Monday, March 12, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 125: April 1972

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Our Army at War 244

"Easy's First Tiger"
Story and Art by Russ Heath

"Wheel for a Fort!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #70, May 1958)

"The Pin-Up Tank!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #77, December 1958)

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

"What Do They Know About War?"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Sgt. Rock is in North Africa in April 1943 when a new kind of Nazi tank comes along and easily blows up two Sherman tanks that were supporting Easy Co. Air support is called in and, in a battle between tanks and planes, one tank is destroyed and one plane is shot down. After Easy Co. takes a German prisoner from the destroyed tank, a soldier named Fred rushes the side of the next tank with a bazooka and manages to blow it to bits after being shot himself. The third and last Nazi tank rolls right over poor Fred, ignoring his attempt at surrender. Rock and his men hop on another Sherman tank that has just pulled up and follow the Nazi tank, but it disappears when they come to a river. Their Nazi prisoner reveals that it went under water and they see a snorkel sticking up above the surface to provide air for the men in the tank and keep its engine running. Rock dives in and covers the snorkel with his shirt but, before the men in the tank can suffocate, the men of Easy Co. dive under water and rescue them.

Not cool!

Russ Heath both writes and draws a fast-moving, exciting tale, one that reminds me a bit of comics of today in that it's much more pictorial than wordy. Not surprisingly, Heath tells the tale mostly in images, and fortunately the images are great.

A "Wheel for a Fort!" narrates its own story, as it finds itself attached to a large plane and involved in an air battle before getting stuck and barely managing to hold together for a landing. We do not like stories narrated by inanimate objects, and this one is no exception. We do like Mort Drucker's depictions of gritty soldiers, but there is nary a human to be found in these six pages. Fortunately, Mort can draw planes well, too.

"What Do They Know About War?"
Tank 219 is "The Pin-Up Tank!" because the infantry men love to see it blow things up. The tank's driver is jealous because he thinks he's playing second fiddle to a piece of machinery but, in the end, he discovers that the men have been cheering him and not the tank. At least the story before this one had Mort Drucker's art; this one is six pages of Andru and Esposito's pop-eyed, freckled soldiers and it's no pleasure to read.

When the U.S.S. Stevens is approached by a poor man with his family in a fishing boat, a rude sailor makes crude comments to a young woman on the small boat. The father of the family is grateful for any gifts from the big ship's crew to help his starving clan, and the young woman tells off the sailors with dignity. As the father paddles away, he wonders, "What Do They Know About War?"

This series may be uneven, and the art may not be the best, but it sure has the ring of truth and authenticity due to Glanzman's real-life experiences in WWII.

Peter: Wow! "Easy's First Tiger" is one of the best Rock stories we've read so far. I had always heard that the DC war comics of the early 1970s were of high quality but, so far, it's been hot and very cold. Crawling out from under the wreckage that was the strict confines of the Comics Code (which saw some easing in 1972), these war tales are actually displaying some of the horrible violence inherent in war. Though shown "off screen," Fred's execution by tank treads is pretty graphic stuff, punctuated by Rock's astonished "They--crushed him! They crushed Fred!" (as if even the Sarge is amazed the CC let that pass). There are healthy wallops of pathos, nasty Nazi violence, and Allied humanity to go along with the majesty of Russ Heath (who contributes what may be this year's best art). Nothing else in this issue comes close. From the lows of "Wheel for a Fort!" (which contains some stellar Drucker visuals to help you ignore what could be the nadir in talking-vehicle-parts hooks) to the lows of "The Pin-Up Tank!" (which doesn't even have decent art to distract from one of the most annoying and whiny protagonists in all of World War II). Still, it's all worth it for that stunning opening act.

Weird War Tales 4

"Ghost Ship of Two Wars"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #81, October 1960)

"Time Warp"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #123, November 1965 ["The Dinosaur Who Ate Torpedoes!"])

"The Unknown Sentinel"
Story Uncredited
Art by Mort Meskin
(Reprinted from House of Mystery #55, October 1956)

Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: I found this to be a particularly weak issue of WWT. Joe Kubert draws the five-page frame story, which ends with a soldier suddenly turning old for no discernible reason. And what's with all of these mysterious people wandering around wanting to tell stories? It happens every issue, without fail. The reprint from House of Mystery was kind of fun, what with the Valley Forge twist, but the Glanzman piece was just four impressionistic pages with no story. Had I bought this in 1972 I would have wanted my 25 cents back!

Peter: After three issues, Weird War Tales has not proven to be a must-buy. I'm sure DC loved the fact that they were soaking the kids for all their lawn-mowing money but, aside from that, why put the darn thing out? The only reprint "new" to us this issue (from House of Mystery!), about two freezing G.I.s contemplating desertion but saved by the ghost of a Valley Forge ghost, is entertaining enough but certainly not enough to justify the high cover price. So far, the only things that make me hold on to my near mint copies of Weird War Tales are the sharp covers by Kubert. Things better change quickly.

