Monday, May 15, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 104: February/March 1969

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

 Our Army at War 202

"The Sarge is Dead"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Trench Trap!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #39, October 1955)

Jack: While working its way through the Italian Alps, Easy Co. comes upon a group of Nazis dug in among big boulders. Rock runs straight at the enemy and lobs a couple of grenades at them but they appear to shoot him right in the chest. When the smoke clears, the Nazis are dead and all that's left of Sgt. Rock are his helmet and ammunition belt. Thinking that "The Sarge is Dead," the men of Easy Co. press on with Bulldozer as their new leader, guided by the spirit of Sgt. Rock.

"The Sarge is Dead"
Fighting their way through a snowstorm, the men of Easy Co. stop to rest for the night until Bulldozer wakes to see Nazi soldiers sneaking up on him and his men. He wakes his fellows and they get the best of the Nazis in fierce hand to hand combat. They then find and conquer a Nazi encampment on the edge of a nearly frozen lake before taking the men prisoner and heading back to the stockade. When they report to the C.O. they discover Rock in the medic's tent, wounded but alive. He comments that they did well without him but they reply that his spirit was with them all the way.

Kubert's art continues to be highly impressive, especially in the second half of the story where the snow flies and Rock's ghostly face hovers over Easy as they advance and fight. The splash page features floating heads of six members of Easy Co. mourning the seeming death of Sgt. Rock. I know five of them, but who is Shaker, the sixth? I thought sure he would be dead by the end of this story, but he disappears after page one.

Peter: Despite the obvious cheat, I like "The Sarge is Dead." It's exciting and has some fantastic images provided by Joe Kubert (my favorite has to be the one below--my gosh, just look at that detail!). The men hardly seem to bat an eyelash when they assume the worst but I guess that's just what you do in wartime, buddy or no buddy. I love how the C.O. says nothing as the men tell him of Rock's death, other than to tell them to take their wounded to the infirmary. What a jerk keeping them in the dark.

Beautiful work by Kubert!

"Trench Trap!"
Jack: In civilian life, Mickey Williams always felt cooped up, both in his job as an elevator operator and on the subway train commuting back and forth to work. Despite his desire to be out in the open when he goes to war, he is assigned a job inside a tank and laments the fact that he's not in another branch of the service where he could get some air. His tank is menaced by a plane and manages to elevate itself on some timbers in order to shoot the plane out of the sky. After a tread is blown off, the tank finds a convenient hole and lowers itself in order to destroy a ground-level anti-tank gun. Mickey finally gets out of the tank to do some reconnaissance but is soon shot at and forced to take cover in a "Trench Trap!" before a well-thrown grenade erases the danger. After that experience, he is only too happy to hop back into the tank.

Kanigher and Heath give this story a little more personality than we're used to seeing in the DC War comics reprints from the early to mid-fifties. Heath's art is solid, as usual.

Peter: "Trench Trap!" is one of the better reprints we've seen around here in a while. Russ's art is as fabulous as ever, that's a given, but Big Bob pumps out a rousing battle tale with a sense of humor as well. I just can't get enough of that Heath.

G.I. Combat 134

"Desert Holocaust"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"The Iron Horse!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #51, October 1956)

"The Second Champ"
Story Uncredited
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #76, September 1959)

Peter: The crew of the Jeb Stuart are assigned to lend back-up to the MacBane Brothers, three siblings who all command Pershing tanks, at the Oasis of Seven Skulls. Things don't go as planned, though, when Nazi fighter pilots transform all three tanks into smoldering wreckage. When the Haunted Tank arrives at the "Desert Holocaust," Jeb Stuart vows to avenge all three MacBane Brothers when the Nazis arrive at the Oasis. Seeing the tank graveyard, the Germans believe the passage to be safe but, when their guard is down, the Jeb blasts them to hell!

