Monday, July 2, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 133: December 1972 + The Best of 1972

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Nick Cardy
Weird War Tales 9

"The Promise"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"Blood Brothers!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"The Last Battle"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Alex Niño

Peter: In 13th-Century Russia, Alexander the Great leads his "army of peasants" against the heavily-armed knights of the Teutonic Order. After using some crafty war tactics, Alexander defeats the larger opponent by breaking the ice around them and watching them drown. After the battle, he kneels and swears that any opposing force against Russia will be stopped if he has to rise from the grave to do so. Centuries later, the Russian army is forced to hide in freezing water by the savage Nazis. When the water freezes, the Germans advance over the watery grave but the corpses rise and pull their murderers under. "The Promise" doesn't have much in the way of a story (it's more of a fragment) and it features some of the crudest and sketchiest Alcala art these Alcala-loving eyes have seen. Big Bob has used his gimmick of two separate battles happening in the same place centuries apart dozens of times and it's wearing a bit thin.

Alcala on an off day is still better than
most funny book artists on a good day

We're saying "WTF" as well, buddy
"Blood Brothers!" and "The Last Battle" suffer the same disadvantage as "The Promise," with Big Bob trotting out two more cliches he's used quite a few times. In "Blood Brothers!" we see two siblings, Reb Van and Union man Walter, on either side of the Civil War, wishing each other a very violent death. When the inevitable man-to-man showdown comes, the Yanks, led by Walter (of course) wage a bloody battle against the Rebs (led by . . . guess who!), wipe out the entire Rebel regiment, and Walter wades into the gore to find his brother still holding his ground, pistol aimed right at his brother. But when he attacks, he discovers Van has been dead for hours as have all the Rebels. Then who waged the battle? Who knows? The nonsensical ending comes right out of left field and Big Bob certainly thought it would be best to leave the moment deliberately abstract. That or he couldn't come up with a better ending. I'll let you decide which.

Niño does his best with a crap script
"The Last Battle" shows the aftermath of the war between Earth West and Earth East, a hydrogen-assisted suicide of the entire planet. One man crawls from the wreckage and muses he must be the last man on Earth until he's fired upon. Chasing the fleeing assailant through the streets and firing his laser-gun, our hero finally catches up and discovers his attacker is female. The wounded woman looks up at the man and tells him she's booby-trapped and they both explode, leaving the landscape littered with all manner of sprockets and gauges and springs and doodads. Holy cow, they were both robots! That's a new one. Well, if you hadn't been reading Weird War Tales every issue, that is. As lazy as the stories are, the art is very nice. In fact, the entire issue shows the direction that DC's mystery line was going in, with the sudden influx of Filipino talent. The editorial baton had been handed over from Joe Kubert to Joe Orlando (who we've been eviscerating over in the EC blog), who was also editor of DC's horror books and Joe O. was obviously keen on the likes of Alcala, Niño, and Talaoc. I must say I agree. Sure beats the boring, sketchy static of Maurer, Glanzman, and Estrada.

Jack: You got that right, bub! The invasion of the Filipinos is a welcome development. I just noticed that, along with the change in editor, WWT became a monthly with the prior issue. I thought the first two stories suffered from their sudden endings and I agree that the Alcala art on display is nothing to get excited about. Talaoc's work looks like that found in every other Talaoc story. My favorite is the funky Alex Niño tale, though to be fair, his human faces are a bit simplistic and unfinished. Not a bad issue but not a great one, either.

Our Fighting Forces 140

"Lost . . . One Loser!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by John Severin

"Another Kunko Warrior"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

"Rise of the Olympians"
Story by Raymond Marais
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: Ona has a nightmare that takes up the first five pages of the story. She relives the day that Captain Storm was killed in the explosion that destroyed her village. The next morning, the Losers are sent on a mission to find and destroy a Nazi electronic scrambler. Ona heads off alone, arguing that as a Norwegian female she will not be suspected of being an enemy agent. Unfortunately, the first Nazi she meets insists that she accompany him to a party being given by his commandant. When Gunner sees that Ona has been taken, he goes nuts and attacks a Nazi patrol vehicle, allowing the remaining Losers to use it to follow Ona. She has been taken to the town where Storm was killed and, after the Losers surprise and overpower her captors, she finds Captain Storm's dog tag in the rubble.

"Lost . . . One Loser!"

Very little actually happens in "Lost . . . One Loser!" but it's enjoyable nonetheless. Kanigher is obviously setting us up for the return of Captain Storm, even to the point of having the Losers see "that crazy pirate" when they are on the water heading off on their mission. Since Our Fighting Forces is a bi-monthly, and this "Captain Storm is dead" story arc is dragging on for some time, I can see why Big Bob felt the need to recap our story thus far, but it's too bad it takes up so much space and leaves very little room for much of a new story. Severin's art is about as good as I've seen and I don't know why Kubert felt the need to redraw Johnny Cloud's face on page nine.

Three Navy men bring mail to a Pacific island where Marines had fought in hand to hand combat against Japanese soldiers only days before. A sailor remarks that one of the dead Japanese soldiers doesn't look like much, but a shell-shocked U.S. Marine tells him to shut his mouth and we see the struggle in flashback. It seems the fallen man was "Another Kunko Warrior" and Kunko means "respected, valiant, courageous."

"Another Kunko Warrior"

Sam Glanzman was not the best artist, but his short stories often have the ring of truth and one can tell that he was right there, fighting among the regular Joes in WWII. This is one such story and its message, that soldiers on both sides can fight heroically, was a timely one in the Vietnam War climate of 1972.

