Monday, October 16, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 115: December 1970/January 1971 + The Best and Worst of 1970

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Star Spangled War Stories 154

"I'll Never Die!"
Story and Art by Joe Kubert

"Killer of the Skies!"
(Reprinted from Showcase #57, August 1965)

Peter: Two brothers anticipate World War II and sign up just in time for the bombs to drop on Pearl Harbor. As the black smoke fills the sky, the two brothers fight off what seems to be the entire Japanese army in their beach foxhole. They fight a valiant battle but the numbers mount against them and, with a single grenade, one brother is killed and the other is left horribly mutilated. He fights on until there are no more Japanese to fight and, at last, he's found by two G.I. medics and taken to a first aid station. From there, he's whisked to Washington, DC, to recover and then summoned to the White House, where he is given the Congressional Medal of Honor for his sacrifice and dismissed. The heavily bandaged man tells the President that he feels he's needed on the front lines and that he's willing to sacrifice his life and identity to help in any way he can. The Commander-in-Chief agrees and tells our hero that from now on he will answer only to the White House and will be known as "The Unknown Soldier."

I'm really warming up to this series and "I'll Never Die!" is a good, if a bit far fetched, origin story that features spot-on art from Joe Kubert. I'm not sure why the President decided a mortally wounded man swathed in bandages was "his man in the field" (does TUS even have any special training yet?) but without my suspension of disbelief, there's no story here, is there? Joe craftily avoids addressing our new hero by name anywhere in the story (his brother simply calls him "kid"), thus elevating the mystery of the Unknown Soldier. Brother Harry's death by grenade is particularly powerful; he jumps on the explosive, takes one look back over his shoulder at his younger brother, and then disappears in a flash of white. I'm expecting big things from the Unknown Soldier. By the way, the original content in this issue dives to a skimpy nine pages and that's only the start. It'll get even skimpier when the 52-page issues commence in a few months.

Jack: First of all, that's quite a busy cover, isn't it? I think this may be the first real Unknown Soldier story in the series, which will continue for years. Joe is following in Bob Kanigher's footsteps by showing a flashback to the two brothers as they enlisted in WWII and I agree that the sequence of panels that ends in Harry's death is impressive. At last we get to the Unknown Soldier I remember, his face swathed in bandages with glasses perched outside them, recalling Claude Rains in The Invisible Man. "I'll Never Die!" ends up as an origin story and I'm looking forward to more.

Our Army at War 226

"Death Stop"
Story and Art by Russ Heath

"Up, Up and Awa-a-ay!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Fred Ray

Jack: Sgt. Rock has led Easy Co. deep into enemy territory looking to make contact when they come upon a Nazi machine gun nest. When Rock orders half of the men to run straight into machine gun fire and they are all killed, a new soldier, a young black man named Rickey, thinks back to his childhood in the inner city and how it was filled with fears of a different sort.

Rock takes two men and tells them to join him in a second attack on the right side of the nest while he orders Rickey and a veteran named Mac to attack on the left. As the shooting starts, Rickey leaps out of his ditch and runs toward the Nazis. He is shot right away and realizes Mac stayed behind. Filled with self-righteous anger, he crawls to the Nazi nest and kills the two enemy soldiers with his bare hands before dragging his dying body back toward Mac to exact his fury. He dies before he gets back and Rock finds him there; Rock also finds the body of Mac, who was shot to death just as Rickey leaped out of the ditch.

Despite a mental flashback to Bill Cosby's "Medic" sketch about halfway through "Death Stop," I thoroughly enjoyed this gritty tale that is written and illustrated by Russ Heath. Exciting from start to finish and reflecting the interest in portraying aspects of the African-American struggle that was so prevalent around 1970, it does make me wonder who those six soldiers from Easy Co. were that Rock sacrificed in the first head-on charge of the Nazi machine gun nest. Where were the rest of the guys we have come to know and love and why would Rock give such a seemingly stupid order?

