Monday, October 27, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 39: August 1962

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

Jerry Grandenetti
All American Men of War 92

"The Battle Hawk!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"Ace on a String!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Double Ace in Double Trouble!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

Peter: Tired of leading his men into a never-ending battle against the terror-rockets, Johnny Cloud begins to take his frustrations out on his crew. A sudden infiltration of animal mascots gets on Johnny's nerves and he tells the men they can't have barnyard critters mucking up the cockpits. The men grumble but Cloud believes that his orders have been heard loud and clear. That is, until the next day when the squadron goes into a narrow crevasse that could be hiding the terror rockets and Tex's monkey, Top Banana, cheeps out a warning about a plethora of incoming enemy fighters. The little chimp saves the day but Johnny is furious and he grounds Tex. Of course, monkey mania isn't the real problem; it's Johnny's inability to cope with sending his men into certain death. When he decides to tackle the crevasse alone, with his canopy open, "The Battle Hawk" soars into the cockpit and gives Cloud directions on how to survive the crevasse and bomb the terror-rockets. Triumphant, Johnny Cloud returns to base to declare Animal in the Cockpit Day and searches for the Lysol. Your typical Johnny Cloud adventure, with all the teases set up to deliver in the end. Why did Johnny's guys suddenly decide they were superstitious and needed hamsters, iguanas, and cobras in the cockpit with them and, more tellingly, who believes those animals will still be around by the next installment? I'm absolutely convinced a young George Lucas read All American Men of War and thought "Some day, I'm going to incorporate the crevasse with the terror-rockets into one of my films."

"O Johnny Cloud had a farm... E-I E-I O"

Jack: What worries me more are the new nicknames Johnny gave to some of the Happy Braves--Young Ace? Kid Kansas? Does this mean we're going to get recurring characters now like Ice Cream Soldier and Blockbuster? And does Pooch know about these new animal co-stars? Can an Animal Labor Union be far behind?

Peter: Grounded after becoming four-fifths of an Ace, a young World War I pilot must improvise and attack the German ace, Count Graf, riding a kite. With a majority of these war pilot tales, the humanity gets pushed to the side and the thrust becomes the kill. Some of these funny book characters seem driven not to defend their country but to get that elusive fifth plane. We can chalk that up to the brevity of these strips but with the weaker ones, like "Ace on a String," it becomes glaring.

Just another day in the DC war universe

Jack: The Black Ace made me look up when Enemy Ace will finally get started and I was dismayed to see that it's not till 1965! In the meantime, how the heck did this guy get a giant kite to take flight with himself hanging onto it? I have flown kites at the beach and I always have to run around and play out the string. This gent just climbs aboard and up it goes. I guess DC war heroes have special skills.

"Double Scoop of Dopiness"
Peter: When he becomes too absorbed in his tenth kill, Mike doesn't come to the aid of his brother, Jimmy (also a pilot) in time and Jimmy's plane is shot down. Wracked with guilt, Mike finds he can't fly and requests another job. His C.O. assigns him to drive around to camps and boost morale. When he's visiting the area where Jimmy was shot down, his jeep hits a land mine and Mike wakes up to find Jimmy alive. His plane had been shot down and he'd been rescued by GIs. His mental block cleared, Mike teams up with Jimmy to blow the Commies out of the sky. "Double Ace in Double Trouble" is a predictable tale right from the moment Jimmy's plane goes down. You know there will be the big reunion and Mike will get his nerve back. All that's missing is the catch phrase. A very weak issue of AAMoW.

Jack: You can say that again! The best thing about this story is the cool Korean War jets. I knew Jimmy wasn't dead. The art by Andru and Esposito is passable, with decent panels showing Mike's freakout and the hands grabbing him out of the plane.

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 121

"New Boy in Easy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Sergeant with the Borrowed Stripes"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Jack: There's a "New Boy in Easy!" and he's a bespectacled gent who loves to pore over a chessboard. As Rock and the combat-happy Joes fight off Nazi planes and tanks, the new guy "helpfully" points out that war is like chess and the men who are dying represent the pawns, sacrificed for the greater good. Rock is too much of a humanist to agree and so the new guy bets him that, by day's end, he'll see the validity of the comparison. As the casualties mount and the men of Easy Co. soldier on, they finally defeat the Nazis even though they should have fallen. Rock tells the new guy that men are men and soldiers are soldiers, and until pawns can stand back up from a chessboard and keep fighting, they'll never compare to real soldiers. This is a very cerebral story in a series that already tends to be thoughtful. Of course war is like chess--chess is based on war! But Kanigher, Kubert and Rock demonstrate pretty clearly that the human element has something the game lacks.

Easy Co. comes through again!
Peter: These stories of the new recruits can be samey - there's only so much spin you can put on the cliche of "the new kid in the co." - but I found this one to be really deep and well-written. I guess it helps that this is not a guy who just can't pick up a weapon and you know by the end of the story he'll be mowing those Nazis down. As Jack noted, this one is cerebral. Again, I have to wonder aloud whether Kanigher was forced to write dumbed-down series like War That Time Forgot and Gunner and Sarge by upper management in order to slip in the tales the kids had to think about. Let's give a 21-gun salute to the GIs we lost this issue: "Stretch Anderson, "Rubber-Knee" Roberts, "Penny-Ante" Watts, and "Jersey-Jack" Johnson. Boys, we hardly knew ya.

