Monday, July 16, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 134: January 1973

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Star Spangled War Stories 166

"The True Glory"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Sparling and Joe Kubert

"Ghost Raiders"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: The Unknown Soldier is sent on a mission to Italy to uncover why the advance is moving so slowly. What he finds is a couple of GIs named Mac and Buster who have a love for vino and portly Italian women. At first, the two GIs come off as a couple of grunts to the highly-trained Unknown Soldier, but after some time with the men in combat, their true colors are shown. Behind the drunken facade lie two great military brains and a lot of luck. US returns to base to share what he's found and his CO informs him that the advance will be stopped. US urges his boss to let the grunts be grunts. A not-too-bad script weighted down by awful visuals, "The True Glory" might have gotten a big thumbs-up had someone like Kubert or Heath handled the art chores. Mac and Buster are obviously Bob Haney's attempt to channel Gunner and Sarge, mopes who get the job done despite their outward appearances. It might not be a bad idea now and then to throw something new in the mix like hiding US's identity from the reader rather than continually bombarding us with reminders that the guy who's just arrived in the scene is our hero. Just a suggestion.

The Unknown Soldier checks his contract to see whether
he's entitled to a better artist or not.

The trio of young freedom fighters known as the young commandos are given a top-secret assignment: travel to Hitler's nest, Berchtesgarten, kidnap Adolf, and deliver him to their CO. All the while, the commandos are watched over by a French captain named Francois Girard, who has a nasty habit of disappearing into thin air. The commandos make it to the nest but are foiled in their attempt to bag Hitler when an alarm brings tons of rubble down on the secret tunnel underneath the nest. The boys make it back to their base where they are told "Good job, you've delivered a blow to the morale of the Nazis" (How? Who knows?) and that their guardian angel, Captain Girard, was actually killed in action six months before!

A groan-worthy DC War-Lite tale that does nothing but take up space, "Ghost Raiders" feels and looks like a remnant from DC's "Golden Age" of the 1950s. Ostensibly, the morale blow delivered to the Nazis is that three toddlers could make it into the Eagle's Nest so easily but the real puzzler never explained is why the Army would send these moppets in the first place. Jack Abel delivers exactly the type of art we've come to expect from him; it's generic and lacking anything remotely close to exciting. It may just as well be stick figures. I can't find any reference to an earlier appearance (even though it's as if we've already been introduced to the kids) or to any further appearance. I'll cross my fingers.

Holy Cow! He wuz a ghost?

Jack: You're right about Jack Sparling's art being hard to take, Peter. Haney's story jumps around a lot but ends up being pretty interesting. I did not suspect the Doc as the spy, partly because I didn't know what the heck was going on for at least the first half of "The True Glory." As for "Ghost Raiders," I also wondered if it was a reprint or a file story so bad it had not seen the light of day before this. There's someone else inking Abel here; I just can't put my finger on who it is.

Our Army at War 253

"Rock and Iron"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"The Man"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: Walking away from the bridge that was opened at the end of last issue's story, Sgt. Rock wanders into a cave and suddenly finds himself being held at gunpoint by the Iron Major. Though Rock is helpless, the Iron Major does not shoot him because Rock is "too much a soldier." The Iron Major turns his back on Rock, knowing that Rock won't shoot him in cold blood, either.

In the tried and true villain tradition, the Iron Major then decides to try to talk Rock to death by explaining that he was the guy who blew up the bridge after Easy Co. had liberated it. After a couple of quick punches are thrown, the cave collapses on the Iron Major and Rock escapes.

This guy is good!
Okay, I get that the Iron Major is a cool character, but this is getting ridiculous! We get a splash page, a double splash page, a five-page flashback, and two quick punches before the Iron Major dies yet again. Bob Kanigher was really collecting a paycheck for not much story in "Rock and Iron." And what about that bridge? I went back and looked at last issue. Rock knocked the Iron Major down below the bridge and Easy Co. declared it open. This time, the flashback reconfigures the story and adds a whole battle between the Americans and the Nazis after the Iron Major is out of commission and before the bridge is declared open. What gives?

In India in 1856, a British officer and a young Indian native ready themselves for battle at the Khyber Pass: the officer in luxury and the native in poverty. When the battle comes, each kills the other. The officer remarks that the native is "just . . . a . . . boy" but the native says no, he is "a . . . man."

"The Man"
There's not much to "The Man," a vignette about a famous battle. Ric Estrada's art is not something I particularly enjoy, and I remember feeling that way about it way back when I was a kid in the '70s and he was drawing comics like Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter.

Peter: I love the Iron Major but this and his other most recent appearance are pretty flimsy excuses for story; the Major makes almost a cameo to reiterate that he and Rock were meant to fight hand-to-hand and then he gets buried in a rock slide. No explanation how he managed to come back from his death last issue or what exactly the Grotto of Death is (looks like a very hep man-cave to me) but if it gives Russ Heath an excuse to draw lots of pretty pitchers then I'm game. Seriously, is it just me or is Heath getting better and better at this art stuff?  Dynamic! Exciting! Visually brilliant! "The Man"continues the high quality displayed in previous "Gallery of War" entries. Though I thought we might be entering too-familiar territory with the comparative viewpoints that introduced the story, Big Bob soon jettisoned that particular gimmick and settled down into the brief narrative. I'd have preferred the visuals of Toth or Alcala (Estrada is just too cartoony for my tastes) but I can't have it my way all the time.

