Monday, August 15, 2016

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 85: June 1966

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

All American Men of War 115

"Deliver One Enemy Ace--Handle With Care!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"A Straight Run to Wonju!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath
(reprinted from Our Army at War #73, August 1958)

Peter: After a grueling week of bombing runs in which he gets zero sleep, Captain Johnny Cloud is ordered by his base physician to take some time off. Luckily, gorgeous nurse Running Deer is heading off to London for a bit of r 'n' r herself. Bingo! Unfortunately, the two quasi-lovebirds arrive in London Town just as a bombing raid begins and the leave is suddenly jettisoned. Johnny helps rescue a boy from a collapsed building but the young man lies in his hospital bed, seemingly uninterested in life. The doctor informs Cloud that the boy must undergo a major surgery and, if he's not in the right frame of mind, it could be curtains. Cloud dresses like an Indian in feathers and makes a fool of himself but the spectacle does nothing to brighten the lad's spirits. At last, the youth tells the Captain that if he wants to bring him out of his funk, Cloud must bring him the head of a Nazi pilot. So Johnny heads out in a borrowed jet, nabs a German out of the sky, and brings him back to the boy's hospital bed. A happy ending.

"Say 'Käse!"
One of the stupider entries in the weak Johnny Cloud series, "Deliver One Enemy Ace . . ." is chock full of silly moments. Aside from the obvious, the parading of a war criminal in front of a little boy (the kid even takes snapshots with a convenient camera of the POW as the adults around him beam), the story also see-saws between what's right for Johnny and what's wrong as far as his diminishing mental and physical health go. Johnny's shaking and can barely stay awake but the second he's told the kid wants a pet Nazi, he grabs a conveniently placed Mustang and goes shopping. At least Novick brings the goods this time out, with his air battles looking spectacular. In the closing vignette (a reprint), a pilot in the Korean War is told he'll be taking "A Straight Run to Wonju" but, thanks to the enemy, it's anything but. I'd have never pegged the art as by Russ Heath as it just doesn't have the detail or excitement we usually find in Heath's illustrations.

Jack: I almost fell off my chair when I turned the page and saw the giant panel with Johnny Cloud dressed in full redskin regalia to entertain the morose lad in the hospital! That was not one of his better moments. And what's with every female in the armed services melting at the first chance they get to fall into a soldier's arms? We see this scene time and again in every series Kanigher writes. It makes me long for a good story with Pooch! After kicking around for a few months in other comics (Our Army at War and G.I. Combat) while Steve Savage, the Balloon Buster, took over All American Men of War, Johnny Cloud is back for an issue. Savage will be back next time, and the following issue will once again feature Johnny Cloud as we bid adieu to this comic book forever!

Just in case we weren't following along.

Our Army at War 168

"I Knew the Unknown Soldier!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Second Chance for a Dead Man!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Easy Co. is trying to cross a river on a raft when Nazis open fire from the safety of a cave on the edge of the shore. The G.I.s rush the beach and things look hopeless until a soldier from out of nowhere swings past the cave opening on a rope and tosses in a grenade, blowing up the machine gun nest. He waves to Sgt. Rock from atop the cave but has disappeared by the time the sergeant climbs up to thank him.

No one else in Easy Co. saw the man, so Rock leads them on a march through rain and fog after him. Nazis ambush the men of Easy Co. and, once again, the soldier appears from out of nowhere to help and disappears just as fast. Rock continues to be alone in having witnessed him. His men began to think he needs a rest and Rock even questions his own mind. Alone in snowy woods looking for Nazis, Rock encounters enemy tanks and is aided for a third time by the mysterious soldier. Blinded by gunfire, Rock is guided by the man and blows up the Nazi tanks. Before Rock can lead him back to Easy Co. to prove that he's real, the G.I. sacrifices his life to destroy one final tank. As they take away the body of the hero, a general says that he will be buried in a tomb in Arlington, Virginia, and Rock realizes that "I Knew the Unknown Soldier!"

A very sharp page by Kubert

A haunting story with flashes of great art by Joe Kubert, this is one of the better Sgt. Rock tales we've seen lately. I'm glad Kanigher resisted the temptation to make the unknown soldier a ghost, though why the men of Easy Co. never seems to notice him remains unexplained. Perhaps we're meant to see it as a sign of the heat and confusion of battle and Sgt. Rock as the only one clear-headed enough to see what's really going on and understand it.

In "Second Chance for a Dead Man!" a soldier comes to a crossroads and takes the road marked Dead End, which leads to his death. We then see him back at the crossroads, and he takes Easy Street, but it leads to the same place. An old man at the crossroads is revealed to be Death. Despite Jack Abel's rudimentary art, this story succeeds in being more interesting than the usual backup by Hank Chapman.

The conclusion of "Second Chance for a Dead Man!"

Peter: Several sources I checked claim this Unknown Soldier is the same Unknown Soldier who will star in his own series beginning in Star Spangled War Stories #151 (July 1970) but I pshaw that theory. I think Bob was stuck for a new series and remembered this faceless soldier from years before and thought, "That's it!" After all, this was the guy who thought it a good idea to send dozens of sets of daredevil circus act brothers to Dinosaur Island; Bob wasn't above recycling ideas. I'm not going out on a limb here in espousing this theory, as DC themselves ignored "I Knew the Unknown Soldier" when it came time to collect the US stories in the Showcase volumes and, besides, the dead G.I. in this tale is headed for burial. In any event,  "I Knew . . ." is a good story with quasi-supernatural tones (at least, until the truth is revealed in the climax) and an amazing assist from Joe. Speaking of supernatural tones, I was pleasantly surprised by "Second Chance . . . ," which would fit quite snugly in an issue of Weird War Tales (still five years in the future at the time) with its Twilight Zone-esque twist and the appearance of the Grim Reaper in the climax. It's a grim and gritty little winner that adds weight to the argument that Bob Kanigher made a smart decision assigning Howard Liss as his second banana.

Next Issue:
Peter tries to get Jack to stay up with him
It's An Entertaining Comic!
On Sale Monday, August 22nd

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