Monday, May 1, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 103: December 1968/January 1969 + The Best and Worst of 1968

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

 Star Spangled War Stories 142

"Vengeance is a Harpy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

Peter: Hans von Hammer watches from his Jagdstaffel as his patrol flies in from the clouds. Four remain of the seven who began the patrol and the Hammer sighs in relief, thinking that "the skies are compassionate" this day. Just then, a black Spad appears behind the approaching Fokkers and Hans knows it's his old friend and enemy, the Hangman! Von Hammer is able to leap into his cockpit and take to the skies but the Hangman has already put one of the Germans into the ground and is working on a second. After a series of daring maneuvers, the Enemy Ace is able to get the drop on his foe and the Frenchman and his plane head downward in a ball of fire and smoke. When the Hammer gets back to base, he is in no mood to hear the praise from his fellow pilots and heads off into the woods to be with "the only creature who understands," the lone wolf who stalks the nearby forest. Several days later, a single plane returns from a patrol with a French Nieuport hot in pursuit. The pilot is able to land but then screams in panic that a plane with a harpy emblem has wiped out the entire patrol.

Once again, Hans von Hammer takes to the sky to find the source of the man's madness. But the source finds him! A Nieuport with a harpy emblem dives in for the attack and, very soon, von Hammer realizes that the pilot is none other than the Hangman's sister, Countess Denise De Sevigne, seeking revenge for the killing of her brother. The Enemy Ace refuses to fire at the woman, instead evading the Harpy with tactical moves; the exercise works as Denise soon runs out of ammunition and pulls a banzai move on the Ace, forcing him to the ground. The two land and the Countess relates to the Hammer how her brother taught her all the skills he employed as a French ace, punctuating her story with a vow to kill the Hammer of Hell for murdering the Hangman. The two take to the sky again but, without guns, the only weapons they have are their vehicles. The Countess pulls a banzai on the Ace but seriously damages her Nieuport. Hans assists her down but, once on the ground, Denise raises her fist and vows that the kindness her foe has shown does not repay the debt he owes.

Another year, another incredible powerhouse of a story from Kanigher and Kubert. The sustained quality each issue is mind-boggling, especially when considering that, boiled down, every issue is pretty much the same foundation: Enemy Ace faces a challenge from an equally skilled counterpart and survives to brood another day. It's the stuff in between that grabs us, the stellar writing and imaginative visuals. If there's only one drawback (and there really is only one) to "Vengeance is a Harpy!," that would be the spoilers of the cover and von Hammer's constant thoughts of Denise leading up to the initial confrontation. How much more powerful it would have been for us to realize, once the Nieuport lands beside the Fokker that it's . . . holy cow! . . . Countess De Sevigne, out for revenge! That confrontation is a winner as well, as Denise tears the Hammer down bit by bit with her words and the man can say nothing in his own defense. He knows he's a rotten dude but there's the clear indication that, if it wasn't for the war, Denise would be doling out kisses, rather than slaps, on the Ace's cheek. And, hey, I said there was only one thing I would have changed about "Vengeance is a Harpy!" I lied. Yes, the whole story is built around the fact that the Hangman is killed in battle but this was a great character and I wouldn't have minded if Joe and Big Bob had milked him for a few more appearances. No, seriously, I wouldn't have even minded if von Hammer and the Hangman had flown through a space/time vortex and fought over Mlle. Marie! Let's close with the Enemy Ace's eulogy in the sky while Count Andre De Sevigne heads to Earth in a twisted, melting wreckage: "He falls like a fiery torch in the night . . . a brave man . . . an honorable foe! I salute you!"

Jack: When a recurring character seems to die, I always wonder if he's really dead. Here, we did not see the Hangman's dead body, so who knows? It's a great idea to have his sister take his place. I can't recall another fighting female in the DC War comics quite like this--Mlle. Marie is not quite the tiger that Denise is. It's a bit sexist and unfair to label her a Harpy, though seeing some Neal Adams art in the house ads made me scurry over to the GCD to check the date of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow Harpy issue, which turns out not to have been until March 1971 (#82).