"New Boy in Easy!"

"The Sergeant with Borrowed Stripes!"
Jack: A Chinese tank attacks a small Korean village and kills the father of young Sung Chu, so the boy makes a run for it and is rescued by U.S. Sergeant Joe Smith. The tank returns and Smith fights it on his own as the boy watches from a safe place. Sgt. Smith climbs into the captured tank and uses its gun to fight off two more Chinese tanks, but he is injured in the battle. Sung Chu bravely picks up his machine gun and continues the fight, blasting the tank to Kingdom Come and saving the American sergeant. As a reward, Smith tells Sung Chu that he will adopt him and the boy receives a medal for heroism. Not a bad little story, despite shaky art by Jerry G. I'm glad that, in 1962, they could still differentiate between Asian friend and Asian foe.

Peter: One can't take seriously the story of a twelve-year old who picks up a machine gun and mows down a tankful of the enemy even if you'd like to. Jerry Grandenetti's art looks like it was reprinted from DC's Jerry Lewis comic book. And then there's that goofy final panel, where the sergeant exclaims that he's gotten permission to adopt little Sung Chu Smith (!) back to America and take him out to baseball games and ice cream parlors. Wait 'til Mrs.Sergeant sees little Sung Chu waddle in through the front door.

Joe Kubert
Our Fighting Forces 70

"The Last Holdout!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Periscope Pigeon!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Gunner and the Bird!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Jack: Col. Hakawa pulls so many pranks on Gunner and Sarge that they wear themselves out trying to differentiate between real attacks and phony ones. Finally, the Marines announce that they have cleared the island of Japanese soldiers, and our heroes are headed home! They get a job at a gas station but jump at the chance to appear in a movie about WWII fighting. To their surprise, it's being filmed right on the same island where they spent so much time! They are even more shocked when their play-acting is answered by a real attack by none other than Col. Hakawa, who is "The Last Holdout!" on the island after the war ended! They blow him and his tank to bits, but wait--it's only a dream being dreamed by a weary Gunner. Sarge wakes him up and tells him it's time to get back out on patrol. I was getting excited about the end of the Gunner and Sarge series and I was all set to go to Wikipedia to confirm it when it all exploded in my face like a cigar from Col. Hakawa.

Peter: Obviously, Pooch had it in his contract that he could sit out "dream stories." You can chalk it up to it all being a nightmare but how did Hakawa's dummy throw the potato masher? Why does this "Imperial Practical Joker" put the rest of WWII on hold while he's making it a private hell for Gunner and Sarge? Shouldn't Hirohito be notified? I was assuming that, since they're on a Pacific island, G&S would eventually run into dinosaurs of the stone age but, 26 installments in, nothing yet!

More hijinks with the Marines!

Jack: When they were growing up as kids, Eddie's big brother Dan always saved him when he was in trouble. Now they're both in WWII, where Eddie flies a plane and Dan pilots a sub. They are brought together to destroy some island defenses, but Eddie's job as decoy goes awry when his plane is shot down. On a rubber life raft, Eddie becomes a "Periscope Pigeon!" and guides Dan's sub close to the targets until he can fire a torpedo and blow them up. This story seemed to strain credibility to me when Eddie started writing backwards on the periscope lens in crayon to send messages to Dan. Good thing he had a box of crayolas in his survival kit when his plane crashed in the ocean!

Peter: Yep, there's a lot to cry BS on in "Periscope Pigeon" but I thought the exciting bits outweighed the really silly stuff. If we have to have yet another "brothers-in-arms" tale, at least this one shows a bit of originality. I do like how a rubber raft saved Eddie from being blown to bits while the sea is aflame all around him!

More fun with crayons!

Jack: After Taggart's first flying mission in the Bustin' Buzzard is a flop he is grounded and the plane takes off without a gunner. The Buzzard goes down in the desert outside Bengazi and Taggart heads off alone in a jeep to try to find it. On his second day out in the scorching heat he finds a falcon with a broken wing. The falcon has a bit of the downed plane's aluminum skin stuck in its talon and Taggart decides to follow its tracks to see if he can locate the plane or an oasis for some water. He finds the oasis, but it's guarded by Nazis! Taggart blows them up with a well thrown grenade, then fights off a Nazi plane with the machine gun on his jeep. Finally, "Gunner and the Bird" locate the crew of the Bustin' Buzzard just in time, before they all die of thirst. When I saw the title of this story, I figured we were in for more antics with Gunner of Gunner and Sarge. Instead, Sarge was replaced by a bird and Gunner wasn't Gunner!

Peter: This one was a chore.  Grandenetti's pencils look almost unfinished this time around (and they never look all that good as it is), resembling the mess they'll become when the DC mystery line rolls around in about six years. These stories about GIs and the bonds they build with wildlife put me to sleep.

More fun with Jerry Grandenetti!

Peter: Several times during our journey I've read Sgt. Rock's Combat Corner letters page and thought "Well, I'll be damned, I didn't know that!" I'm not sure whether all these letters from eight year olds are legit but they raise several good points in their questions and shed light on some aspects of war that I've not read in all the WWII non-fiction I've devoured. Say, for instance, the question posed by Stan Woodling of Dallas. Instead of paraphrasing, I've reprinted the entire question and answer below. I think you'll find this fascinating:

An early example of bagged comics--save a penny!

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