An unusual HT outing this time 'round to be sure. Let's get the art out of the way first (oh, if only it was that simple); Andru and Esposito are not welcome in our bunker but, when considering what we got last issue from Sekowsky and Giella, I can turn my head the other way sometimes, and this is one of those times. The script is surprisingly good, with Jeb's stirring vow to the dead Ed MacBane a highlight, but a tad abrupt. The whole thing seems rushed and, for once, I could have stood a few more pages of this story. The most interesting aspect of "Desert Holocaust" might be the involvement of the old spook himself. This is the first time the General has no interaction with his descendant and also the first time the ghost is the narrator (I find it odd that the old goat calls the Jeb "the Haunted Tank" in his narration). Usually the cover shot is indicative of the content of the lead story but no such scene takes place (oddly, we reviewed EC's Frontline Combat #10, an issue that has a very similar cover, just last week!).

Jack: If J.E.B. Stuart is nothing but a ghostly narrator, then what makes the Haunted Tank a haunted tank? Andru and Esposito's art looks like they dashed it off and the thirteen pages contain very little in the way of plot.

Turn Up the Heath!
Peter: Johnny has always wanted to ride an "iron horse," all the way back to when his dad set up the HO train set and wouldn't let him play with it. Now, in the army, Johnny gets to ride in a real "iron horse," his own Sherman, and knock bad guys out of the air. There's not much to "The Iron Horse" (it's only three and a half pages) but it's got Russ Heath art and tanks so it's better than a poke in the eye with a hot stick. On the letters page, a teenage Paul Gulacy (who would turn pro pretty soon after this issue hit the stands and make his mark in the early '70s with his art on the classic Master of Kung Fu) complains that finding the war titles every month is getting to be too much for him and he wants to subscribe. Well, Joe Kubert poo-poos that idea by, inexplicably, informing Paul that subscriptions aren't available for the war titles! Say what? Then why does the Circulation Statement list 264 paid subscriptions? Someone call the Post Office; I'm afraid we've got fraud on a major scale going on here.

Jack: I looked up Gulacy's birth date on Wikipedia and it turns out he was all of 15 at the time. It looks like he started working for Marvel in 1973. The last story in this issue is also a reprint, with some impressive art by Mort Drucker and an entertaining story with a big guy and a little guy working together in and out of war. I enjoyed it.

 Our Army at War 203

"Easy's Had It!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #103, February 1961)

"Trap of the Dragon's Teeth!"
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #98, March 1963)

"T.N.T. Spotlight!"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #87, November 1959)

"Battle Eagle!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #85, June 1961)

"Col. Hakawa's Birthday Party!"
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #68, May 1962)

Jack: This great 80-page giant includes five stories, one each featuring Sgt. Rock, the Haunted Tank, Mlle. Marie, Johnny Cloud, and Gunner and Sarge. All five were written by Bob Kanigher but there are four different artists: Kubert, Heath, Mort Drucker, and two by Irv Novick. A house ad teases that Mlle. Marie may return! We've provided links above to our original reviews of each of these stories.

The table of contents page

A teaser at the end of "T.N.T. Spotlight!"

Found at the end of "Battle Eagle!"

 Our Fighting Forces 117

"Colder Than Death!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Thorne and Jack Abel

"The Three GIs!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #62, October 1957)

"Medal in the Mud!"
Story and Art by Fred Ray

Jack: Mlle. Marie gives the Hellcats their latest assignment: to climb Mt. Vincent, find the Nazis' newest secret weapon, and destroy it. At the peak, the Hellcats witness a bizarre sight--a line of really buff soldiers in helmets, boots, bikini trunks, and gun belts. These are super-soldiers who have been trained to fight in the coldest temperatures. The Hellcats use their machine guns to start an avalanche and bury the buff dudes in snow, but despite being "Colder Than Death!" the human Popsicles dig their way out and best the Hellcats in a fistfight. The Hellcats then throw drums of gas at the Nazis and set the gas on fire with machine gun blasts; the heat from the flames weakens the human blocks of ice enough that the Hellcats can give them a solid thrashing.