Our Army at War 200

"Ode to Sgt. Rock of Easy Co."
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Ace and the Joker"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by George Evans

Jack: A soldier sits alone in a crater, the only survivor of an enemy bombardment. Along come Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. and, when the soldier witnesses Rock knock two Nazi planes from the sky with just a machine gun, he tags along as Easy Company's newest member, a guitar slung on his back. Arriving in a bombed out village, they encounter Nazis who take civilians hostage and demand that Rock and his men lay down their arms. The new soldier confronts the Nazis, who dash his beloved guitar to the ground. This is too much for the self-styled troubadour, who picks up the instrument and uses it to teach the Nazis a lesson.

"Ode to Sgt. Rock of Easy Co." is dreadful, perhaps the worst Rock story we've ever read. The entire thing is told in verse and the narrator wears a garland of flowers around his helmet. I wish I could applaud Bob Kanigher for his experimentation, but the sight of a Flower Child/Hippie soldier in the middle of WWII is so anachronistic that it makes the story unpalatable. It's too bad that a "200th Anniversary Issue!" had to pander to the imagined readers of the time, though I doubt many hippies dug Our Army at War. Take it away, Peter!

"Ode to Sgt. Rock of Easy Co."

Peter: Sometimes I often wonder
what I read these things for.
Take, for example, the current story,
with the mighty silly troubadour.

Now, I get that Big Bob wants to stay current
and up on all the jive.
But flower power in World War II
belongs in Charlton, not the Big Five.

It's not just that the protagonist
has long hair and a geetar,
It's also that we've seen this sorta plot
one thousand times before.

The mild, the peaceful,
the scaredy-cat stringbean.
Always becomes the hero
by panel six, page thirteen.

But if we have to have flowers
in our helmets, I hear you say, and I agree:
At least it's rendered by the
second best war artist at DC.

I guess we could chalk it all up
to an alternate universe.
Where guns and tanks and pineapples
can co-exist with verse.

Alas, I have no patience with gimmicks
mixed in with my tales of war.
So I'll have to give this dopey story
One star out of four.

"The Ace and the Joker"
Jack: In 1917, American flyer Lt. Bix Benton is forced, at gunpoint, to explain to German soldiers why he shot down a German pilot who had signaled that he was out of ammunition. It wasn't me, Bix claims, it was my plane: the Beast has a mind of its own! To prove his point, along comes the Beast, with no pilot, and shoots at the Germans before crashing to the ground. The Germans apologize and move on. This is one weird story! George Evans needs some practice drawing WWI dogfights. I'm not really clear who "The Ace and the Joker" are supposed to be--is Bix the Ace and his plane the Joker?

Peter: Bob Haney's "The Ace and the Joker" (with unrecognizable George Evans art) is shake-your-head bad, one of those "the machine has a life of its own" potboilers that raise their weary heads around here now and then. There's so much unexplained (and I'm the kind of guy who likes a lot unexplained) and so many jolting jumps that, by the end of seven pages, I was confused as all hell. Joe Kubert takes a major tongue-lashing from World War II fan-atics who point out a minor inaccuracy in Our Army #197. Seems Joe wasn't as big a WWII buff as Big Bob and had Rock and Co. participating in the battle of Dunkirk in 1940 (as duly noted by our staff here at Star Spangled DC War Stories) and he takes his licks ("Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941 . . ." Robert DeFoy of Ontario rightly points out [our staff guessed that one right, too!]) like a big man. Another new feature appears this issue, and an odd one at that. We get a "Fact File" on the superhero character, The Tarantula, a "gang-buster" who appeared in nineteen issues of Star Spangled Comics (a semi-sorta precursor to SSWS, in that the final three issues, #131-133, figured in the numbering of the war title--oh, my head hurts just trying to figure out these ancient publisher ploys) in the early 1940s. What such a feature is doing in the pages of a war title, I have no idea, but it may have something to do with the advertisement on the facing page for the Monogram model of the race car, the T'rantula (see far below). And, hey, we might complain about the quality of a lot of the scripts that appear in Our Army at War, but let's have a standing "O" for Bob Kanigher, who was there for the entire 200-issue run of OAaW! 200 issues!

