Monday, July 30, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 135: February 1973

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

G.I. Combat 158

"What Price War?"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Mud and Sky!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by George Evans

Peter: The crew of the Jeb Stuart are granted a rare bit of R’n’R and head for a nice little village in France. Unfortunately, Rick’s temper gets the best of him when a sweet French maiden takes advantage of his giving nature and he ends up wrecking half the town. The boys pay for the mess and hustle him back to the Haunted Tank before the M.P.s have their way. Shortly thereafter, the Jeb trades firepower with a Messerschmitt playing bodyguard to a Nazi tank. Once our heroes dispatch the plane, they tail the Panzer into a nearby village, where they win a nasty battle and discover why the Panzer had a big brother. On one of the dead soldiers, Rick discovers a fortune in diamonds, stolen by the Ratzis from their multitude of victims. Fantasizing a life better than the one he’s always led, he turns his guns on his comrades and exits stage left, diamonds in tow. Later, looking for a place to stash his booty, Rick encounters the Ghostly General that Jeb is always talking to and receives a stern warning: Rick can run, but there’s nowhere to hide! Sure enough, inside the farmhouse, he finds his comrades, bundled up and mid-interrogation by some angry Germans, attempting to reclaim their ill-gotten fortune. Using a bit of trickery, Rick manages to mow down the soldiers and free his friends, who have evidently forgotten Rick’s recent villainy.

“What Price War?” is a good opportunity lost, a chance to present a stellar, future-building installment in a series that has become stale. It certainly doesn’t start out that way, with its typically vague warning from the haunt, the rote tank battle, and the awful Glanzman art (which, I swear, was getting better), but Rick’s about-face and grand larceny seem to set some interesting and novel occurrences in motion. Sure, Rick is a bit battle-weary (as evidenced by the wreckage he leaves in his wake in the intro), but turning an M.G. on the guys who have literally pulled his fat from the fire? Seems way out of character for a Kanigher-scripted regular cast member, doesn’t it? And, more importantly, Rick’s dialogue with Jeb, the ghost, opens a door only hinted at last issue; could we really see that spirit world opened to the rest of the crew? Not if the climax of this half-effective yarn is any indication. Not only is Rick’s theft seemingly forgotten, so is the conversation with what he considered his C.O.’s mirage. All of it swept under the rug as if it never happened and, ostensibly, that’s how we’ll continue next issue. That’s what’s always rankled me about these strips: the lack of continuity. The good news is that new editor Archie Goodwin addresses the lack of continuing story lines and promises that, now the title is monthly, that will all change.

American Frank Winslow has been fighting in the trenches with the French in World War I, but the feisty adventurer would rather be in a dog fight far above. Frank gets his wish but discovers there’s a lot more than glory and adventure when you’re actually in the clouds. A very downbeat eight-pager, very much in the vein of Kanigher’s “Gallery of War” feature, “Mud and Sky!” is a well-written nail-biter that climaxes with Winslow, his cockpit engulfing him in flames, jumping from his Nieuport hundreds of feet above the ground. Jack was right; these stories are getting much more violent and gritty. That could be down to the Vietnam War or it could be down to the ascension of Goodwin to editor. It was Archie who oversaw the classic Blazing Combat title Warren published in the 1960s. And a shout out to George Evans, who continues the amazing war art he began in the EC adventure titles.

Jack: Glanzman's art on the Haunted Tank is an embarrassment, especially in light of all of the great artists who were available at DC in 1973. Bringing Archie Goodwin on as editor is a good sign, as is the change from bi-monthly to monthly, but if this issue is any indication of what's to come I would have preferred it to be quarterly. I've said before that I'd like to know more about the other guys in the tank but this story is just terrible, an early contender for worst of 1973. I was disappointed by the sketchy art of George Evans in "Mud and Sky!" and it's probably not good that we're reading his air battle stories done for EC in 1955 at the same time that we're reading his return to DC in 1973. Eighteen years did not help the drawing, though some of the layouts are not bad.

Our Army at War 254

"The Town"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"The Tally"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Alex Toth

Jack: Sgt. Rock is a little bit jittery, so when he sustains a serious leg injury saving Jackie from an exploding mine, the rest of Easy Co. drops him off in a quiet German town to recuperate, with Jackie left behind to keep an eye on him. Rock sacks out on a pile of hay in a barn while Jackie walks around "The Town," looking for aid, but the Germans are most unwelcoming. One lad even sends a message by carrier pigeon to the German Army, asking them to come and wipe out the enemy soldiers!

"The Town"
A trio of particularly nasty Nazis arrive and overpower Jackie. The townsfolk quickly learn that their homeland heroes are nogoodniks when they salivate at the sight of the tasty carrier pigeons and the even tastier barmaid! An old man calls them what they are--deserters--and is shot for his impudence. Jackie manages to escape and kill the Nazi swine; the townsfolk realize who the good guys really are and help Jackie and Rock get out of town before the real Nazi patrol arrives.

After a fine cover by editor Joe Kubert, Kanigher and Heath combine to give us a top-notch tale of Easy Co. Rock is out of commission early on, leaving Jackie to take center stage. The German villagers embrace the Nazis at first but when they realize that the trio that has arrived are not "good" Nazis, they turn on them and help the "enemy." This is a clever bit of psychological switcheroo, and it's great to see another member of Easy Co. get the featured role for a change.

It's 1917, and WWI flying ace Alex Torrent patrols the skies over the Western Front looking for his next kill. Boom! One German plane down, and that makes 99! Boom! Another one gone, and "The Tally" for Alex is at a round 100--or is it? Back at HQ, the boss only tallies 68! Alex is enraged and, the next day, ventures far behind German lines, where he entices three enemy planes to chase him back to his home base. He shoots two down but the third crashes into him and both planes plummet to Earth. Alex survives the fall but is blinded; he will never again see the sun or fly above the ground.

"The Tally"
Wow! This issue more than makes up for the dud that was this month's G.I. Combat! Alex Toth's art is so creative and his layouts so interesting that this ends up being one of the best WWI air battle stories we've seen yet. Kanigher once again shows a more adult side to his writing in the Gallery of War series. Bravo!

Peter: “The Tally” is another strong entry in Bob Kanigher’s “Gallery of War” series, made all the more enjoyable by the appearance of Alex Toth’s dynamic visuals. Russ Heath contributes his usual stellar job on the Rock story this issue but I can’t help but feel we’ve gone around the block a few times already with this plot. Just how many little villages did Easy win over in WWII? It is nice to see Jackie take front-and-center again; I’ve always thought him a powerful and interesting character who never gets much ink.

Our Fighting Forces 141

"The Bad Penny"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by John Severin

"Buck Taylor"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: The commanding officer of the Losers sets fire to the last remaining possessions of Captain Storm, but Ona can't bring herself to get rid of his dog tag. The next day, she hitches a ride on a plane to Norway and the Losers follow her, hiding out in the back of the aircraft. Arriving in her home country, Ona makes her way back to her village, where she observes a Nazi machine gun execute guerrilla fighters who have been identified by the town's turncoat of a mayor.

Johnny Cloud stops Ona from killing the mayor, whom she reveals is her uncle, but quickly the mayor recognizes the Losers and the Nazi troops quickly overpower them. The mayor accuses them of coming to the town to grab all of the gold and silver he's accumulated but, when he sets the Losers before a firing squad, they are rescued at the last moment by the pirate and his band of buccaneers, who also heard about the gold and silver and have arrived to take it for themselves. A big fight breaks out, Ona shoots her uncle, and the rest of the Nazis taste hot lead courtesy of our heroes. When the smoke clears, the pirate says he'll take everything and even grabs Captain Storm's dog tag from Ona's grip.

"The Bad Penny"
Surprise! The sight of the dog tag restores the pirate's memory instantly and he realizes he is none other than Captain Storm! He explains that he lost an eye and his memory in the explosion and was saved by looters, who made him their leader. The Losers gladly welcome back their long-lost companion.

