Monday, September 15, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 36: May 1962

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

Russ Heath & Jack Adler
G.I. Combat 93

"No-Return Mission!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"One Pilot Too Many!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

"Take Fury Hill Twice!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: The Jeb Stuart is assigned a "No-Return Mission": the tank must fight its way to four stranded infantry companies - Dog, Able, Baker, and Fox. All four are lying low in foxholes awaiting the enemy and if they don't get some interference run, they're goners. The crew of The Haunted Tank have already watched two tanks try - and fail - to rescue the stranded men on their long shot missions but, as the ghost of the tank's namesake keeps reminding his descendant, this war was meant to be won by fighting men and not by bookkeepers. En route, Jeb discovers the enemy's trick: a special underwater tank lies in a river waiting for the allies and then destroying them before they can defend themselves. This time though, Jeb Stuart is paying attention and turns the tables on the Germans. Eventually, the tank reaches its destination and vanquishes the oncoming German onslaught. Once again, The Haunted Tank is victor! A very engaging and exciting adventure, marred only by the obligatory catch phrases repeated ad nauseam. It's nice to see the ghost get involved but, like The War That Time Forgot, the gimmick can be limiting. It always seems as though Jeb (the tank commander) is knocked unconscious just as Jeb (the ghost) is about to do something interesting. I wonder if the point here is that Ghost Jeb can only take over the Tank when WWII Jeb is unconscious a la Don Blake/Thor. Of course, any nits are pushed to the side when your visuals are delivered by the master.

"No-Return Mission"

Jack: Russ Heath's art really makes this story work. Kanigher veers dangerously close to the edge of using a phrase and repeating it to death ("thousand to one shot" and its variations), but the excitement and suspense mount as the tank moves closer and closer to its impossible mission. I do have one nitpicking question, though. If the Nazi plane crashed into the ground and made a crater that the tank could hide in, wouldn't the plane be at the bottom of the hole? Does that mean that the tank is sitting on top of the plane's wreckage? There is one panel where the tail of the plane is sticking out as the tank heads into the hole, so I guess they just squashed it beneath them. (And wouldn't the plane's flaming wreckage be too explosive to sit atop?-PE)

Peter: Bud's not the greatest pilot in the air force but he's trying. When the squadron's #1 fighter is hurt in a training snafu, Bud is suddenly escalated into the ranks of "aces." What really fries Bud's onions though is that the injured ace, Randy Hart, is assigned the rumble seat in Bud's new fortress. That's just "One Pilot Too Many" as our hero soon learns. He can't relax enough to spread his wings with the greatest pilot in the air force breathing down his neck and he soon begins to fumble. When Bud is shot, Randy must take over the controls but the transition isn't smooth and the ace freezes up with panic. Bud grows large cojones very quickly and manages to get the duo off the island they've landed on and defeat an entire Japanese tank division for good measure. How can you complain about a double shot of Heath in one issue? I can't. At least the obligatory "guppy becomes a piranha" plot has a nice twist at the climax. And, hell, I'd welcome further adventures of Bud and Randy over the goof squad over at Our Fighting Forces any day.

Jack: Haney and Heath accomplish quite a bit in six pages. I don't think this story is up to the level of the Haunted Tank tale that preceded it, but it's still pretty good. The final heroic turnabout, when Randy freezes and Bud takes the controls, is satisfying.

"One Pilot Too Many"

Peter: A sergeant who failed to take Fury Hill in World War I is, coincidentally, asked to try try again in WWII. Second time's a charm though and it seems all our hero had to do take Fury Hill was to get knocked senseless and charge up the side of the mountain like a crazy man. It all comes out in the wash. Jack Abel contributes an okay art job but "Take Fury Hill Twice" is a little too cliched for my tastes. What are the odds this guy will be in charge of taking the same hill in two different wars? I'd have been able to swallow it easier if the army had sent him there because he'd already attempted the feat. It's not an awful story though and I can give it a thumbs-sideways.

"Take Fury Hill Twice"

Jack: I was all set to write that I didn't care for this story until I came to the end and it completely turned my opinion around. The image of the haunted soldier approaching Fury Hill alone is a powerful one. I also liked the end, when he can finally say what it looks like from the top of the hill. I'm glad that the story where a soldier feels ashamed of his failure to accomplish a task in one war was not an example of a father putting his guilt on a son, as we saw last month ("No-Ace Squadron," Our Army at War 117, also by Chapman).

