Monday, June 9, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 29: October 1961

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

Jerry Grandenetti
Our Army at War 111

"What's the Price of a Dogtag?"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Bring Back the Enemy's Flag!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

"Butterfingered Bombadier"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Joe Kubert

Jack: When Sgt. Rock notices two members of Easy Co. playing cards and using dogtags as currency, he tells them a story to illustrate "What's the Price of a Dogtag?" Private Samuel L. Gordon's big smile landed him the nickname Sunny, and he had the disposition to match from his first day with Easy. Despite danger and close calls, he always kept smiling. But one day he went out on patrol and didn't come back. Through his binoculars, Rock sees him lying motionless on the ground, and the men of Easy Co. spring into action to rescue their fallen comrade. They have to pass through dangerous crossfire and, when a tank is sent to assist them, it is blown up by anti-tank mines. A plane flies in to provide cover but has to reckon with a Nazi jet. Even a destroyer reports for duty and battles a Nazi sub. Finally, the men of Easy Co. reach Sunny and--in a last panel reveal--he is still alive and smiling! This is a great story with the usual fine Kubert art, but I don't see the connection with dogtags. I guess Rock's point is that each dogtag represents a soldier, and each soldier has a life with value.

"What's the Price of a Dogtag?"
Peter: This could be the most action-filled Sgt. Rock saga we've seen yet. I thought it a stroke of genius that, aside from the ammunition and the brief visit of a Nazi ace, Kanigher and Kubert keep the enemy hidden. All we see is the destruction. A highly entertaining script with gorgeous art.

Jack: As Frank heads off to serve as a frogman in WWII, he bears the burden of having to live up to the heroics of his father and grandfather, both of whom successfully answered the cry to "Bring Back the Enemy's Flag!" Frank fails at his first test mission, in which he has to plant our flag on enemy soil. He then angers his colleagues when he jumps into the ocean to fight Japanese frogmen; while he was under water, his post above-deck was unmanned and the enemy stole our flag. Finally, he volunteers for a dangerous mission and blows up an enemy ship, where he sees his ship's stolen flag flying alongside that of the enemy! He brings back both flags and plans to send them home to Dad. The Grand Comics Database originally credited the art on this story to Jack Abel but then switched to crediting it to Ross Andru, based on Julius Schwartz's records. This is not the first time I think the GCD relies too much on Schwartz's logs, because the artist here is most definitely Jack Abel.

"Bring Back . . ." 
Peter: That intro caption almost screams out to be "sung" by a rapper:

Chief petty officers and Navy braid heave-hoed
a seabag of sweat-popping combat assignments at me
during big brawl two!

But they were shore leave in paradise compared to the 
corn-cob rough mission
a civilian loaded on me when dad said
"Bring Back the Enemy's Flag, Yo!"

Ah, yes, the glory days of the 1940s when fathers, rather than hugging their sons and tearfully seeing them off to war, would proclaim "Get me an enemy flag just like me and your gramps did or you're no son of mine!" The single-mindedness of our young hero can't help but sink this story under the weight of repetition as he puts aside all other duties and worries and focuses on getting that doggone flag. Oh, he gets it, by the way. Big surprise that.

"Butterfingered Bombardier!"
Jack: Only a few missions away from having his plane and crew take over as lead bombardier, Lt. Carter freezes and can't open the doors when his craft is over the target. Can this newly "Butterfingered Bombardier" get over his psychological problems in time to show everyone that he has what it takes to be the leader? You bet he can! Kubert's art is sensational in this six-page story that ends with our hero bombing Nazi planes in midflight.

Peter: This one was a little complicated for little ol' civilian me but I'll use both parts of my brain to focus on Joe's stunning visuals. It's not often we see aerial dogfights portrayed by Kubert since his Rock stories are set on terra firma. Russ must have been busy the week this assignment was handed out.

Jerry Grandenetti
Our Fighting Forces 63

"Pooch--Tank Hunter!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Wanted: An Ace!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

"Time Bomb Tank!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

Jack: Gunner and Sarge continue holding the island with a little help from Pooch, who joins the fun as they fight off first a Japanese Zero, then a Banzai charge, and finally an attack by boat. The C.O. sends the threesome out on patrol to try to grab a cannon or two from the enemy until real supplies can be delivered. Unfortunately, every piece of heavy equipment they try to confiscate blows up! When they attack an enemy tank, Pooch is so excited that he leaps into the hatch and is held prisoner by the Japanese soldiers inside, until "Pooch--Tank Hunter!" drives everyone out into the open with a live potato masher that he clutches in his mouth. Happily, he drops it in the tank just in time, allowing Gunner and Sarge to return to base with a group of prisoners, if not any heavy artillery. The cover of this issue promises "Bullets and Belly-Laughs," but the story was a bit short on the latter.

Can Sarge count?
Peter: It just wouldn't be an issue of Our Fighting Forces without an adventure of the Two Stooges and their mutt. There's nothing going on here but a running joke that escalates. Pooch really surprised me this issue; the dog is smart enough to climb into a tree, make his own plan on how to commandeer a tank and then get the enemy to surrender the tank but not keen enough to drop the potato masher outside the tank when the going gets tough. Poor Gunner gets especially bad treatment from his artist this issue; Jerry gives the blonde bozo Marty Feldman eyes in a couple panels. No wonder Gunner is always stressed.

