Monday, August 1, 2016

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 84: May 1966

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

G.I. Combat 117

"Tank in the Icebox!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Don't Be Taken Alive!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: The Jeb Stuart is patrolling the desert when it runs across an eerie sight, a "Tank in the Icebox!" An allied tank, crew and all, sit frozen in the middle of the desert, but what mysterious force could have caused this phenomenon? Before the Haunted Tank's men can get to the bottom of the mystery, they're dive-bombed by an enemy plane; they manage to blow the buzzard out of the sky but, unfortunately, it lands on the frozen tank and explodes, destroying any evidence to be examined. The Jeb continues its desert trek and soon becomes embroiled in a shoot-out with two Nazi tanks. During the melee, our heroes finally discover the secret of the giant ice cube: a new liquid gas created by the Germans that freezes anything it's dropped on. The Jeb Stuart briefly becomes a rolling popsicle but, thanks to the ingenuity of their lieutenant, the men save the day and destroy the Nazi snow cone machine.

Not a bad entry in the "Haunted Tank" series, but nothing special. Colonel Stuart makes a very brief appearance to mutter the usual useless riddle but the main gimmick here, the frozen tank, is introduced and then explained away fairly quickly at the climax. That's a shame, because the mystery seemed to be evolving into an interesting twist. Heath's art is, as usual, stunning, and there's a little more hand-to-hand combat here (something we don't see much of in Russ's entries) than usual.

Jack: The business with the ice is ridiculous enough, but the scene where the Stuart tank tumbles end over end down the side of a sand dune, manages to fire off a perfect shot in mid-tumble, and is fine after it lands on its treads really strains credibility. Wouldn't the barrel of the gun snap off or at least bend? The hand to hand combat page is excellent and Heath shows a nice sense of anatomy with bodies in motion. As is often the case with DC war and horror comics, the art outshines the script.

Peter: In "Don't Be Taken Alive," a U.S. soldier finds he must take out an army of Viet Cong with only one bullet. Like the opening story, this one isn't very original; we've seen the US soldier beating insurmountable odds before and probably will do several times again. It's a decent time-waster, nothing more.

Jack: Howard Liss writes lines like this: "Feels like I'm running underwater--with my throat cut!" What is that supposed to mean? In the letters column, Kanigher asks a reader in New Mexico to light a fire under Hank Chapman, who apparently lived in Santa Fe and who was "falling behind in delivering scripts." Maybe that's why we're suddenly seeing so many backup stories by Liss.

Our Army at War 167

"Save One--Kill One!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"One Last Fight!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Irv Novick

Jack: The combat happy Joes of Easy Co. play cards in a foxhole and place bets on which of Sgt. Rock's exploits was the toughest. Was it the time he leaped on the barrel of a tank gun and dropped a grenade down the opening, or the time he fell though the ice into a frozen river then swam underneath, only to break through and take out a Nazi machine gun nest? It was neither, Rock thinks, recalling the time he killed a Nazi sniper who was hiding in a tree. Rock was distraught to find that the sniper was a young teenage boy, but when another teenager came along and kidnapped Rock at gunpoint, he began to sweat. The boy tells Rock that he is among Hitler's hand-picked werewolves, sworn to kill every American on sight. However, this lad decides to march Rock back to base to show how soft Americans really are. Along the way, the boy is shot by a sniper and Rock bandages him and carries him. By the end, Rock's selfless heroism convinces the boy that Hitler lied to him and that Americans are not all bad.

At last we know what happened to
Stringbean, Chuckle-Head and Mickey!

Like every super villain who ever cornered Batman, the young Nazi in "Save One--Kill One!" tells Rock that he's not going to kill him just now, and we know that he never will. The story takes its time to get going but Kubert's ability to tug at our heartstrings rarely fails.

When Nazi Corporal Buhl is discharged and sent home to a little town in Germany, he resents not being able to engage in "One Last Fight!" even though he has a steel plate in his head and an eye patch. When Corporal Smith of the U.S. Army happens to drive a jeep through the little town on his way to being discharged himself, Buhl turns into a sniper and Smith must avoid becoming his final victim. Some exciting man to man fighting highlights this story, which I believe is drawn by Irv Novick, not Jack Abel, as the GCD states.

Peter: I thought the irony in the Liss story--that one soldier only wants to get home as fast as possible while his enemy only wants one more fight--was handled nicely and subtly, rather than with the sledgehammer that Howard Chapman probably would have used. Liss is fast becoming a welcome addition to these parts.  I wasn't all that enamored of this issue's "Rock" story, though, whose message--War is Hell!!--was hammered home. The scene with Rock floating in the frozen water and then breaking up through the ice to take on the Nazi machine-gunners requires quite a bit of belief suspension.

Our Fighting Forces 100

"Death Also Stalks the Hunter!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Abel

"If We Miss--You Die!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Gene Colan

Jack: Captain Hunter and Lu Lin are trapped in a cave as Viet Cong soldiers lob grenades in at them from outside the entrance. Hunter recalls following Lu Lin into the jungle, where he witnessed Viet Cong soldiers shooting at wounded marines being evacuated by helicopter. After attacking the enemy soldiers, he briefly escapes in the chopper before returning to find the marines dead. "Death Also Stalks the Hunter!" however, as he linked back up with Lu Lin and came upon a village where Viet Cong were getting ready to execute villagers who had sheltered U.S. soldiers. Drawing their fire, he and Lu Lin escaped into a cave, where we found them at the start of the story.