We can't make this stuff up!
("Colder Than Death!")
Despite the fact that the record player in my head started playing "I Can Make You a Man" from The Rocky Horror Picture Show as soon as the Hellcats first laid eyes on the semi-nude, body-building Nazis, I enjoyed this story, mainly because it's so ludicrous. Once the Hellcats beat up the Nazis, what then? Do they kill them? Drag them down the mountain? Who knows? How is this neutralizing the latest secret weapon? All we see is Lt. Hunter getting another smooch from Mlle. Marie and the couple walking off with their arms around each other!

Peter: According to a secret source (actually Wikipedia), Mlle. Marie had a kid with Batman's butler but this installment got me to thinking: how the hell did she know who the brat's pop was when she was sleeping with darn near every character in the DC Universe (except maybe the rebooted Green Lantern) between machine gun bursts? Despite the fact that "Colder Than Death!" is crap, I'll give it a thumbs-up because it's the kind of thing Larry Buchanan would have made on a budget of $10,000 back in the late 1960s and I've a soft spot for that sort of thing. Big Bob cleverly sidesteps the scientific impossibilities of training a human being to exist in sub-freezing weather (without being a zombie or an abominable snowman, of course) and just gets on with the silliness. That cover dreams up much more tantalizing action than an army of Germans in S&M garb.

Note the helpful monkey clue
("The Three GIs!")
Jack: Everyone made fun of "The Three GIs!" because one seemed like he couldn't see, one seemed like he couldn't hear, and the third seemed like he couldn't speak. When the trio are injured in battle and really can't see, hear, or speak, they use their wits to defeat the enemy anyway and their senses return even sharper than before.

Goofy but enjoyable, this reprint gives us handy tips as to each soldier's disability by putting a small monkey in the corner of a panel at the top of the page each time one man loses his senses. How considerate!

Peter: Even Russ Heath can't save the ultra-silly "The Three GIs!," written by the real creator of the Joker (no, not that scam-artist Kane), but tantamount to a heaping helping of Hank Chapman. Even in a Universe where donkeys can become sergeants, Tom's dive from a high tree branch into an open tank hatch without breaking his neck defies the laws of Man Meets Metal.

Jack: In civilian life, a circus clown had to endure people throwing mud pies in his face. In wartime, he falls in the mud again and has to struggle to pick up a bazooka to destroy a group of Nazi soldiers shooting at him. Did he earn a "Medal in the Mud!" or not? It's unclear what happens at the end of this four-pager, since it looks like the soldier is dying from his gunshot wounds. At least he stopped people from laughing at him.

So . . . is he dying?
("Medal in the Mud!")
Peter: "Medal in the Mud!" is the first DC war work by Fred Ray, an artist best known for his long run on the company's Tomahawk title, and it's not a bad little short-short. The art is a bit rough in a Grandenetti-style way but it's short and to the point with a poignant climax. Can't ask for too much more from a four-page story, can you? Ray will provide the visuals for sixteen DC war sagas before retiring from the funny book business in 1972. In the letters column, future pro Mark Evanier begs Joe to bring back Gunner and Sarge, Johnny Cloud, and Captain Storm in back-up strips to replace all the flippin' reprints. Mark's going to get his wish . . . sorta . . . very soon.

Our Army at War 204

"Battle of the Bugles"
Story by Nat Barnett
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #16, November 1953)

"Trench Battle!"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #43, March 1956)

"Stand-In Soldier"
Story Uncredited
Art by Fred Ray
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #19, February 1954)

"The Golden Gladiators"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #58, May 1957)

"Sword for a Statue"
Story by Nat Barnett
Art by Gene Colan and Joe Giella
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #17, December 1953)

Jack: Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. take cover in a big shell hole and the sergeant entertains his men with takes of battles from other wars. In "Battle of the Bugles," a bugler plays a big part in the taking of San Juan Hill during the Spanish American War. A "Trench Battle!" keeps a lone doughboy busy during WWI and the Civil War is the setting for one man to pay another to be a "Stand-In Soldier." Roman Gladiators fight in 200 B.C. in "The Golden Gladiators," and the issue wraps up with "Sword for a Statue," a story from the War of 1812.