According to my notes, "The Troubadour" was the 216th script written for OAaW by Kanigher. And for those of you who love comic book minutiae (join the club), Bob's total for the "Big Five" by December 1968 was a whopping 675 stories!

G.I. Combat 133

"Operation: Death Trap"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Mike Sekowsky, Joe Giella and Joe Kubert

"Suicide Volunteer"
Story Uncredited
Art by Joe Kubert

Peter: The Haunted Tank is about to be dropped into the wilds of Africa when its transport plane is attacked by German fighter planes. The tank is dropped prematurely and the men are lucky to land on semi-level ground. The ghost of General Jeb Stuart arrives to give his descendant a bit of mystical information: the men of the Jeb Stuart will "fight in the depths--before you lead men out to the heights!" Junior Jeb shakes his head and wonders when the war and the General's puzzles will get any easier. The boys meet up with some natives and Jeb explains that the tank is here to liberate the locals from slave labor in the diamond mines. The natives lead the way to the mines but the area is guarded by Ratzis and only a stroke of genius (dressing the tank up as an African demon) allows our heroes to get the drop on the Germans and free the slaves from the mines.

Yeah, that will work.
Dress the tank up like a Scooby-Doo villain
and the Ratzis will larf themselves to death.
Absolutely horrible in every way possible, from start to finish, "Operation: Death Trap" is a depressingly bad entry in the Haunted Tank series. Granted, the Tank scripts have never been pillars of excellence in writing but they were palatable and something to hang a wonderful Kubert or Heath art job on. Here, it's as if Big Bob decided not to show up for work since he's getting bottom of the barrel visuals from Sekowsky and Giella (even the planes and tanks, elements of the DC war stories that lesser artists like Grandenetti and Abel consistently get right, are nondescript and cookie-cutter). There's no camaraderie between the men of the tank, none of the usual one-liners, nor do any of these stick figures resemble the guys we've come to know and care about for the last seven years. And why go to all the bother (and wasted time and energy) of dressing up the Jeb when the illusion lasts no more than ten seconds. Tell you what . . . if things don't get better real quick, I'll be picketing the DC Funny Book Business Office.

Kubert drew the face in the middle, Sekowsky drew the rest

Jack: I'll be right there with you on the picket line, Peter. The best thing about this story is that Joe Kubert re-drew quite a few panels, presumably because he thought they weren't good enough to publish. Did tanks really get dropped from planes by parachute? Were there diamond mines and jungles in Northeast Africa? Would natives in the jungle speak English anyway? The presence of a young black man on the cover and the mission to "free our fathers from slavery" suggests that this story, like the two Sgt. Rock stories we read this week, was another that was calculated to try to reflect the zeitgeist of 1968/1969 America through the lens of WWII, but it fails miserably.

"Suicide Volunteer"
Peter: All his life, Short-Stuff Sloan has been teased about his height but when his two buddies go up a Nazi-infested mountain and don't come down, it's up to Short-Stuff to save the day by becoming a "Suicide Volunteer." Joe Kubert's art certainly helps this so-so story (could this have been written by Joe as well?) but at least it doesn't dwell much on the college buddies angle and gets on with the job. A new column called "The Wonderful World of Comics" looks at fanzines, reviewing the latest issues of The Comic Crusader (a zine edited by Martin Greim that would last 17 issues) and Fandom Calling (which saw at least six issues published). More titles for my growing want list!

Jack: "Suicide Volunteer" is not a bad little story, once it gets past the obligatory look back at Short-Stuff's years in school. This whole issue seems cobbled together, as if editor Kubert was sitting in his office with a weak Haunted Tank story and had to single-handedly come up with enough material to fill an issue by the deadline. Let's see, what did Kubert do? He drew the cover. He made significant alterations to the lead story. He drew a full-page "Special Battle Pin-Up!" of the Haunted Tank and its crew. He complied the "Let's Make Tracks" letters page. He drew a two-page spread "Battle Album" featuring a couple of Nazi tanks. He drew (and possibly wrote) the seven-page backup story. Whew! If he keeps up at this pace, he'll burn out soon, not to mention doing a Sgt. Rock story every month, a full-length Enemy Ace story every other month, all the Letters columns, more Battle Albums and pin-up pages, and covers for every comic!