"The Bad Penny" must refer to the pirate, who keeps turning up, but it's fun to see him regain his memory. At least Kanigher didn't resort to a bonk on the head to bring it all flooding back! This 14-page lead tale has plenty of plot and ends well; I hope the return of Storm doesn't mean Ona is on her way out.

"Buck Taylor" is a sailor on the U.S.S. Stevens who has lost his marbles and thinks he's witnessing the famous Civil War battle of the ironclads between the Monitor and the Merrimac. News flash: he isn't. As we're learning, Sam Glanzman is best in limited doses and this story is not very interesting save for the historical tidbit found in a note at the end: Glanzman discovered that the Stevens was named after the commander of the Monitor. That's kinda neat.

"Buck Taylor"
Peter: I’ve enjoyed the heck out of the “Who is the Pirate” thread running through the last bunch of issues but, unfortunately, this intriguing sub-plot was not resolved satisfactorily. In fact, it was downright dopey. Sure, the fact that the guy seemed to be everywhere his former comrades would show up was a bit of a stretch but it’s a funny book and I allow for some stretches. Storm’s sudden curtain-lifting in “The Bad Penny” is anti-climactic in the extreme; I can only assume editor Kubert decided it was time to end the delicious suspense and get on with traditional Losers adventures (to be fair, it’s noted on the letters page that the editors had been receiving letters “condemning” them for killing off Storm). I hope I’m wrong.

Mike Kaluta
Star Spangled War Stories 167

"Three Targets for the Viper!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Jack Sparling

"To Stand, To Die!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Howard Chaykin

"The Islands Were Meant for Love"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Peter: A shot rings out and the American President hits the tarmac, whipping out his weapon and firing at the fleeing would-be assassins. Just another day at work for the Unknown Soldier, who’s acting as Roosevelt to provide the Prez some much-needed camouflage. But the US discovers the plot is just beginning, hatched by an operative known as “The Viper,” and traces it back to a nightclub in Casablanca called “The Black Parrot,” a dive where you can get anything you want, all while being entertained by the mysterious and beautiful singer/guitarist/dancer/stripper/Cleopatra-look-alike Shandra, who may be the key to the assassin. With his usual trickery, US gets to the bottom of the nefarious plan and saves the day just in the nick of time.

Archie does the best he can with a series that started out great but has sputtered, becoming just another quasi-superhero war title. “Three Targets for the Viper!,” in the end, is a far-fetched tale, a chore to read and look at. Jack Sparling’s art is definitely one of the keys to why I consider this the worst of all the titles, but there’s also the unbelievable nature of the plot lines. US seemingly whips up his elaborate plans and masquerades out of thin air. It’s going to take a bit of time to fabricate a realistic mask of a man you’ve just met, a facade that will decide life or death. In this installment, for instance, US must manufacture a full-head mask of a man he’s only seen in a picture and then he must fool the man’s sister by reproducing his voice! That’s going to take a bit of wizardry based on a mere photo.

Star Spangled 167 wraps with two short-shorts, neither a particularly rousing tale but neither a waste of time. “To Stand, To Die!” is a tale of the Revolutionary War with some pretty sketchy early work from Howard Chaykin (who would grow into one of the most dynamic artists in funny books within a year or so) and “The Islands … ” is less a story than a series of proclamations on Sam’s part. You know, “War is Hell,” “Even in war, one can find love,” “There is no paradise in a war zone,” that kind of thing. It’s one of Glanzman’s most scattershot installments of USS Stevens and it features some of Sam’s worst art and yet you can’t help but want to like it for its upbeat message. At least, I think it was upbeat.

Jack: Goodwin writes on the letters page that this and G.I. Combat are now monthly, so we'll have more comics to read and write about for the near future! "Three Targets for the Viper!" is a pretty good story with average art by Sparling. At least he's better than Sam Glanzman, whose vignette "The Islands Were Meant for Love" really goes nowhere. The middle story, with art by Chaykin and Green, shows promise and has an unexpected ending. I wish Frank Thorne had drawn the Unknown Soldier story--he would have known how to draw Shandra. In the letters column again, Goodwin mentions the "consistently high-level contributions" of Jack Sparling and Sam Glanzman. I can't say I agree with him.

