Monday, June 18, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 132: November 1972

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Star Spangled War Stories 165

"Witness for a Coward"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Sparling

"General Oliver O. Howard"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

"The Vengeance of Horus"
Story by Raymond Marais
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: Lt. John Devers stands accused of desertion, a crime that will cost him his life before a firing squad at dawn, but the Unknown Soldier is convinced Devers is innocent. Problem is, the only "Witness for a Coward" is the Black Eagle, Nazi Colonel Heinz Lutzen, and Lutzen is safely behind enemy lines. Knowing he has only hours to save Devers's life, US sneaks behind the lines in disguise and convinces Lutzen (at gunpoint) to accompany him back to the base to testify for Devers. Though Lutzen is understandably hesitant to leave his comfortable desk, the two head out into the freezing night and narrowly avoid capture to arrive at the last second to delay the execution. Lutzen's testimony clears Devers of all charges and, though the Black Eagle is taken prisoner, US allows the Nazi to steal away into the night.

Is this fear? Hunger?
Even though its last-second stay of execution is hokey beyond belief (US and Lutzen literally drive their jeep right into the courtyard as the firing squad is "Ready . . . Aim . . ." ing!) "Witness" is not a bad story at all, thanks to some interesting twists and turns. After spending some time with US and seeing how determined he is to save the life of a "nobody," simply because it's the right thing to do, Lutzen develops a respect for our hero and even helps him to achieve his goal. It's nice to see Bob Haney suggesting that, even among mass-murderers, there is still some honor and respect. The final escape is predictable but still handled very nicely. And then there's that Sparling artwork. Oh my. Editor Joe hints at upcoming changes but, alas, a different artist is not one of them. We're stuck with Sparling for two more years.

Horus takes wing
"Gen. Oliver O. Howard" is a mercifully short bio of the Civil War General with excruciatingly bad visuals by Norman Maurer. It's the kind of art you'd see on a cereal box, devoid of anything resembling style or definition. "The Vengeance of Horus," which reboots the myth of the battle between gods Seth and Horus, might have worked better as a springboard for one of those cosmic epics in the pages of The Avengers rather than a DC War book, but the art's not bad.

Jack: Two years of Jack Sparling on Unknown Soldier? Quite a come down from Joe Kubert. I liked the lead story, too, and thought it was pretty exciting. I've seen worse examples of Jack Sparling's work. Maurer's art is not much better on the General Howard story, though the tale of a military man who kept going even after he had been shot twice in the same arm is stirring. "The Vengeance of Horus" is four pages of wackiness, as Marais and Estrada shove as much Egyptian mythology as they can into a limited space. It ends up seeming more like a superhero story than a war story.

Neal Adams
Weird War Tales 8

"The Avenging Grave"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Tony DeZuniga

"Thou Shalt Not Kill"
Story Uncredited
Art by Steve Harper and Neal Adams

"Duel of the Dead"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Tony DeZuniga

Peter: Sadistic German Lt. Otto Strasser gave orders to slaughter dozens of helpless French soldiers in WWI. Now, as a major, the Nazi leads his men over the same ground that holds the rotting corpses of those slain French soldiers. Strasser vows to his men that "the dead never return," but perhaps he's not entirely correct as the French corpses rise from their resting place for revenge. "The Avenging Grave" has some great art from DeZuniga but a threadbare "script" that holds no surprises. It's just too much like so many "the dead will rise" funny book stories to elicit more of a response than "meh!" I do like that the story signals a change in the direction of the title. Yes, some of the stories in the previous issues took their shoes off and dipped their toes in the supernatural water, but this story wades right out there. No doubt about it, this is a Weird war tale. It's just not very good.

The Golem rises from his stand in a Prague village and avenges the vicious murders of the town's Jews at the hands of the Nazis. "Thou Shalt Not Kill!" suffers from a case of overkill in that the Golem legend has been used for many comic horror stories (not to mention as the basis of a Marvel character) and so there's not much new ground to be tilled. Having said that, the story has some very nice Harper/Adams art and a really sadistic bent to it (the Golem rises to protect but only after most of the villagers have been herded into a church and burned alive--how about some of that protection here?!) that won me over and so I'd give it a thumbs-up.

Yet another sadistic German, this time Fokker pilot Hans Kessler, revels in the blood on his hands. Kessler not only enjoys shooting down enemy aces but landing after their demise and removing their heads for his trophy wall. One afternoon, Kessler shoots down an English pilot and lands for his souvenir only to get the surprise of his life: the corpse's fingers seem to have a life of their own and mow down the bloodthirsty ace. "Duel of the Dead" ends this issue's obvious message that only the Germans had a hankering for killing and mayhem. The end twist has been used before in one of the war titles (and probably by Big Bob), but I wasn't ready for it and it surprised me a bit. As with Big Bob's "Gallery of War" feature, I get the feeling Weird War really gave the writer a longer leash to tell more violent stories than those used in the other four titles which, because of their continuing cast members, could be constricting. This first real issue of WWT isn't all that great (though the art is top-notch), but it's certainly more entertaining than the pablum we were served in the first seven numbers.

Jack: The best thing about this issue is the cover by Neal Adams! I was excited to see the all-new contents and the art by DeZuniga, whom I remember fondly from his work on the Marvel black and white magazines. I also like seeing Joe Orlando sign on as editor, signifying that this is now a horror book rather than a war book. That said, the three stories are mediocre and the art not much better than that. I see very little of Neal Adams in the second tale and this is hardly DeZuniga's best work. The violence is definitely greater than what we're used to, though. I look forward to seeing what next issue brings!

Our Army at War 251

"The Iron Major"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"The Deserter!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Jack: The Nazis are shelling a seaside village, so headquarters orders Rock to get Easy Co. out of there right away! They march out of the village and, on a rooftop, "The Iron Major" stops a sniper from killing Rock with a long-distance shot. Recalling his prior meeting with Rock, the Iron Major says he wants to confront his nemesis face to face. Easy Co. decides to mount a rear-guard action and go back to the village, attacking by surprise from the sea. They succeed in defeating some of the Nazis but soon Rock comes face to face with the Iron Major, and hand to hand combat ensues; one of those hands is made of iron! Rock bests the major but refuses to shoot him point blank, leaving open the possibility of a future meeting.

"The Iron Major"
Kanigher does a decent job of bringing back the Iron Major, but I would've liked a little more information about where and when this story tales place. That's often a problem with the Sgt. Rock series--are they in Italy? North Africa? France? And what year is it, anyway? The U.S. troops weren't in Europe all that long during WWII but Rock and his men seem like they've been there 20 years or so to judge by the number of adventures they've had. In any case, Heath really shines in this story and, as usual, I liked the wordless sequence where the men sneak up on the Nazis from the sea.

In 480 B.C., King Leonidas of Sparta must protect the pass at Thermopylae from the assault of Persian King Xerxes and his army. A young Greek soldier named Nicias becomes "The Deserter!" and runs from battle when things get too hot, but the wise words of an old blind man he meets spur him to return to the fight, and he becomes the last Greek slain.

"The Deserter!"
A great big bare*bones welcome to Alfredo Alcala, an artist we loved in our DC horror series! This is a stirring piece of history, well-told by Kanigher and well-illustrated by Alcala. I do hope we get more history lessons if they're as good as this one!

Peter: I love that we got another showdown between Rock and the Iron Major (who first appeared way back in OA #158, September 1965 and was sequelized in #165, March 1966) but, truthfully, wasn't that a bit anticlimactic? A lot of build-up and then Rock simply embarrasses the poor Major. I want a re-re-rematch! The art by Russ is simply stunning; I'm going to have a hard time picking which of his jobs this year was the best but this is up there for sure. The guy just kept getting better and better. Speaking of which . . . gentlemen and nerds, I give you Alfredo Alcala for the first time in a DC war title! Anyone who read our blog on the DC mystery titles knows that Alcala is my all-time favorite artist and I have no shortage of synonyms for "great" in my treasure box to be used. This was the only war story Alcala contributed to appear outside of Weird War (where he would place 25 jobs); only natural since AA's style suited the supernatural. Good stuff on the way!

