Monday, May 23, 2016

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 79: December 1965/The Best and Worst of 1965

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Russ Heath
All American Men of War 112

"Lt. Steve Savage--The Balloon Buster!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Grounded Sparrow!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Gene Colan

Peter: Growing up in the early 20th Century western town of Mustang River, Wyoming, young Steve Savage learns from his pa that it's always a good thing to learn how to use a pistol but with great power comes great responsibility. When Pa dies, Steve tries to strike out on his own but runs afoul of the town bullies and is run out of Mustang River by the sheriff. When World War I begins, Steve becomes a pilot and attempts to apply his uncanny shooting abilities to flying. Coincidentally, some of the bullies from his past turn up in his squadron but Steve does his best to ignore their taunts. When his Major announces that German balloons are playing havoc with the American pilots, "Lt. Steve Savage--The Balloon Buster!" is born. It's not a birth without hiccups, though, since the Major has expressly forbidden Steve and his fellow pilots to engage with the balloons; each enemy craft is guarded by several Fokkers. Steve ignores orders and blows up the balloons but, in the process, his two comrades are killed. The Major promises a court martial just as the General pulls up to inquire as to the name of the "ace" who had downed three balloons. As the General leaves, the Major promises that Savage won't be court-martialed but that his stay with the squadron, from here on out, will be hell.

"Steve Savage" opens as a western and quickly morphs into a war story; not such an unusual melding since both war and western comics were still very popular in 1965. I was prepared to dislike this new series but it won me over thanks to its flawed but likable hero and Russ Heath's magnificent illustrations. When Steve realizes that his actions have caused his fellow aces to come under fire unprotected, he lands his Spad at the wreckage and ties the men to the wings of his plane. When he lands back at the base, he's told that both men are dead. It's not spelled out for us (thankfully) but I think it was Bob Kanigher's subtle intention to imply that the men were dead before Steve strapped them to the wings and that our hero was experiencing some sort of battle shock. At least that's the way I prefer to read it. "Balloon Buster" will only last four installments but Bob will resurrect Steve Savage in 1982 for a short run in The Unknown Soldier, which climaxes with a duel between Steve and Hans von Hammer himself!

The hapless hero of "Grounded Sparrow" just can't catch a break. His fellow aces keep stealing his kills when he can't get there in time and then, to make matters worse, he's grounded in the midst of German artillery when his wings are sheared off. Only quick thinking and Gene Colan's lovely art can deliver this guy to the finish line. This is the first of three issues devoted exclusively to WWI adventures. The reason Bob chose to hatch this experiment is lost to time but since AAMoW was smack dab in the middle of the five DC War titles as far as circulation is concerned, chances are it wasn't to boost flagging sales. Perhaps it was just an attempt on Bob's part to mold a title that had no theme to speak of into a showcase for WWI tales but it's odd that the writer/editor didn't take this chance to spotlight his newest creation, Enemy Ace.

Jack: Steve Savage drove me crazy with his western talk! "I'm th' gun!" "I'm th' gun!" "I'm th' gun!" Over and over and over. In the flashback, Steve's Pa tosses five dimes in the air and Steve blows holes in each of the coins. Jeez! Use silver dollars next time to get a little bit of lift on them, Pa, so Steve doesn't blow yer fool head off! Part two supposedly "thunders to an unforgettable climax," but I wasn't buying it. When Steve tied Nick and Larry to the wings of his Spad I thought, "uh oh!" and, sure enough, I was right. Poor Nick and Larry don't make it back to base alive. I think they got riddled with bullets during Steve's gun battle with enemy planes, but that's just my opinion.

As for the latest Hank Chapman story, I agree that Colan's art is nice but that plane shore took a long time rolling down main street before it crashed into the German gun and blew up!

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 161

"Dead End for a Dogface!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"MIG Bait!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

Jack: The newest member of Easy Company is a panting soldier whom the other combat-happy Joes immediately nickname "Breathless." Rock's intuition tells him that Breathless ("gasp-gasp") has a secret and, while the reader may reasonably wonder if that secret is undiagnosed asthma, it turns out that the new guy's brother was a coward who was executed by a firing squad. Breathless wants to prove that he is no coward so, when Rock leaves him behind on a dangerous mission, the new recruit disobeys orders and follows the sergeant.

