Monday, November 16, 2015

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 66: November 1964

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

Joe Kubert
G.I. Combat 108

"The Wounded Won't Wait!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Private War!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Peter: Jeb Stuart (the ghost) warns Jeb Stuart (his namesake) that the Jeb Stuart (the tank) will encounter a "rock that's going to turn steel into ashes." As usual, the Jeb runs into several altercations that lead the Sergeant to suspect the friendly ghost was right, only to have yet another incident occur. When the tank is ambushed by anti-tank guns, all the men except Jeb are injured and the only thing that saves them all is the appearance of Sgt. Rock! Some of Rock's men are wounded as well and the Sarge tells Jeb they should get the guys to the local field hospital pronto. When they arrive, the hospital is under fire and pulling up stakes. Rock blocks the convoy and tells the doctor that "The Wounded Won't Wait!" As the doc is examining the boys, enemy fighters attack but Rock and Jeb are able to ward them off.

The doctor explains that they'll need to go to the new hospital location as some of the men need operations. Along the way, the men are attacked yet again but the convoy eventually reaches the new site and the men of both comic strips get the attention they need. Good tale, but this could just as easily have been a straightforward Rock story; no reason for the Jeb Stuart to be involved other than to continue the war character crossovers. We're not getting much "haunted" out of this tank, are we?

Jack: I was thinking the same thing. The Haunted Tank stories have become repetitive in that we get a prophecy from the ghost at the beginning and then Jeb spends the rest of the story trying to figure out what it means. The appearance of Sgt. Rock on the cover took away any suspense about what the ghost meant when he referred to a "rock," and as soon as our favorite sergeant appears, he takes over the story. Kubert's art looks hurried in spots, which may be because he was drawing a lot of pages every month at this point.

Peter: Joe and Phil are in love with the same dame back home but she'll only marry one of the guys: the one who becomes the "bigger hero." The boys fight a "Private War" in order to log more kills but, in an ironic twist after both become heroes, the gal marries a pencil pusher! I was thinking, right up to the finale, that these guys should call a truce and then look for a girl who isn't so shallow but Hank Chapman soars in and gives us a great climax. Jerry delivers one of his more solid jobs with "Private War," with the exaggerated facial features kept to a minimum.

Jack: It's been awhile since we've been saddled with a story illustrated by Jerry G and, as I started this one, I was determined to try to like it. Well, that lasted till page two. Jerry's geometric faces are hard to like. The panel where he draws eight biplanes is cool, as is the one where the men march wearing gas masks, but any decent spots in the art are overwhelmed by ten bad ones. Hank Chapman's purple prose doesn't help, and clunky phrases like "a bouquet of Fokkers" show us why Bob Kanigher, for all his faults, was the king of DC war comics.

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 148

"Generals Are Sergeants--With Stars!" ("Generals Don't Die!" Book Two)
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Sour Milk-Run!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Joe Kubert

Jack: Impersonating the late General Alex Bentley, Sgt. Rock leads Bentley's men to fight off attacks from two Nazi planes by using a destroyed tank as cover. Rock receives a call on the walkie-talkie to alert him that a runner is coming from Easy Co. with news on how soon reinforcements will arrive. Though Rock worries that the runner, Ice Cream Soldier, will blow his cover, a bomb renders the combat happy Joe blind and deaf just in time. Rock leads the men in battle to defeat Nazi tanks before the sergeant/general is knocked out by a blast. His men think he was killed and he slips back into the woods, where he switches stars for stripes with General Bentley's corpse. He carries the body to the aid station, where he gives Bentley's stars to the general's son, whose father is recognized as a hero at last.

Though Kanigher and Kubert spend five pages to recap last issue's events, the final ten pages of "Generals Are Sergeants--With Stars!" deliver the goods. Rock sums up the message of this series when he says, "a G.I.'s best cover is his fighting heart." The maneuver to defeat the Nazi planes is very clever and there is real suspense as Ice Cream Soldier approaches and we wonder if Rock will be found out.

Peter: The conclusion to "Generals..." is just as average as its first chapter but it did contain one standout sequence, when Ice Cream Soldier is blinded and deafened but relaxes a bit at the touch of the Sarge's hand on his shoulder. Ostensibly, he knew it was Rock. I may be asking for too much but I do hold this series to a higher standard than any of the others (for obvious reasons when you consider two of the sister series feature dinosaurs and a pooch who can talk more intelligently than his G.I. masters), but this monster "epic" just seems ho-hum to me.

Jack: A pair of frogmen who can't seem to complete their missions successfully are given an easy task: parachute in near a Nazi sub, blow it up, and swim home. When their plane is attacked en route, they are dropped into the middle of the desert and their easy job becomes "The Sour Milk-Run!" By means of some camels, a stolen tank and a hijacked plane they make it to the sub and blow it up; a life preserver bobs to the surface providing proof of the mission's success. Hank Chapman's writing is as bad as ever but it is more than balanced by spectacular art from Joe Kubert.

Peter: Though it contains all the cliches (two likable dopes who just can't seem to catch a break but who'll be re-christened "heroes" within ten pages) and a bit too much of the Chapman touch (what the hell is a "TNT pretzel" anyway?), I liked this exciting little sea adventure much more than the main attraction. I've added the line "Cut your chute shrouds on the hubba-hubba" to my repertoire of party patter.

Joe Kubert
Our Fighting Forces 88

"Devil Dog Patrol!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Abel

"The Last Volunteer!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Gerald McCann

Jack: The wily Col. Hakawa has a new plan--attack the marines on the beach from both sides! While a tank shoots at the beach from inside the jungle, a sub lobs torpedoes onto the beach from the water. Gunner, Sarge and Pooch take to the drink to blow up the sub and then rejoin the other gyrenes to hold off the tank attack.

One day, a kitten washes ashore and Pooch takes to it like a kindly uncle. Unfortunately, Pooch is lost to the enemy after an accident on patrol, and those dastardly Japanese train our favorite pup to attack Marines on sight! At the van of a "Devil Dog Patrol," Pooch leads the enemy right to Gunner and Sarge's hiding place, but when the kitten jumps out to greet the dog and is shot by an enemy soldier, Pooch snaps out of it and, fortunately, the good guys win again. Kitty survives with only a flesh wound.

Peter is going to love this story! We finally have crossed over into full kiddie-land with the addition of a cute kitten to the Gunner, Sarge and Pooch team. What's next? A talking duck?

Peter: To think we were just this close to losing Pooch and that spineless wimp, Gunner, just couldn't lower the boom. I love the "secret pocket airfield" hidden on the other side of the waterfall as if Gunner and Sarge went in and exited into the Land that Time Forgot. How could they not have seen the planes landing right on the other side of the hill? At least Bob realized this series was spinning its wheels and decided to add a dangerous new element: an intelligent kitten! Things are looking up.

Jack: American soldiers must climb the Needle, a steep mountain, to knock off a Nazi sniper at the top. After others fail, Bronson is "The Last Volunteer!" He comes from a family of mountain climbers but fears making the trip upwards due to a traumatic event before the war where a German guide sent his father and brother to their death during a guided climb. After blowing up a Nazi tank and a Nazi plane and nearly falling to his death on the way up, Bronson reaches the top and discovers that the Nazi sniper is none other than the guide who had killed his family! A fight ensues and Bronson survives as the Nazi falls to his death, victim of his own booby-trapped rope.

It looks like this is the only time we'll see pulp/comic artist Gerald McCann, and that's a shame, since his art is really nice and gritty.

Peter: I must say I was taken completely by surprise when the Nazi lookout at the top of The Needle turned out to be Kurt Krieg! My goodness, what a coincidence. And right on top of the coincidence of our hero ending up at the same mountain that killed his family! Imagine that. The graphics soar above the dumb script, however, thanks to newcomer Gerald McCann. A former pulp illustrator, McCann will contribute this single story to the DC War titles.

Joe Kubert
Star Spangled War Stories 117

"Medal for a Dinosaur!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"TNT Eight-Ball!"
Story by Kin Platt
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: The lovable duo of Morgan and Mace (you know, the "Only Suicide Squad members who hate each other more than the enemy"?) are sent to a remote Pacific island to find out why an experimental bomber has gone missing. When the boys arrive, they learn that the island is inhabited by (gasp!) dinosaurs from the terrible Stone Age. M&M are terrorized by several giant creatures until, finally, they're forced off a cliff and onto an enormous egg. The egg hatches and out pops a baby pterodactyl. After some initial bumps in the road, the boys make friends with the winged terror and eventually, it saves their lives. Dropping them off at the beach, little Terry waves bye-bye as the Suicide Squadders set sail with their intel.

When the C.O. tells Morgan and Mace that a top secret experimental bomber has disappeared without a trace and not one soul on Earth can figure it out, I almost raised my hand and said, "Sir, you must have read the report about carnivorous dinosaurs in the Pacific. There's your answer," but the guys stayed quiet so I thought I should, too. I know I'm beating a dead horse by bringing this up but you have to wonder if Bob Kanigher even remembers writing the last installment of this series when Morgan and Mace survived and made it back to their comrades to tell the story of dino-island. Only, dinosaurs must have been so commonplace during World War II that they forgot to mention what they'd been through or assumed their C.O. would be bored by the tale. Even more bizarre is the reaction the dopey duo have when they first spot a dino on their return visit:

Morgan: I'm sweating so much--I'm imagining there's a dinosaur standing like a roadblock in front of us!

Mace: I'm imagining it too!

These two are not only absent-minded but amnesiacs! Mace giving Morgan constant reminders that he's going to shoot him if Morgan even thinks about deserting was a nice touch last issue but Bob does it to death in "Medal for a Dinosaur" and the monotony kills the gimmick real quick.

Jack: Morgan is such a jerk that Mace should let the dinos eat him! A typical Morgan and Mace exchange goes like this:

Morgan: Do what I say or I'll shoot you!

Mace: OK!

Over and over and over. Why doesn't Morgan just do it himself? Why does he hold a gun on Mace and tell Mace to shoot something? Is this a power thing?

Peter: Simmons has it bad. His old college coach is now his Sarge and the guy has it out big time for Simmons, who can't seem to do anything right as far as the older man is concerned. Simmons can't shoot straight, he trips over his own shoe laces, and he throws grenades "like an old lady in a rocking chair." Luckily, Simmons comes up aces when it's needed the most and, suddenly, the Sarge thinks the kid is a "TNT Eight-Ball." This one is pure dreck and formula, with a litany of Don Rickles-esque put-down one-liners that get more stale as the pages turn.

"... and your mother wears army boots!"

Jack: That's two stories in one issue where I think the guy who's being abused should stop putting up with it! If poor Simmons couldn't stand up to Coach, he should have let Sarge get run over by a Nazi tank. I want to start a movement to boost the self-confidence of DC war comics G.I.s.

In the Next Chilling Issue of
Do You Dare Enter?
Jack and Peter Reveal Their Picks for
Best and Worst of 1975!
On Sale Nov. 23rd!

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