Monday, May 18, 2015

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 53: October 1963

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

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 135

"Battlefield Double!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Invasion Jitters!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Jack: Ice Cream Soldier's comment that everyone has a twin somewhere sticks in Sgt. Rock's mind and he begins to think he sees his double in other heroic soldiers on the battlefield. His first suspected twin is a soldier who helps destroy a Nazi bunker when Easy Co. assaults Red Beach. The soldier dies in the battle and Rock realizes they look nothing alike.

Sgt. Rock moves on inland and sees another "Battlefield Double!" in a paratrooper whose chute gets stuck in a tree and who blows up a Nazi machine gun nest. Once again, closer inspection reveals that the men do not resemble each other. A third hero in a tank makes Rock see double until he gets close enough to realize he's wrong. Rock gets a two-day pass and thinks he can clear his head of the thought of a twin. He finds himself back at Red Beach, where the Nazi bunker turns out to have one Nazi left in it, and that man is Rock's double! Rock sneaks up on the enemy and they grapple before Rock emerges victorious, his evil twin silenced.

"Battlefield Double!"

Sgt. Rock rides a bike!
First of all, what's with Kubert turning in one third of a cover again this issue? Issues 129 and 134 through 137 all have this type of cover, where there are three stripes and only the middle features art. Seems kind of like cheating. The story is decent with the usual outstanding art by Joe. The sight of a Nazi Sgt. Rock is a bit disconcerting.

Peter: I was hoping this would avoid all cliches when Rock thinks he sees his double and it turns out he's imagining things but, as usual, Kanigher makes sure he hammers home the message in the end. "Battlefield Double" could have been so much more had it not succumbed to the obvious. It's a decent read but nothing special.

Jack: The Japanese are guarding a key island with the Steel Dragon, a giant gun that is powerful enough to blow ships and subs out of the water from a distance. Brothers Danny and Rick don't have "Invasion Jitters!" since they vow to meet after the attack is complete. Frogman Danny heads off with a time-bomb wristwatch just before Rick's sub is sunk by the Steel Dragon. From his rubber raft, Danny blows up an enemy plane with a well-thrown stick of dynamite, but he is captured by the Japanese and locked in a cabin aboard a boat. His captors take his watch, which soon blows up everyone on board but Danny. He uses the boat as a ram to destroy the Steel Dragon, then sees an enemy destroyer laying depth charges and blows it up with a handy floating mine.

"Invasion Jitters!"
Danny submerges and sees Rick's submarine stuck on the ocean floor. Some quick banging on the hull with Morse Code confirms that Rick and the crew are alive and well. Danny intercepts a depth charge and sends it back to the surface, where it blows up another destroyer. Danny uses a piece of the wreckage to free the sub from the ocean floor and the brothers are reunited at last. Whew! Danny deserves about ten medals for that day's work! I really enjoyed this goofy story and thought Grandenetti's art fit it perfectly. It's almost like James Bond in World War Two, especially with the TNT wristwatch.

Peter: At this point in the game, I'm not sure why DC didn't have a funny book titled Brothers-in-Arms for the many many times they're going back to that well. This one is text heavy; not necessarily a bad thing unless the words are as clunky and confusing as they are here: "The secret hiding place of the giant "dragon" coastal gun--that'll chew up our invasion--if it isn't destroyed!" To confound things, we get bad Grandenetti again after he'd been impressing me so much lately.

Jerry Grandenetti
Our Fighting Forces 79

"Backs to the Sea!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"The Battling Broomstick!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Col. Hakawa and his men attack the marines on the beach who now have their "Backs to the Sea!" After the battle is over, a transport plane lands and Gunner and Sarge send marines on stretchers away from danger. They also load Pooch on the plane, hoping to protect him from harm, but the clever mutt hops off the plane, swims back to the island, and disappears into the jungle. Gunner and Sarge give chase, only to find Pooch appear in various places where he can help them defeat Col. Hakawa's best. At the end, Pooch appears to have been killed in a fight, but he revives when brought back to base. We now have a strong candidate for worst all-around story of the year!

Make it stop!
Peter: In re: that splash page, what the heck is a "TNT frolic"? I'd like to think that "Backs to the Sea" is the lowest both Kanigher and Grandenetti can reach but something tells me higher peaks are yet to be scaled. This is the closest we've come, in the war comics, to the truly awful Jerry we experience on a monthly basis while dissecting the DC horror comics. Call me an idiot, but I thought Kanigher was actually killing off Pooch and a solitary tear came to my eye, remembering all the good times we'd shared.

