Monday, November 7, 2016

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 91: December 1966/January 1967 + The Best of 1966!

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

 Our Army at War 174

"One Kill Too Many!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Battle Buzzards!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Bob Forgione and Jack Abel
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #59, April 1958)

Jack: Sgt. Rock is haunted by the memory of having made "One Kill Too Many!" when he shot a Nazi sniper out of a tree only to discover the enemy soldier was only a boy. When Wildman is wounded by a different sniper, Rock hesitates to shoot the killer off of his limb and, as a result of his hesitation, Easy's medic is killed. Rock is so angry with himself that he vows to give up fighting and takes over the role of medic. However, when he sees the wounded men of Easy Co. rise and engage in hand to hand combat with Nazis, Rock finds that he can't sit idly by and soon rejoins the fray.

We doubt it!
Didn't Rock have this same crisis not too long ago? One has to wonder how his C.O. can let him quit being a sergeant and start being a medic without sending him back to base for a psychological evaluation, since Rock clearly seems to be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and is probably a danger to the men he leads.

In "Battle Buzzards!" a lone American G.I. fights his way through the desert, intent on avoiding the buzzards that circle overhead. At the end of the story, we learn that the carrion-loving birds were a mirage but it was this mirage that compelled the soldier to keep moving. Bob Forgione and Jack Abel turn in art on this reprint from 1958 that doesn't look much different from what Abel was doing alone in 1966.

Peter: I didn't buy Rock's transformation for a second; it rang so false. No matter though, since his pacifistic tendencies lasted only through the middle act. Though "Battle Buzzards!" accentuates what bothers me about some of these war stories (the Nazis seem to focus on nothing but one man or one platoon to the detriment of the rest of the war effort, it seems), it's pretty effective at showing the utter helplessness of this G.I.'s plight.

 Our Fighting Forces 104

"Night Raid in Vietnam!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"Close Your Eyes and Die!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by John Calnan

Jack: Captain Hunter witnesses an American pilot being ejected from his plane and the captain races to the rescue. The pilot says he was buzzing a VC camp nearby when he was shot down, so Hunter investigates and sees that his brother Nick is a prisoner at the camp. He plans and executes a "Night Raid in Vietnam!" to rescue Nick but, by the time Captain Hunter gets there, Nick has been moved to another location.

I'm all for military strategy, but it seems like Captain Hunter might have kept a closer eye on things and not waited till nightfall if he was so anxious to rescue Nick. Maybe our hero really enjoys hanging out with Lu Lin, his Oriental kewpie doll guide. Nick can hold out a little longer.

Yoo hoo! Nick! Over here!

In WWII, an American soldier captures a couple of Nazis and holds them hostage in a cave until his troops come back to join him. He sits outside the cave mouth in the snow, aware that the Nazi's threat of "Close Your Eyes and Die!" is all too real. Finally, the U.S. troops return and the Nazis are shocked to see that their captor had died hours before. So how did he shoot at them when they tried to exit the cave?

"Close Your Eyes and Die!"
John Calnan takes advantage of the snowy setting to favor us with some of the best art I've seen from him and Howard Liss writes a fairly taut story that, while predictable, still holds reader interest.

Peter: More macho exclamations, sexist and racist dialogue, and recycled plot for the lunk-headed Sgt. Hunter. Kanigher takes all the good elements he uses to craft the high-quality Sgt. Rock stories and tosses them out the window (or, more appropriately, flushes them down the toilet) with this inane series. War is Hell, my ass. As usual, the back-up trumps the Hunter, as "Close Your Eyes . . ." proves to be a solid thriller, another in a long line of Liss winners. Liss's reveal, that the Nazis have been guarded by a dead man the whole time (and tipping the DC War Universe into Twilight Zone territory again), is a stunner.

 G.I. Combat 121

"Battle of Two Wars!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"A Statue for Sarge!"
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #48, August 1959)

Peter: The men of the Jeb Stuart adopt a war-bedraggled pigeon but Jeb (the ghost) warns that this bird will take them into yet another war. When the Jeb is sealed into a cave, the bird finds a back door, leading the Haunted Tank out and into World War I. The boys meet up with Mike Rock, father of our hero, the Sarge, and help him and his men with their battle. When the crew finds its way back into their own war, they stumble into the path of a Tiger, but the Mike Rock Congregation arrives just in time with back-up. Nazis KO'd, the boys bid a sweet adieu and Rock Sr. marches off into the sunset. A very loopy little drama, this one makes little sense but contains some dynamite visuals from Russ. Oddly, when the Jeb arrives in another time, no one inside the tank seems to notice (or comment) on the incident. Nor does Rock Sr., come to think of it. The panel reprinted below is poster-worthy. Hard to figure why Lichtenstein didn't rip this one off as well. Bad enough we get stuck with reprints every month but, to add insult to injury, this month Bob shovels an old Gunner & Sarge yawner on us. Bleccccchhhh!