Nazi rockets have Easy Co. boxed in and the only way to go is straight into the path of a flame-throwing Nazi tank. After Rock and his men rush the tank and blow it up, they notice that Breathless is nowhere to be found. Has he followed his brother's example and run from a fight? Nope! He's been captured by the Nazis and is facing a firing squad. He refuses to give up the location of Easy Co. but Rock and his men get the jump on the bad guys and manage to rescue their newest member, destroying the secret Nazi rocket launching site for good measure.

A fair to middling entry in the Sgt. Rock series, though Kubert's superb art is almost to be expected at this point. One of these days, Kanigher will think of another way into a story besides the arrival of a new recruit.

Chapman's "MIG Bait!" is a fairly exciting tale of air battle action in the Korean War. The jet planes are a nice change of pace from all of the fokkers we've been meeting lately.

Peter: I found it utterly out of character for the Sarge’s supporting cast to lay the blame for Breathless’s disappearance on Rock’s shoulders. They’ve been with him through at least 79 adventures; there has to be trust built up. I’ve seen the boys follow Rock blindly into hopeless situations because of that trust. Does it suddenly dry up and disappear with the coming of Breathless, a green recruit who’s obviously damaged goods? I don’t think so. As for "MIG Bait," Andru and Esposito draw planes (and dinos) pretty good but if I was one of Nelson’s compadres and saw how hop-headed he looked on the splash page, I sure wouldn’t be flying in the same skies.



Best Script: Robert Kanigher, "Killer of the Skies" (Showcase #57)
Best Art: Joe Kubert, "Killer of the Skies"
Best All-Around Story: "Killer of the Skies"
Best Cover: All American Men of War #108 >

Worst Script: Hank Chapman, "Submarine Baby-Sitter" (Our Fighting Forces #89)
Worst Art: Jack Abel, "No Purple Heart for Pete" (Star Spangled War Stories #118)
Worst All-Around Story: Kanigher/Abel, "TNT Toothache" (Our Fighting Forces #89)


  1 "Killer of the Skies"
  2 "Enemy Ace" (Our Army at War #151)
  3 "Fokker Fury" (Our Army at War #155)
  4 "Jets Never Let Go" (All American Men of War #111)
  5 "Battle of the Tank Graveyard" (GI Combat #109)
  6 "Ghost Ace" (GI Combat #112)
  7 "Tank Fight in Death Town" (GI Combat #113)
  8 "Lt. Steve Savage, the Balloon Buster" (AAMoW #112)
  9 "What's the Color of Your Blood" (Our Army at War #160)
10 "Choose Your War" (GI Combat #110)


Best Script: "Killer of the Skies!"
Best Art: "Nothin's Ever Lost in War!" (Our Army at War #157)
Best All-Around Story: "What's the Color of Your Blood?"
Best Cover: Showcase #57 (duh!)>

Worst Script: "TNT Toothache"
Worst Art: "Jackass Volunteer!" (Our Army at War #160)
Worst All-Around Story: "The Tank Eater!" (Star Spangled War Stories #120)


  1 "War Party" (Our Army at War #151)
  2 "Enemy Ace"
  3 "Easy's Last Stand!" (Our Army at War #153)
  4 "Booby-Trap Mascot!" (Our Army at War #154)
  5 "No Stripes for Me!" (Our Army at War #155)
  6 "Fokker Fury!"
  7 "Killer of the Skies!"
  8 "Nothin's Ever Lost in War!"
  9 "Iron Major--Rock Sergeant!" (Our Army at War #158)
10 "What's the Color of Your Blood?"

Next Week...
Jack gets some good old-fashioned Jivaro punishment
for disagreeing with Peter on Best Story of the Year!

December 1965 was a great month for house ads!


wordsmith said...

I believe "Balloon-Buster" is based on the too-brief career of "The Arizona Balloon-Buster" 2nd Lt.(USAAS)Frank Luke, who died just 6 weeks before the war ended, and for whom the town of Lukeville, Arizona is named; his bio can be found on Wikipedia.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for reading! I took a look at the Wikipedia entry and I think you're right--looks like Kanigher based this character on Frank Luke.