Monday, March 9, 2015

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 48: May 1963

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

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 130

"No Hill for Easy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Sink Your Own Flattop!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. see another company up ahead being blasted by artillery and manage to avoid being wiped out by a Nazi air attack. After killing more Nazis who are hiding in a battered American tank they come upon the shell-shocked major of Dog Company, which has been wiped out. The major does not realize that he is the last one alive and so Rock and his men follow him, assuming the mantle of Dog Company. Though unsteady on his feet, the major marches forward relentlessly toward the enemy, with Easy Co. at his heels, protecting him and following him into enemy fire. Rock and the men of Easy destroy an attacking enemy tank and, though the major is wounded in the battle, he smiles when he hears Rock report in to base by radio that Dog Company has triumphed. "No Hill for Easy!" will be tough to top for best of the year. The art is as good as it gets from Kubert; the battle scenes are filled with excitement and the old major is beautifully drawn. Kanigher's story is gripping as well.

"No Hill for Easy!"

Peter: This was one very tense tale from beginning to end. I couldn't help thinking Apocalypse Now even though that was a different war. The look in the "haunted" major's eyes is chilling. Keep telling yourself that this is the same Bob Kanigher who writes Gunner and Sarge and War That Time Forgot.

"Sink Your Own Flattop!"
Jack: Andy is a young pilot whose father is the flight officer on an aircraft carrier where Andy has been assigned. Things don't get off to a great start when Andy botches his first landing and his plane lands in the drink. He is sent up in a new plane as part of a squadron told to find and destroy Takaru, a deadly Japanese aircraft carrier. Andy survives a second battle but wrecks a second plane when he crash lands on his own carrier. During his next mission, he crash lands on an island, where a downed Japanese pilot forces him at gunpoint to take to the skies and orders him to "Sink Your Own Flattop!" Andy fires on his dad's ship and the ship's guns return fire. Andy manages to lose the Japanese pilot and avoids being gunned down by his fellow soldiers by flying into a cloud. When he emerges, he sees Takaru, lands on it, and manages to blow it up. He is rescued from the ocean by his own ship, and this time they are happy with him for losing another plane, since it meant the destruction of Takaru. Despite fairly standard art by Abel, this story gets pretty exciting, especially when Andy has to avoid being shot down by his own ship.

Peter: "Sink Your Own Flattop" contains a competent script and pretty good art and manages to throw in every DC war cliche ever catalogued. The military father that no son could ever live up to, the seemingly endless series of blunders which only serve to strengthen our hero's resolve and allow him to come out on top in the end, the doubting comrades who will sing his praises someday. Oh, and don't forget our hero's incredible dive off an exploding battleship. It's easy on the eyes but it sure ain't "No Hill for Easy," is it?

Russ Heath & Jack Adler
G.I. Combat 99

"Battle of the Thirsty Tanks!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

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

Peter: Having enraged their C.O. with their awful acting (as women in an onboard talent show), the men of the Jeb Stuart are assigned to guard a desert oasis and keep the Nazis from filling up on the precious water found there. Running out of water quickly, our heroes realize that they're depending on the oasis even more than the Germans. When the Haunted Tank reaches the oasis, the men are stunned to find it a dried up sand pit. The Nazis approach, not realizing the well's run dry, and so starts "The Battle of the Thirsty Tanks." Jeb and his men must act as though the oasis is worth guarding in order to force the Nazis to surrender. Just as the surrender seems imminent, a German fighter pilot tears up the sand around the tank. Luck is with our heroes, though, as they shoot the plane out of the sky and the ensuing explosion brings water up from under the dry oasis. The men fill their cups and then march their German prisoners back to base. Kubert's art, as usual, is vibrant but I miss my Russ Heath fix. The guys from the Haunted Tank look like the boys in Easy Company. I know it's foolish to complain about gorgeous art but this is the month where we swim in Kubert and just a bit of Heath would have been great. The story's a doozy: funny, exciting, suspenseful. Heck, we can even forgive Bob forgetting this is a series about a ghost and a Haunted Tank (we get one really quick reminder at the opening and then -poof- no more supernatural presence. The stand-off at the oasis is one of the most gripping sequences we've seen this year and, Heath or no Heath, this one will wind up near the Top of my Ten for 1963.

"Battle of the Thirsty Tanks"

Jack: I can't remember a better Haunted Tank story, and I have to think it's mostly due to Kubert. Yes, Heath is great, but this story shows who the real boss of the DC War Comics universe was. I did not think the soldiers looked like members of Easy Co.--in fact, I thought as I was reading this how much they differed from the combat happy Joes of Easy Co.

Peter: While ridding the bottom of the English Channel of dangerous explosives, an Allied diver becomes a "Frogman on a String" when he's entangled in a paravane (the equipment used by ships to sweep for mines). Captured by the Nazis and tied to a mine onboard their sub, our hero becomes a dead duck when the mine falls overboard and drags him with it. Using good American know-how, the frogman is able to cut his bonds and direct the mine towards the enemy sub, single-handedly destroying the Nazis and ensuring safe passage for the good guys. Another exciting tale that makes you doubt the laws of physics and averages. How can a man survive when a sub explodes right above him? I love when our hero falls overboard, hands chained behind his back, and manages to somehow affix his scuba gear before drowning (all performed off-panel, unfortunately).

"Harry Houdini on a String"

Jack: Dear Sgt. Rock: in your story "Frogman on a String!" how did the frogman put on his mask and scuba gear when he was pulled into the water with his hands tied behind his back?--Jack Seabrook, Hopewell, NJ

Dear Jack: I don't have the slightest idea. I have to get back to fightin' Nazis now!--Your pal, Sgt. Rock.