An unusually good panel from "Death Also Stalks the Hunter!
Climbing up an airshaft, Hunter leaps down on the Viet Cong and subdues them before heading off in search of his missing twin brother. This story is just plain bad! It's as if we've stepped into a time machine and headed straight back to the early 1950s, where every Viet Cong soldier is known as "Charlie" and has buck teeth and a menacing leer. God save us if Col. Hakawa's long-lost cousin ever turns up.

Gus Schultz impersonates a Nazi officer in
"If We Miss--You Die!"
During WWII, G.I. Gus Schultz found that his German name earned him the scorn of his fellow soldiers until he was able to discover the location of a secret Nazi missile base by impersonating a dead German officer. During a bombing run to destroy the base, the American flyer holds Gus at gunpoint and tells him, "If We Miss--You Die!" Happily, Gus's intelligence was accurate and the trigger-happy American flyer apologizes after the Nazi missile base goes up in smoke. Gene Colan's shadowy artwork and a fairly clever script lift this story above this issue's lead tale.

Peter: The Sgt. Hunter series seems to be the antithesis of Sgt. Rock, the latter being, for the most part, devoted to deep-thinking characters and paradoxical situations. Capt. Hunter, on the other hand, is all about the macho. Bob's dialogue and captions, particularly those describing Lu Lin, would be laughable if they weren't racist and sexist. At various times, the "Oriental doll" is described as a "cool almond cookie," an "Oriental Kewpie doll," and a "chop suey pied piper." It's missing the "humor" of Gunner and Sarge but, make no mistake, Sgt. Hunter is just as inane. "If We Miss--You Die" features some gorgeous art from Gene Colan as well as a tepid script from Liss. Hutton's about-face in the final panel would be startling if it wasn't so commonplace.

Star Spangled War Stories 126

"You Can't Pin a Medal on a Gorilla!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Death is the Sniper!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Sgt. Pinky Donovan has the best friend a man can have in the Army, a super-intelligent gorilla named Charlie. Rather than stay back at the base in a cage, Charlie elects to follow his buddy Pinky into combat. And a good thing, too, as Charlie manages to wipe out the entire Japanese Army and plant a flag high atop a mountain once held by the enemy. Which goes to show that Pinky's C.O. was wrong when he exclaimed "You Can't Pin a Medal on a Gorilla!" This is bananas. Right, well, I realize that 1960s DC funny books (even more sophisticated titles like the DC war books) were written for six year-olds, so sometimes I have to check my brain at the door and just try to enjoy the night off; no deep hidden meanings or twists to decode. I do that on a regular basis when it comes to The War That Time Forgot but, for "Blahblahblah Gorilla," I just can't remain silent. Bob's writing this as a straight drama (it seems) with a tad of humor here and there, giving us no reason for this gorilla's elevated intelligence. Charlie manages to get off the base, onto a carrier, off the ship and onshore to back Pinky up, and then take on a slew of Japanese, with the pièce de résistance being the planting of the flag on the mountaintop. This monkey's got game! Bob obviously needed a vacation badly and threw this one together out of pieces of old scripts (Pinky's C.O. is a badly disguised reboot of the C.O. from "Medal for a Dinosaur!" back in #117, both of whom constantly bad-mouth their saviors) and a nod to the obvious jones for gorillas that DC had at the time. It's pretty awful stuff. Come back War That Time Forgot . . . all is forgiven!

Oh stop, Bob, you're killin' us!

Jack: I was prepared not to like it but I enjoyed it! As the introductory caption states, it's "the hairiest battle tale of the war!" The story actually makes sense at first, with the gorilla being trained in the U.S.O. show and then acting consistently when faced with real gunfire. In part two, it does veer off into fantasy land, but Kubert makes it work. I've never had a big problem with DC's gorillas, especially Gorilla Grodd, who was great on the Flash TV show!

Peter: It's obvious that the reign of Hank Chapman as Bob Kanigher's #2 man (Hank was responsible for 145 scripts from 1959-1966) is over; this month, he fills only one back-up slot; next month, none. He'll be back for a random story here and there but greener pastures (writing for travel magazines) are calling at this point. At least Hank goes into semi-retirement on a high note (well, for Chapman it's a high note) with "Death is the Sniper!" about an American soldier hunting down the Nazi who murdered his brother. The gimmick (the Nazi wears special boots that leave a death's head imprint in the snow) is a good one and the climax, though a little clunky, is effective.

Jack: Right from the start we know we're in Hank Chapman territory with lines such as "We're on a look-see patrol in Nazi-land!" Jack Abel must not have read the script carefully, because Chapman makes it very clear that the skull and swastika are supposed to be on the heels of the Nazi's boots, yet every single time we see the footprints, the emblems are on the sole, not the heel, even when we get a closeup of the actual boot! That drove me a little bit crazy, as did the nonsensical ending in which the Nazi is killed by pointy icicles falling on him from the ceiling of a cave. More likely, they would have slid right off and he would have killed our hero.

Next Week...
A Ghastly Magic Trick Gone Bad
in the 12th Issue of
It's An Entertaining Comic!

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