G.I. Combat 156

"Beyond Hell"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"The Crowded Coffin"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Thorne

Peter: The boys of the Jeb Stuart find themselves in a precarious pickle: their generator is shot and there are no open auto stores in the middle of the desert. The General is not much help either, throwing out his usual abstract mumbo-jumbo and then heading back to purgatory until the next adventure. Luckily, the crew stumble upon a dried-up oasis that happens to be where Rommel buried all his spare tank parts in case they were needed. Once they weather a sand storm and replace that generator, it's a good day. This is what we in grade school would have called a higgledy-piggledy story, bouncing to and fro but lacking anything remotely resembling a plot. The boys are stuck again, the General is his usual unhelpful self and, seriously, talk about finding your needle in a haystack. Jeb remembers someone saying Rommel had a cache out in the desert and (whattya know!) they're sitting right on top of it! The saving grace for "Beyond Hell" might be Sam's art which, if not on a level with Russ Heath (though that splash looks mighty Heath-ian), seems to be leveling out and steering away from the scratchy USS Stevens-style art. One interesting aspect of the script (and there's just the one, unfortunately) is that the rest of the crew see the General's ghost for a moment. They laugh it off as a mirage but maybe this is a sign of things to come.

A nice Eisner-esque, Heath-ian
splash from Sam Glanzman

A German U-Boat and an American sub face off in a deadly sea battle. The U-Boat gets the upper hand and sinks the sub but the Americans don't give up so easily and attempt a take-over of the Nazi ship. Heavy casualties mount during the hand-to-hand combat inside but the U-Boat's fate is decided when an American destroyer fires on and sinks the sub. The men on board sink to the bottom of the ocean and await their fate. "The Crowded Coffin" is just as powerful as the first entry in "Bob Kanigher's Gallery of War" ("White Devil . . . Yellow Devil" back in Star Spangled #164), with only Frank Thorne's crude art as a bit of a drawback. The image of an American calming a panicked young Nazi while doom seeps in around them is particularly stirring; it's almost as though Big Bob felt unleashed with this new series and decided to tell those deeper stories he always wanted to tell while chained to Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch. I mentioned Frank Thorne's artwork being a bit of a minus but it's not horrible, just very average, a la Glanzman. I must say that, though I've always been a pessimist, I like the direction the DC War titles are taking at this time and I hope they only get grittier.

The bleak, but stirring, conclusion to
"The Crowded Coffin"

Jack: It was surprising that the rest of the tank crew was able to see the ghost, wasn't it? After all these years of Jeb being the only one with the gift of sight, suddenly the other guys witness the general, but don't believe what they see! Will this trend continue or was Kanigher just being forgetful? I thought Glanzman's art was okay except when he tried to draw human faces, which seems to have been his weakness. Fortunately, there are many panels with only machinery. I expected more from Frank Thorne than we get in the backup story, but I guess if there's no redhead in a chain mail bikini in the tale then his heart's just not in it! The story was ironic and downbeat but I didn't find it terribly interesting.


Desperately needed for an upcoming project. If you have scans for the following Atlas comic books, or can make us a scan, please contact us:

Adventures Into Weird Worlds #1,4, and 23
Journey Into Unknown Worlds  #38 (3rd issue), 9, 10, and 48
Mystery Tales #4, 8, 11, 12, 21, 42, 43, 49, and 51
Mystic #13
Spellbound #14
Suspense #26 and 28

See your name in lights on this very website!

Next Week in EC Issue 60 . . .
The Aces are High!

How Peter and Jack spent the early '70s.

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