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale . . .
(from page one of this issue)

From the looks of things, Sgt. Rock was trying to bore his men to death with these random tales from DC War comics of the mid-1950s. Three of the stories are six pages long, one is four pages long, and "The Golden Gladiators" takes up just one page. Even at those brief lengths, these are a chore to read.

Peter: Surely, with the hundreds of stories in the 575+ issues of the DC war titles thus far published, Joe could have found a more rousing batch of reprints. The only tale worth noting is the opener, a very Harvey Kurtzman-esque fable that seeks to entertain and educate at the same time. Unlike the other four time-wasters, "Battle of the Bugles" accomplishes both and has a very sharp Andru/Esposito contribution to boot (yes, I did use the words "sharp" and Andru/Esposito" in the same sentence!). There's no reasoning on the letters page, nor anywhere else, for two full issues of reprints in the same month and, heads up, the trend continues in #205 as well.

Star Spangled War Stories 143

"The Devil's General"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

Peter: General von Kleit pressures the Hammer into accepting his son onto the Ace's squadron, hoping that a bit of von Hammer's bravado and skill will rub off on the youngster. Werner's first patrol does not go well and he gets into trouble early. Rather than abandon the rest of the squad to help the new pup, von Hammer watches in dismay as Werner von Kleit's plane erupts in flames and heads for the ground. When the general learns of his son's death, he makes the Hammer's life a misery, ordering the Ace and his Staffel pilots to fly suicide missions. One day, after several pilots have been killed, one of Werner's boots falls out of the sky, attached to a message claiming the general's son is alive and being held prisoner of war. Knowing that a valuable prisoner would be kept at dungeons of the Castle at Voisy, von Hammer flies to the prison, breaks in and rescues Werner. The two make their getaway thanks to a contraption the Enemy Ace has invented, a "collapsible umbrella" that allows the escapees to glide safely to the snow-packed ground. Von Hammer delivers the boy back to his belligerent father, hoping "The Devil's General" will cease his bloodthirsty punishment.

A change of pace for the Hammer of Hell, in that he faces adversity from one of his own higher-ups, a man who holds the Hammer in high esteem until his son goes missing and he can't face up to the fact that, despite the Ace's warnings, he pushed the teenager into danger himself. Kubert's art is spectacular; I especially like that right profile shot of the Ace as he speaks to his men before the fatal patrol (above). The detail Joe would put into even the simplest panels is astounding, a love for craft seemingly long-dead if you look at today's funny books. Another stellar script from Big Bob, with not one word of dialogue wasted. This series is the peak of DC war, my friends. In a couple of side features, Fact File #4 presents a history of Golden Age DC hero, the Vigilante (a quasi-Wild West hero on motorcycle), and a really bad one-page cartoon titled "Old Army Times" (art and "script" by John Costanza, who would letter a heck of a lot of Marvel Comics in the 1970s) answers the question: "When is another ad better than new material?" Circulation numbers reveal that Star-Spangled War Stories was selling an average of 170,310 copies in 1968, up more than 10,000 copies from the year before.

Jack: I think it's safe to say that Enemy Ace has surpassed Sgt. Rock as the finest DC War comic series running as of 1969. Kanigher's writing is outstanding, presenting adult situations without sacrificing suspense. Kubert's art is as good as it's ever been, and that's saying something. I liked that there were no "super-villains" like the Hangman this issue and that it's purely about war and the sacrifice of young pilots. It's hard to heap too much praise on this series.

Next Week:
Jose Faces Down Another Deadline!

From G.I. Combat 134

No comments: