it back to the base to find their new fighter, nicely illustrated with their fresh kills. I'm not even going to count the amount of times the title is used in the story. Despite that dreaded sense of deja vu, this was an exciting enough story (with great Abel art this time around) and, all around, one of the better war issues I've read in a while.

Jack: This story was going down repetition road until suddenly we got this caption: "And then, Whambo!--We suddenly had plenty on the schnozzola!" For some reason, the change from "nose" to "schnozzola" cracked me up. Abel once again delivers with nice art, especially in the battle scenes. Despite a lukewarm Haunted Tank story, this was a good issue, mainly because of the two good short stories by Hank Chapman.

Peter: This month's "Sgt. Rock's Combat Corner" has all manner of fascinating info for us fledgling WWII buffs, particularly the answers to questions about The Maginot Line (a line "across the French border, designed to stop tanks" equipped with "short concrete posts for tipping tanks over." Larry Ableson of New York brings up the fact that "some undersea mines had glass triggers" (actually, thin glass bulbs). How do I work this minutiae into a conversation at the bar with a blonde?

Jack: I think you start by not mentioning how much time you spend reading comic books!

Jerry Grandenetti
Our Army at War 110

"That's an Order!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Return of the Ghost Bomber!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: When Easy Co. comes upon a hedgerow that hides a nest of Nazi machine gunners, Bulldozer volunteers to sacrifice himself by going through to locate the enemy. Rock tells him no--"That's an Order!"--and comes up with a solution that saves lives. A second hedgerow proves more difficult, since there are two machine gun nests waiting behind it to catch G.I.s in a crossfire. Rock goes first and wipes out one nest with a grenade launcher, then his best men follow, against orders, and save his life.

After the hedgerows come the woods, filled with snipers hiding high in the treetops. A new, young lieutenant comes on the scene, ordering Rock around, even though Rock tackles him to save him from a sniper. The men grumble about Sgt. Rock having to take orders instead of giving them and they don't have much respect for his new boss until he takes off alone into a narrow ravine. Rock disobeys orders and follows him, saving him from Nazi gunners. In the end, Rock is the one who needs to be rescued, a feat that is accomplished by the lieutenant with some help from Easy Co.

Peter: Bulldozer's constant whining and asking Rock what he would do if faced with orders he knew to be wrong sets up an inevitable face-off between Rock and the looie. Despite the predictability, I really liked this one. What did surprise me was the fact that the lieutenant actually came through in the end, unlike the brass in the past who've been all bluster and no mustard.

Jack: It's 1917, and a huge German gun is sending shells from behind the lines that are causing heavy damage in Paris, France. Can two American pilots destroy the big gun using only a small, broken down biplane? The French paint Joan of Arc on the side of the plane for inspiration, and she works her magic, as the plane survives a crash into a swamp and another into deep water. Both times, the French citizens drag the plane out and fix it, and the Nazis watch as the "Return of the Ghost Bomber" eventually succeeds in its goal of destroying the big gun. I am always glad for a change of pace story and this is one. The WWI setting and the improbable triumph of the little plane make for a good story.

Peter: Even though it's a bit long (I suspect Kanigher had Haney stretch it a bit to accommodate the running length of the Sgt. Rock story), this is a stirring story of two guys who just wouldn't give up despite the odds stacked against them. It is lucky that the entire French resistance was waiting on the ground every time our heroes were shot down!

More Heath from "Danger Sniper"

Heath's splash for "Danger Sniper..."

and last issue's Kubert cover!


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