Monday, July 10, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 108: October/November 1969

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Star Spangled War Stories 147

"A Grave in the Sky!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

Peter: There's a new menace aiming to take Hans von Hammer out of World War I and dig him "A Grave in the Sky!" The latest arch-enemy of the Hammer is a nutty English ace who dresses in armor and helmet and goes by the name of St. George. As a boy, the "knight" idolized the mythical dragon-slayer and swore he'd give his life to fight one day just like his hero. Now, "St. George" is mopping up the clouds with the Hammer's new recruits but the death of young men is not what this Ace wants; he wants the head of von Hammer! At last, the two meet for a duel in the sky and the Enemy Ace gets the upper hand, forcing St. George's burning Sopwith to make an emergency landing near a castle. The knight hightails it inside but then dares the Hammer to enter when the Ace has landed as well. St. George offers up a sword to his enemy and the two thrust and parry, with the knight finishing off Hammer's sword with a few strokes.  St. George puts all his might behind what he believes will be the death blow, but he misses and falls to his death hundreds of feet off the castle wall.

Amen to that, my friend!

In an obvious attempt to catch lightning in a bottle twice, Big Bob creates what he thinks will be a foe worthy of following in the Hangman's shoes, but the delivery is a tad silly. Dressing up in cumbersome, heavy armor and squeezed into a small cockpit could not be conducive to great air marksmanship, could it? Since St. George has worn this armor since his first days as a WWI pilot, I'd question whether there were any high-ranking officers in the Royal Air Force to put a stop to the foolishness. At one point, St. George drops three helmets of German pilots he's run into the ground and the only thing I could think as I stared at Joe Kubert's gorgeous art was: how the hell did the knight reach into the burning wreckage of three planes and dig out those helmets? The foundation and plot are virtual retreads of the Hangman stories and St. George's final tumble is silly in the extreme. Did this foe really die, though? The Ace notes that "the weight of (St. George's) armor drove him through the rotted floor to a bottomless cellar" (whatever that is), so could we possibly see the Hammer and George duel again some day? Stay tuned. At least Joe brings his A-game as usual. Hans seems to look more sturdy and refined with each chapter and the aerial battles are poster-worthy. This series may be running out of gas but that may be due to the insanely high bar Enemy Ace set in its first half-dozen chapters.

Jack: When I saw the words "Sopwith Camel" on one of the opening pages, I immediately thought of Snoopy, so it was hard to take this one seriously from the start. Like the Hangman's scarf, St. George's armor seems a little much, especially the sharp, pointed nipples on his breastplate. In one panel, other pilots watch St. George stride away from his plane and I wonder if they are thinking, "who's that nut in the armor?" As young, German pilots are killed left and right, I begin to wonder if von Hammer is the only one with any experience. Maybe the other pilots should join Easy Co., where no one ever seems to die, unless it's their first appearance! The defeat and supposed death of St. George seem a tad abrupt. There is a letter from young fan Jerome Sinkovec in this issue.

Our Army at War 211

"The Treasure of St. Daniel"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Dragon with Wings"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ken Barr

Jack: As Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. approach the sleepy village of St. Daniel in the French Alps, the villagers suddenly burst forth and shower thanks on the soldiers for saving them. The Nazis had been there, torturing the locals to try to find "The Treasure of St. Daniel," since everyone had hidden their most valuable possessions in a grotto. When no one revealed the hiding place, the Nazis left town and, soon after, Easy Co. arrived.

A crippled lad leads Rock and co. to the hidden treasure, which includes precious jewels and a full-sized, gold statute of St. Daniel. The villagers gladly offer to donate the treasure to help the Allied cause, but the Nazis reappear in the cave opening, having faked their exit and lain in wait to follow the villagers to the hiding place. Rock and his men engage in a bitter fight with the Nazis and seem to be losing until the statute of St. Daniel begins to shed tears; the Nazis are spooked and make a run for it but the crippled boy uses his crutch to start a cascade of falling boulders that bury the Nazis and himself. Unsure of what he just saw, Rock vows to use the treasure to help defeat the enemy.

They might ask if you just sold
Manhattan Island . . .
Rock gets religion and remarks that "Somethin'--put the fear of--the Lord--into their cold hearts." Heath draws a nice story but why did the crippled kid go up to the grotto alone with Easy Co.? Did the rest of the villagers have something better to do?

Back in WWI, Lt. Kurt Krueger was a "Dragon With Wings," a German flyer who shot down his opponents at will and enjoyed every minute of it. Years later, he joins the Nazis at the start of WWII and his wife flees Germany, taking their son Rudi to America. Rudi joins the U.S. Air Force and, wouldn't you know it, finds himself above France battling Nazi planes, one of which is piloted by his father, now Colonel Krueger! Rudi passes on the chance to gun down his Pop the first time they meet, but Kurt finds out that his son let him go and sends a nasty note. The next time they meet, Rudi sends his Pop to a fiery grave.

