Monday, October 10, 2016

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 89: October 1966

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

All American Men of War 117
(Final Issue)

"Even the Skies Can Bleed!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"20,000 Foot Curtain!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath (reprinted from G.I. Combat 56, January 1958)

Peter: An enemy from Johnny Cloud's past comes jetting at him through the sky in "Even the Skies Can Bleed!" Back when he was a youngster on the reservation, Johnny Cloud admired his father, the tribe's chief, but rival Standing Bear did not agree with the chief's peaceful ways; Running Bear believed that the tribe should wage war with the white man. He issues a challenge of battle to the chief and the two men fight brutally on horseback. Running Bear is fatally injured and his son, Wolf Fang, vows that he'll carry on his father's battle, promising to kill Johnny at a later date. Fast forward a decade or two and the reservation rugrats are now staring each other down across competing cockpits; Wolf Fang having joined the Nazis just to get back at Johnny. Several aerial battles ensue and the casualties mount before, finally, it's Wolf vs. Cloud.

Clearly, Big Bob is out of fresh ideas for his Navajo Ace as "Even the Skies . . ." borrows from several plot lines of the past (exactly how many childhood rivalries existed on Johnny's reservation?) and serves the mix as a tepid soup. Surely, there were easier ways for Wolf Fang to get even with Johnny Cloud than to join the Nazis (a group of folk who were not very, shall we say, understanding, of people of non-Aryan background). As with a lot of the Cloud dramas, the plot would have us believe that the war just seems to halt when Cloud has a dilemma or obstacle; all around him (including his C.O.s) just seem to stand around with hands in pockets as the mini-war plays out. 

The reprint, about a Korean War pilot trying to bust through the "20,000 Foot Curtain!" is enjoyable enough but the Heath art is wasted on too many tight shots of the pilot in the cockpit (rather than on the legendary Heath battle action), much like in last month's G.I. Combat reprint, "A Jet is Not a Pet!" There's nary a mention of the death of All American Men of War on the letters page but then, back in those days, fans only found out about cancellations when their favorite title didn't show up on the stands for several months. AAMoW shuts its doors after a respectable run of 118 issues (the first two were actually numbered 127 and 128--don't ask!) and fourteen years, whittling the line down to a quartet (until Weird War Tales comes along in 1971). For those of you mourning Johnny Cloud, don't fret . . . the Navajo Ace will return as part of the Losers team in 1969.

Jack: The Johnny Cloud series was squarely in the middle of the DC War Comics series for me. Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace take the top slots, and the War That Time Forgot is at the bottom, along with some of the short-lived series like Steve Savage, Balloon Buster, and Captain Hunter (what, no love for Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch? -PE). Novick's art is always serviceable but never hits the heights that Kubert and Heath reach, but it's rarely as annoying as what we've seen from Andru and Esposito or Grandenetti. I'll be looking forward to Johnny Cloud's return but I'm not in a hurry.

 Our Army at War 172

"A Slug for a Sergeant!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Have Bazooka--Will Travel!"
Story by France Herron
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat 59, April 1958)

Jack: Sgt. Rock engages in a duel with a Nazi sergeant, who shoots him and then approaches for a point blank kill shot. Rock thinks back to how it all started when Easy Co. was surprised by an attack from a Nazi plane. Olson and Goldstein were killed before the plane was shot down. Rock and his men moved on into a forest, where they witnessed the Haunted Tank battling with a bazooka-wielding Nazi. The men of Easy Co. got into a fistfight with Nazi soldiers, but Rock was knocked out and captured when the rest of his men were off saving the tank.

The Nazis wanted Rock to offer to exchange himself for Sgt. Schlum, who had been captured by the Americans. Though Rock ordered them not to make a deal, his men disobeyed and met the Nazis for a prisoner swap. Sgt. Schlum was insulted that he would be traded for Sgt. Rock and started trading punches; when that ended in a draw, a duel was the next step. Schlum approaches Rock to finish him off but suddenly keels over dead, in a delayed reaction to having been shot.

I'm sorry, but without Joe Kubert drawing it, Sgt. Rock just does not work. Heath provides some nice panels, but he can't touch Kubert here. The second story is a reprint from 1958 and, once again, the script is sparse but Heath's art is solid, probably better than his new work on the lead story.

Peter: Russ Heath is my favorite DC war artist but Rock minus Kubert is jarring. The pictures are still breath-taking but Rock just doesn't look like Rock to me. The script is the best the Sarge has gotten in years, though. These two men would love nothing more than to kill each other but, in the end, there will always be the respect. "Have Bazooka" is an entertaining little slice of G.I. life, with our second jolt of Heath in one issue. Life is good.

Our Fighting Forces 103

"The Tunnels of Death!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

"No Hill for Easy!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jerry Grandenetti
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat 58,  March 1958)

Jack: Capt. Hunter has a vivid dream of rescuing his brother Phil and awakens to engage in some action with the Viet Cong. He promises a dying American paratrooper to look for Viet Cong underground tunnels and, with Lu Lin's help, discovers an underground hiding place for enemy armaments. After seeing that a canal passes above "The Tunnels of Death!" he is able to blow a hole in the canal bed and flood the tunnels below, destroying everything inside.

This story includes a lot of fighting and a big explosion, but nothing moves forward in Hunter's quest to find his brother. Like Richard Kimble before him and Kwai Chang Caine after him, he keeps getting sidetracked and never seems to move closer to his objective. At least he doesn't spend any panels kissing Lu Lin this time around.

In WWII, Easy Co. envies the other companies because they have not taken a hill. After some hard fighting, they finally take one, but it turns out to be a sand dune and blows away, leaving "No Hill for Easy!" Seeing Jerry Grandenetti's work again reminds me how much I don't miss it.

Lu Lin seems to be in no hurry to get back to her village!
Peter: The Lt. Hunter series is so rotten to the core; its macho posturing, misogyny, and racial stereotypes seem weirdly antiquated by 1966--the bucktoothed Vietnamese that Hunter mows down with Rambo-esque glee echo the yellow peril funny books of the 1940s. What's worse, from a reader's standpoint, is its inane plot. How many times must we listen to Hunter's exclamations about the loyalty of Lu Lin? She saves his bacon at least three or four times a month and the guy's still wishy-washy. The art by Jack Abel is the pits as well; is there any other artist as inconsistent? Much better is our reprint this issue, which is built around a questionable event but still manages to evoke a smile or two. This Easy Company obviously has nothing to do with the more famous battle squad we've come to know and love over in Our Army at War but the title was used for a Rock story in OAaW 130 (May 1963).

Next Monday!
A Special Double-Sized Issue
as we say "So Long" to 1951
with our Picks of the Best EC Stories of the Year!

No comments: