Monday, October 24, 2016

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 90: November 1966

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

 Star Spangled War Stories 129

"My Brothers With Wings!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Russ Heath

"I Owe You My Life!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by John Calnan

Peter: When "air-minded" Alice Smith's plane crashes on a "solo hop from Australia to the Philippines," she's just able to rig a parachute to her baby Tommy's cradle and eject it into the Pacific night. The bundle lands on an island filled with monsters from a prehistoric stone age and the baby is brought up by a friendly family of pterodactyls. When mama ptero is struck by lightning during an afternoon out gliding with Tommy, a ship fishes him out of the sea and takes the young man back to America. Growing up without the power to speak anything but "Skreeee"s and "Skrawwww"s would be a detriment to anyone but the hardiest heart but Tommy grows lean and strong until, one day, he volunteers to join the service during WWII and is assigned to the Pacific.  During a bombing run, his battleship is destroyed and Tommy must search for an island on which to land. Out of the blue (literally), the island of his youth materializes before him and the lucky pilot lands. Since he had always hoped to come back to his home, Tommy had never thrown away his loincloth and so he dons it and sets foot on the island for the first time in years. Quickly, he set upon by a T. Rex but one of his "winged brothers" arrives to save the day. A wave of Japanese ships approach the island and Tommy must rig his winged brothers with bombs liberated from his plane. The squadron of pterodactyls make scrap metal out of the fleet and Tommy hitchhikes back to his base on a passing battleship, knowing he'll return again some day.

"My Brothers With Wings!"

"My Brothers . . ."
The "War That Time Forgot" series has always been 80% fantasy and 20% battle action, but "My Brothers With Wings!" takes that balance to 95/5. There's just so much obvious goofiness and WTFs here that, after a bit, your brain shuts down and you just don't care anymore. It's the most Burroughsian tale in a series obviously inspired by ERB's "Caprona" trilogy and so has a mighty charm to it that's missing from most of the other installments of the WTTF saga; there's just something cool about a man riding a dinosaur and blowing enemy ships out of the water. The fact that Russ Heath adds a huge dollop of wonderfulness to the proceedings doesn't hurt, helping to make the story more than just "Tarzan on a Dinosaur." A few hearty chuckles should emanate from the reader as well: it stretches the boundaries of the imagination that a woman would take her baby with her on a dangerous flight across thousands of miles, and when the unidentified boy reaches the States, the orphanage seems to know his name! Best of all, as Tommy is landing on the shore of his beloved island, he reaches for a sack containing . . . his childhood loincloth, ostensibly tailored since he last wore it. This is not the last we'll see of Tommy Smith and, if it will give us a rest from circus acts and reunited triplets, I'm up for it.

Jack: Is this the best installment of the War That Time Forgot? If not, it's surely the best one in recent memory. Did you notice that Tommy got a haircut between the cover and the splash page? Of course, I would have preferred to have seen what Kubert could do with this story in light of his later Tarzan work, but Heath turns in a very nice story. I also saw a bit of a Superman parallel with the mother jettisoning her baby from the plane in order to save his life.

"I Owe You My Life!"
Peter: Olson is haunted by the part he played in a robbery years ago, a botched heist that left an innocent man dead. Now serving in Viet Nam, Olson is convinced that a new recruit in his squadron is the son of the victim and is only waiting for a chance to his avenge his father's death. The boy saves Olson's life but the grizzled felon is convinced that was some kind of trick and that his own day of reckoning is nigh. Sure enough, while saving the kid in a mine cave-in, Olson dies and the boy asks his comrades why a perfect stranger would save his life. With "I Owe You My Life!," I'm not happy with the sub-par John Calnan art (I was never comfortable with his work on the Batman titles in the '70s, either), but Howard Liss's fabulous writing continues to dazzle me. Sure, we have to deal with what we might term a DCCO (DC Coincidence) much in the same way we have to deal with the dreaded MARMIS (innocent misunderstanding between two Marvel heroes) over at Marvel University, but at least Howard recognizes the restrictions he's been made to work under and manages to sneak in some new wrinkles. Olson is ambivalent about his own role in the murder until he spends some time "working" alongside the kid and even then, he's almost relieved when the kid is pinned in the mine. Only a last moment pang of guilt sends him back for a rescue. The kid's astonishment at Olson's sacrifice is a right nasty twist (and can we get even darker and hypothesize that Olson is wrong and this isn't even the right guy? Please?) and the fact that Liss leaves the grizzled G.I. dead is a much better alternative to what Hank Chapman might have cooked up (Olson saves the kid's life, confesses, and the two become the best of friends). Since Liss will take over chores for "War That Time Forgot" for the next few issues and see his contributions, in general, grow, I'd say Big Bob Kanigher was taking a well-deserved vacation around this time. When the cat's away . . .

Still more from "My Brothers . . ."
Jack: We part ways on this story, my friend! Howard Liss's casual handling of atrocities in Vietnam, such as the wholesale massacre by ambush of a group of enemy soldiers by our "heroic" G.I.s, turned me off completely. I also was unimpressed with Liss's use of the standard Kanigher trope of having two people who met before the war come across each other in wartime in a stressful situation. Having John Calnan's scribbles to endure only makes it worse. This was the artist's first credit at DC but sadly not his last.

 Our Army at War 173

"Easy's Hardest Battle!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War 99, October 1960)

"Fight to the Finish!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Gene Colan

Jack: In WWI, an American soldier has a "Fight to the Finish!" with a German soldier in a cemetery. The bursting of a stray shell separates the men and allows the German to escape. As a result, an American tank is destroyed, along with its crew. This event haunts the American soldier, who tells his young son about it after the war. The boy grows up and fights in WWII, finding himself back in the same cemetery fighting the son of the German soldier who had escaped years before. This time, the German is killed by the falling tombstone, allowing the American to head back to base to report on a new German jet plane he's seen in action.

Liss writes a story that Kanigher would be proud to have penned, where the most unlikely of coincidences occurs and brings the sons of soldiers together in the same place where their fathers squared off decades before. Colan's art is as good as we've seen from him in the DC war comics and reminds me of what he was doing over at Marvel around this time.

"Fight to the Finish!"

The Sgt. Rock story is a reprint from 1960, uncut at 13 pages. Also reprinted are two of the one-page "true battle stories" that are used as filler in the DC war comics. One comes from the same issue as the Sgt. Rock story; the other, from All American Men of War 81 (September 1960). Even the cover is repurposed from the splash page of the reprinted story! In 1960, DC readers got a 13 page lead story and two six page backup stories for a dime. By 1966, it was a 13 page lead story and a nine page backup story, or three fewer pages of story per issue, for twelve cents!

From 1966 to 1968, Joe Kubert was drawing the newspaper strip, Tales of the Green Beret, which gave him less time to draw Sgt. Rock and other DC comics. Presumably, that's why a reprint was slotted into this issue. I expect well see less new material from Mr. K for awhile.

Peter: A tad bit of a deception that cover, no? With its "Sgt Rock asks you to read first--then vote on which was--Easy's hardest battle!" tagline, you'd assume there would be some kind of follow-up on the inside, right? Nope, not one word of explanation for the supposed competition nor for the reasoning behind the reprint. I'm sure a good proportion of the readers didn't even know it was a reprint. Howard Liss finally strikes out with "Fight to the Finish!," a mess stuffed so full of coincidences that it might be construed as a parody of DC war stories if the bullpen went in for that sort of thing. At least we get another look at Gentleman Gene's splendid work.

G.I. Combat 120

"Pull a Tiger's Tail!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"A Carrier Has Nine Lives!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat 58, March 1958)

Peter: The crew of the Jeb Stuart are given orders to find an enemy tank and its crew and "Pull a Tiger's Tail!" The Jeb and three other tanks head into a town ravaged by Tigers and a massacre begins. When the Jeb is the only Allied tank left standing, Lt. Jeb is taken prisoner by the Tiger's commander. While plotting his escape, Jeb recollects how Sgt. Rock and Johnny Cloud taught him how to take the enemy hostage in order to elicit information from them. Just in time, Jeb's men arrive and save their C.O. from certain death. As usual, the guest spots are handled well but I wonder why Jeb is constantly crossing paths with Rock and the Navajo Ace (to add a further coincidence, it's Jeb's C.O. who sends him to train with Jeb's military buds). It's a small, small, small war. Negatives: I don't care for Novick's work and his shortcomings are only magnified when he's subbing on a strip usually handled by Russ Heath; and Jeb (the spectre) sees his screen time diminish with each passing issue, here represented by a mere two panels (with the obligatory "I think the looey's going nuts cuz' he's talking to himself" conversation between the rest of the men following). Is this tank really Haunted if there's no spook? "A Carrier Has Nine Lives!" is an enjoyable enough reprint about the crew of a battleship who continue to take a lickin' and keep on tickin', whether it be from the enemy or the elements. Bob Haney nicely spotlights the danger of a typhoon, not an enemy we're used to seeing.

"Pull a Tiger's Tail!"
Jack: The "battle guest shots" by Rock and Cloud that are touted on the cover must have been intended to pump up sales. When Jeb confronts the German tank commander, they both speak English and understand each other perfectly. I can almost buy that, but when Jeb mentions "the Rock" and "the Navajo Ace," does he really think a German tank crew will know who he's talking about? The flashbacks are gratuitous and bring the story to a grinding halt. The backup story, another reprint, is mediocre but at least it has above-average art for Jack Abel. On the letters page, Carol Lemmle of Richmond, VA, tells Kanigher that she thinks the Haunted Tank is "the mostest." I bet she dug the go-go checks on the cover, too.

"A Carrier Has Nine Lives!"

Next Monday!
The 18th issue of It's An Entertaining Comic
is finger lickin' good!

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