Monday, December 8, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 42: November 1962

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

Russ Heath and Jack Adler
G.I. Combat 96

"The Lonesome Tank!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Flying PT-Boat!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

"The Biggest Sitting Duck in the Navy!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Jeb Stuart keeps turning down offers of good luck charms from other tank crew, believing the ghost of a civil war General might be good luck enough, but Jeb begins to second guess himself when his tank is put out of action and the crew must sit out the war while others fight and die. In the end, it's that inaction that brings about action. With "The Lonesome Tank," I thought for sure we were going to get dragged down in yet another "catch-phrase hoedown" but, thankfully, Kanigher keeps the annoyance to a minimum. How is it that Jeb (the flesh and blood version) couldn't see that the enemy tank was firing through a hole in the rock until Jeb Stuart (the dead guy) pointed it out? Not much of a soldier, this one.

Heath shows the Hollywood guys how to "film" a war scene

Jack: Even though there is a "T.N.T. wind" a-blowin' in this story, it features outstanding art by Russ Heath. On three successive pages, he uses arrows to direct the reader's eye down and then to the right to make sure we follow the action properly. I'm not usually a big fan of arrows, since I think the artist should construct a comic page so that it flows naturally, but Heath pulls it off by using the first two panels to set up the bigger third panel.

"Flying PT Boat"
Peter: Garry and brother Bill are assigned PT boat duty on separate ships, both desiring glory and lots of notches on their periscopes, but only one gets to see action since Garry's crew sinks a big ship and Bill's is left holding the bag. When Bill's ship is taken away in a "flying boxcar" to run interference for an admiral, a chance encounter with enemy Zeros creates a "Flying PT-Boat" and puts Bill back in the limelight and, ostensibly, in good graces with his dad back home. Wholly cut from a "T.N.T. cliche cloth," there's nothing about this one worth recommending. Are we reaching a point where these writers really have no original ideas to lay before us?

Jack: Whenever I see two brothers at the beginning of a story, I know what's coming, and it's worse when one of them is assigned a seemingly glory-free role in the war. Chapman gives the story a bit of "T.N.T. punch" but we're seeing too many of these tales where weapons are mixed in an unusual way; here, a PT boat in the belly of a plane.

Peter: The crew of a rescue chopper can get awfully frustrated when they're constantly doing all the rescuing and not getting rescued but, sure as this is GI Combat, this chopper will be "The Biggest Sitting Duck in the Navy" by the end of five and a half pages. Sure enough, while attempting to intercept a torpedo, the copter goes down into the sea... and lands on a submarine. A few well-tossed "T.N.T. eggs" and the crew become the heroes they've always dreamed they could be! Two Russ Heath stories in one issue should send up a chorus of "hurrah"s but Hank Chapman and (to a lesser extent) Robert Kanigher do Russ no favors with their mediocre scripting.


Jack: Heath supplies more fantastic battle scenes while Chapman's story lays some pretty big "T.N.T. eggs." Chapman is definitely my least favorite of the three men writing the DC war stories at this point.

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 124

"Target--Sgt. Rock!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Flattop Tank!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Irv Novick

Jack: Sgt. Rock sees a footbridge across a river and realizes it looks too good to be true, so he leads a few men across the bridge to draw Nazi fire while the rest of Easy Co. crosses downstream. Nazi Major Von Strupp is impressed by Rock's maneuver and Rock tells the men of Easy Co. that no one man is worth saving when the Company's safety is at stake, even if that man is Sgt. Rock himself. Rock destroys an enemy tank and leads Easy Co. into a town where they are set upon by a sniper. While trying to destroy the enemy's machine gun nest, Rock is badly injured in a fall and captured by Von Strupp, who has his men brainwash the American sergeant into thinking he is leading the men of Easy Co. into battle when he's actually in charge of a team of Nazis attacking his own men! Bulldozer understands what Rock would want and begins to "Target--Sgt. Rock!" A shot to the helmet brings Rock back to reality, where he is able to lead the men of Easy Co. to wipe out the Nazis. The multiple points of view used by Kanigher to tell the story are unusual and Kubert's art is superb, a welcome relief from last issue's disappointment.