"Rise of the Olympians"
Two local Gods observe "The Rise of the Olympians" as Zeus defeats Kronos and the general destruction of the earth comes to an end. I'm not sure what these Greek myth stories have to do with Our Fighting Forces, but the writing talents of Raymond Marais and the artistic talents of Ric Estrada are not really making me clamor for more.

Peter: "The Losers" become ever more enjoyable with each passing chapter in their "Where is Captain Storm?" saga. The positive is that Big Bob gives us entertaining side stories while the search continues. This issue we get a cameo from the mysterious pirate who may or may not be an amnesiac Storm. Severin continues to dazzle as well. "Kunko" is an above-average installment in the U.S.S. Stevens series, packing a nice punch into just four pages, but I'm not digging the Marais/Estrada myth rebootings. The art is too cartoony and the writing too scholarly. Kill this feature quick.

Our Army at War 252

"The Iron Hand!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"The Young Wolves"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Adrian Gonzales

Jack: Rock walks away from "The Iron Hand!" and joins Easy as they leave the town they pacified last issue. Days later, the Iron Major is called on the carpet by his Nazi superior and told that he will now have an observer named Col. Swartz, who says that they are to report to the front right away. They reach the front and preside over the slaughter of American soldiers in Charlie Company, who have been ambushed. Rock and Easy Co. come upon the aftermath and then beat the Nazis to a strategic bridge, where a gun battle ends in hand-to-hand combat between Rock and the Iron Major. Rock knocks the Iron Major through a hole in the bridge onto some rubble and declares the bridge cleared.

"The Iron Hand!"
Will we see more of Rock's nemesis? I sure hope so! This story is well-told and very well drawn, with Heath relying more and more on wordless sequences of fighting. There's no need for smart remarks when two soldiers are beating each other up. The Iron Major is referred to as a Junker (which the internet tells us is a member of "the landed nobility in Prussia.") The Nazi commander says that, as a Junker, the Iron Major deserves respect, yet there is also tension because the Junkers did not always support Hitler. It will be interesting to see if Kanigher explores this in more depth in future stories, as I could see the Iron Major turning against his crazy boss.

It's 1945, and things aren't going so well for the Nazis, so Hitler gathers "The Young Wolves" and tells them they will save the Third Reich. Emil and Johann are two of the soldiers, little more than children, who watch their relatives hide from the approaching enemy troops. As the Americans come into the city with guns blazing, Johann is killed and Emil joins his mother in the subway tunnels, only to be killed when Hitler floods them to drive out "our cowardly civilians."

I didn't completely follow this one, even though I read it a couple of times, but what I got from it is pretty harrowing. Hitler was really losing it at the end of the war and his atrocities continued to destroy his own people. This story is the U.S. debut for another Filipino artist, Adrian Gonzales. I'm not familiar with his work because he really didn't get going till after I stopped reading comics in the late '70s. His art here is not bad but can't compare to what we're seeing from the likes of Alcala, Talaoc, and Niño.

"The Young Wolves"
Peter: "The Iron Hand!" seems to put to rest the legend that is the Iron Major (or does it?--stay tuned!) and the stubborn ol' Nazi sure goes out on the high end of Big Bob's story-telling (in fact, this entire issue is Grade-A Kanigher). We get a dose of Good Nazi/Bad Nazi, some vicious battles, and a great hand-to-iron finale between Rock and the Major. All wrapped up in the usual Heath excellence. A very satisfying Rock adventure and a sequel to the previous issue's story, a trend I've been hoping for. "The Young Wolves" again shows just how "adult" Kanigher could write when he was allowed and "Gallery of War" was his perfect asylum it seems. There were 40 "Gallery of War" stories published (mostly in Our Army at War/Sgt. Rock) from 1972-1980. 1972 showed a definite upswing in the quality of both scripts and art and, hopefully, 1973 will continue that trend.



Best Script: Robert Kanigher, "White Devil . . . Yellow Devil" (Star Spangled War #164)
Best Art: Russ Heath, "The Prisoner" (Our Army at War #245)
Best All-Around Story: "White Devil . . . Yellow Devil"

Worst Script: Uncredited, "Rita, a Truck" (Our Army at War #243)
Worst Art: Sam Glanzman, "Battle Prize" (G.I. Combat #154)
Worst All-Around Story: "Battle Prize"


  1 "White Devil . . .Yellow Devil"
  2 "Naked Combat" (Our Army at War #246)
  3 "Slave" (Weird War Tales #5)
  4 "Easy's First Tiger" (Our Army at War #244)
  5 "Flying Tigers" (G.I. Combat #152)


Best Script: Robert Kanigher, "Naked Combat"
Best Art: "The Prisoner"
Best All-Around Story: "Decoy for Death" (Our Fighting Forces 136)

Worst Script: Sam Glanzman, "Prelude" (Weird War Tales 4)
Worst Art: Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, "Rita, a Truck!"
Worst All-Around Story: Robert Kanigher and Sam Glanzman, "The Long Journey" (G.I. Combat 155)


  1 "24-Hour Pass!" (Our Army at War 243)
  2 "Decoy for Death!"
  3 "The Prisoner"
  4 "Naked Combat"
  5 "The Firing Squad!" (Our Army at War 248)

In only seven days . . .
Dr. Jack takes his anoscope out of mothballs
and digs deep into the first issue of MD!


Unknown said...

So, DC is getting back to the "All-New" format they used to like!!!

Jack Seabrook said...

We'll have to see how long that format lasts.