"Battle of Two Wars!"

Jack: You are so right on both counts, Peter. The lead story features particularly fine art by Russ Heath although Bob Kanigher must have been singing "Let's Do the Time Warp Again!" with all of the stories where he sends his characters back, forward, and sideways in time. It's a nice touch to have Rock and the WWI soldiers follow the Jeb back to WWII but, as you pointed out, no one seemed terribly surprised to find themselves in another decade. I can't believe that we're being subjected to a Gunner and Sarge reprint with art by Jerry Grandenetti. I was just thinking how I don't miss his work and wondering if John Calnan will pick up the mantle of "worst DC war artist" before long. Jerry's crosshatched beards always look like a kid who bought the comic was scribbling in it in pen.

More Heath!

 Star Spangled War Stories 130

"Secrets Die on Monster Island!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

"Stakeout on Red Beach!"
Art by Howard Liss
Art by Joe Certa

Peter: The only American alive to know where the secret Japanese bomber base is located may not be alive for long. It's not enough that his sub is eaten by a giant prehistoric dinosaur monster from some stone age, but then he finds himself on an island populated by even more of these creatures. Then, Commander Osaki, one of the Japanese Navy's most important intel men, happens to find himself on the same island. The two enemies put away the war so they can team up to deep-six the dinos, but old habits die hard and Osaki turns on our hero, gun cocked. Only a sea monster rising from the muck and eating the bad man saves the Yank. The info is delivered and the Japanese base is destroyed. Though it's really just more of the same ol' "dinosaur pinball" nonsense, at least the two men didn't go to college together. Hey, sometimes you just have to be positive when dealing with the fortieth variation on "soldiers and dinosaurs!" Jack Abel was not born to draw prehistoric monsters.

"Secrets Die on Monster Island!"

Jack: That's for sure! Seeing Abel's signature on the splash page was a letdown after the fantastic cover. I know Heath signed it, but it sure looks like Gil Kane's work to me. Maybe he did some heavy inking over Heath's pencils. The story is fairly interesting, despite the mediocre art, but the constant use of "Jap" and "Nip" is bothersome.

"Stakeout on Red Beach!"
Peter: In "Stakeout on Red Beach!," Major Hank Hendrix has some very important info but, unfortunately, he's captured by the Nazi faction known as the Black Stripes, a group who torture Hank until he gives up his info. The Nazis allow Hank to escape in order to see if the info attained was accurate. Soon it's revealed the intel Hank had was diversionary (the Allies knew that Hank would be captured) and the real invasion takes place 15 miles down the coast in Normandy. The story, weaving itself in and out of history, is an entertaining one but the art, defining the word ugly, reminds me why Joe Certa was never one of my favorite artists, even when he was pumping out the horror for Harvey.

Jack: John Calnan has a challenger for worst new DC War artist! I had a hard time paying attention to the story because the art was so bad. I know that there was a whole plot to divert Axis attention from the Normandy beaches on D-Day, but Certa's work here is poor.

Our Army at War 175

"T.N.T. Letter!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Channel Fighter!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #57, February 1958)

Jack: On patrol in the middle of a snowy winter, Rock thinks back to the girl he left behind, Mary Walsh, whom he plans to marry after the war. A fierce battle with the Nazis doesn't bother the sergeant half as much as the "T.N.T. Letter!" he receives from Mary, in which she tells him that she met another guy and married him.

When Rock is captured by a Nazi patrol and left for dead in an abandoned farmhouse, he awakens to find a little French girl named Mignon caring for him. An orphan, she talks Rock into taking her with him, but she is injured when she pushes him out of the way of enemy gunfire. Rock approaches a Nazi tank and begs for medical help for the girl but is rebuffed, so he knocks out the Nazis and makes sure that the girl is cared for by a U.S. medic. She asks him to marry her when she grows up and he gives her the ring he had been saving for Mary.

Bob Kanigher and Russ Heath hit my soft spot with this one and I was able to overlook the change in art from Kubert to Heath on an Easy Co. story. The little girl is very appealing and the action sequences are well done.

In "Channel Fighter!" Jim Turner is an American who tried but failed to swim the English Channel before the war. He then volunteers as a pilot for England and is shot down over the channel; this time, he manages to complete his swim. It's nice to see an all-Heath issue, even though this story is a reprint, because his art was consistently good across the decades.

Peter: Odd that we've never heard about Mary Walsh before, considering she's such an important part of Rock's civilian life (and I'll lay money down we'll never hear of her again) but the story's a good one. Unfortunately, Russ Heath is not the artist for this strip; his Rock looks more like Doc Savage. Don't get me wrong, Heath is still the best DC war artist working in 1966 (no matter what Jack says) but, because we're used to the look of Kubert's Sarge, this one just looks funky. "Channel Fighter" has just the opposite problem: great art, choppy script. I'm not 100% sure, but the guy answering letters this issue sure doesn't "sound" like Bob Kanigher. Big Bob could be a bit . . . gruff at times with his detractors and, here, the missives are gently handled. Anyway, the point of interest here is that readers are urged to write in with their opinions on whether stories on the individual "combat-happy joes" like Ice Cream Soldier, Bulldozer, and Wild Man should run as back-up stories. Also, fan Dick L. Mannon of Philly notes that Ice Cream Soldier died in an early tale and magically reappeared later. What's the story? Our mailroom man unwisely answers: "Well, it's true that I.C.S. had been killed in a Rock story. And therefore, when you see him now, it's in action that happened before he was killed." Say what? King of all dopey excuses. Better to have just sighed and admitted to the boner.



Peter's Best Cover of 1966
(Joe Kubert)
Best Script: Howard Liss, "The Bare Hands of Death" (Our Army at War #169)
Best Art: Russ Heath, "Circle of Death" (All-American Men of War #116)
Best All-Around: Liss/Gene Colan, "The Bare Hands of Death"

Worst Script: Robert Kanigher, "You Can't Pin a Medal on a Gorilla!" (Star Spangled War Stories #126)
Worst Art: Ross Andru/Mike Esposito, "The Monster Who Sank a Navy!" (Star Spangled War Stories #127)
Worst All-Around Story: Hank Chapman/Jack Abel, "Hillbilly with a Heater" (Star Spangled War Stories #124) 


  1 "The Bare Hands of Death"
  2 "Somebody Down There's Laughing" (Our Army #170)
  3 "Second Chance" (Our Army #168)
  4 "The Ace of Sudden Death" (All American #113)
  5 "You Only Die Twice" (G.I. Combat #118)
  6 "Close Your Eyes and Die" (Our Fighting #104)
  7 "The Million Dollar Medal!" (Star Spangled #128)
  8 "No Dream--No Death" (G.I. Combat #116)
  9 "Death is a Sniper" (Star Spangled #126)
10 "Odds on Death" (Our Fighting #99)


Jack's best cover of 1966
(Joe Kubert)
Best ScriptRobert Kanigher, "I Knew the Unknown Soldier!" (Our Army at War #168)
Best ArtJoe Kubert, "The Prince and the Sergeant!" (Our Army at War #162)
Best All-AroundKanigher/Kubert, "The Prince and the Sergeant!"

Worst Script: Hank Chapman, "Hillbilly With a Heater!" (Star Spangled War Stories #124)
Worst Art: John Calnan, "I Owe You My Life!" (Star Spangled War Stories #129)
Worst All-Around Story: Chapman/Jack Abel, "Hillbilly with a Heater!" (Star Spangled War Stories #124) 


  "The Prince and the Sergeant!" (Our Army #162)
  2 "The Return of the Iron Major!" (Our Army at War 165)
  "Half a Sergeant!" (Our Army #166)
  4 "Tank in the Icebox!" (G.I. Combat #117)
  5 "Kill One--Save One!" (Our Army #167)
  6 "I Knew the Unknown Soldier!" (Our Army #168)
  7 "You Only Die Twice!" (G.I. Combat #118)
  8 "Nazi on My Back!" (Our Army #169)
  9 "The Sergeant Must Die!" (Our Army #171)
10 "My Brothers With Wings!" (Star Spangled War Stories #129)

Could this be the true first cross-over
between DC and Marvel?

Next Week!
More Battle-Scarred Tales of
Frontline Combat!

No comments: