Monday, August 24, 2015

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 60: May 1964

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

Joe Kubert
GI Combat 105

"Time-Bomb Tank!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Plane That Wouldn't Die!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Still bathing in the glow of his recent DC War Hero Team-Up, Jeb Stuart has his day ruined by yet another cryptic message from his ghostly ancestor, Colonel Jeb Stuart: "Beware of history repeating itself!" Before he can get the spirit to elaborate, Jeb receives orders to head out to where Easy Company is receiving heavy fire. Along the way, the Jeb is caught on a bridge between two Tigers but manages to blast its way free. Jeb is convinced that the ghost must have been referring to Horatio making his last stand but the spook stays mum. Farther on, the men come across an abandoned tank, the Marie Celeste; no men aboard or anywhere around. Jeb's orders are to haul the tank back to HQ. Again, Jeb asks the Colonel if this was the incident he was warning of, echoing the disappearance of the crew of the ship, the Marie Celeste. No answer is forthcoming, so the tow-tank begins its trip back. Some very strange occurrences raise goosebumps on Jeb: enemy tanks and planes approach but then retreat without engaging. Finally, Jeb does some snooping and discovers an explosive device in the derelict tank--the Marie Celeste is a "Time-Bomb Tank!" A little razzle-dazzle on the crew's part leaves the enemy about ten tanks shy and the men of the Marie Celeste freed. At last, Jeb Stuart (the G..I.) gets a response from Jeb Stuart (the haunt) when our hero connects the dots and realizes the history that almost repeated was the Trojan Horse.

"Time-Bomb Tank"
The art is top-notch, the story's not bad, but the hook is dying of old age. The format now seems to be: 1/ Colonel warns of danger in uncertain terms; 2/ The Haunted Tank travels through danger, each peril more closely resembling the nature of the warning; 3/ Ghost won't talk; 4/ Young Jeb realizes what the dead guy was talking about. Obviously, since this series lasted nearly thirty years, Bob must have found another hook at some point. Let's hope it was sometime in 1964.

Jack: Now who would be dumb enough to christen a tank the Marie Celeste, even if one guy's girlfriend was named Marie and the other's was named Celeste? Isn't that just asking for trouble? Kubert has a nice half-page where he uses three wide panels to show the Haunted Tank approaching the other, silent tank. Too bad the title of the story gave away the surprise.

Peter: Lt. James is assigned to "The Plane That Wouldn't Die!", a Mustang 777 that has a reputation for getting the job done and coming back no mater what. James comes to resent the attention the Mustang receives, feeling that he should get the credit for all the successful missions flown. But James is convinced when he's thrown from the cockpit in the midst of battle and the 777 continues to fly, leading to a kamikaze on a Nazi battleship. A decent story with good Jack Abel battle action art, "The Plane" flies very near supernatural territory. Satisfying climax with (now Captain) James keeping the legend of 777 alive by relating the story to a "sparrow" (a newbie).

"The Plane That Wouldn't Die"

Jack: Zzzzz. A pilot jealous of a plane that gets all the credit? Ridiculous. More of the usual Hank Chapman prose: "The big boom is making tiger hash out of the tanks!" Give me two shorter stories rather than a padded ten-pager like this any day.

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 142

"Easy's New Topkick!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Nose-Dive Champ!"
Story by Kin Platt
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: After Sgt. Rock tells the rest of Easy Co. that his helmet is his good luck charm, they come upon a farmhouse being attacked by a Nazi tank. The only defense is a small rifle firing from one of the farmhouse windows. Easy Co. destroys the tank and finds a French boy defending the farmhouse alone, his father and other resistance fighters having been killed beside him. He joins Easy Co. and refuses to tell Rock his mission, causing the men to christen him "Easy's New Topkick!" The mission is to blow up a bridge and the boy dies making sure it is destroyed. Rock leaves his own helmet atop a rifle stuck in the ground to mark the spot of the boy's burial.

A rare miss for the Sgt. Rock series, this story is padded with more than one flash forward and flashback to the same scene. Even Kubert's cover is shaky--I wondered if the French kid was supposed to be Mlle. Marie!

This comic's original owner added
some flourishes in blue ink.

Peter: "Scratch, dirt chickens!"? Oh my, did Hank Chapman have a hand in the dialogue for this story? Thees ees a so-so Rock installment with a poignant climax but then the Jr. Rock gimmick is not to my liking. At least the little guy stayed dead at the end and didn't emerge from a cloud of smoke with a few scratches. That's something.

"Your mother wears Army boots!"
Jack: King thought he was hot stuff back home because he won three big boxing matches, but he learns he's nothing but a "Nose-Dive Champ!" when he reports for duty and finds out his opponents all took dives. Beaten by his last opponent in a rematch, King sinks to the depths of despair as he watches his rival fight heroically in battle after battle. Only when the tables are turned and King has to rescue his rival does he shed the indignity of his nickname. I had never heard of Kin Platt before seeing his name on the GCD credit for this story. Apparently, he was an accomplished writer who had a long career in and out of comics. This was not one of his better moments.

Peter: If this is a boxing story masquerading as a war story then it's more Rocky V than Raging Bull with its sledgehammer catch phrase and totally predictable final panel. When a guy's derided and hated as much as this poor schmuck he has to take heart that he's in a DC war story and by the climax his comrades will be hoisting him on their shoulders. King Champ, indeed.