Peter: Great story, one of the longest we've encountered so far on our journey, but I would have preferred Bob break with tradition and play the strip out over the entire issue as it could have used the fleshing out. I thought the multiple narrative gimmick really enhanced the story (as opposed to when Kanigher uses the same gimmick in this month's Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch romp). Von Strupp makes the perfect super-villain. Clack-Clack and Blitz, we hardly knew ye! Kubert's never been better and how about that fabulous full-page pin-up (below)? Forget all that crap hanging in the Louvre; this is art!

"Target--Sgt. Rock!"

Here we go again!
Jack: Buzz bucks the family tradition of joining the Navy because he really likes tanks. He finds himself on a Pacific island, where his tank is loaded onto a plane to be flown to another island to help the Marines. The plane is knocked out of the sky by Japanese fighters and lands on a flattop ship, where the tank is ejected from the plane's belly and immediately begins firing at more enemy planes. It's a good thing, too, because kamikaze planes have wiped out the ship's defenses and all that's left are the guns on this "Flattop Tank!" When the tank runs out of ammunition it must catapult itself off the side of the ship to crush an enemy submarine. Hank Chapman's story seems to defy the laws of physics. If the plane carrying the tank landed like a pancake on the ship's deck, it's likely that the tank inside would either be squashed or trapped. And gunning the motor to spring off the side of the deck and land on the enemy sub seems like a million to one shot. By the way, Kanigher avoided any "T.N.T." in the Sgt. Rock story (except for a "TNT surprise" on the cover), but Chapman makes up for it here with "T.N.T. teeth," a "T.N.T. apple" and a "T.N.T. bat."

Peter: I have a hard time swallowing these tales where our boys might just as well be Clark Kent or Billy Batson for all the death-defying stunts they endure. And how many times are we going to see a tank falling off a cliff or into the drink and everyone survives?

Jerry Grandenetti
Our Fighting Forces 72

"The Four-Footed Spy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"The Fort That Wasn't There!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Pooch has been saving Gunner and Sarge's bacon for so long on their island in the Pacific that he's getting lonely for some female companionship of the canine sort. Col. Hakawa, that practical joker, finds "The Four-Footed Spy," an attractive female dog who attracts Pooch and leads him into the hands of the enemy. Fortunately, Pooch snaps out of his reverie just in time, grabs Col. Hakawa's sword between his teeth, and heads back to base, followed by his new lady love, who will sit out the war in a POW doghouse. We have now reached absolute bottom: a story narrated by Pooch himself, where he meets his own personal Mata Hari. At one point, Pooch is injured and we see him lying on his back in a hospital bed, tended to by a pretty nurse.

Peter: Now and then, especially when I'm reading Bob Kanigher's adult scripts for Sgt. Rock, I forget these things were written for ten-year olds. Then I read tripe like "The Four-Footed Spy" and I remember what DC was really like in the 1960s: mindless pap. You could almost make an argument that Kanigher was parodying himself (Pooch sniffing the air for "a smell I almost forgot"; Kyto arf-arfing in Japanese; and my favorite innocent/lecherous bit of dialogue, "Wonder who gave her that pretty dog tag? -- Wish I could give her something pretty too!"); how could a war script get any stupider? But the track record of this series belies that hope and my handy-dandy Guide to DC War tells me we still have to snore through 22 more installments. Truly the bottom of the barrel.

It's times like this that make us wonder if we need a new hobby.

Jack: Major Simmons heads a squadron of bomber planes in which all of the crew believe that their success is due to the presence of Lucky 7, a flying fort that always goes along with them. When Lucky 7 is shot down, the men are sure that their luck has run out, so the C.O. has a similar plane painted to look just like Lucky 7. The squadron performs beautifully and only the major knows that they are pinning their hopes on "The Fort That Wasn't There!" Lucky 7 saves the day and disappears into a cloud, but is nowhere to be found when the planes return to base, since it turns out that the lookalike plane never left the ground. In that case, what do we make of Lucky 7's exploits on its final run? I've read enough mystery stories and comics that I knew darn well when there was a cloud involved that Lucky 7's impostor never left the ground. Abel's art is strong here and it's too bad Haney had to fall back on this very old tale.

