Monday, April 20, 2015

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 51: August 1963

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

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 133

"Yesterday's Hero!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The 'Candy' Spad!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Jack: A Medal of Honor winner named Corporal David is the newest addition to Easy Co., joining his kid brother, whom Sgt. Rock calls Bright Eyes. Corp. David won his medal by holding off a breakthrough of Panzer tanks by himself with just a bazooka after the rest of his company had been wiped out. The experience left him shell-shocked, though, and he gives the cold shoulder to his new comrades-in-arms, including his brother. Rock has to save him when Easy encounters shelling on a road.

Kubert uses black and white to show
a soldier apart from the rest
Rock begins to suspect that something is wrong with Corp. David, a suspicion that is borne out when Corp. David tells Rock that he doesn't have what it takes anymore and is "Yesterday's Hero!" Rock is concerned that his men will be discouraged by the depressing behavior of the medal winner. Rock and his men fight off Nazi planes and David tells Rock that the sergeant can't understand what he's feeling because Rock is like a fighting machine. Easy Co. has to face oncoming tanks that seem to be traveling across quicksand and the sergeant is injured in the fight. When Rock loses his cool, Corp. David finally sees that his commanding officer is human, too. David grabs a bazooka and single handedly blasts away at the tanks, saving Easy Co. and losing his life in the process. As he dies, he tells his brother to keep the medal of honor in the family.

Kanigher's usual sure hand is a bit shaky in this Sgt. Rock episode. Though Kubert uses some neat techniques to tell us that Corp. David is suffering from shell-shock, the story drags and has trouble finding its footing. The panel where Rock has to freak out in order to get David going again does not ring true.

Peter: I found the same problems you did, Jack, but I still think it's a strong story, strong enough to probably be in my Top Ten of '63 (the quicksand sequence alone is worth the dime). There's a great line Rock uses about halfway through the story: "From fightin' together--awake or asleep--Easy was tied to me by nerve ends..." That summarizes, for me, the strengths of the Easy Co. stories. Corp. David describes Rock, on more than ten occasions, as "a well-oiled machine" throughout the story,  The same could be said for the Company. Is the intention, in those panels where Corp. David is the color of stone, to imply Corp. David had become hard and soulless as a result of his trauma? Yep, the story is a bit too long (a problem I found with the Showcase story below as well) but, aside from that and David's constant "well-oiled" drone, this is one solid read.

Lt. Shaw lights up the sky
Jack: Lt. Shaw volunteers to fly biplanes in WWI but when he's found to be underaged, he is grounded. He sees his idol, Captain Clark, shot down by the Iron Baron, but all he can do is fly a weak, gunless plane that he calls "The 'Candy' Spad" around on errands. When he is sent off with a planeload of fireworks to deliver for a July Fourth celebration, he manages to happen upon an air attack and use the fireworks to help the real pilots defeat the enemy. A weak entry with better than usual art by Jerry G., this WWI tale caps a disappointing issue of a usually reliable comic.

Peter: What a dopey story. Fighter planes that can't handle Roman candles and sparklers? What a fighting fleet the Germans had in WWI! Well, I'll give it one star for cracking me up with the immortal line: "The Iron Baron's guns--are licking my candy spad!" Where the heck was Wertham when this comic hit the stands?

Jerry Grandenetti

Our Fighting Forces 78

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

"The 14-Day Target!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito

Jack: Why is Sarge being awarded "The Last Medal!" on the island, and why did the recommendation come from the Imperial Practical Joker, Col. Hakawa? Gunner tells the tale. He, Sarge and Pooch were out on patrol when they were ambushed by a tank driven by Col. Hakawa. Sarge is thought dead but Gunner is tied to the front of the tank to deter attacks by U.S. forces. The scheme works flawlessly until Sarge comes to the rescue, disguised as a Japanese soldier. Hakawa is tricked and our heroes escape, leading Hakawa to send a message recommending Sarge for a medal.

