Monday, September 26, 2016

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 88: September 1966

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

 Star Spangled War Stories 128

"The Million Dollar Medal!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Gene Colan

"Sniper's Nightmare!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Arnie's had it rough all his life; the poor guy can't buy a break, but now all that's changed. After his squadron enters a strange cloud over an uncharted Pacific island and is massacred by prehistoric monsters from a dinosaur stone age, Arnie's the only soldier to survive. He manages to grab a raft and row ashore, only to discover more giant beasts ready to make a meal out of him. Back at the base, his CO is growing antsy since Arnie has important info regarding an enemy convoy and the Allies are counting on his rescue. Luckily, the man in charge just happens to be Tim, Arnie's buddy from way back. Tim hoofs it to the island and discovers that Arnie has found the world's biggest diamond and has no intention of sharing it with anyone . . . including Tim. All that Tim wants is the info that Arnie is carrying but he can't convince his old buddy of that until a series of run-ins with stone age creatures in which Tim risks his life to get Arnie to safety. Arnie is mortally wounded but manages to relay the convoy info to his old friend. Tim heads back to the base as Arnie awaits his destiny with "The Million Dollar Medal!" as his pillow.

"The Million Dollar Medal!"
As War That Time Forgot stories go, the first entry not written by Robert Kanigher is pretty darn good, but Howard Liss (who is fast becoming my favorite DC war writer) is constrained by the same formula that Kanigher wrote himself into. It's a shame that RK didn't let Howard run wild with the WWII dinosaur scenario but, then again, maybe there are no intelligent WWII dinosaur scenarios. We shall see, since Liss will script the next three WTTF chapters as well. Colan's art is, as always, exemplary; his use of odd panel shapes is such a breath of fresh air. The climax, with the doomed Arnie seemingly ready to shuffle off with a smile and a really valuable pillow, is
B-Liss-fully dark. The cover brings up an interesting question: was there a story entitled "My Enemy is 100 Million Years Old!" and featuring the Suicide Squad, slotted for this issue? There's a Suicide Squad vibe to Arnie Brock and Tim Granger but no one mentions the elite team by name (and they usually crow about it all through the length of a SS entry).

Jack: Mid-'60s Colan art isn't as good as '70s Colan art, but it's good nonetheless, especially when stacked up against what we're used to seeing from Andru and Esposito. This story has some of the same flaws we see in Kanigher stories, such as the long flashback and the coincidence of childhood friends meeting up again in wartime, but the fact that Arnie is an almost irredeemable bum adds depth. Yes, the plane still goes through a mysterious cloud and emerges into the Land of Dinosaurs, and yes, no one at base ever quite realizes what's going on, but Liss and Colan are definitely a step up from Kanigher and Andru.

Peter: Dobson was blind as a kid but all his other senses made up for it; the kid could nail a duck two hundred miles away with a pea shooter. But then, one day, a freak accident renders Dobby sighted and he's suddenly an even better marksman. Fast forward several years and another freak accident leaves army sniper Dobson blind. It's a "Sniper's Nightmare!" ("Tryin' to shoot a guy you can't see is like tryin' to hit a home run against a fastball with your back turned!") but, fortunately, Dobson has his childhood experience to draw from and lays waste to the entire German army. A bit of a fanciful tune from Liss and not really my cup of tea, unfortunately, but the loony bits are entertaining (Dobson's origin is actually kinda sorta a reverse Daredevil, isn't it?). That final panel (below), with Dobby laid up in a hospital bed, contains a bit of dialogue a little saucier than we're used to in the land of homogenized war.

Hundreds of thousands of DC-loving boys
just threw down their comics in disgust!

Jack: Stacked indeed! That was a surprise to read in a DC comic. Too bad Gene Colan didn't draw that story!

 Our Army at War 171

"The Sergeant Must Die!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Combat Mile!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #56, January 1958)

Jack: Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. have a new mission: to bring back the serpent crown of Barbarosa, the Germanic warrior king of long ago. It seems the Nazis are whipping themselves into a frenzy over the thought that the king will return and lead them to victory.

Before they can reach the ruined castle where the crown is held, the men of Easy Co. must fight their way through a village of Germans who cry out the emperor's name as they launch suicidal attacks on our favorite G.I.s. Once the villagers have been defeated, a batch of Nazi soldiers are next, and Easy Co. makes mincemeat of them as well. Nazi snipers menace Rock and his men in a German forest and several booby-trapped Nazis cause the death of a number of American soldiers.

It's never a good sign when members of
Easy Co. with nicknames we've not
heard before head into battle!
As the men of Easy Co. ascend the path to the ruined castle, they are met by a Fraulein who tells them that an army of schoolboys is guarding the place, and the last descendant of Barbarosa announces from a parapet that he is their leader. Rock approaches alone and engages in a brutal fight to the death with the axe-wielding giant, but a well-placed swing of his Army helmet knocks the red-bearded enemy to his death far below. As the story ends, Rock chooses to replace his Army-issued helmet on his head and forego the crown of the German emperor.

There's a lot going on in "The Sergeant Must Die!" and it fills up 18 pages with plenty of action. The notion that Nazis--and German villagers--could get fired up over the hope that a long-dead Germanic warrior might return to life and lead them to victory is an interesting one, something that one could almost imagine happening. There was a real Barbarossa (with a double s), who was Holy Roman Emperor in the twelfth century and a very powerful leader indeed. Hitler's invasion of Russia had the code name, Operation Barbarossa, so the great man of old was certainly in the mind of the Nazis. Kubert makes good use of the warrior's imposing physique, and it can't be coincidence that both he and Sgt. Rock--who battle to the death--have red hair!

Peter: Though the cover screams "Sgt. Rock fought the mad emperor for the lives of a teenage army . . . ," we don't get to see said fight until the closing pages and it ain't really worth the wait if you ask me. It seemed as though Big Bob was going down the supernatural path for a bit but then shied away, which is all right by me. Though "The Sergeant Must Die!" was anything but exciting, I don't care for those "Elseworlds" stories where Rock fights Vikings or cavemen. I've always been of the mind that the Sarge's world should be kept separate from the rest of the DC Universes; why fight WWII with hand-held weapons when the Allies could have the Son of Krypton wipe out the Ratzis in a single bound?  Having said that, I always hoped for a cross-publisher team-up of Rock and Marvel's Sgt. Fury. How glorious would that have been? "Combat Mile!" is not worth bothering with; surely, there were more compelling reprints in the vaults.

Heath and Adler
G.I. Combat 119

"Target for a Firing Squad!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"A Jet's No Pet!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #62, July 1958)

Peter: The Jeb Stuart happens upon a soldier who's about to be shot for desertion but fate, in the form of a crashing Focke-Wulf, stays his execution. He holds a gun on the men of the Jeb and demands that they hide him from the inevitable search party but, when the going gets tough, the soldier proves that, deep down, he's no chicken. Though the story's a winner, this is just about the worst work we've ever seen from Irv Novick. If I didn't know any better, I'd say this chicken scratch masquerading as comic art was Ross Andru, inked by Jerry Grandenetti. Yep, it's that bad.

"Target for a Firing Squad!"
Anyway, I appreciated the pace of Kanigher's script; it's exciting and there are a few surprises. We all knew the deserter would redeem himself but it's a fairly effective climax anyway. General Jeb is pretty much a no-show again outside of a one-panel cameo where he essentially says nothing that his descendant can use in battle. One scene that drew a loud guffaw from me is when the deserter is knocked unconscious and the Jeb boys drag him to safety but neglect to separate the guy from his weapon. Yeah, I'd leave a rifle in the hands of a man who'd just threatened me with death. Russ Heath puts his masterly touch on the reprint this issue (although it features way too many tight shots for my taste), a little piece of TNT fluff about a pilot who discovers, when he's assigned a new F-80 Shooting Star, that "A Jet's Not a Pet!" The theme (that a piece of machinery has feelings too) would be explored many more times with the same result.

"A Jet's No Pet!"
Jack: Hang on, Peter--did we just have a main character die? It sure looks that way! Toward the end of the story, Slim--who has been one of the recurring characters in the series--gives his life to save his comrades when he throws his body on top of a potato masher. This is what bothers me about the Sgt. Rock stories--none of the main group of characters is ever killed in action. Of course, it is Slim's sacrifice that inspires the doomed soldier to give his life in a similar way. I will be very interested to see how this death is dealt with in the next few stories.

As for the reprint, I thought the Korean War setting gave Heath an excuse to draw plenty of neat jet action, though the story was a simple one. It does seem like the stories in DC war comics have grown more complex over time, though Kanigher is no Harvey Kurtzman.

Next Week!
Our Aim is True!

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