Our Fighting Forces 136

"Decoy for Death!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by John Severin and Joe Kubert

"The Game of War!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Thorne

"Call for a Tank!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #52, September 1957)

"The Camera Patrol"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #53, December 1956)

"Imperium Neptuni Regis"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Since Captain Storm appears to be dead, Ona, the plucky village gal, volunteers to take his place. She comes in handy during an enemy tank attack, improvising a bomb from a gas lantern, and she then leads the Losers back to her village, where the townsfolk are preparing to repel the coming invaders. Ona becomes a "Decoy for Death!" and skis to the nearby Nazi camp, where she sweet talks a guard into revealing the plans for the attack on her village later that night. Returning to meet up with the Losers, she provides intelligence that allows them to set a trap for the Nazi tanks and prevent the village from being attacked. To top it off, she returns to the Nazi camp and kills the commander with his own knife. She is right to tell the Losers that "I have proved myself worthy of taking Capt. Storm's place."

"Decoy for Death!"

I think this is about as good a story as we're going to get in the near future from the DC War team. Severin's art and storytelling are excellent and Kanigher's script avoids the pitfalls we've grown used to. A box on the cover asks if Captain Storm is really dead and, so far, it appears that this is the case. I like that this is a continued story and am looking forward to more.

An exercise between soldiers from the North and the South at West Point tests "The Game of War!" and ends with the Confederates defeated. When the real war breaks out not long after that, the same commanders soon find themselves facing off on the field of battle. This time, the southern commander uses a lesson he learned in the games to defeat the northern troops. He refuses to butcher them; however, the northern commander warns him that his side will eventually lose the war.

"The Game of War!"

A six-page short feature, this does not have much to recommend. Is this really the same Frank Thorne who hit it so big a few years later with Red Sonja? His art is rather scratchy.

"Call for a Tank!"
It's WWII again, and every time a sergeant puts in a "Call for a Tank!" he gets no response until he's already gone ahead and blown up the enemy himself. After this happens three separate times, he finally gives up.

Joe Kubert was drawing some muscular panels in 1957 and it's a good thing, too, because Kanigher's script is awful. Call for a tank is repeated about 745 times in eight pages. Enough already! We get the point.

Young fliers make fun of "The Camera Patrol" when an older soldier shows them film (stills?) taken in flight. He points out all of the problems but the young folks mock him and defend the brave fliers. Only at the end do we learn that the brave pilot whose actions were shown to the young men is none other than the man narrating the show.

"The Camera Patrol"

Russ Heath could also draw pretty well back in 1956, as this six-page reprint amply demonstrates. However, other than a fun ending that was easy to predict, there's not much going on that we haven't seen before.

When the U.S.S. Stevens crosses the equator, the crew follows tradition, dressing up in costume and engaging in wacky festivities.

William Golding's 1980 novel, Rite of Passage, has a key scene in which the main character finds himself in the midst of this celebration but wholly fails to understand it. It's a very good book and I recommend reading it and avoiding this four-pager by Sam Glanzman.

Peter: Despite the misleading cover and some typically silly nonsense (the Nazi soldier's loose-lips scene is a howler), this installment adds to my confidence that John Severin's arrival on scene has inspired Big Bob to avoid the moronic devices that torpedoed this series in its first few chapters and set it on a course to, at least, Average Island. If I have one complaint (and it's a minor one) it's that Severin's Johnny Cloud looks something like a Bolshevik now rather than the proud ace Irv Novick built him up to be. Otherwise, I'm digging John's graphics big time and. like Jack, I find the feel of a continued saga very refreshing. As for the rest of the issue, only one of the reprints shines, and that's largely due to Russ Heath's art. "The Camera Patrol" has a "twist" we can see coming straight from page two thanks to the incessant heckling by the audience but, oh, those graphics!

One of our favorite departments here at Star-Spangled DC War Stories is the circulation figures we come across each year, giving us a look at how the war titles were doing, sales-wise. Well, it's time to have a gander at how the four titles (Weird War was too young for figures) did in 1971 (1969 and 1970 figures immediately follow to give us an idea how funny book circulation was dropping in the early 70s--though the news is certainly good for OFF and SS):

                                                                 1971              1970              1969
G.I. Combat                                         167,841         178,363         186,264
Our Army at War                                161,881          171,510         180,137
Our Fighting Forces                           164,142          139,770         133,134
Star Spangled War Stories                145,869          136,204         149,104

Next Week in EC Issue 53:
There might just be a couple classic horror stories
left to squeeze out of the ol' gal!


AndyDecker said...

How could a book like OFF climb in sales? Were The Losers really that a draw? It mainly was Ross Andru, and Kanigher was spread in all the titles. Hard to believe that readers choose this over artists like Kubert and Heath.

Jack Seabrook said...

It is puzzling. I think sales figures have little to do with quality and lots to do with distribution, but who knows?