Back in the Civil War, Union cavalry Lieutenant Walker is too fat to be nimble on a horse, so his commanding officer orders him to go up in a hot air balloon to fly over the Confederate camp and take some photos to see what they're up to. Walker is incompetent and crash lands a couple of times but accidentally manages to photograph the Confederate cook pots, demonstrating that there must be  a large force somewhere in hiding. For his trouble, he is put in charge of a new balloon squadron.

"Up, Up and Awa-a-ay!" isn't terrible, but it's not very good either. The best word to describe Fred Ray's art is "mediocre" and the story's attempts at humor are fairly groan-worthy. It's a letdown after the excellent lead feature in this issue.

Peter: Though the Sarge is relegated to support act, this is the best Rock we've seen in years, packing more than one wallop in its fourteen pages. Heath proves he can script as well as produce dazzling art (is this the first time we've seen Russ tackle scribe duties?). Poor Rickey never even finds out his buddy wasn't yellow. "Death Stop" could have fit comfortably in one of the EC war titles. The back-up is a drag, failing in its attempts at humor and suffering from that illegible Fred Ray art. Up, Up and Away to Sleep.

G.I. Combat 145

"Sand, Sun and Death!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"A Hatful of War!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #61, June 1958)

"The Iron Punch!"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by Arthur Peddy
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #5, July 1955)

"Hot Corner!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #59, April 1958)

"Mile-Long Step!"
Story by John Reed
Art by Jerry Grandenetti
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #2, January 1955)

"Glory Dive!"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #32, March 1955)

"Missing: 320 Men!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Peter: The ghost of General Jeb Stuart appears before Jeb Stuart (his descendant) and tells him that, before the patrol is over, the Jeb (the Haunted Tank) will have encountered two ghosts. Bewildered but knowing better than to ask the spook what the hell he's talking about, Jeb turns his attention to the desert around him once again to find that his men have been surrounded by four of Rommel's tanks and they commence firing 3-2-1. A very well-timed dust storm allows the Jeb to slink away, its treads between its legs, just in time as the tank is out of ammo. The boys wander aimlessly through the dust storm for miles until they believe they're safely out of reach of the Tigers. When the storm subsides, they discover they've stopped right in front of a downed B-25! Climbing aboard to investigate, they find most of the crew dead but the pilot missing. Just then, the pilot appears, pistol in hand, to tell the story of his doomed mission. Clearly, the man is unbalanced but that problem has to take a back seat to a bigger predicament: Rommel's Raiders have found the Jeb and are closing in fast! Jeb manages to talk sense into the disturbed lieutenant and, together, they hatch and execute a game plan. The Ratzis are eliminated but the pilot is killed in the gunfire. Commander Stuart gently hoists the lieutenant into his spot on the B-25 and then the Haunted Tank rolls away.

Nothing new in "Sand, Sun, and Death!" (we're continually introduced to these sympathetic but heroic characters who won't survive by story's end), but Big Bob manages to whip up some pathos without being overly schmaltzy. Exciting art by Heath probably could have stood with less word-balloonage (Heath's art is so vibrant, it doesn't need half the explanations we get here). Extra points for nasty "Burned Alive Nazi" panels. Was the Comics Code asleep that month? And, perhaps I'm a bit dense, but was the General referring to the lieutenant or the B-25 when warning Jeb about a second ghost?

We get five reprints this issue, all five new on our journey, which means we're duty-bound to cover them. I'm not, however, bound to go over them in minute detail so I'll tell you that Mort Drucker is welcome back into our tree house at any time he wants to make a call but his "A Hatful of War!" is pretty silly stuff. Well, I shouldn't lay the blame on Mort but on our old friend, Bob Haney, who crafts a story about a G.I. whose helmet gets stuck on his head every time he faces death. Why? Who knows? Bob didn't think to offer up a scientific 'splanation. The G.I. of "The Iron Punch!" only wants to bulldoze a road through the jungle to impress his CO but the damn Nazis keep interfering. The skimpy but humorous script is not helped in any way, shape, or form by Arthur Peddy's doodles.