Joe Kubert
Our Fighting Forces 76

"The T.N.T. Seat!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"No Place for a PT Boat!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Joe Kubert

Jack: Col. Hakawa's latest plan to get the marines off the beach is to attack them nonstop until they run out of ammunition from fighting back. He has a hidden supply of ammunition of his own that is right under the noses of the marines. Gunner, Sarge and Pooch repel attacks from sky and sea until they are down to their last bit of ammo. After they blow up a Japanese mini-sub they come face to face with Hakawa but manage to escape by means of a well-thrown grenade. On the run from Hakawa and his men, they take refuge in an abandoned U.S. tank and discover a trap door beneath it that covers the hidden Japanese ammunition supply. Gunner and Sarge use the newfound ammo to drive back Hakawa before the ammo dump blows sky high during the firefight. A terrible splash page is only the beginning of this artistic mess, which foreshadows the sort of bigfooted art that Grandenetti would specialize in in the early '70s for DC's horror comics. Col. Hakawa is not much of a practical joker this time around. Kanigher's script isn't half bad but, just as Kubert elevates his stories in Our Army at War and G.I. Combat this month, Jerry drags him down into the muck with his scribbling.

Now where could that hidden ammo dump be?

Peter: Though I'll admit that this entry in the Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch saga is a little more serious than any of the previous yuck (or is that yecch?) fests, "The TNT Seat" still suffers from terminal cuteness and stupidity. I still want to know how a dog knows to hold its breath before diving to the bottom of the ocean.

Jack: Ray is frustrated to be assigned commander of a small PT boat instead of a bigger vessel like his brother and his father. But when a Japanese boat is sheltered beneath a narrow slot of rock that allows it to fire at oncoming planes and ships, the only boat small enough to attack with any chance of success is Ray's PT boat. Things don't go according to plan and the plane bringing Ray's boat to the slot is shot down, leading Ray and his men to drag the boat by hand into position. After the PT boat careens down the edge of the rocky cliff and crashes, it's up to Ray to do some prodigious underwater breathing and fire a torpedo to destroy the enemy ship. Kubert's art is a bit flat this time around, perhaps because of his unusual workload this month. The last couple of panels are confusing, suggesting that PT boat commander Ray could be president some day. Is the point here that a PT boat hero could end up in that role, since JFK did it?

The Dept. of Future Presidential Confusion

Peter: I really liked this one, which reminded me a lot of the kind of stories that would fill the old Adventure pulp. Kubert's art sure doesn't hurt. Our hero can hold his breath almost as long as Pooch!

Ross Andru & Mike Esposito
Star Spangled War Stories 108

"Dinosaur D-Day!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Jump Into Two Wars!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert

Peter: Left to clean up a Pacific island after a major battle, a group of sad sacks must contend with a nightmare from the prehistoric age when a fleet of missing LSTs shows up on their beach and promptly opens to unveil a pack of dinosaurs! The men must use leftover armaments from the battle to take the giants down one by one in a "Dinosaur D-Day!" As ludicrous as this series can get (and that's mighty ludicrous, I must say) nothing comes close to this silly entry. It might have been wiser on Bob's part to leave it a mystery how these dinosaurs got into a horde of vessels, closed the doors, and sailed (as a fleet) to the island. Never mind that there's no proof T-Rex or Bronto could swim; how the heck did they pull themselves up into the LSTs? At least now the army can't ignore they've got a problem in the Pacific.

Jack: You have to admit that that's a fantastic cover! The story inside is terrible, with not one but two recurring gimmicks. The first is the fact that the soldiers keep finding that they're down to the last bullet, or the last grenade, or the last whatever. The second, and worse, is the soldier who keeps responding "That figures" whenever anything goes wrong. It's a function of how busy and versatile Bob Kanigher was that he could churn out two classic lead stories and two clunkers in the same month.

Peter: On the night before D-Day, Lt. Link is preparing to parachute down with his men to stop the Nazis from advancing to the beach. As they wait, a Frenchman named Andre tells Link the story of how Charles Martel defeated the Moors centuries before to save France in just the spot they're to jump to. Jump time arrives but, as he's leaping from the plane, Link is conked on the head and falls from the plane unconscious. While out, he dreams that he helps Martel defeat the Moors by blowing up a dam and stopping their advance. Just before he splatters, Link regains consciousness and lands near the dam. As the Nazis advance over the dam, Link gets a strange sense of deja vu and blows the dam a second time. "Jump Into Two Wars" is a delightful fantasy tale (or maybe not so much a fantasy as a "dream"). I somehow thought Haney would throw in the cliched "...or was it a dream?" climax by having Link pull an ancient sword out of his pocket, or something along those lines but, no, we leave it as merely a vivid dream starring Prince Valiant and his merry men. Four stories by Joe Kubert this month. We could get spoiled by this kind of treatment!

"Jump Into Two Wars"

Jack: Kubert is really on his game this month. This is an entertaining story that shows his ability to draw soldiers of the modern era and soldiers of centuries ago, and Haney throws in just enough twists and turns to make it suspenseful. The panels of the soldier falling through the black night sky are excellent.

Peter: Interestingly enough, all four of our titles this month feature two stories each rather than the regular three. Ostensibly, this was initiated in order to give the writers more space in which to develop character. I'm a glass half full type guy (as opposed to curmudgeon Seabrook), so I choose to go with that explanation rather than the fact that page count will begin to shrink in the near future.

In our next marrow-chilling issue
On Sale March 16!

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