Jack: Newly arrived in Korea, jet pilot Jackson doesn't believe the more experienced pilots who tell him that becoming an ace by shooting down five enemy jets is easy. As the missions mount and he gradually reaches the status of ace, Jackson still doesn't understand what's easy about the process, since he struggles through each battle. It's only when he becomes an ace and finds himself a target of enemy jets that he understands--becoming an ace is easier than staying one! "Wanted: An Ace!" features decent air battle art by Jack Abel but the conclusion and the lesson Jackson learns are unsatisfactory.

Peter: If there's one thing I knew at the beginning of this story it was, before the five and a half pages are through, Jackson will admit "it's easy to become an ace!" I hate it when I'm always right. At least we get Good Abel this issue.

I love these dark, shadowy panels!
Jack: Vic and Buster are a couple of soldiers assigned to destroy a Nazi pillbox at Cambrai Crossroads. They happen upon an abandoned Nazi tank and decide to use it to run over the stronghold, but as they proceed toward their target they discover that they have shut themselves inside a "Time Bomb Tank!" Will they reach their destination before their armored prison blows sky high? I think we all know the answer. There are some serious plot holes here but this is our only story drawn by Russ Heath this month, so who cares?

Peter: A story set in snow is something we don't get much of around these parts. A very well-written, very suspenseful tale with a pretty predictable wrap-up. Heath's depictions of the two men in the booby-trapped tank perfectly capture the claustrophobia. We can feel the tension, not knowing whether the next minute will be their last but not having any choice in the matter.

Jerry Grandenetti
All American Men of War 87

"Broken Ace!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"Fire! 1! 2! 3! 4!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

"Snafu Squad!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Poor Johnny Cloud is so overworked he's hearing "scramble" calls in his dreams and having nightmares about his squadron being shot down. The base doc declares Cloud "grounded" and Johnny has to put up with the verdict. But not for long, as just that very day a "scramble" alert is sounded and, while the men are in the air, the enemy bombs the field in an effort to keep the Allied aces in the air. Though the cockpit Johnny jumps into belongs to a "Broken Ace," he manages to save the day by eliminating the enemy. The base doc has no choice but to declare Johnny Cloud ungrounded! For the most part a tense, gritty look at the stress brought on by warfare and a lack of sleep, "Broken Ace" is marred only by a laughable climax where Johnny Cloud manages to wipe out the entire Nazi Luftwaffe with one grounded plane. The cherry on top could only be the military doctor telling Johnny Cloud's C.O. that our Native American hero is in tiptop shape (mere hours after declaring him unfit) because, after all, "nobody can really ground an ace." Probably not a good time for Johnny to admit he sees warriors in the sky.

Jack: Scramble! Scramble! Johnny's brains have gotten a little scrambled from too many missions. I think all three war comics this month had stories where a plane dropped bombs on another plane in mid-air. Did you notice that one of Johnny's fellow pilots looks about twelve tears old?

"Broken Ace"

Peter: Ever since the enemy sub known as the Barracuda sunk his father's sub, Lt. Brown has hoped for a chance at evening the score. When the enemy sub sinks the supply ship he's commanding, that determination only grows. After mapping out a plan where his sub is a decoy for the Barracuda while a real sub waits below, Brown finally gets to call out "Fire! 1! 2! 3! 4!" I don't know about you, but the minute Brown said, only a handful of panels in, "how in the world will I ever get a shot at the Barracuda?" I somehow knew he'd get just that chance. All the boxes are ticked here (among them Jack Abel's stereotypical buck-toothed Japanese sub commander) except "Good Story."

Jack: Here's a sample caption to illustrate why this is not Hank Chapman's best work: "The crew thought Brown had crickets in his crow's-nest when he began pouring millimeters into the drink." That almost requires translation! By the way, have you noticed how, whenever a soldier is assigned to a low-risk job, all he can think about is how much he wants to get into the heat of battle? I have a suspicion that, in reality, those low-risk jobs were much more appreciated than DC writers let on.

"Fire! 1! 2! 3! 4!"

Peter: In the Korean war, one group of soldiers earns the nickname "Snafu Squad" for their streak of bad luck. Then suddenly that luck turns good and they become the "Spearhead Squad." That's the story, I swear. What makes these guys transform overnight from tripping over their own boots to seasoned snipers is still trying to be sorted out by the US Army. What was never disclosed is how Kanigher got away with using a decidedly profane acronym in a kid's comic book. I look forward to "The FUBAR Forces."

Jack: The squad was ALMOST renamed the Spearhead Squad but instead chose to retain the nickname of the Snafu Squad, because "any battle they're in means SNAFU for the enemy!" I learned something new in this story. A Garand is another name for the M1 semi-automatic rifle, which was the standard issue for G.I.s in WWII and Korea. It gave our men an advantage over Axis soldiers, whose rifles were "slower-firing bolt-action" rifles, or so says the Internet. That little fact was more interesting than this story!

well... that's the title

From the letters pages of Sgt. Rock issues #354 (July 1981), #355 (August 1981) and #366 (July 1982) comes a roll-call of all Easy Co. members, compiled by comics historian Robin Snyder. Click to enlarge.

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