"The Last Medal!"
When the American marines are gathered for the medal ceremony, Hakawa's planes attack! To get their revenge, Gunner and Sarge take Pooch and head across the island, where they surprise Hakawa in the middle of his own medal ceremony. The marines commandeer his tank and start shooting, escaping with the tank and Hakawa's medal, which is finally pinned on Sarge. This series keeps chugging on, not terrible but not very good either. It's almost like Dave Berg's "The Lighter Side of . . . WWII."

Peter: Oh, I say it's terrible, Jack, mucho terribles! I can't find one positive aspect to this bilge. Why would the ultra-important Colonel Hakawa be flying solo in a tank? The hype on the splash informs me that " 'The Last Medal' will twist (my) heart into knots!" Say what? Hard to believe we've read 34 Gunner and Sarge installments and we haven't hoisted the white flag yet. Oh and, as if it needed to be repeated, Grandenetti is simply awful here, muddy as hell, as if he decided he didn't need his pencils anymore and went straight to the inkwell.

"The 14-Day Target!"
Jack: Phil Dwyer joins a new squadron flying WWI spads against the Germans and their ace, Von Klugg. He hears that no pilot has ever survived more than 14 days, so he starts checking off days on a calendar to see if he'll make it. He goes up against Von Klugg one day and realizes it's day 15--he has made it! After shooting down the ace, he returns to base and learns that the C.O. tricked him by crossing off the last day in advance. The story is strictly by the numbers, but Andru and Esposito dial their usual art up a notch with some very nice plane work.

Peter: I agree on the art, Jack. This is one of the better Andru/Espositos we've seen. The script is another matter. Aside from the usual "hammer that catch phrase home" dilemma we get a C.O. who bolsters his new man's courage just before his shift by telling him all the pilots in the squadron are fated to die before their fourteenth day. That's bound to work wonders with confidence, isn't it? I want to see the sequel, "The 15th-Day Target" where Phil is shot down the very next day (you know, now that he's convinced himself he's immortal) and the C.O. tells Phil's replacement about the squadron's 15-day jinx!

Jack: Though the Grand Comics Database credited this cover to Joe Kubert, I'll bet my imaginary Bronze Star that it's by Grandenetti. There's no way those faces are Kubert's work, and the mask-like shading around the eyes is classic Grandenetti. The folks at the GCD changed it after a suggestion from bare*bones.

Ross Andru & Mike Esposito
All American Men of War 98

"The Time-Bomb Ace!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"The Jet and the Pilot"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito

"Dogfight Dodger!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito

Peter: After the death of an innocent little girl (bless her dead little flower-holding hand), ace Johnny Cloud vows that his men, now nicknamed "Lily Flight," will destroy the Nazi terror rocket base responsible for the youngster's death. The men find and attack the base but Johnny is shot down and taken prisoner by a squad of stinking Nazi swine. Strangely, the Germans release Cloud, give him back his jet and report his whereabouts to the rest of the Lily men. To his utter horror, Johnny discovers why the Ratzis were so accommodating: they've booby-trapped Johnny's plane to explode when he rejoins his men. Some fancy aerobatics and some good dumb luck (the only way to explain Johnny commandeering an enemy's parachute while falling to earth) save the day and Johnny Cloud can lift his head to heaven and salute the fallen little angel. One of the better Johnny Cloud adventures from start to finish, "The Time-Bomb Ace" manages to ratchet up the excitement after a somber opening. Two sequences stood out for me as well as for an impressionable young George Lucas (Okay, so I'm speculating...): the Lily Flight descent between smokestacks to take out the Deathstar rockets is an amazing scene and Indy's Johnny's death-defying climb onto the tail of his crippled fighter is the stuff of nonsense but gorgeous to look at anyway. Bravo, Mr. Kanigher!

"The Time-Bomb Ace"!
Jack: I was worried when the story opened with the death of a cockney flower girl, but once Johnny and his squadron took to the air, this story took off! The run in between the smokestacks was neat, but the final sequence with the time bomb was gripping! I know Johnny's escape was far-fetched but I still enjoyed it.

