Monday, August 18, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 34: March 1962

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

Jerry Grandenetti & Jack Adler
GI Combat 92

"The Tank of Doom!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"No Place Like the Front!"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by Irv Novick

"The Desert Wins 'Em All!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Battle of the Bugles!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: A huge Tiger tank is making problems for the Allied troops until it comes across the men of the Jeb Stuart. Abandoning the Haunted Tank to fight "The Tank of Doom" on their feet, Jeb and his men are able to put the monster out of commission all on their own. Or are they on their own? A cloudy climax to this otherwise exciting tale. Did the spirit of Jeb Stuart have anything to do with the delayed explosion of the Tiger or are we to assume that, since the ghost was touting that it's "men and not steel that win wars," he stayed out of the confrontation and it really was a delayed reaction? On one hand, I like deliberately vague climaxes but this one might be a little too hazy. Unusually brief (six and a half pages as opposed to the usual twelve and a half) for a series entry.

Jack: I can't get over my disappointment that this was drawn by Jerry Grandenetti instead of Russ Heath. It's not only the conclusion that's vague! Perhaps Heath missed a deadline and Jerry had to slap something short together in a hurry? It sure looks that way.

Peter: A green GI is terrified he's heading for the front. All the way there, he's faced with danger but he's constantly told there's "No Place Like the Front." The funny thing is, once he gets there, he finds out the front is where all the action ain't. Every single story we've covered in the first 33 lengths of our journey has been written by three men: Robert Kanigher, Bob Haney, and Hank Chapman. Now, briefly, we can add Jack Miller (1908-1969) to that list. With "No Place Like the Front," Miller manages to avoid piggybacking too many cliches and instead offers up an exciting enough script with an ironic punchline. Miller wrote a handful of war scripts pre-1959 but then disappeared from the landscape altogether. He went on to write The Mighty Hercules, a 1963 TV cartoon and then popped up on our radar again in 1971 for a story in The Witching Hour 13. Since my sources (who will remain anonymous) claim Miler died in 1969, was the WH story one that was sitting on a shelf?

Jack: If it was in a horror comic, it's entirely possible he wrote it from beyond the grave. I was surprised to find that I liked "No Place Like the Front!" When I read the title, I figured it would be another one of those stories where they repeat the same phrase over and over. It was that to some extent, but the twist at the end was unexpected.

Peter: A Nazi tank patrol hides its weapons in a monument erected centuries before by a tyrant expecting victory over his enemies, unaware that history will repeat itself when an Allied squad takes refuge under the statue and destroys the enemy tanks. Two stories in one issue illustrated by Jerry Grandenetti and I can't complain much about either one. "The Desert Wins 'Em All," like "No Place...," has a nicely ironic climax.

"The Desert Wins 'Em All!"

Jack: I know you are not a big fan of poetry, Peter, but this story has echoes of Shelley's "Ozymandias." (Poetry, schmoetry-Peter.) The Egyptian statue in the middle of the desert has Shelley's "sneer of cold command" and "The lone and level sands stretch far away" applies to the end of this story just as it ends the poem. Grandenetti's people are too sketcky for my taste and the story is brief but the inclusion of the ancient monument adds depth to the usual U.S. vs. Nazi plotline.

Peter: During the Korean War, a musician named "Jazzy" Jones begins to get on his CO's nerves by playing music (on canteens, helmets, or whatever he can find) and so the sarge sends him on patrol, where he can't make noise. Unfortunately, "Jazzy" steps into a hornet's nest when he comes across a whole village of Reds and has to take refuge in a music shop. Fortunately, it's there that "Jazzy" wins a "Battle of the Bugles" when he plays in time with the enemy's bugler and completely confuses the other side. Very reminiscent of one of the worst DC war stories, "Battle Mess," in that it deals with the role of the non-fighting man in combat. "Jazzy" just wants to play his rhythms, man (and, oh boy, does that hep cat dialogue wear out its welcome quickly) and "treat the guys to a jive session." Jack Abel's cartoonish art helps elevate the package to buffoonish levels. Too bad this turkey was dumped here as, otherwise, this was a pretty strong issue. The statement published shows that G.I. Combat had 205,000 subscribers in 1961, which puts it right alongside Our Fighting Forces. Unfortunately, the numbers weren't as conveniently broken down as they were years later, so we have no idea how many copies these titles were selling at the newsstand.

Unscramble yourself from the goo? Did our dads really talk like that?

Jack: Funny, I thought this was a fairly entertaining story in a weak issue overall. The dialogue is cringeworthy but the middle of the story worked for me, when Jazzy and the Red Army bugler are battling back and forth and the soldiers don't know which bugle to obey--advance or retreat. I think I liked it because it was something different, as was the story that preceded it.

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 116

"S.O.S. Sgt. Rock!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"One Must Get There!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

"The Tank was a Lemon!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

Jack: Sgt. Rock is training some new recruits when they question why he and Ice Cream Soldier seem to be able to communicate with each other without the need for words. Though Rock insists that it's just the product of their experience working together, he and his colleague each seem to know what the other is thinking more often than not. When Ice Cream Soldier sets out alone to scout traffic across a bridge held by the enemy, Rock begins to hear faint cries for help over his walkie-talkie. He is unable to confirm that the "S.O.S. Sgt. Rock!" calls come from Ice Cream Soldier, and as he tracks the signal he finds a downed pilot and the commander of a disabled tank both calling for aid. The calls keep coming even after Rock notices that his walkie talkie is stuck in "send" rather than "receive" mode. Rock finally locates Ice Cream Soldier, who lies wounded beneath the bridge, and Rock manages to carry him to safety and blow up the enemy's bridge. He tells the new recruits that he just followed his nose to find his fellow member of Easy Co. Kanigher develops a real sense of mystery and suspense in this story, and the mood is highlighted by excellent art from Kubert.

Peter: The series of panels showing a visibly shaken Rock listening to the SOS is really powerful but did we ever get an explanation where the SOS was coming from? Regardless, this is a very good Rock installment.

Jack: In the South Pacific in 1943, Allied forces have photographed a secret enemy sub base and the pictures have to be delivered back to HQ. The mission is more important than one man, as Rick learns, since his brother Jack was on a PT boat that may have been destroyed. Can Rick get back to HQ with the pics and still have time to find his brother? It doesn't matter which boat makes it back safely, but at least "One Must Get There!" Despite some close calls with Japanese boats, Rick makes it through with the film and finds his brother Jack, alive and well at journey's end. This was a pretty good story for Hank Chapman, and Jack Abel's art was pretty good as well. Nothing special.

Peter: Here we go again with the "one brother in jeopardy, the other to the rescue" cliche, which has now moved up to #2 on the Top Ten List of DC War Cliches, right behind the catch phrase and just ahead of The Enemy Can't Shoot Straight.  Is "agonizedly" even a word? We're back to bad Jack Abel.

Jack: Sarge, Ben, Gunner and Sparks, of King Company, try to destroy a Nazi pillbox but have trouble because "The Tank Was A Lemon!" It seems that their tank keeps malfunctioning. They are less than thrilled that the Army keeps repairing it and sending it back to them, because it malfunctions every time. Finally, the SNAFUs pay off when the emergency brake fails while the tank is parked on a hill, allowing it to plunge down an incline and off a cliff, coming to rest right on top of an enemy tank. Cornball humor and bad writing match perfectly with the usual art job by Andru and Esposito.

Peter: Heresy! There's more than one Gunner and Sarge? I can just imagine Jack Seabrook getting happy feet, anticipating double the fun. This is the second story recently that deals with dropping tanks on other tanks. Neither one comes off as very realistic.

Andru & Esposito
Star-Spangled War Stories 101

"The Robot and the Dinosaur!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"The Unsinkable Wreck!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Irv Novick

"Frogman on a Warpath!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Mac's got a brand new assignment: he'll be parachuting onto an island to do recon. His CO introduces him to his new partner, a GI robot named Joe. When the duo jump from the plane, they enter a mysterious wind tunnel and are blown far from their mission site. Suddenly, they are attacked by a monster from the dinosaur age, a pterodactyl, who makes quick work of Mac's chute. If not for his new silver friend, Mac would be dino-stew. Once Mac and Joe land on the island, they meet up with the usual assortment of uncharted Pacific island dinosaurs. Luckily, the pair manage to survive their ordeal and make it back to civilization in one piece.

