Monday, July 4, 2016

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 82: March 1966

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Our Army at War 165

"Return of the Iron Major!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Desert and the Doomed"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Easy Co. approaches a castle where they plan to spend three days waiting for Able and Baker Companies to join them. The beautiful and haughty Countessa Helga Von Hohenschlag is less than thrilled at her new guests and smacks Rock across the chops. He finds a framed photo of her boyfriend and realizes that her beau is none other than the Iron Major, whom Rock fought in issue #158. When Rock bravely stands up to two gun-toting Nazis, Helga melts and starts smooching him. Just then, the Iron Major appears. It turns out he was not killed in his battle with Rock and now he's steaming mad. He beats on Rock for awhile until they both topple off of a balcony into the water below, where the Major's iron hand drags him into the deep.

We are not used to back to back weak entries in the Sgt. Rock series, but that's what we have here with last issue's conclusion of the Viking Prince two-parter and this issue's pointless resurrection of a worthy opponent for Rock. The story is bogged down with a long flashback and the Contessa (or Countessa, as it's spelled here) goes from Rock-hater to Rock-lover and back to Rock-hater in very short order. Kanigher could do so much better than this. Kubert's art is great, as always, but in the service of a pointless story it's wasted. Why bring back the Iron Major only to kill him off right away? He won't be back till 1972.

No! No! No!

"The Desert and the Doomed!" tells the story of the sphinx and all of the tyrants who fell throughout history, ending with a Nazi who learns that "there will always be a nameless soldier--to overcome a tyrant!" Hopefully, Bill Finger will write more scripts for the DC war books and give us a break from Hank Chapman.

Peter: "The Return of the Iron Major" is a major disappointment. Kanigher brings back a delicious villain, only to waste most of the allotted pages retelling the first battle. Then, when the two foes finally meet eye-to-eye, the Major is dispatched quickly. I call bullsh*t at the notions that the iron hand could shield the Major from being blown to pieces and be heavy enough to drag him to the bottom of the lake. There better be a "Revenge of the Iron Major" in the future or else! Much better is the Bill Finger-scripted "The Desert and the Doomed." Since this is Finger's first contribution to the DC war titles since we began this journey, I'll hazard a guess that this was a file script that was sent to Jack Abel (who turns in yet another nice job this month) when the deadline came a-callin'.

Andru & Esposito
Star Spangled War Stories 125

"Tidbit for a Tyrannosaurus!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"A Navy Named Smith!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Reed is entrusted with the second G.I. robot, Mac, and given the mission of . . . well, he's given a mission, we're sure of that. On the way to a "mountainous island," the cargo plane they're riding in is shot down and Reed and Mac must parachute to safety. On the way down, Reed witnesses a nightmare no other man in history has seen before (except maybe the 50 or so G.I.s who came before Reed in this War That Time Forgot): a giant winged terror from the dinosaur stone age making a meal out of the plane they just exited. Reed sighs that the other men in the cargo plane, and the tank the plane carried, have perished and he's left alone on a foggy island with a robot. Luckily for Reed, Mac is not only trained for war but also seems to have a little tin heart locked away in his chest as he continually stands in front of danger for his human partner. Reed discovers that the tank has parachuted down from the plane but it's currently a "Tidbit for a Tyrannosaurus!" and the tank sergeant who escapes the wreckage has gone a bit nuts, screaming that Mac is his enemy and that he must be destroyed. In the end, Mac sacrifices his "life" for the men by detonating a grenade while in the grip of a T. Rex. Reed mourns the loss of his silver buddy.

Obviously Bob Kanigher wasn't taking notes while writing each installment of The War That Time Forgot since the background noise in this one is a little hazy. We're told by a high-ranking officer, when Reed is introduced to his new partner, that this robot is known as Mac--the Second. When Reed inquires as to the circumstances surrounding Mac--the First, he's told, "He went out with a Suicide Squad member! Both are missing in action!" Well, the first robot, as we all know, was introduced in "The Robot and the Dinosaur" (way back in SSWS #101) but that tin man's name was Joe and his flesh and blood compadre was Mac! At the end of a three-issue stint, we saw "Joe" defeat a giant Nazi robot and head off into the sunset with his human companion. Were they eaten by a Tyrannosaurus? The good news, with this latest installment, is that you don't have to fret over such minor inconsistencies because Joe Kubert has brought his A-game (of course, when did Joe ever disappoint?), magically transforming what could have been just another "Robot and Friend Pinball Between Stone Age Terrors" snoozefest into an enjoyable little romp. The Suicide Squad is still a bit of a good idea yet to germinate; there are no real rules nor any creed. We only know that these are the guys who go out and die as part of their mission.