Arnie is the big man in town when he becomes a baseball prospect but his first game proves him to be a flop when he can't cover "The Hot Corner!" (third base). Arnie can't face going back to his small town in disgrace so he signs up to blast Nazis instead, hoping no one in the army will recognize his face. Alas, everyone remembers the biggest flop in baseball history and the ribbing begins; even his CO won't let Arnie see action as he can't trust the kid with "a hot corner." Good news is that a Nazi infantry rolls through Arnie's camp and he has to play hero. A conk on the head, however, has the G.I. seeing stars and replaying that horrible day at Fenway (or Yankee Stadium or wherever). Germans become evil umpires and tanks become hot dog stands but Arnie fights them all off and scores the winning touchdown with only three seconds left on the clock. Hoo boy! This is a special one. Yes, I said only a paragraph ago that I would not cover any of these reprints in-depth, but "The Hot Corner!" is such a warped thing of beauty that I couldn't resist.

Imagine if you will . . .

- A man so ashamed of his diamond performance that being shot at is preferred to losing the respect of his girl back home!

- An entire army that is seemingly on the lookout for disgraced Arnie and a CO who refuses to use the kid in combat because he muffed a grounder!

- The warped reversal of the concussed soldier, who hallucinates that the Ratzis attacking him are dressed in baseball uniforms and throwing sliders not mashers!

All's well that ends well when he "tags" an enemy tank and it's out. Joe Kubert had to be holding his sides (or asking if he could go uncredited) while reading Big Bob's meanderings.

Nope, not Ditko!
Ugly Grandenetti art and dopey John Reed dialogue ("I'll take the sand in mom's spinach to this any day!"--what the hell does that even mean?) sink the abysmal "Mile-Long Step!" The best reprint (though not all that great) is the Herron/Kubert "Glory Dive!" which would have fit much better in an adventure funny book. This is early Kubert and lacks the detail he lavished on his work in later years (in fact, it looks a lot like Steve Ditko's work in spots rather than Joe's) but it's certainly better than most of the artwork on display in the other reprints. In his U.S.S. Stevens slot this issue, Sam Glanzman tells the story of seaman Jerry Boyle, who loved to sketch the battleships and aircraft constantly around him. The "Missing: 320 Men!" title alludes to Jerry's disappointment, in later years, in not noticing the "most important objects around him . . . his fellow 320 crew members!"

Jack: I thought the Haunted Tank story was very good and noticed that the Comics Code seems to be loosening up its strict standards and letting Russ Heath draw more in the Men's Adventure magazine style we both love so well. The tight helmet in Mort Drucker's story is symbolic; it represents the soldier's instincts as he finds himself encountering one tight spot after another. Arthur Peddy's story is a dud and seems to have been an attempt to get a new player into the war comic stories; the Kubert baseball story finds Kanigher running the title phrase into the ground while Kubert's art improves as the tale goes on. The less said about the Grandenetti story the better, and the second Kubert reprint shows how far his work matured as the '50s progressed. I'm with you on the Glanzman story and think it's one of his best.


Our Army at War 227

"Traitor's Blood!"
Story by Joe Kubert
Art by Russ Heath

"The War is Over"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Frank Thorne

"Death of a Ship!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: In the North African desert in late 1942, Rock and his men come upon a missing Easy Co. patrol that has been wiped out by Nazis, who then took all of the patrol's guns, tires, and boots. A couple of Nazi tanks come back looking for survivors and Rock and his men play dead until they can surprise the enemy and overpower them. The patrol had been heading for the village of Sidi El Bar, where a sheik was supposed to have information on Rommel's camp locations, so Rock and his men continue on to complete the mission left unfinished by the men of the dead patrol.