What else could this be from? You got your Robot...
This is a case of Robert Kanigher wanting to blend one genre too many (and some would argue that mixing the dinosaurs with soldiers has already proven one genre too many), adding a bit of the Superman vibe to his war comics. Next up, Mac will be told the perfect addition to his squad would be a gorilla. And not to split hairs but is Mac such a super-soldier that he's the only one on this mission (save the new guy, of course). He mentions that the "wind tunnel" has blown him off course but it seems as though he finds what he's looking for when he finds an enemy radar-tracking station and blows it sky high.  These adventures almost seem as if they're still being written as they're coming off the press, with no time for proof-reading. Once again (for the 11th time, to be exact) we get the requisite number of dino-deaths and then we're off the island, seemingly with no memory of what happened. I know if I encountered monsters of the prehistoric dinosaur days, I'd be "holy shit!"-ing for days to the guys in the PT boat who rescued me.

Jack: I was all set to dislike this story but guess what--it was fun! Mac is a little bit of a dolt, as shown by the early panel where he first sees the metallic man and asks if it's a zombie. He later compares one of the dinos to a zombie. What's with the fixation on zombies? Once again, I have to wonder how we ever won WWII if we had such a bad memory every time our soldiers landed on one of these mysterious islands. By the end of the story, I was rooting for Joe and did not want him to die like Son of Kong, holding up Mac as he sank down in quicksand. I have not looked ahead to see if these characters keep appearing, but I hope they do! They are a step up from the acrobats.

"The Unsinkable Wreck"

Peter: After his promotion, a Navy skipper dreams of captaining a battleship but, instead, gets stuck with a tug boat. The aim is to be bait for enemy aircraft while the fighting ships sneak by. The little ship proves to be "The Unsinkable Wreck" when she's kamikazied by a zero, shot at from a river bank, and forced to blow up a bridge as she's traveling underneath the structure! In the end, the little ship that could proves to be a valuable asset and the skipper wouldn't trade her for that battleship he dreamed of. Not sure who wrote this one (for some reason there are no credits for a couple of stories this month), but he did a good job; this one hits all the right buttons. It's exciting and free from catch phrases and short order cooks who win the war on their own. With that and Irv Novick's great art, what more could you ask for?

Jack: This one didn't work for me. I'll guess it's by Bob Haney, since Kanigher rarely wrote 6-pagers and it's not nutty enough to be by Chapman. The art is another story. I can see hints of Novick here and there but it almost looks like it was drawn by the guy who draws the filler pages that we always ignore--you know, the ones that tell us about this or that division or that explain why a flag looks as it does. Maybe big Irv came in and inked a bit or tightened up some faces.

Peter: Swift Otter, a Kiowa and a navy frogman, relates to his crew that his tribe would collect "coups" from enemies, "souvenirs" taken from the men they killed. The coups then become an obsession for the men but, ironically, Swift Otter is the only man not to score. Frustrated, he becomes a "Frogman on a Warpath!" His breakthrough comes one night when he completes his mission and discovers three Japanese frogmen attempting to blow up Swift Otter's barracks. He dispatches the trio and then takes back their wetsuits as "skins" for the barracks wall. I'm always grateful to the DC war colorist for adding a dark red to the Indian characters in these comics (especially our old friend, Johnny Cloud) as I wouldn't be able to tell one character from the next with Jack Abel's indistinct artwork. And, is it just me, or is there more than a whiff of racism going on in that final panel of the three "skins" hanging on the wall. Almost EC-ish in its subliminal message, the image is sick, but delightful!

All that's missing is The Crypt-Keeper giggling in the lower right corner!
Jack: I'll guess Hank Chapman as the writer of this goofy tale, which should have been titled "Count Coup!" for all the times the phrase is repeated. Notably, Jack Abel signed this one, which is a rarity. Other than Kubert, does anyone else sign his work on these war books? Maybe Heath?

Peter: The magic number for subscription for the war books seems to be 205,000 (on the dot!) as this is the third title reporting those numbers.


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