Joe Kubert
Our Fighting Forces 84

"The Gun of Shame!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Score or Scram!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: While out on patrol, Gunner, Sarge and Pooch see that Col. Hakawa is displaying for his men a U.S. tank that was captured without ever firing a shot. The trio evades capture and heads back to base to report on "The Gun of Shame!" Returning to find Col. Hakawa's men using the tank, the trio succeed in blowing it up and taking an ammo supply dump with it, ensuring that the tank will never be used in an attack by the enemy. A better than average story for Gunner and Sarge, this makes me wonder if these stories have been set on Wake Island all along. That's where the tank was captured, so either the Japanese shipped it to another island or we know the location of the beach where our favorite mud marines fight valiantly every month.

Grandenetti makes the tank appear
huge to show the effect it has
on the minds of the marines
Peter: The sequence on page eight--where Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch are facing down a Zero whose machine guns are rat-tat-tat-ing away but not hitting a single target--is laugh out loud ludicrous but then we are talking Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch here. Jerry Grandenetti's racist caricatures at least give us a few clues as to why the Japanese were such bad shots. One bright spot is when the C.O. acknowledges the existence of Col. Hakawa. I thought for sure that by the end of this series, we'd discover that this all-out war on two G.I.s and their (admittedly intelligent) canine by the Japanese army was all in the mind of our "heroes."  Jack and I were relieved to discover this would be the final "Gunner and Sarge" drawn by Jerry Grandenetti (if it was only the final entry in the series, as well!). In fact, aside from a couple of stray appearances in the next couple months, Jerry will go AWOL in the DC War titles until the late 1970s. That's so far in the future of our journey that you'll forgive Jack and I if we have something of a minor celebration.

Jack: Connor is an American fighting for the RAF in WWI before the U.S. entered the war. He's frustrated by his inability to score a kill in aerial combat and thinks that, pretty soon, he has to "Score or Scram!" Connor joins a mission and is shot down in battle over a town held by Germans. His plane balanced on top of a house, he manages to shoot enemy planes out of the sky and save the day. Hank Chapman's terrible writing fights with Jack Abel's beautiful art to make this story a draw. Abel must have used some great models of WWI planes to draw this one, because the air action is outstanding, but his work is dragged down to earth by such turns of phrase as "Then I'm jolly as jam they're not in the war, Leslie!"

Peter: Hank Chapman must have thought he'd write a glorious tribute to the Americans who flew in World War I and, instead, only made us look like bitchy, selfish children. But all's well since by the end of the story we all know that whiny crybaby Connor will prove himself of worth and the Brits will slobber all over him. I was just guessing. Now, excuse me as I have to slice up some Boche Baloney.

Ross Andru & Mike Esposito
Star Spangled War Stories 114

"Doom Came at Noon!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Crash Boat Skipper!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: A three-brother celebrity ski team takes their act into the War That Time Forgot when the frozen tundra they're exploring (for enemy subs below) erupts and spits out giant monster horror dinosaurs from the stone primeval age. With the moves that put them on the map, the brothers manage to evade most of the gargantuan terrors and blast the Nazi subs back into the ice age. I have no idea if "Doom Came at Noon" is supposed to take place in the Alps (witness the lush ski slopes) or the Arctic (hence the undersea enemy subs) or some wild combo of both. I'm also not sure why dinosaurs would suddenly thaw out when they're surrounded by freezing conditions. Obviously, Bob didn't bother checking out Dinosaurs: the Cold, Hard Facts by Professor Ima Digger (Icthyopaleontology Press, 1963) like I did when I was in third grade. Since we're far from our usual Pacific clime, it's a safe bet that dinosaurs ruled the world circa WWII.

"Doom Came at Noon"
Jack: I searched and searched for that book but came up empty! Must be a rare one. What isn't rare is the sight of dinosaurs in WWII! I spent the first half of this story wondering what the heck was going on, since it didn't seem to have anything to do with war. Finally, on page seven, we get a flashback that mentions an "Arctic drop" and we learn that the trio of trick skiers were supposed to look for a hidden pen of Nazi subs. Then it's back to fun with dinos in the snow until page 14, when Danny happens to notice the Nazi sub pen while he is being carried through the air by a pterodactyl! He drops a bomb and all is well. For some reason, I really like comic book stories set in the snow, and that cover is great!

Peter: Three college chums enlist, hoping they can keep their team together, but the trio is split up and sent into different branches of the military. The war is a funny animal though, my friends, and the triple threat is reunited aboard a PT boat amidst the "greatest armada the world has ever seen!" The boys are a team once again as they send those stinkin' Nazis straight to hell. "Crash Boat Skipper" is formula from start to finish, all the cliches are present, and yet there's no denying its entertainment value. This was a good month for "Able" Jack Abel with four well-done jobs handed in. His sea battle in "Crash Boat" is very nicely choreographed.

"Crash Boat Skipper"

Jack: I completely agree, Peter. This is about as good as it gets with Jack Abel. I suppose this story must depict D-Day, and Bob Haney comes through as usual and makes a formulaic setup more interesting than it should be.

In Our Next Issue:
You Will Believe a Plant
Can Crave Vengeance!
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