That'll fool 'em!
Upon reaching the village of Arab nomads, the men of Easy Co. are treated like welcome guests: the sheik has them relax while dancing girls perform and Blockbuster even has a go at wrestling with a couple of local champions. Rock suspects something is wrong and one of the dancing girls confirms his suspicions: the sheik has already made a deal with the Nazis and the items stolen from the dead patrol are hidden in one of his tents. Rock holds the sheik and his men at gunpoint and makes them switch clothes with the soldiers from Easy Co. When the Nazis appear on the scene, they gun down all of the Arabs, who are dressed as American soldiers, giving Easy Co. ample time to return the favor. The friendly dancing girl--whose father fought with the British--wishes Rock safe travels as Easy Co. heads off toward another desert adventure.

"Traitor's Blood!" features more solid art by Russ Heath, who has found his footing as the new regular illustrator of the Sgt. Rock series, but after a good start it quickly devolves into a corny tale where the American soldiers force the Arabs to switch clothes with them in a corny bid to trick the Nazis. Would the Nazis really show up and start machine-gunning everyone in a U.S. uniform, even when they are fat, Arab, and bearded? And why do Rock and his men strip down to their bare chests to engage in a fistfight with the Nazis after the Nazis have shown their willingness to fire with automatic weapons?

Two British soldiers are in the trenches on November 11, 1918, and they get word that "The War is Over," but one of them doesn't trust the Germans and takes his rifle when they venture into No Man's Land. Finding a friend lying dead on the battlefield, the soldier vows revenge and shoots the first German soldier he sees. He does not pay attention to the wounded man, however, who soon returns fire while lying on the ground and shoots the British soldier. Despite the Armistice, the violence did not end.

It's easy to see the influence of the Vietnam War on this story and young writer Mike Friedrich has a more cynical view of war than we've grown used to with the older generation of Kanigher, Kubrick, and Heath. Frank Thorne's art is a little sketchy but it works.

The U.S.S. Stevens witnesses the "Death of a Ship!" after a Japanese sub fires a torpedo and the U.S.S. Shelton is crippled. After sinking the sub with depth charges, the crew of the Stevens has the crew of the Shelton transferred onto the Stevens and then tries to tow the Shelton to safety before it sinks. A sudden squall makes that impossible, however, and the men of the Stevens are forced to fire a cannon and sink the floundering Shelton before it causes any more harm.

These stories get better and better. The lack of drama and individual heroism seems to make them more realistic and the relentless accretion of incidents and details issue by issue only serves to make the story of the U.S.S. Stevens one I'm beginning to enjoy more and more.

Peter: There's good stuff in all three stories this issue and that's cause for celebration. The Rock adventure is familiar stuff but it's exciting and contains just the right amount of "kabooms" and machismo. When they finally get around to making a Rock movie, they have got to hire Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots to play Bulldozer; they share that "amiable doofus" trait. Heath can sure draw the female figure, as nicely displayed on page 10, panel 5 (below). It's no wonder the boys of Easy forgot the war for a few minutes. "The War is Over" is more grim stuff from Mike Friedrich, who is shaping up to be a force in the DC war comics now that the previous #1 "dark" writer, Howard Liss, has pretty much flown the coop. Call me a nut but if I'm going to read war comics, I want them dark and grim. War is Hell, I hear. Sam Glanzman packs a lot of info and images into four pages with his latest U.S.S. Stevens.

Time for Rock to send his camel to bed?

Our Fighting Forces 128

"7 11 War"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"How Many Fathoms?"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

"Cracker Barrel Combat!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker
(reprinted from G.I. Combat #63, August 1958)

Jack: When the dice in a game of craps keep coming up 7 or 11, the Losers know something is wrong--they should never have a winning streak! Sarge reminds Gunner of an incident in the Pacific when they thought they had won but really lost. Johnny Cloud recalls a battle with an Indian fighting on the other side when, even though Johnny shot down the other pilot, he felt like a loser because he killed a member of his tribe. Captain Storm remembers when he thought he'd saved a general only to find out it was a decoy dummy. They're all losers!

The Losers are awarded a pass for five days of leave in London but when they arrive the Nazis start bombing again. They rescue some children from a bombed out building but are too late to keep their mother from being blown up. What do you expect? This is no "7 11 War!" They're losers!

Joe Kubert had to make a big change on this issue's cover, turning the kids' mother into a nurse, just to avoid depressing everyone before they even opened the comic book and read this wretched story. How will this series keep going? Kanigher is already out of ideas and resorting to the old trick of multiple flashbacks to fill out 14 pages. I get that people in 1971 weren't big on the military and that portraying former heroes as losers was supposed to appeal to the Vietnam-era reader, but this series is going nowhere fast.

On the U.S.S. Stevens, miner "Ox" Swanson, who had never seen water before joining the service, becomes a hero when he sacrifices his life trying to get rid of a shrapnel shell that accidentally falls on deck before it can be loaded into a big gun. In four pages, Sam Glanzman succeeds in telling a moving story that blows away this issue's lead feature. We get to know "Ox" very quickly in "How Many Fathoms?" and we mourn his loss when he is blown up.

Hunters who would rather sit around in a warm cabin with their feet up on a cracker barrel find themselves fighting Nazis in Europe in WWII and discover that it's anything but "Cracker Barrel Combat!" The enemy thinks they're blown our men up with a potato masher but our heroes get the last laugh by sneaking up on the Nazis and attacking them from two sides. Mort Drucker's sharp art makes this story look nice, but the plot is minimal and Bob Haney overdoes it with the cracker barrel.

Peter: What's with Johnny Cloud? He's supposed to be this honorable, trustworthy bastion of good and yet he seems to have had an altercation with every other Indian on his reservation. And they all come back in the war later on with a big grudge on their shoulders. A rough life. The A+E art is so rough it's hard to drill through to the story (what there is), but give points to Big Bob for ending on a pessimistic ending in a series that usually climaxes with a joke from Gunner and Sarge. The back-ups are much better (as usual) with Glanzman educating and entertaining again with a poignant slice of Naval life and Mort Drucker serving up some mighty fine visuals on "Cracker Barrel Combat!"



Best Script: Jerry DeFuccio, "Parable" (Our Fighting Forces #124)
Best Art: Russ Heath, "Medic!" (Our Army at War #218)
Best All-Around Story: Russ Heath, "Death Stop" (Our Army at War #226)
Best Cover: G.I. Combat #141

Worst Script: Robert Kanigher, "No Medals, No Graves" (Our Fighting Forces #123)
Worst Art: Fred Ray, "Taps for a Bugler Boy" (G.I. Combat #143)
Worst All-Around Story: "Taps for a Bugler Boy"


  1  "Death Stop"
  2  "Rain Above, Mud Below" (Star Spangled War Stories #154)
  3  "The Kunko Warrior" (Our Army at War #223)
  4  "Parable"
  5  "The Last Survivors" (G.I. Combat #142)
Sam Glanzman for his U.S.S. Stevens series which just gets better and better (if only in the script department).

Cover for Star Spangled War Stories (DC, 1952 series) #151Jack

Best Script: Russ Heath, "Death Stop"
Best Art: Joe Kubert, "Instant Glory!" (Star Spangled War Stories 152)
Best All-Around Story: Joe Kubert, "3 Graves to Home!" (Star Spangled War Stories 150)
Best Cover: Joe Kubert, Star Spangled War Stories 151

Worst Script: Robert Kanigher, "7 11 War!" (Our Fighting Forces 128)
Worst Art: Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, "Angels Over Hell's Corner" (Our Fighting Forces 127)
Worst All-Around Story: "7 11 War!"


  1 "3 Graves to Home!"
  2 "The Iron Horseman!" (G.I. Combat 143)
  3 "Instant Glory!"
  4 "One for the Money . . ." (Our Army at War 224)
  5 "Death Stop"

Next Week . . .
Is the new kid on the block a suitable companion
or just another bad imitation?

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