Monday, January 29, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 122: January 1972

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Star Spangled War Stories 160

"Blood is the Code!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert

"Lt. Steve Savage--The Balloon Buster!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #112, December 1965)

"Combat Cool!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by John Severin
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #70, May 1958)

"Edward Michael"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

Peter: The Unknown Soldier is dumped in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to be picked up by the Japanese Navy. What kind of treatment is this for a hero who has saved countless Allied lives? Relax, war fans, US has been assigned an almost insurmountable task: to be captured by and convince the enemy that he's a naval cryptographer. Once our hero has infiltrated the prison camp of Colonel Funaga, he's tortured until he confesses that the Allies have not broken the "purple code." Funaga relates the info to his commanders, who assure Admiral Yamamoto that he's safe to fly without an escort. The good guys soar in and blast "the man who destroyed Pearl Harbor." The Unknown Soldier makes good his getaway and Colonel Funaga, disgraced, commits Harakiri.

"Blood is the Code!" is another strong installment of the Unknown Soldier; this series is hitting all the right notes despite its admittedly far-fetched premise (guy walking around with a mask fools everyone). Bob Haney almost straddles the fence here in depicting the "bad guys" not as slant-eyed, buck-toothed jokes but as men of honor who aren't happy about the methods they must use to get information and who admire a man who can withstand a whole lot of suffering for his country. And this Unknown Soldier sure can absorb the pain. You can tell Joe loves this series as much as we do; sure, his Rock is stellar, but Kubert goes to another level every time he's assigned one of these scripts. I think the fact that, very soon, he's going to surrender regular duties on Rock yet stay the course on US supports my theory.

Proof that Maurer is Lesser
There are two reprints this issue: an old favorite, "The Balloon Buster!," and "Combat Cool!," which details the travails of a desert G.I. who just can't get cool. The Severin art is nice but the Haney script exists only to remind us every panel that the action is getting hotter! Norman Maurer provides a bio of real-life hero, Lt. Edward Michael, a pilot who somehow conquered insurmountable odds to save the day. The subject matter is gripping but the delivery, thanks to excruciatingly amateurish art by Maurer, is hard to look at.

Jack: I feel like Kubert gave up regular duty on Sgt. Rock to Heath awhile ago, probably around the same time he became editor of the DC War line. The splash page for this issue's Unknown Soldier story is another photo collage with Kubert art overlaying it; I wondered if this was Kirby's influence and Kubert admits as much in this month's letters column. Kirby was doing this before he left Marvel and kept it up at DC. The Unknown Soldier sure can take a licking, and so can his amazingly lifelike rubber mask! Kubert contributes a new, one-page introduction to the Steve Savage reprint, and the Haney and Severin reprint is a weak effort indeed with a lame hook on which to hang a story. As for the Norman Maurer Medal of Honor short piece, it left me hanging at the end, wondering if the pilot survived the difficult landing. Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know that he not only survived but also lived many more years.

Our Army at War 240

"Tank 711"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #86, September 1959)

"Another Time Another Place"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Neal Adams

"Three Seconds of War!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #48, May 1957)

"David Porter-Hiram Bearss"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

"Vella Lavella"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Sometime in the future, in "Another Time Another Place," three Earth soldiers in space suits battle an enemy on another planet. They can't quite figure out if the enemy is plant or animal, and a gas that causes hallucinations doesn't help. They are about to use an ultimate weapon when the enemy reveals that soldiers who were killed in the past were killed by mistake, and the planet's inhabitants are friendly and want peace. In fact, they look just like us!

"Another Time Another Place"

This is a heavy-handed Vietnam allegory, but the chance to see eight pages of Neal Adams art from this era that I have never seen before is worth reading the mediocre story. Adams was at his peak around this time and, while there's nothing special about this tale, the visuals are excellent.

So much can happen in "Three Seconds of War!" An Allied paratrooper lands on a French road and his parachute is caught by a Nazi motorcycle's sidecar as it speeds by. The paratrooper manages to throw a grenade and blow up the cycle before the Nazi can shoot him dead. All of this occurs in the few seconds it takes a nearby peasant to catch a runaway goose. The paratrooper has two more close encounters with the enemy, and both happen so quickly that local peasants don't notice them. Mort Drucker does his usual fine job with the illustrations and the story's message is an interesting one, but it seems to me that some of the battles would be rather noisy and hard for the local peasants to avoid hearing. Shooting down a plane with a machine gun makes quite a racket, I would think.

"Three Seconds of War!"

During the War in the Philippines in 1901, "David Porter" and "Hiram Bearss" lead a brave attack on a seemingly impregnable enemy fortress and later receive the Medal of Honor. Norman Maurer tells an exciting little story in four pages, revealing a battle I knew nothing about in a war I knew next to nothing about.

"David Porter-Hiram Bearss"

A WWII destroyer battle known as "Vella Lavella" ends with the Japanese beating the Americans. The U.S.S. Stevens series seems to be branching out into battles involving other ships. As usual, it's short and ends abruptly. This is a weak issue of Our Army at War, with a real mixed bag of offerings.

"Vella Lavella"

Peter: You know that deadlines were becoming a problem when the lead story in Our Army at War is a reprint. It's not easy (pun intended) filling all these pages with quality stuff. The Adams-illustrated science fiction tale is a bit of a meander but then I don't cotton to SF/War stories (though I do have a hankerin' for the supernatural battle tales, so go figure); the obvious draw here is the art and not the story (which is a little top-heavy with awkward racial tension), and in that it scores a near-bulls-eye. I thought "Three Seconds of War!" was a nice change of pace with great Drucker art and a strong finish. The two short pieces both suffer from the usual Maurer/Glanzman weaknesses: the former weighed down by its ugly art, and the latter in the sense that Glanzman's work always feels like it should be longer and tell a complete tale.

G.I. Combat 151

"A Strong Right Arm!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Death of a Sub!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick
(Reprinted from Captain Storm #8, August 1965)

"Red Ribbon"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

"Lt. Frank Luke the Balloon Buster"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

Peter: Tank commander Jeb and his men are given orders to travel into a remote village surrounded by mountains on a recon mission. They are ordered not to engage the enemy if they encounter Nazi tanks. Once there, they come across a startling sight: an armored arm holding a sword on an altar. A beautiful young lady named Irina (think  Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music) approaches the boys to inform them that they are gazing upon the arm of Ludovici the Just, an ancient warrior who died on this spot and whose spirit now protects the valley. Irina lives in a nearby cabin with her younger siblings and Jeb explains that the valley is right in the path of approaching Nazi tanks, but the girl refuses to leave, citing the protection of a lopped-off arm. Jeb shrugs and the men advance into town to warn the rest of the villagers to evacuate and, while there, the crew is informed that Irina is "simple-minded" and believes in fairy tales. Village safely evacuated, the Jeb heads back up the mountain to get Irina and her kin. Once there, Jeb is confronted by the ghost of the General who tells the commander that Ludovici has sent him to deliver a message: a flash flood will soon wipe out the cabin and everything else in its path unless the boys can quickly set up a diversion. The boys enter the Guinness Book of World Records by building a dam in about ten minutes flat and the day is saved.

Except for the reality-challenging dam erection, "A Strong Right Arm!" is a very good Haunted Tank adventure with work that puts Russ Heath in position to recapture the Best Artist of the Year award (after seeing his yearly trophy go to Joe Kubert in 1971). Most appreciated is Big Bob's decision to actually carry over elements from last issue's story that saw the Jeb acquire pretty much a complete overhaul and become the "New" Haunted Tank. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come; I never liked the "sitcom" approach to story-telling, wherein major changes are ignored or forgotten by the next installment.

Is the good Capt. more amazed
that the hapless sailor committed suicide
or that he can talk underwater?
Captain Storm is captured by a sadistic Japanese submarine commander and forced to walk the plank in (SPOILER ALERT!!!) "Death of a Sub!" Storm uses his ingenuity and wooden leg to get himself out of a deep-sea pickle and save the day for the entire Allied fleet. Long before Captain Storm joined the Losers, he had his own title (18 issues, June 1964 - April 1967) and every issue the poor guy would suffer the torments of that wooden leg. If it didn't catch fire or absorb machine gun bullets, a randy shark would latch on. It's darn lucky he always carried spares. When this DC War Comics blog was first launched, we decided to restrict our focus to the anthology titles, but always in the back of my mind I thought, "What could we be missing? Will we regret not covering Capt. Storm or Blackhawk?" Based on this installment, I'd say no regrets. And even a Novick supporter like Jack would have to admit this is not Irv's finest hour, leaning more toward Andru+Esposito rather than Kubert.

Sam Glanzman's U.S.S. Stevens vignette this issue, "Red Ribbon," is one of the best in a long time, detailing how a battleship tends to battle scars in an emergency. Norman Maurer contributes a short bio of the real-life Balloon Buster but it's tough going. Is it my imagination or is Maurer's art getting worse rather than better?

"Hey! Who you callin' 'Horse Face'?"

Jack: I think Maurer's art has stayed pretty consistent through these Medal of Honor stories. I'm more troubled by Russ Heath's art on this issue's lead story. At best, it's weak Heath; at worst, it looks like another (lesser) artist was involved. The Haunted Tank story comes to an abrupt finish but there's a kernel of a good yarn buried in the middle and I like to see a bit more participation from the ghost than usual. The Capt. Storm story is just page-filler, but the U.S.S. Stevens story succeeds because Glanzman tells an anecdote that focuses on a single character who makes an error that is more humorous than fatal. As for Lt. Frank Luke, I guess we now know the inspiration for Steve Savage!

Next Issue . . .
Did Peter learn his lesson or will he speak his mind
on the lesser KurtzElder strips?
Only one week to find out!


AndyDecker said...

This is an interesting Hex ad. I never saw it. Did they really intended to give Hex this monster face? He looks like a Swamp Thing.

These are a lot of reprints. Seems the art machine wasn't runnng as smooth as it used to be.

The Unknown Soldier left me rather cold. I only sampled a few of the later issues when he had his own series and found the art too mediocre or downright bad. Never was a Ayers fan. Also am not convinced that superheroics and war tales mix well. Of course Rock is basically a superhero, still it is quite a jump to the rubber mask gimmick and the eternal infiltration of the US.

But I liked the Garth Ennis version.

Jack Seabrook said...

I don't know anything about Jonah Hex. I just thought it was a cool ad. I liked Unknown Soldier in the mid '70s and in fact it was the only war comic I ever read growing up.