Peter: Well, I liked the fact that Haney mixed it up there at the end, throwing a cup of the supernatural  into what could have ended up as just another one of those "the crew of the Lucky 7 were safe the whole time, sunning themselves on a nearby island and fixing their Hydro-Dirigible Whatsit and just waiting for their turn to jump back into action and save the day" dirges. Yep, I could have done without the obligatory "Sorry, sir, but the crew of the impostor Lucky 7 had engine trouble and never got off the ground" expository (one that was used to death in 1950s DC mystery, right, Jack?) but I'll take that minor infraction over the alternative.

"The Fort That Wasn't There!"

Ross Andru & Mike Esposito
Star Spangled War Stories 105

"The War on Dinosaur Island!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Flower for a Fighter!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Abel

"The Last Charge!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: The amazingly athletic and amnesiac Flying Boots circus trio teams up with boss Zig-Zag Zack to fight "The War on Dinosaur Island" yet again on, ostensibly, the same island they fought it on last issue. Bob Kanigher must have thought he'd won the lottery; re-writing the same story over and over and not having to answer to an editor (Kanigher himself was the DC war line editor!). I suppose it gave him more time to cook up the quality he was serving over in Our Army at War in the same way Steven Spielberg directed Schindler's List and Jurassic Park at the same time.

Just about anything can happen on Dinosaur Island

Jack: What do you say about a series with continuing characters that restarts itself every issue? The Flying Boots and Zig-Zag Zack did not make it into the DC Comics Hall of Fame. Like almost every episode in this series, the best thing about this one is the cool and colorful dinosaurs.

"Flower for a Fighter"
Peter: Captain Cook insists on wearing a fresh carnation on his bomber jacket before flying into battle. This strikes the lieutenant as a decidedly unmanly thing to do until he sees the Captain in action and all questions of virility fly through the cockpit window. One day, the Captain gives his life for the Lt. and from then on he feels obligated to fly over the Captain's crash site and drop a carnation. "Flower for a Fighter" is not a bad story at all but I wonder: did all the Enemy Ace surnames begin with Von?

Jack: This is a very good story, despite the cringe-worthy line near the beginning when the narrator thinks: "A flight leader who wears a flower can't be much of a he-man!" I love the WWI biplane aerial action. The best part of this story for me was that it avoided a cliche ending. I thought for sure the Captain was going to turn out to be alive, but instead his wrecked plane helped save our hero, who will keep dropping one flower each day on the scene where the Captain went down. Nice work.

Peter: Buddy gets booted out of WWI for being underaged and his best pal, Al, gets killed in action. Blaming himself, Buddy swears to make it up to his friend someday, somehow, somewhere. Decades later Buddy, now a drill sergeant, watches Al Jr. stride into his camp and the now-grizzled war vet vows to pump the kid up and keep him alive. For a three and a half pager, "The Last Charge" surprisingly hits all the buttons (including the one labeled "Massive Coincidence") and does so with a minimum of schmaltziness, although the climax, where Buddy is booted out of WWII for being "overaged," is pretty silly.

"The Last Charge"

Jack: It's funny that Bob Kanigher could write such junk as "The War on Dinosaur Island" and then in the same comic book pen such a good story as this. Abel's panel at the end of page one of the young soldier walking alone through No Man's Land after the battle is haunting, and the development that sees the same soldier come back in WWII and train his buddy's son is believable for some reason, possibly because it's not as far-fetched as some of the other coincidences we've seen. Even the twist ending worked for me.

In our Next Fear-Filled Issue!
The Best DC Horror Stories of 1973!
On Sale at Participating Webstands on December 15th!

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