Peter: A pilot doubts his new jet. A jet doubts its new pilot. With time and understanding, "The Jet and The Pilot" come to love each other and blast stinkin' commies from the sky. Thinking jets. Groan.

Jack: Little more than a vignette at only four pages, this story suffers from the parallel structure and the thinking jet.

That's our nausea

For one thing, the eyes are too small!
Peter: Poor Ed has a problem: the guys in his squadron have labeled him a "Dogfight Dodger" because every time he goes out on a radio call something happens and he's unable to contribute firepower. Now, his brother (who's also his C.O.) is about to ground him so the men don't whine about nepotism as well. One more raid for Ed then and, thank goodness, he makes amends by taking out half of Germany's fighting forces. The guys welcome him back with open arms and smiles, forgetting that a few hours before they were making chicken sounds and slapping him with towels in the shower. For some reason, I just knew that Ed would become a hero by the end of this morality play and, sure enough, I was right. Not one to settle on one cliche, Hank Chapman pulls two old templates off the DC War "Idea" Board: the fighter who can't seem to put any notches on his weapons and the siblings who happen to be in the same squadron.This reads pretty much like the last one of these we read.

Jack: Whenever a fighter isn't getting involved in the battles, you just know that by the end he's going to do something heroic. When we add a plane that can't leave the ground, you know it's going to fire and best a plane above it. The last panel is weird, almost unfinished. Very unlike Andru and Esposito in the main face.

Russ Heath
Showcase 45

"Sergeants Aren't Born--!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

Jack: The men of Easy Co. are so impressed with Sgt. Rock's heroism that they insist he must have been born a sergeant. Rock recalls things differently. In training camp, he and other privates practiced maneuvers with wooden rifles in front of Nazi POWs who mocked them as wooden soldiers. One POW tries to escape and gets into a brutal fistfight with Rock, nearly killing him. Rock never forgets this man, whom he thinks of as Fish Face.

On D-Day, Rock was still a buck private when he made landing with the rest of the troops. He blows up a Nazi pillbox and earns a medal, but when his C.O. tells him that the only way he will make sergeant is by replacing another who dies, Rock states that he is happy to remain a private. Eventually, men die and Rock earns his stripes, but he never forgets Fish Face, thinking that the Nazi POW was the only man who saw Rock as a weak "wooden soldier." Back in the present, Rock battles a Nazi tank all by himself in the woods and who should emerge but Fish Face, no longer a prisoner! He thinks Rock is dead and leaves him, but Rock tracks him down and walks straight into gunfire to avenge the beating he took back in training camp. As Easy Co. marches off, Rock thinks to himself that "Sergeants Aren't Born--!" they're made.

"Sergeants Aren't Born--!"

At 25 pages, this is a real Rock epic and a milestone. Thrilled as I am to see an origin story for Sgt. Rock, I think the timeline is a bit off. Haven't we seen Rock as a sergeant fighting with Easy Co. in North Africa before D-Day? And didn't we see Easy Co. with Sgt. Rock participating in D-Day not too long ago? Am I imaging all of this?

Peter: Was the placement of "Sergeants Aren't Born --!" in Showcase due to the length of the story? Good question (I know because I asked it!). I think that Kanigher had decided an origin story had to be of a greater length and thus wouldn't fit in with the current format of Our Army at War's two-three shorts an issue policy. Jack thinks the appearance in Showcase was to boost sales of the war books and Showcase was certainly selling boatloads of copies (200-250,000 a month) so, just this one time, Jack may be right. In any event, it's a very good story but falls short of "great" status in my mind. There are a lot of bits from earlier stories that pop up in this one so it seems like very familiar territory and that climax, where the escaped Nazi is firing a machine gun point blank at Rock and hitting everything but our hero, is a bit much to take. Kubert's art is gorgeous though; no argument on that point.

Why we love Joe Kubert!

In our next terrifying issue-
Jack Seabrook dreams of a promotion!
On Sale April 27th at all finer netstands near you!

No comments: