Monday, November 2, 2015

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 65: October 1964

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

Irv Novick
All American Men of War 105

"Killer Horse--Killer Ship"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"Tunnel Dogfight!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Captain Johnny Cloud must take to the skies in a jinxed ship, a jet whose two previous pilots never made it back alive. To make matters worse, the plane's insigne is a white stallion, resembling the same nag who made part of Cloud's childhood miserable. Can Cloud break the run of bad luck and tame the "Killer Horse--Killer Ship"? A whole load of preposterousness going on in this one. Johnny's surname should be iCloud as the poor guy's got way too many memories to store in one brain. The "biggest fish story" of them all happens in the final act when Cloud is forced to evac from his plane and is (luckily) approached by the same horse from his childhood (we know because it has a black lightning bolt above its muzzle)! I mean, Bob Kanigher doesn't even explain it away at the climax as battle fever or a concussion. Johnny gets aboard and rides the damn thing! Can't wait for the episode when Johnny thinks back on how tough it was constructing an A-bomb as a child.

Jack: On top of all that, we had the same gimmick of a ship that killed prior pilots just three months ago in "The Flying Coffin" (Our Fighting Forces 85, July 1964). Now Bob Kanigher is borrowing ideas from Hank Chapman! Novick's art is good, though, especially in the air battle scenes.

Peter: Before the outbreak of WWI, Gilbert is humiliated by a German cad named Von Roon and, while they're fencing, war is declared. Von Roon swears he'll defeat Gilbert on the battlefield. The two then play a deadly game of "anything you can do, I can do better" over the skies of Europe. Finally, Gilbert bests the German ace in a "Tunnel Dogfight!" This one's just as outlandish as the Cloud story (the climax has our hero blowing up his adversary--while both are in the tunnel--and flying away safely!) but it's got a charm like the 1940s serials. Joe Kubert and Russ Heath are untouchable but Jack Abel is fast becoming a very dependable artist.

Jack: This is some of the best art we've seen from Abel and Chapman keeps the corny dialogue to a minimum. The plethora of WWI planes are welcome and Abel's use of white space and borderless panels is impressive. The appearance of the zeppelin is also welcome.

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 147

"Generals Don't Die!" (Book One)
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Straw Pilot!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Joe Kubert

Jack: Why is Sgt. Rock wearing a helmet with a general's star and leading a different company into battle? When his C.O. was wounded and Sgt. Rock drove him to an aid station, the sergeant's jeep was blown off the road on the trip back. Coming to his aid was a one-star general, who grabbed Rock's grenades and lobbed one at the tank that had blown up the jeep.

The general ran at the tank and is shot down, so Rock struggled to his side and used the remaining grenade to destroy the enemy's lumbering machine. Rock carried the dying general to safety in the woods and heard the man's story. Alex Bentley may have been big and strong, but his talents lay in administration and management rather than heroics on the playing field or the battlefield. Now, all he wants is for his youngest son to know he was a hero and deserved a medal. The general dies and Rock takes his helmet and stars, impersonating the man as he leads his company into battle.

How to cheer up Dad when
he's off fighting the Nazis.
That's where part one of this exciting story ends! We'll have to wait for next issue to see what happens in part two, when Easy Co. arrives to help and Rock's cover is blown. Other than a brief sequence where the general's stars start "talking" to Rock, begging him to take them with him into battle, this is well done, though as Peter notes below, American men had a skewed view of what it meant to be a hero in 1964.

Peter: Given the classy cover and the epic length (27 pages over two issues), I was expecting a classic. What I got was another skewed look at what it took to be a man in the 1940s (you were not a real man unless you got your hands bloody). Don't get me wrong; it's not a bad story (surely not as bad as the gawdawful "talking munitions" pap we got last issue); it just doesn't live up to its presentation. Rock has definitely gotten himself into a bind out of sympathy for the dead "desk General." Impersonating an officer is a court-martialing offense!

Jack: Taylor is the new pilot in the WWI flying squadron, but Morgan tells everyone he's a rat for stealing his girl back home. Taylor turns out to be nothing but a "Straw Pilot!" who can't complete a mission without failing. Morgan keeps cleaning up his messes. Finally, the skipper send them out together on a mission, each in his own plane. Both are shot down and taken prisoner, so both must bust out of the prison compound and escape together. This time, Taylor saves Morgan, who finally develops some respect for his rival. Above average Chapman, despite over use of the word "straw," this story is elevated by Kubert's contribution.

Peter: I was so disappointed when I got to the final panel and realized we wouldn't get to see the splash page scarecrow fly a WWI plane! What a cheat. That would have been a whole lot more fun than the story we got (albeit gorgeously illustrated), which is nothing more than the obligatory repetition. Every squadron seemed to have two guys who just couldn't get along for ten pages but managed to sort things out in the end. Readers must have thought they'd gotten an early Christmas present when opening up to find not one, but two Kubert beauties this issue.

Joe Kubert
Our Fighting Forces 87

"Battle of the Boobytraps!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Abel

"The Only Survivor!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Gene Colan

Jack: Riding a P.T. boat en route to the start of a five-day pass, Gunner and Sarge (and Pooch!) find themselves smack dab in the middle of a "Battle of the Boobytraps!" The hi jinks begin when a Japanese plane destroys the P.T. boat, leaving the trio to fight their way in and out of trouble on a series of enemy rafts and boats. After destroying hat seems like half the Japanese navy, the trio are sad to learn that, due to an enemy counterattack, all leaves have been canceled.

Adding Jack Abel to the mix has certainly improved matters in Gunner and Sarge land, and this is a fairly exciting story. I was surprised to see that Pooch was able to handle wearing an underwater mask and scuba gear, but then he IS Pooch!

Peter: Bob Kanigher must have been reading lots of Hank Chapman scripts since he drops in all kinds of Chapman-isms, like referring to a diving plane as a "flying meatball" (what does that even mean?). Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch is still nothing but silly prattle but at least it's better illustrated once Grandenetti's work dried up on the DC War titles and Jerry headed for Charlton and Warren. Perhaps the only interesting aspect of this throwaway is the cameo by PT Boat skipper, Captain Storm, star of his own DC title for 18 issues from June 1964 through April 1967. Though Storm's book falls out of the scope of our DC War journey (we're only covering the anthologies), the skipper will return at the tail-end of the 1960s as part of the war team, The Losers (co-starring Gunner and Sarge and Johnny Cloud), in Star Spangled and Our Fighting. The Losers were just that, refugees from cancelled series that took on the "tough" assignments. Jack will be relieved to hear that Pooch was a semi-regular as well.

Jack: In the wake of a terrible battle in the desert, one U.S. tank and one Nazi tank are left standing, the commander of each thinking that he is "The Only Survivor!" They quickly spot each other and a deadly game begins, as each tries to take advantage of what they find in the desert to ensure their own survival, knowing that the first to report back to base carries with him valuable information about a weak spot in the enemy's defenses. The Nazi tank commander destroys a land mine, blows up a barrel of fuel, and shoots a man with a canteen of water, all in the name of making sure he comes out on top. Yet, in the end, the American tank commander is the only one left standing as the Nazi tank, manned only by the commander, sinks slowly under a hidden wet spot in the sand.

Each month, I am happier and happier to see Gene Colan contributing to the DC War comics line. This is his best work yet! It's too bad we don't know the name of the story's writer. This is the sort of tale that works best as a backup, since it doesn't have a heroic series character.

Peter: When we decided to tackle the DC War comics a couple years ago, I naively thought we'd get gritty, violent tales of men at war with disturbing images and snappy writing. Yes, I was quite naive and had not thought about the impact the CCA would make on the writers of four-color war stories but, still, I wasn't expecting Gunner and Sarge or TNT pizzas. I can say with great confidence that "The Only Survivor" will be my pick as Best Story of the Year and could end up in my Top Ten DC War Stories of All Time when we get to that in the distant future. Everything about this grim classic works; its unflinching portrait of just what men will do during conflict packs quite a punch. Gene Colan's art has a heck of a lot to do with the success of "The Only Survivor" but the script is aces as well.

In the next horrifyingly hen-pecked issue of
Do You Dare Enter?
On Sale Nov. 9th!

Peter Enfantino was once president of the Jimmy Olsen fan club!

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