Kind of harsh, don't you think? Rudi was going to need to spend some serious hours on the analyst's couch after THAT air battle.

Peter: A little supernatural always helps these DC war stories, I says, but I'm a little confused by the climax where the "lame" kid causes a cave-in, burying himself and the Ratzis. Wouldn't the landslide have trapped Rock and Easy as well? And I guess I was the only one who figgered the Nazis would be playing possum 'til Rock showed up. Not too smart. Much better is "Dragon with Wings," a rousing air-battle tale by young upstart Ken Barr. The fact that father would fight son in the air is predictable enough but the rest of the tale, including Col. Krueger's blinding hatred of what his son has become, is a nice twist. Barr has the same visual style as Russ Heath or Reed Crandall and was a valuable addition to the DC war bullpen.

Ken Barr's dynamic visuals for "Dragon with Wings."

G.I. Combat 138

"The Losers!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath and Joe Kubert

"Bright Banner!"
Story Uncredited
Art by George Evans

Peter: The men of the Jeb Stuart are given a mission to destroy a Nazi radar tower hidden in a nearby village. When they get there, the mission seems to be a piece of cake until two Nazi Tigers are spotted. The Haunted Tank takes one of the Tigers out but the other damages the Jeb's main gun and our heroes must retreat before being blasted to Hell. Heading back across the desert, the tank comes across an unlikely sight: a Navy captain wandering the sands alone. When the Jeb pulls alongside, the officer introduces himself as Captain Storm, and tells his tale of woe. After torpedoing  a bunker just off a beach at Tiberias, Storm's PT boat was destroyed by raining debris and all hands are lost (save the Captain, obviously). Storm asks for a ride and commander Jeb happily agrees. Not too much further on, the tank comes across an unlikely sight: two Marines standing alongside the road. Upon further inspection, we discover the boys to be Gunner and Sarge, (minus Pooch . . . sorry, Jack!), fresh from a Nazi massacre that left all dead (except G&S, of course). The two men hop aboard the fast-growing WWII Express and clank on down the road. Seemingly minutes later, the tank comes across an unlikely sight: Captain Johnny Cloud, the Navajo ace who dreamed his way through 30 reminiscences of his childhood and kept the skies safe for American pilots, exiting his kiboshed Mustang after a dogfight that left his new boy Friday dead. The team, now calling themselves "The Losers," rolls back into the village hiding the Nazi tower and lays waste to the Kraut super weapon.

Just when you thought it was safe
to read DC war comics . . .
What to do with four war heroes who've lost their series (and some would say, all the gas in their tanks) but maybe not the fans? Big Bob's answer: make them into the DC War equivalent of the Justice League. And, if you're willing to check your brain at the door when those huge coincidences show up, the adventure ain't too bad. It's certainly better than any of the Gunner and Sarge sewage we had to wade through in months past. Captain Storm is the only character we're not familiar with here (our policy from the get-go was to include commentary on the DC war anthologies only, so that precluded any coverage of such stand-alone titles as Sea Devils, Blackhawk, or Captain Storm (Storm lasted 18 issues from June 1964 through April 1967), but we'll get to know more about him very soon since "The Losers!" is the pilot for an offshoot series which begins in Our Fighting Forces #123, following the welcome axing of Hunter's Hellcats. Kubert added a little something here and there (the GCD calls them "corrections") and in some spots (like the panel reprinted below) it's pretty evident.

Jack: I can buy the rest of the guys running into each other, since it's happened before, but what the heck are Gunner and Sarge doing in Europe? Their lame explanation of being sent to teach the troops what they learned in the Pacific doesn't hold water with me. And where's Pooch? Still on that island, fighting Colonel Hakawa alone? This is a weak origin story where the characters whine about being losers and just happen to run into each other. The team is like Hunter's Hellcats but with established characters and without the prison pedigree. I just hope the series does not get assigned to Andru and Esposito.

Peter: Jess Canfield joins the Confederate Army and is given the task of carrying his regiment's flag, but when the troop is attacked and the flag is stolen by Union soldiers, Jess makes it his mission to get the "Bright Banner!" back. He sneaks into the Union camp, grabs the flag, and takes a captain hostage, but the soldiers open fire as the horse carrying Jess and the captain rides into the night. Later, Captain Larsen brings the flag and the body of Jess back to the Confederates. Though it's only seven pages, "Bright Banner!" is a stirring and poignant war story, lacking the cliches found in so many of these back-ups. To me, it reads like a Howard Liss script. And though he still had what it takes to illustrate a good story, this George Evans sure doesn't look like the same George Evans we're discussing on the EC blog.

Jack: I thought the same thing until the last two pages, which are well done. What happened to Evans in the 16 years between 1953 and 1969? His art sure went downhill, based on this story.

Our Fighting Forces 121

"Take My Place"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Art Saaf

"Jump Into Two Wars"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #108, May 1963)

Jack: A pretty redhead is walking through a Norwegian snowstorm during WWII when she is accosted by Nazis, but this is no damsel in distress--she throws a tear gas grenade at the Nazis, temporarily incapacitating them. Hunter's Hellcats emerge from the woods by the road, take the Nazis' car, and drive off with the woman, whose name is Heller and who is working with the Hellcats.

Six months before, Heller's father, a bank guard, was killed by a hood named Tommy Carlin. Vowing revenge, Heller joined the WACs and soon was given an assignment to join the Hellcats, who planned to take the Nazis up on an offer to free resistance leaders by taking their place in front of a firing squad. When Hunter reaches the town where the executions are to occur and offers to "Take My Place" before the rifles, the Nazis throw them all in jail and can't believe they were so dumb as to fall for that trick. When the Hellcats are being marched to their death, the villagers have had enough and fight back; Heller and the Hellcats lend a hand and, in the end, the Nazis are hanged in the public square.

"Take My Place" has a grim final panel.
First of all, what a coincidence that a gal named Heller would team up with the Hellcats! This story makes very little sense. If we're going to add a beautiful redhead to the mix, it's a real shame we can't bring Frank Thorne back to draw her, since he knows a thing or two about fiery redheads.

Peter: Heller's logic, that joining the Hellcats will bring her closer to meting out justice to the scumbag who killed her father, really doesn't hold water, does it? Why not a nurse? Or steno? Or cook? Finding Carlin in the hundreds of thousands of G.I.s out there is like finding good art in Art Saaf's portfolio. But adding an American version of Mlle. Marie to the fold might, at the very least, break up the monotony of the Hunter's Hellcats series. Of course, there's only one more installment after this one, anyway. I do have to applaud Big Bob for the grim final panel. The image of hanging Nazis is a good equalizer to the brain-dead action in "Take My Place." Oh, yeah, and who, during World War II, thought Nazis were true to their word?

Our Army at War 212

"The Quiet War!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Medal for a Marine!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #78, February 1959)

Jack: Easy Co. is waiting for a squad of British paratroopers to arrive when shelling leaves Sgt. Rock unable to hear. Not wanting to alarm his men, he keeps his mouth shut and the paratroopers arrive to explain the mission, which involves disrupting a meeting of the German High Command at a nearby castle.

Rock's deafness means he doesn't hear warnings of booby traps on the route to the castle, nor does he hear German orders when the castle doors open. Instead, he plows forward and, after some gunfire is exchanged, the Nazis blow up something in the castle. Rock, his men, and the Brits blow a hole in the castle's basement wall and escape, only to climb to the top of the building and re-enter it, surprising the Nazis as they plan an attack on the front lines. Everyone vacates the castle post haste after the Nazi commander throws a handy switch that soon blows the place sky high. Happily, the explosion brings back Rock's hearing, and the English soldiers never learn that Rock couldn't hear a word they said through the entire operation.

I am not happy that Russ Heath has taken over the Sgt. Rock series on a full-time basis, but he does a good job with the art in "The Quiet War!" This is a straightforward action story that does not rely on any new recruits to set it in motion, though the actual plan of the Nazis that requires the attack on the castle is never made clear. I'm not sure why the Germans rigged the castle to blow up when a switch is pulled--that seems a bit too Bride of Frankenstein to me.

Does anyone else see a hint of Neal Adams in the Sgt. Rock face on the cover?

Peter: Another in a line of "Rock faces handicap but fights through and wins the war" stories that Big Bob probably had sitting in a file somewhere for a rainy day. Seems to me that Rock regains his hearing in the same ludicrous manor he regained his vision in "Nazi on My Back" (OAaW #169, July 1966). Despite the average script, Russ delivers his standard awesome artwork. The man just kept getting better!

Jack: On a small island in the Pacific Theater in WWII, a marine is waiting for a medal to be awarded, one he earned helping take the island. Another marine, on a ship shelling another part of the island, is given the task of getting the medal to the ceremony. An explosion knocks the medal out of his hand and into the water, so he dives after it and has to escape enemy fire in order to get it to its destination. For his heroic efforts, he, too, is given a medal.

"Medal for a Marine!" is tense and thrilling, with superb art by Mort Drucker, someone Peter and I both miss as we read our way through to the end of the 1960s. It's much better than the lead story in this issue and makes me long for the old days, when a story like this was not so rare.

Peter: "Medal for a Marine!" is one of the better reprints we've gotten in a while, telling a solid story and filled with visual wow by the great Mort Drucker. DC War's loss was definitely Mad's gain.

Next Week...
Stand up and applaud as we welcome
Reed Crandall to the EC Bullpen!

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