Jack: This one took awhile to get going, but when Trask showed up and started freaking out about hearing the screams of his men inside the tank it suddenly got very real for me. In most of the War That Time Forgot stories, the dinos are treated like multi-colored targets for guns and grenades. It's unusual that we see anything resembling a genuine, human reaction to what would be, in reality, a terrifying situation. Kubert continues to amaze me, month after month, even with substandard scripts.

Peter: "A Navy Named Smith!" is Hank Chapman settling back into his familiar role as mediocre back-up war writer after showing some promise in the script department recently. More Chapman-isms with the four brothers assigned to the same platoon in Viet Nam (which, I'm sure, happened quite frequently) dropping bad one-liners on the reader ("Radio for re-inforcements, little shot! And a pick-up for the survivors! While we try to junk the junk!) while dropping grenades on the Viet Cong. The staccato dialogue between the brothers is enough to drive one off the rails. The "Readers--Sound Off!" page contains a full-page love letter to Enemy Ace delivered by future film editor and Sam Peckinpah historian Paul Seydor.

Jack: It's a little unsettling reading a Hank Chapman story set in Viet Nam published in 1966. It's one thing to read corny dialogue in stories set in one of the World Wars or the Korean War; it's quite another to realize that this war was going on right then and in fact was just heating up. When one of the Smith Bros. (cough, cough) cracked wise about going to "conk congs," I winced. It is interesting, though, to see the helicopter being used as the new travel mode of choice.

G.I. Combat 116

"Battle Cry for a Dead Man!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"No Dream--No Death!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Navajo Ace Johnny Cloud joins up with the crew of the Jeb Stuart once again, this time to aid a French tank commander who's on his last legs. Strictly by-the-numbers, "Battle Cry for a Dead Man" is the weakest Haunted Tank entry yet. RK hits all the beats--tank goes in the water, tank takes on bigger tanks and wins, tank survives blasts that no tank has a right to, crew wonders what's up with Jeb Stuart and why he keeps talking to himself but inevitably chalks it up to battle fatigue. It's all here minus the nice Russ Heath art we've been spoiled with of late (Russ'll be back next issue, thank goodness!). I had a tough time finishing this one, with the only bright spot being the intro where we're witness to Jeb and Johnny discussing their individual unseen, private ghosts. At least that sets up a precedent the next time Johnny Cloud mentions "the Haunted Tank."

Jack: With all of Bob Kanigher's focus on heroes who see ghosts, do you think he saw the ghost of Bob Kane hovering above his desk in the DC offices? There is one howler in this story when a Nazi soldier refers to Jeb Stuart as a "schlemiel"--a Yiddish word that I very much doubt would have been used by a Nazi! The last part of the story, involving the Greek soldier who wanted to emulate Leonidas and hold a pass like in ancient history, was more engaging that most of the rest of this tale.

Peter: During World War I, G.I. Bill is having nightmares, which isn't all that alarming since the young man is in the midst of war, but these dreams have a deeper meaning. The dreams Bill has seem to be coming true and they all have to do with death. Bill warns a lieutenant that he'll be killed if he goes over a farm yard wall but he is laughed at. The dream comes true. He dreams of a mortar shell hitting his observation post and it does. And so the precognitive visions continue. One night, Bill is having a particularly grueling dream of a young girl in trouble and his night haunts alarm his buddy enough to wake him before the dream can come to fruition. The next day, Bill sees the vision coming true and sacrifices his life to prevent the inevitable outcome. "No Dream--No Death" is an amiable little Twilight Zone-esque drama that has a kick in its tail that might divide readers. Some would like its atypical unhappy ending while some may cry foul. I'm sure it's evident where I stand in the debate. This is the first story we'll see from Howard Liss, who would contribute 61 scripts to the various DC war titles in the 1960s and then disappear. It would seem that RK took a fancy to Liss since the writer would soon go where no one had gone before and take over some of Kanigher's regular series scripting chores (including The War That Time Forgot and the upcoming Captain Hunter series in OFF). I'm certainly intrigued by the new kid on the block based on his first contribution. Sometimes it's easy to take Jack Abel for granted since a lot of his work seems phoned in but on "No Dream--" his moody, simple style pays off in spades.

Jack: I agree. This is a well-told story of a series of premonitions coming true and it lacks the cornball dialogue of Hank Chapman. More Liss, I say!

Next Week!
A Glimpse into The Vault of Horror!

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