 Our Fighting Forces 116

"Peril from the Casbah!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Thorne

"Combat Cowboy"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by George Evans

"The Silent Tin Can!"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #104, Sept 1962)

Jack: The Hellcats bristle at their latest mission, in which Mlle. Marie will lead them to a Paris cemetery to find and destroy the Naxis' latest method for blowing up Allied trains. The Hellcats fight each other and some Nazis, see a spectacular train explosion, and finally arrive at the cemetery, where they discover four suicide bombers from the Middle East and kill them. It seems the Nazis have enlisted Middle Eastern suicide bombers to do their dirty work, but Mlle. Marie and the Hellcats ensure that the men blow themselves up before they can harm anyone else.

"The Peril from the Casbah!"
Mlle. Marie and Frank Thorne have breathed some much-needed life into this series. Thorne's art is in the middle, somewhere between the depths of Abel and Sparling and the heights of Heath and Kubert. He can always be counted on to show a stockinged leg and his fight scenes often feature some winking and humor, as in the panel reproduced here. If we must have Hunter's Hellcats, Frank Thorne is the man to draw them.

Peter: The "Peril from the Casbah!" sure doesn't last very long, does it? Mlle. Marie better watch herself or she'll end up with a reputation of being Easy (pun intended), what with her trading lips or lascivious ogles with every character in the DC war universe (except for Hans von Hammer, and I'm sure Big Bob was working on that one). At least she's been practicing her golf game, driving that sizzle stick right back at the bad guys. Fore!

Jack: Just as settlers in the Old West would not budge from their land claims, a WWII G.I. nicknamed Bronco refuses to budge from the position he and his unit have claimed in the face of an impending Nazi attack. This "Combat Cowboy" is the last man left and, after he has been shot and is dying, he plants a grenade in the enemy tank's treads and it blows up. Other American soldiers come upon his final resting place and wonder aloud why he was known as Bronco, since he never got west of Brooklyn.

"Combat Cowboy"
Very thin on story, this tale is essentially an incident that is compared to a similar event in the Old West by means of flashbacks in alternating groups of panels. George Evans is a solid artist but there's not much to work with here.

Peter: "Combat Cowboy" is a TNT winner, a heart-tugger with nice George Evans art. Evans had slipped a bit since his heyday with EC but could obviously still belt out a triple. The dynamic tank scenes are very close to Heath-level.

Our Army at War 201

"The Graffiti Writer"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Drummer of Waterloo"
Story by William Woolfolk
Art by Bernie Krigstein
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #14, September 1953)

"Battle Time!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #52, November 1956)

Jack: On their way to pacify a town, Rock and the men of Easy Co. see numerous examples of graffiti that makes fun of the sergeant, such as "Sgt. Rock's mother wears G.I. boots!" Who is "The Graffiti Writer?" There's not much time to ponder that question when Nazis hiding behind manhole covers begin to lob potato mashers at the American soldiers once they enter the town. Well-aimed mortar rockets blow up the street and sink the Nazis into the sewers below, allowing Easy to move out of town and into a dense woods.

"The Graffiti Writer"
Along the way, more notes left by the mysterious graffiti writer both make fun of Sgt. Rock and point the way past obstacles, such as a Nazi tank that Easy buries under dynamited trees, and a high stone fence that hides a Nazi machine gun nest. Besting all enemies, Rock finally finds a signature to identify the scribbler: "Kilroy was here."

This is another weak effort, but at least it's better than last issue's story. Kubert's art is always very good, but these second-rate stories by Kanigher don't seem to bring out anything special. The cover features a scene not in the story, but I wish that it had been included since it's more exciting than anything inside. Two chapters of five and a half pages each don't add up to much of a story, and the rest of the issue is reprints.