Russ Heath
Our Army at War 118

"The Tank vs the Tin Soldier!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Kamikaze PT Boat!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

"The Seesaw Aces!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Meet Randy Booth, a young Hollywood actor known as "the teenager's sweet tooth," who is the newest private in Easy Co. His handsome face and tailored uniform stand in stark contrast to the unshaven faces and muddy uniforms of the rest of the soldiers, and his attitude matches his appearance. He does not think he belongs with Rock and his men and he nearly gets everyone killed when he doesn't follow orders and tips off a Nazi tank to Easy Co.'s position. But when a soldier named Sunny is injured (dies?) saving Randy from an explosion, Randy tells everyone that he is an actor and only knows what to do when he is given a part to play. He finally proves his mettle by distracting a Nazi tank with an empty bazooka long enough for Rock and his men to open fire. Randy lays injured (dying?) and Rock admits that, in this performance, he was a hero. Russ Heath is a good artist but here he is handicapped by having to try to draw in the style of Joe Kubert.

Russ Heath's take on Sgt. Rock

Peter: As much as I love me my Heath, Sgt. Rock is not the strip Russ should have been assigned to. He makes a great stab at Kubertishness with the splash but then it's all downhill from there. Rock never looks the same from panel to panel. We're too spoiled by Kubert's dirty grungy GIs to believe Russ' artificial sweat. Put the art to the side, this is still one of the weakest Rocks I've read in a while. Nothing new here, just the same ol' "green GI redeems himself in the end" chestnut.

"Kamikaze PT Boat!"
Jack: Al's PT boat is sent out to recon and report on a Japanese destroyer, but instead of wrecking the PT boat the destroyer takes it and its crew prisoner, then sends them on a mission to act as a "Kamikaze PT Boat!" and destroy an allied destroyer. Al and his crew overpower their Japanese guards and turn the boat around, eventually ramming it right into the Japanese destroyer and blowing it up. Abel's art is run of the mill but the story is entertaining and short.

Peter: A fairly exciting tale that spotlights the seldom-seen (at least in these parts) kamikaze. A predictably rosy ending is its only weakness.

Swastikas everywhere!
Jack: Fighter-pilot Sam shot down 10 Nazi planes in WWII but it's the Korean War now and the memory of those engagements haunts him and makes him unable to shoot down any MiGs. Fortunately, his kid brother Billy is up there with him in another jet and he takes care of the Red fighter planes for his brother. When Billy gets in a jam, Sam forgets all of his emotional baggage and comes to the rescue. The brothers are "The Seesaw Aces!" and mop up the skies. Jack Abel is doing something very interesting with the art in this story, using colors and shapes that made me think of Charlton Comics of a few years later. There are some creative panels where enemy fire is represented by red ovals and where swastikas float like ghosts in the sky around Sam's plane. Abel is not usually one of my favorites, but I think he really took this story and ran with it in some new directions.

Peter: I must confess to losing my place a time or two in the confusing flashbacks but when I'd regained my ground there was nothing but Ten Ton Swastika ... blahblahblah. A rare overall weak issue of OAaW. This issue's Combat Corner, the Sgt. Rock-hosted letters page, is filled with fascinating information. Where did Kanigher get all this data?

Kind of Charlton-esque

Jerry Grandenetti
Our Fighting Forces 68

"Col. Hakawa's Birthday Party!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"The Blind Snowbird"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Loser Take All!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Gunner and Sarge and the marines keep repelling Japanese Banzai attacks, so their new arch-enemy drops a samurai sword with a note inviting them to "Col. Hakawa's Birthday Party!" the next day. The marines' plan to sneak up on him is foiled, so they drop dummy marines on his base with some real soldiers sprinkled in. The marines attack but Col. Hakawa escapes and our boys are driven back to their own base. I guess Robert Kanigher was trying to think of some way to liven up this series, but adding a practical joker/Japanese mastermind was not the way to go about it. I pine for the days of pretty nurses!

"Col. Hakawa's Birthday Party!"

Peter: I couldn't imagine a worse strip than Gunner, Sarge, Pooch, and Hakawa, even if it starred Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, and Krypto the Super-Dog and was illustrated by Frank Robbins. My God, do you people even know how many brain cells I sacrifice reading this tripe? It's hell being a completist. How in God's name did Bob Kanigher balance the writing of a solid series like Rock with pumping out infantile crap like this?

"The Blind
Jack: An American "snowbird," a private operating on a snowy mountain range, spots a Nazi and captures him in order to bring him back to base and make him spill his guts about the enemy's position. What the Nazi doesn't realize is that his captor is "The Blind Snowbird," since our hero has been blinded by the snow's glare. He manages to make it almost back to base with his prisoner before the Nazi realizes he is blind, at which time the American causes an avalanche to bring his fellow soldiers running to investigate. It's bad enough that we're supposed to believe that the soldier fools the Nazi into thinking he can see, but Jack Abel's art is looking particularly rushed this month, and not only in Our Fighting Forces.

Peter: The fact that this snow bird could have "memorized every foot of the mountain" makes any of this story hard to swallow.

"Loser Take All!"
Jack: After taking out a Nazi plane, an American WWII pilot destroys a tank before crashing in the desert. He and the tank commander race for the only water source, not knowing that this will be a case of "Loser Take All!" The American pilot gives up his empty gun and falls for a Nazi trick but he is saved when a Nazi plane flies overhead and shoots the tank commander in a case of mistaken identity. This story doesn't manage to work up any real suspense and the resolution is not credible.

Peter: Those Nazis... never played fair. Don't quote me but I swear we've seen this plot before.

Andru & Esposito
Star Spangled War Stories 102

"Punchboard War!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"The Town that Wouldn't Die!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Sergeants are Made--Not Born!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Irv Novick

Peter: GI Robot Joe has his overhaul completed just in time for he and partner (human) Mac to be assigned to a top secret mission. En route, their plane is attacked by a giant fish from the prehistoric age. From there it's a quick trip down the rabbit hole into an entire world of giant dinosaurs and stuff. Present among all the cool stuff in the prehistoric world is a giant robot Nazi equipped with machine gun fingertips. Can't Mac and Joe ever catch a break? By this point, Mac must be thinking the army's got it out for him, sending him off to fight dinosaurs two issues in a row. Well, he'd take umbrage if he didn't obviously have Alzheimer's, the only excuse I can come up for a double dip in the prehistoric age. Heck, after the barrage of monsters Mac faced in his last adventure, you'd think surprise would be the last emotion he'd show when faced with a giant fish. The only two aspects of this junk that keep my interest is the origin of the giant Nazi and the fact that Mac and Joe are still on the island at the climax of the "thriller." That's never happened before (the GIs are always rescued and then, ostensibly, go on to feats more valiant than vanquishing Stegosaurs) so maybe Bob got wise to the fact that even the eight year-olds were getting tired of the same ol' same ol'. I have no idea what a "Punchboard War" is, by the way.

"Punchbowl War"

Jack: G.I. Joe the robot? Check! Sudden and unexpected dinosaur attack? Check! But then things get even more fun as our heroes are swept into the Lost World where they meet--of all things--a giant Nazi robot! I channeled my inner eight year old and enjoyed the heck out of this story. The pages flew by! And just to show that it's not all fun and games here at bare*bones e-zine, I went back over our old posts and identified "Biggest Target in the World" (Our Fighting Forces 52) as the last time Kanigher pulled out the idea of a giant enemy soldier. Except that time, it was a living, breathing Japanese giant!

Peter: An old man and his two grandchildren are all that stands between the Nazis and "The Town That Wouldn't Die!" With a smorgasbord of items (bottles, cans, 1917 cannon, wooden "I Surrender" signs), the trio successfully repel the German forces and carve out a little bit of freedom in their neck of the woods. Having a Goodwill in your town definitely comes in handy when fighting off a Nazi tank division seems to be the moral of our story. I wonder why zee French talk so funn-ee but zee Germans talk like zee Americans? I bet Jack's heart skipped a beat when Petite Jean ran from the town centre on the splash page, imagining it was his old love, Mademoiselle Marie but, alas, it was only a common French resistance fighter.

"Oui, Oui! Jeanne est une fille avec de très belle poitrine"

Jack: A stirring tale from Bob Haney that brings back our favorite French-accented speakers of English from the resistance! This is Abel's best work of the month, though his long, rectangular faces do tend to get tiresome. I really liked the trio of French folk that held off the Nazis with nothing more than a bunch of old junk.

Peter: The poor private just wants a couple more stripes but he learns very quickly that "Sergeants are Made -- Not Born!" This kid won't take no, however, and so he executes a one-man tour of brave deeds in front of his sergeant until the old man has no choice but to slap the extra stripes on the kid by story's end. It helps that the Sarge actually was the kid's old man! I've already copped to my ignorance as to how the whole military thing works so maybe I'm wrong by doubting this kid could not only be promoted so quickly but also be commanded by his own pop.  Haven't we gotten this title (or a variant) several times before? I'm looking forward to "Colonels are Men - Not Mice," "Admirals are Sugar - Not Spice" and "Privates are Grilled - Not Toasted."

"Sergeants are Folded -- Not Spindled"

Jack: I will make an educated guess that Hank Chapman wrote this story. There is plenty of slang and the title phrase is repeated too often. The clincher is that a young man has to do something heroic to impress his father. The twist ending was pretty good and I am at the point where I'd rather see Novick's art than Abel's, but overall this story wasn't very interesting.

In Our Next Terrifying Issue...


Greg M. said...

Great column, guys!

In reference to the Punchboard War, I think the title was probably supposed to be The Punchcard War, in reference to the two robots. Somebody probably goofed, and thought of punchboards instead.

Punchboards, BTW, are defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as:

a small board that has many holes each filled with a rolled-up printed slip to be punched out on payment of a nominal sum in an effort to obtain a slip that entitles the player to a designated prize.

Keep up the great work!

Jack Seabrook said...

Greg, punchcards makes a lot more sense than punchboards! I think I read the same site you did and I couldn't figure out why they used that title!