Monday, May 4, 2015

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 52: September 1963

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

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 134

"The T.N.T. Book"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Mouse and the Tiger"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

Jack: The latest replacement soldier to join Easy Co. is a former insurance salesman whom Rock names "Mister Percent" because he has a habit of quoting the odds from an actuarial book that he carries around. Rock thinks Percent is taking unnecessary risks and tells him that odds don't count in war. Percent's devil-may-care attitude and ability to survive any danger begin to rub off on the rest of Easy Co. and they wonder if there's something to this odds business. Rock knows better and thinks that sticking to the odds is a dangerous way to live. When Rock is injured during a battle with an enemy plane, his men throw the odds out the window and attack a fortified town despite Percent's telling them that the odds are against them. In the end, Rock saves the day with a tank and Percent rips up his book. Kubert's art is wonderful as always but Kanigher's script for "The T.N.T. Book" is strictly one-note.

Peter: Usually I can find something to give a Sgt. Rock story the thumbs-up but this is one of those rare misfires thanks to its tedious message and obvious outcome. Kanigher loves his gimmicks and catch phrases but, with Rock, it's usually kept to a minimum and doesn't get anywhere near the annoying point it reaches a mere three or four pages into "The T.N.T. Book." Is it just me or does it look like Rock actually has a hole in his head in the panel on page 14?

Maybe it's an oily smudge?

Jack: An American spy in WWII is left for dead in the snow when the plane he was on is shot down. How will he get back to base to deliver the news of an impending Nazi sneak attack? A huge Nazi tank (Tiger) is in the area and is sent to kill him. The only American tank in the area is a tiny one (Mouse), no match for the Nazi behemoth. "The Mouse and the Tiger!" square off in the snow for the fate of the spy and his important message. All seems lost until the mouse uses a bit of trickery and blows the tiger sky high, saving the spy. I don't usually enjoy Andru & Esposito's work, but this is a terrific story, with the snowy setting adding a sense of doom that ratchets up the suspense.

The Mouse destroys the Tiger!
Peter: According to my anally detailed records, this is only the second time we've encountered Ed Herron, the writer, on our journey (the first being "Tell Baker I'll Be There," way back in our second post) and he'll only pop up on our radar a couple more times before his death in September 1966. Herron was no stranger to the DC War Universe though, since he contributed 164 scripts to the DC war titles prior to our 1959 start-up date. It's quite startling when the "Big Three" of Kanigher, Chapman, and Haney are interrupted by an "outsider" and, wonder of wonders, that outsider kayos Kanigher this issue just like The Mouse kayo'd The Tiger. A suspenseful drama with a nice twist in its tail and a final trisected panel that's quite cinematic.

Jerry Grandenetti &
Jack Adler
GI Combat 101

"The Haunted Tank vs. Attila's Battle Tiger!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Abel

"Green Men--Red, Hot War!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Kayo from a Dead Fort!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

Peter: The Jeb Stuart comes up against its stiffest competition yet: a Nazi Red Tiger that has its own ghost, that of 5th Century conqueror Attila the Hun! Jeb Stuart (the ghost) tells Jeb Stuart (his descendant) that if the Jeb Stuart (the tank) doesn't defeat the Tiger in battle, all is lost. The Tiger is clearly the stronger of the two tanks and it gets the upper hand, blowing the Stuart onto its back and leaving it helpless. Risking a backfire, Jeb orders his men to fire the cannon while upside down and the Tiger is blown to smithereens. Above the wreckage, the ghosts of the General and the Hun battle away, with predictable results. Robert Kanigher was a genius at opening the mythos up to include other spirits protecting World War II militia. Perhaps even Bob was getting tired of the formula corner he'd written himself into after fourteen adventures and craved a bit more freedom in his plots. In any event, it works, although I could have done with a few more pages to fill in the blanks (why is the Hun protecting this particular tank--is one of his descendants riding shotgun inside?). Jack Abel is at the top of his game with "HT vs. Attila..." and, if you squint a bit, he does a wondrous job aping Heath.

Nope, it ain't Heath!

Jack: Gotta disagree with you on this one! I thought it was a dull story with second-rate art. Since when is there another ghost? And why would Attila the Hun side with the Nazis? The ending--where the ghost of Jeb Stuart tells the tank commander that "Everytime you fight against tyrants--no matter what their names are--who would crush free people--you beat tyranny back into the shadows!"--might work in a nostalgic way if this comic had been put out in 1943, but by 1963 it just seems dated.

Bond... James Bond
Peter: The good guys send a company of green marines to an unoccupied island in the Pacific, unaware that the Japanese have done the same. Our boys land on the east side of the island while the enemy lands on the west. The Americans are commanded by a combat-green lieutenant while the Japanese are overseen by one of their veterans, Captain Tagawa. At first, neither side knows what's going on but, once the cat is out of the bag, a vicious battle ensues with the inexperienced "looie" gaining the upper hand through a series of ingenious tricks and good old-fashioned defense. "Green Men--Red, Hot War!" is another very enjoyable battle saga despite the usual trappings (the oft-used split screen showing both sides doing exactly the same thing at exactly the same time) and scenes that stretch credibility (at one point, the Americans fashion skis out of ammo boxes and slalom down a sand dune, firing off their machine guns as the enemy shriek and high tail it). Aside from the horse faces seen on some of his characters, Jack Abel puts in his second stellar job of the issue.

Jack: At the beginning of this story, I thought "Oh, no! Not another split-screen tale!" But it quickly got very exciting and I ended up really liking it. It was a good idea to have two sets of new recruits from opposing armies decide to train on the same island, since it sets up a contrast between the disciplined Japanese and the unruly Americans. The new lieutenant wins out over the veteran opponent due to creativity, courage, and not a little luck.

Peter: German ace Hauptmann Kroner is looking to add more little "Amerikaner Fort" decals to his killer Focke-Wulf but, little does he know, right at that very second, a green tail gunner is preparing to board the plane that will end the scumbag Nazi's career. It doesn't appear that way at first, believe you me, as the German gets the upper hand on our hero but, once the B-17 is whittled down to nothing but its tail section, the battle begins. Ignoring that he's plummeting to the ground at roughly the speed of light, our rookie hero delivers a "Kayo From a Dead Fort" to Kroner with extreme prejudice and makes the skies much friendlier for the Allies. An awards ceremony is already in place at the point his parachute puts him down. And this issue was going so well. Not only does our Andru and Esposito wide-eyed Opie Taylor take down an Ace but he also manages to parachute from the falling tail section as it's exploding. One medal? Give this guy a squadron of medals and then send him out to get Hitler! I'm not the world's smartest guy but, once the tail section is broken off, wouldn't it point up and fall straight down rather than continue sailing horizontally through the sky? Sometimes, the characters Andru and Esposito contribute look hopped up.

Who needs a whole plane to do the dirty work?

Jack: Yet another miracle in the sky! Who would have thought that such a dud of a story would inspire such a cool cover! Look at those colors! Grandenetti is so much more bearable when he's not drawing people and Adler's wash technique makes these covers unlike anything else DC was putting out at the time, as far as I know.

Ross Andru &
Mike Esposito
Star Spangled War Stories 110

"Tunnel of Terror! The Suicide
Squadron's Mystery Mission!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Sausage Flier"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: A PT Boat enters a massive storm at sea and exits onto an island filled with "dinosaurs of the stone age!" Aboard the boat is a professor researching uncharted islands in the hopes of discovering a legendary giant white gorilla. The men are attacked by a mass of killer dinos before being saved by... you guessed it, Pongo, the white gorilla! The giant ape saves the PT boat from attack and gives his life for the sailors, sinking under the waves with a last wave. The men are duly touched and then head back to charted waters, swearing they'll never share the tale. It could be the fact that we've now read 19 of the Rinse Wash Repeat adventures of the hapless military men who happen into the vast uncharted Pacific Stone Age Zone, but "Tunnel of Terror blahblahblah" offered a little something new and I enjoyed it for that. "But Peter", you say, "that something new you rave about is ripped off from a 1933 classic--even though Andru and Esposito's graphics are actually closer to the effects found in the 1967 Toho feature where the titular gorilla Escapes--have you lost your marbles?" Verily, you may be right, but I'll take just about anything Kanigher throws my way that breaks up the formula of this drone of a series. Incidentally, the Suicide Squad depicted here returns in a sequel next issue but the GCD informs us that this band of sailors has nothing to do with the Suicide Squad that will set up residence in the Stone Age Zone beginning in SSWS #116. Confused yet? Well, I won't bother to tell you about the further incarnations of the Squad (including the one made up of DC super-villains and soon heading to the big screen) but you can find a good summation here.

Gorilla on Dino action in the Dazzling DC tradition!
Jack: Poor captain! He can't tell anyone about his dinosaur adventure for fear of being thought insane! If only he knew that about half of the U.S. servicemen at this point have encountered dinosaurs in the Pacific. I was also duly impressed by the primitive cave drawings that the captain and his pal the professor found scattered around the island. They looked like stick figure drawings of the sort a kindergartner would make. The big white gorilla was just one of the countless DC gorillas to appear in the swingin' sixties, and his demise, with his hand waving bye-bye, also reminded me of the end of Son of Kong, where the heroic young ape saves the humans by holding them above the water level as he drowns. Kind of brings a tear to the eye!

Proof that Jack is more than Abel at times!
Peter: Pvt. Harrigan is tired of grunt work and dreams of soaring through the skies and blasting Baron Von Richtenhofernauser's Fokkers from the sky with great panache, After putting in for a transfer, he's shocked to discover he's been assigned to an observation balloon. The poor guy is nothing but a "Sausage Fryer Flier" and his comrades ride him for his perceived cowardice. In the end, though, Harrigan proves he's got the stuff of a hero when he takes out an entire squadron of Germans with nothing more than binoculars, string, and a ham sandwich. When one of the falling Fokkers (damn this spellcheck) lands on his balloon, he uses a heaping helping of ingenuity to further wipe out a German ground militia with their own fighter. No longer just a "Sausage Flier," Harrigan gets a hero's welcome and a pair of wings for his lapel. Yet another in the unending series of morality stories designed to teach us that the grass which is greener on the other side may contain its share of weeds. If there's nothing new about the script, at least we get some good Jack Abel art and a few well-choreographed (though highly improbable) action sequences.

Jack: Yet another unlikely air battle. Harrigan informs us that his balloon is filled with helium, so it doesn't explode when riddled with bullets. I thought this was a weak story with bland art, and I LIKE stories about WWI biplanes!

As you can see... We're having a hard time keeping mum about all the horrors and terrors that await you in our next stark raving mad issue!

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