Monday, February 29, 2016

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 73: June 1965

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Irv Novick
 All American Men of War 109

"The Killer Slot!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"Landing Party!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Irv Novick

Peter: When Navajo ace Johnny Cloud is captured by the dirty scum Nazis, he manages to escape but the forest before him is fraught with peril. He remembers a time in his childhood (here we go again) when he and Running Deer found a falcon, mauled and killed by a hawk, and took the bird to the smoke-maker. The shaman informed the teens that, before the bird could rest in the after-life, it must rise and attack its killer. Sure enough, the dead bird took wing and brought down the hawk that ended its life. Johnny knows he must find and rescue his own jet or it will never rest either. As can happen with these stories, the jumping back and forth between various flashbacks can be awfully confusing but "The Killer Slot" is a solid little action thriller, made even more exciting by Novick's stellar art.

Novick's follow-up, "The Landing Party," doesn't fare as well (Irv's pencils look more like Jack Abel's to me), sinking from the weight of Hank Chapman's awful dialogue and TNT descriptions (...pretty soon I was out of the jungle and climbing the flank of the hill like a Sunday driver just let out of the insane asylum...). The tale is good for a few laughs, though; when our hero, a GI grunt whose entire squad is wiped out during a beach assault, has to steal a tank, he comes across a chasm high above a river. How to cross? Simple. Knock two huge trees down across the stretch and then simply drive your tank across! Why did it take us so long to win the war?

Jack: Your question applies to the first story as well. When Johnny Cloud is held at gunpoint by the Nazis, he suddenly breaks and makes a run for it, drawing their fire. Can't any Nazi shoot straight? He and they both realize that they are such poor shots that they are likely to shoot their own plane, which is behind Johnny, so they stop shooting!

As sometimes happens when reading DC War Comics, I had to look something up. This time, it's the term "Immelman." Kanigher writes that this will be "the tightest Immelman on record." Were this a Marvel comic, we'd get a footnote. DC readers had to scramble for the dictionary (or in my case, Wikipedia) to discover that the Immelman turn is a maneuver where a plane loops around and puts itself into a position to attack a plane that had been attacking it. It was named for Max Immelmann, a German WWI ace.

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 155

"No Stripes for Me!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Fokker Fury!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

Jack: This is one of those great issues of Our Army at War that warrants discussion of both stories!

In the first story, Sgt. Rock meets Chip McKenzie, a general's son who keeps insisting "No Stripes for Me!" even though he earns promotion after promotion with his bravery. It seems Chip is antagonistic to the idea that anyone will think he is moving up through the ranks due to nepotism, so he resists being made an officer. Rock gives him one stripe, two stripes, and three stripes after he performs heroically in battle. Finally, when Chip nearly causes his father to lose his life to save Easy Co., the general orders Rock to promote his son to lieutenant, the first time a sergeant has promoted a soldier to a rank above his own! Kubert's art is outstanding and Kanigher scores points for not taking the Easy way out and having Chip die at the end of the story.

The second story is even better. Hans von Hammer, the enemy ace, is impressed with the honorable behavior of a British pilot who salutes him after the German flyer shoots down his plane. Von Hammer is isolated on land because everyone he meets thinks of him as a human killing machine. When he shoots down another English plane, he realizes that the pilot was out of ammunition and that, technically, he has killed an unarmed man in his "Fokker Fury!" A British pilot challenges von Hammer to an air battle and von Hammer accepts, then proceeds into the fray without ammunition, barely surviving only due to his own skills as a pilot. The British pilot realizes what has occurred and flies off, leaving von Hammer satisfied that he has regained his honor. Wow! If Kubert's art was good in the Rock story it is off the charts here, and Kanigher's tale matches the exquisite visuals. This bodes well for the Enemy Ace series, though Sgt. Rock tells us in the final panel that there will be no more stories unless readers demand them.

Peter: Why would Sgt Fury refer to the Jeb Stuart as "the Haunted Tank" when only Jeb knows about his ghostly friend? Kanigher was obviously having a great deal of fun with his new baby. Was he grooming the "Ace" to take over Our Fighting Forces or All American Men of War at some point? It's odd that the next appearance of The Hammer of Hell will be a two-issue stint at DC Showcase rather than one of the war titles, but perhaps Bob envisioned a greater readership if the Ace were given a short-term residence in a mainstream title. It's a stunning moment when von Hammer shoots down his enemy and then realizes the young pilot was flying sans ammunition. The Enemy Ace almost pleads with the doomed man to forgive him. Again, this strip seems to bring out the best on Kubert and Kanigher. A whole issue of RK and JK? Pure war heaven!

Next Week...
Join us as we take a trip into
The Vault of Horror!

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