Nick Cardy
Weird War Tales 11

"October 30, 1918 The German Trenches World War I"
"October 30, 1918 The American Trenches World War One"
"October 30, 1943 A German Prison Camp World War Two"
"October 30, 1944, 0100 Hours Italy - World War II"
Story by Sheldon Mayer
Art by Tony DeZuniga and Alfredo Alcala

"October 30, 1944 1300 Hours A Mountain Road, Italy"
Story by Sheldon Mayer
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"October 30, 1947 Nurenberg Prison, Germany"
"December 25, 2047"
Story by Sheldon Mayer
Art by Alex Nino

Peter: During World War I, German Colonel Von Krauss wishes only one thing: advancement and riches for himself. The Colonel obtains those precious treasures thanks to thievery and murder and a formula for eternal life; he’s also appeared on Death’s radar, eliciting many conversations with the Reaper. Meanwhile, the dimensions between World War I and World War II somehow open and a son travels back in time to help his father win a key battle. Von Krauss, captured, tried, and convicted as a Nazi war criminal awaits his hanging when he discovers his formula actually works but has a few negative side effects. The major one is that his body will disappear for an undisclosed amount of time before reappearing. A full century later, all-out war has left the Earth uninhabitable and man has fled to other planets. Von Krauss’s body picks this time to reappear and he discovers that he is ruler of an empty world.


That synopsis is almost as confusing as this huge story. The visuals are gorgeously rendered by all concerned but the script is tantamount to a badly-conceived concept album; the whole is not as effective as some of the parts. It’s not bad, it’s just not cohesive. Two sub-plots involving ghostly saviors have only a trace connection to the skeleton of the story, that of the dastardly colonel and his conversations with Death. Perhaps the strongest aspect of the “epic” is its climax, which is nicely ironic. Though I’m not satisfied with the entirety of this unnamed chapter-story, I applaud Joe Orlando for trying something new and testing the boundaries of what this new title allows.

Jack: I'm surprised you didn't like this one more, Peter--I thought it was great! First of all, Nick Cardy is one of my favorite cover artists. Then we get DeZuniga, Alcala, Talaoc, and Nino handling the art, and what I thought was a very good story by Sheldon Mayer, who we never see in the horror or war books. The twist ending to the third vignette took me by surprise (the ghost from WWI turns out to be the father of the soldier from WWII) and I liked the way the stories linked back and forth and the artists matched in the linked stories. The only part that didn't really fit for me was the Talaoc story, though it was not bad on its own. I especially liked the way Nino handled the conclusion.

This month is a big surprise to me. We now have Kubert editing two books, Goodwin editing two more, and Orlando editing the fifth, which seems to be taking a direction more in line with DC Horror than DC War. And four of the five books are now monthly! We will have our work cut out for us, but I'm looking forward to it!

Next Week . . .
Jack and Peter search for EC Sanity
where there is none to be found!


mcz said...

Great site! I know this isn't the right place for this question, but I'll try anyway. I'm trying to find two old war stories I remember from comics from the 70s. I'm pretty sure they were from a DC title like GI Combat, Unknown Soldier, or Sgt. Rock.

1. A US medic and another solider are cut off in the jungle by Japanese troops. It turns out the soldier is actually a chaplain, which hasn't prevented him from killing enemy troops. At the end, the medic escapes by throwing a bottle of nitroglycerine at the advancing Japanese troops.

2. A US Marine and a Japanese soldier are trapped in an underground bunker and make peace due to their shared circumstances. They even swap pictures, I think. At the end a US bulldozer levels the entrance, although I'm not sure if they escaped or not.

As I mentioned, I'm almost positive these were from DC titles, and not from the various Charlton series. If you can help, that would be awesome. My email is Keep up the great work on this site!

Jack Seabrook said...

MCZ, I don't recall either of those, but we've read so many it's possible I forgot them. I suggest you scan through our past posts to see if you can locate them. Then again, maybe we haven't come to them yet!