Jack: PT boat captain Blake laments the fact that he and his crew keep getting sent on reconnaissance missions and never get into much fighting. When finally given some ammunition, they get into one heck of a fight with the enemy and are finally able to raise "The Battling Broomstick!" to show that they made a clean sweep. Jack Abel's long-faced soldiers and sailors are really getting tiresome. I liked Hank Chapman's other two stories this month, but this one is a dud. The worst moment comes at the end, when the PT boat finds itself perched above the conning tower of a sub, firing torpedoes at enemy ships from mid-air.

I can accept Superman flying through space.
I can accept Flash circling the Earth 8 times in a second.
I can accept a duck in a top hat looking for gold.
But this is too much!
Peter: There's way too much dopiness here, from the TNT lingo only a vet could understand (Our sitting duck couldn't waddle--but it still could quack lead calibers... but the other zero shook his TNT seasoning over our fouled-up fowl...) to the PT skipper dumb enough to pal around with comrades who mock his lack of kills to, silliest of all, the sight of a PT boat balanced atop the con tower of a surfaced sub. Oh, and, I wish Hank had explained the concept of the Battling Broomstick one more time as I didn't catch it the first five. Another bad issue of Our Fighting Forces, the Ghosts of DC War.

Irv Novick
All American Men of War 99

"The Empty Cockpit!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"Attack from Yesterday!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Bad dreams force Johnny Cloud's CO to ground him, sending him on leave to London. In the dream, Johnny is always flying under a squadron of Nazi fighter planes when a terror rocket emerges and heads for London. At the last minute (still in the dream) Johnny always notices a lone plane that seems ready to intercept and destroy the rocket but, on closer inspection, our hero notes "The Empty Cockpit!" On his first day in London. Johnny narrowly avoids becoming part of Piccadilly Square when a bomb blows up while he's driving through. Meeting up with a British pilot named Allan, Johnny decides that leave is not what he's looking for and accompanies the Brit back to his base. Just as they get there, an alarm is sounded and a scenario very familiar to Johnny begins to unfold. When Allan's plane limps back to base, Johnny is there to help his new friend but Allan is beyond help. Knowing his services are needed, Cloud hops into Allan's plane to finish the job. Once in the air, a terror rocket is launched and Johnny realizes that he is in "The Empty Cockpit!" With a little daring and a whole lot of luck, Johnny wipes out the menace and his bad dreams all in one fell swoop.

Not a bad little adventure. Sure it's got coincidences galore but what DC War story doesn't?  I appreciate that, for the most part, we've put the fact that Johnny Cloud is a Native American off to the side and concentrated on his bravery (pun intended) and air prowess. Yeah, I know, we still get the silly "great white cloud" now and then but at least we're not presented with the "wash, rinse, repeat" of "Johnny meets up with new squadron and has to endure injun jokes" every issue. Nice touch when it's revealed that Johnny himself is occupying that empty cockpit of his dreams.

Jack: When a story starts off with a long dream sequence and then repeats key parts of it several times, you know that the end of the story will feature the dream coming true. It's like Chekhov's gun. Johnny is working so hard that he's exhausted again and gets sent on leave. Aren't there any other fliers in the European theater?

Peter: The Hall Brothers happen to serve under their father, Captain Willard Hall (what are the chances?), a WWI vet who steadfastly declares time and again that the weapons of WWI were much more efficient than those of the current conflict. When the three are attacked in a small village by Nazis, the Captain is separated from his sons and finds himself in a WWI museum (what are the chances?). The Hall Brothers find their pop and the three fire up an ancient spad and a WWI tank and take out the entire German army with their antiques. Hank Chapman manages to rope in two of the most overused DC Warhorses ("the family that fights together..." and "the melding of two wars" and spits out "Attack From Yesterday," a hammy and totally unbelievable bit of nonsense made all the worse by pedestrian Jack Abel art. I'll give it one half star for the sequence when one of the Hall Bros. tells his pa that "the machines in this museum are battle-ready! Just as they were in the first World War!" Though I don't doubt that some of the vehicles could have been kept in pristine condition for twenty years, I do wonder why the proprietors of the museum would keep them fueled!

Jack: I'm surprised you didn't like this one. I thought it was fun and exciting and Abel's art is some of his best work. I know the family fighting together is a cliche but it's so cool to see them resurrect the old battle machines and head out to fight some Nazis!

In our next Alcala-drenched issue of
Do You Dare Enter?
On Sale May 25th!

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