Peter: I'm not sure what "The Graffiti Writer" is all about (so who was the graffiti writer and how did he know so much about Rock and Easy?) but I thought it was a nice rest between stories about green G.I.s who were picked on in high school and become heroes in Sgt. Rock's eyes before they take one for the team (all the while crooning a mantra like "The trumpets will be blowing at dawn, Sarge!"). I assume it's another one of Big Bob's stabs at connecting with the flower children who were hanging out in Haight, smoking funny cigarettes, and trying to find lyrical connections between Ditko's Dr. Strange and Revolver. That's all well and good because, as goofy as it is, it's a fresh wind blowing past the manure field.

"Drummer of Waterloo"
Jack: The quiet after the Battle of Waterloo is broken as a young French drummer approaches the British troops. The "Drummer of Waterloo" tells of how Napoleon ordered him to keep playing until a marshal gives the order to stop. Though the English won the fateful battle, the Duke of Wellington, a marshal himself, gives the boy the order relieving him of further drumming, and British soldiers salute him for his tenacity. A fairly dull story from 1953, this shows a direction DC War Comics would choose not to take in the years that followed.

Peter: "Drummer of Waterloo" is so different in presentation from the usual DC war fare (a historical, rather than fictional, slant) that I have to believe it was DC's attempt at aping the work of Harvey Kurtzman over at EC. It's even illustrated by EC vet Bernie Krigstein (who illo'd nearly a dozen stories for DC in the early '50s) and gives the EC history lessons a run for their money.

"Battle Time!"
Jack: A U.S. Marine is shot while looking for the watch he dropped. The watch had fallen off the soldier's wrist in the jungle after it survived a landing on the beach. The enemy is attracted by the watch and killed; the Marine takes out an enemy tank as well before he finds the watch and moves on. Other than a small face in a panel on page one, there are no human faces in "Battle Time!," which follows the watch and narrates what's happening around it. Not bad, but forgettable.

Peter: For a four page quickie, "Battle Time!" is not bad at all. The added extra bonus is that we never get to see any of Andru and Esposito's saucer-eyed G.I.s.



Best Script: Robert Kanigher, "Death Whispers--Death Screams!" (Star Spangled War Stories #139)
Best Art: Joe Kubert, "Death Whispers--Death Screams!"
Best All-Around Story: "Death Whispers--Death Screams!"
Best Cover: Star Spangled War Stories #139

Worst Script: Hank Chapman, "The G.I. Who Cried 'Tank'!" (Star Spangled War Stories #136)
Worst Art: Jack Sparling, "Tanks Are More Than Steel!" (Our Fighting Forces #113)
Worst All-Around Story: "Tanks Are More Than Steel!"


  1 "Death Whispers--Death Screams!"
  2 "The Slayers and the Slain!" (Star Spangled War Stories #138)
  3 "The Face of the Hangman" (Star Spangled War Stories #140)
  4 "Hold That Town For a Dead Man!" (G.I. Combat #129)
  5 "Death Flies High!" (Our Army at War #191)
  6 "The Bull!" (Star Spangled War Stories #141)
  7 "Phantom Fliers!" (Our Army at War #191)
  8 "Second-Best Means Dead!" (Our Army at War #194)
  9 "A Time for Vengeance!" (Our Army at War #194)
10 "Indians Don't Fight By the Book!" (Our Army at War #196)


Best Script: "Death Whispers--Death Screams!"
Best Art: "Death Whispers--Death Screams!"
Best All-Around Story: "Death Whispers--Death Screams!"
Best Cover: Our Army at War #196

Worst Script: Howard Liss, "What's in it for the Hellcats?" (Our Fighting Forces #112)
Worst Art: Jack Abel, "What's in it for the Hellcats?"
Worst All-Around Story: "What's in it for the Hellcats?"


  1 "Death Flies High!"
  2 "Hold That Town for a Dead Man!"
  3 "The Slayers and the Slain!"
  4 "Blood in the Desert!" (Our Army at War 193)
  5 "A Time for Vengeance!"
  6 "Death Whispers--Death Screams!"
  7 "The Face of the Hangman"
  8 "Battle of the Generals!" (G.I. Combat 130)
  9 "Last Exit for Easy!" (Our Army at War 197)
10 "Nazi Ghost-Wolf!" (Our Army at War 199)

In Our Next Issue of
It's An Entertaining Comic!
Squa Tront! Spa Fon!

Coincidence? You be the judge.

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