G.I. Combat 157

"The Fountain"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Son of the Nibelungs"
Story by Raymond Marais
Art by Ric Estrada

"This is the Ship that War Built!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Peter: The crew of the Haunted Tank come across a woman and her child on a deserted road and offer the pair a lift. The woman politely declines and informs Jeb that she is taking her son to the town of La Fontana in order to bathe his withering legs in "The Fountain" of hope that lies just outside the town. As the tank grinds away from the pair, a sniper manages to nail Jeb, mortally wounding him. His comrades race to find a doctor in La Fontana but find a miracle instead. This feels like a story that's been told quite a few times before but, for just a moment there, it seems as though Jeb is actually in peril. Of course, the miracle arrives just in time and he's resuscitated but the sniper sequence is startling nonetheless. Glanzman is getting very good at drawing anything but human beings; his tank is a pretty awesome vehicle but his characters are still on the sketchy side. There certainly has been a bit of progress made since Sam took over the chores a few issues ago but I'm still mourning the loss of Russ and probably always will.

"The Fountain"

"Son of the Nibelungs" is another of the Marais/Estrada "Germanic Tales" that dip into ancient lore. These aren't written poorly (though the art is awful), but I just can't seem to warm up to them. Perhaps because they all seem to be a chapter in some huge epic and always cut out just when they're getting interesting. "This is the Ship that War Built" is almost a poem about war and death (and the USS Stevens) but what's the purpose? We know that war means death. Glanzman's illos are nicely done.

This is the Fable that Glanzman Wrote

Jack: Kubert's cover is the best thing about this issue and, like his cover for this month's Star Spangled, it follows the DC formula of showing us people who don't know they're in peril. I don't understand the cover's banner touting "The New Haunted Tank!" What's new about it? Does this refer to them rebuilding the tank a while back? There's certainly nothing new about the story or the art, though I liked the novel method used to remove a sniper from a tree--bang into the tree with the tank and shake him out! The story gives the supporting players a rare chance to take center stage but overall it fails to take off. I am starting to dread the stories drawn by Ric Estrada in these comics and the one about the Nibelungs is no exception. Richard Wagner must have been rolling over in his grave when this mess was published. It's four pages of ugly confusion! Glanzman's latest anti-war sermon is tiresome until the powerful fourth and last page that is reproduced above. All in all, a very poor issue of G.I. Combat.

Nick Cardy
Weird War Tales 10

"Who is Haunting the Haunted Chateau?"
Story by Sheldon Mayer
Art by Alex Toth

"The Room That Remembered"
Story by Raymond Marais
Art by Frank Redondo

"Cyrano's Army"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Walt Simonson

Peter: The last time Captain Towers saw Sergeant Herbie Lang, it was in World War II, when Herbie parachuted over the fabled Haunted Chateau. Now, nearly ten years later, the captain runs into the sergeant in an after-show crowd in New York City. Herbie introduces his wife, Cecile, to the captain and explains what happened to him when he arrived at the chateau. The trio enter a nearby bar and the story unfolds. Most of the haunting nonsense was a ruse to keep the Nazis away but there was one authentic spirit roaming the halls of the chateau: Cecile. Yes, Herbie had fallen in love with a ghost and luckily, he explains to his captain, he was killed in action and was able to travel back to the chateau and marry the love of his life. Towers guffaws at the story and turns to request more drinks for him and his two friends but the waiter protests that Towers is there all by his lonesome. "Who is Haunting the Haunted Chateau?" is a charming, very 1940s-ish fantasy/screwball comedy that makes very little sense (why does Herbie wait so long to drop in on his old comrade and what is the reason for the visit?) but looks very nice and is guaranteed to raise a smile on even the most hardened of readers; a breezy break from the nasty Nazi horrors of war. Have I mentioned I love Alex Toth's work? Bring on more quickly!


The support acts are so-so terror tales highlighted by some interesting artwork. "The Room That Remembered" is a predictable revenge tale (well, sorta) about a Nazi commandant who steals from the Jews he's having killed and buries his treasures under his office floor. When the Americans storm the camp's gates, the monster must sit in prison and bide his time until his release, when he can dig up his ill-gotten gains. But the dead remember. "Cyrano's Army" steals a bit from the classic "House of Gargoyles" (from House of Mystery #175) but it's still an effective fantasy and features some early work by Walt Simonson. Simonson's art here is like a see-saw, great in spots and atrocious in others, but it's different. That's what's suddenly separating Weird War from the other titles; it's book that is trying to stretch the boundaries of the war story and doing a decent job after a shaky start as a reprint dumpster. It also helps that editor Joe Orlando (who was also editing the horror titles at the time) came to the same conclusion that Jack and I did: those frameworks were getting really creaky. With ace visualizers like Simonson, Redondo, Toth, Alcala, DeZuniga, and Nino aboard, we're guaranteed that the ride will at least look good! Interesting that a letter-writer dubs Weird War #7 an "all-cripple" issue and doesn't get called on the mat by editor Joe. The times they have a-changed.

"The Room That Remembered!"

Jack: Easily the best war comic of the month, this was readable from start to finish. The Toth story is an early contender for my "Best of 1973" list--it's refreshing and funny, mixing ghosts, romance, and war with superb art. "The Room That Remembered" is fast-moving and rewarding, though Redondo's art is an odd melange of styles. I'm glad to see Marais write something enjoyable! "Cyrano's Army" was Walt Simonson's first published story and, while I can't say the art is great, the layouts are certainly creative and point the way forward to the terrific work he would do very soon.

"Cyrano's Army"

Next Week . . .
More proof that the New Direction
may be . . . down!

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