Monday, September 24, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 139: July 1973

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Luis Dominguez
Weird War Tales 15

"'Ace' King Just Flew in from Hell"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Don Perlin

"The Survivor"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"The Ultimate Weapon"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Peter: Like every ten-year-old, Tommy King has a hero. The difference is, this one isn't a singing purple dinosaur, this one is his dead grandfather, "Ace" King, a World War I hero who died in action two months after Tommy's father was born. Tommy's dad worries about the boy's obsession with a dead war hero, but what's a father to do? Then one night, "Ace" appears, grabs his grandson, pops him into his plane, and shows him how "cool" war is. After defeating two Fokkers, "Ace" is done in by the third and he and Tommy head down fast. Tommy wakes up in his bed, decides war isn't that cool, and grabs his baseball mitt to join the other kids outside.

"'Ace' King Just Flew in from Hell"
Obviously an anti-war story (which is the goal of most of these Weird War Tales), but a bit vague in its delivery, "'Ace' King Just Flew in From Hell" (great title that one!) succeeds with its message that war isn't really something we should be celebrating. But is "Ace" summoned by Tommy, his father, or just a grandfatherly sense of putting this kid straight? Though the art is weak (especially for a title that almost screams "Great Art Every Issue!"), I would say it's about the best Perlin I've ever seen (especially when compared to the loathsome work he did on Werewolf By Night and Ghost Rider for Marvel in the mid-1970s.

A ship full of Vikings is chased to a remote island by a horde of sea monsters commanded by the sorceress, Throna. There the Vikings must face even deadlier creatures before Throna calls a truce and offers the men their fill of drinking from the "Spring of Knowledge." Parched, the men agree, but soon find the sorceress has not finished her evil game. "The Survivor" is a lot like a Ray Harryhausen film from the 1960s (I'm thinking here, specifically, of Jason and the Argonauts): cool monsters but not much in the way of a plot. The climax, after the men drink from the spring and are either transformed into thought or monkeys, is ultra-confusing to this small mind. Talaoc's art is perfect for this genre.

The stylish Talaoc
The sword of King Richard has somehow come into the possession of Sir Harry Anders and the heartless knight and his men rape and pillage every village they enter. Then, one day, he comes across  a small village led by a magic man named Malik Al Kamil. Having stolen all he could from the small town, Sir Harry orders his men to kill all the villagers. Kamil begs the knight to show mercy and, as a reward, he will grant Anders the gift of "The Ultimate Weapon," foresight, before a feather can touch the ground. Sir Harry scoffs and runs the old man through but, as he turns and sees small skulls appear on the faces of two of his men, he wonders if the man might have had powers after all. Several battles ensue and Sir Harry manages to win all of them but the illusion of the skull appears on many of the men and those men do indeed die.

Simply the best . . .
Chased into the desert by Saracens, Harry stops at an oasis and drinks from the water, only to see his skull-tattooed reflection stare back at him. Shortly after, Sir Harry finally loses a battle and is killed by a sword mightier than his. His men look down at him, puzzled, and Kamil explains, as the feather touches the floor, that illusion is a deadlier force than steel in the East. The best story of the issue, "The Ultimate Weapon" features a clever twist that I didn't see coming and work by my favorite horror artist of the 1970s. Alfredo's pencils drip atmosphere, especially in his battle scenes.

Jack: I thought the Alcala story was only fair but I agree that the art is terrific. I expected the twist to be that Sir Harry saw the skull on his own face, but Oleck did me one better and had another twist at the end that made me rethink the rest of the story. The viking story seemed out of place in this comic even though Talaoc gave it his all, as usual. I really like the title design in the "Ace" King story and I agree that Perlin's art was better than expected, but that's a pretty low standard. The whole thing came off as a heavy-handed attempt at moralizing.

Our Fighting Forces 143

"Diamonds Are for Never!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by John Severin

Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: The Losers are sent on a "milk run" to the African Diamond Coast, where Nazis control a mine and harvest precious jewels to use in their tool dies. Without the super-hard diamonds to cut tools, the Nazi arms output will be stalled! The Losers are supposed to locate the mine and set off an explosion that blocks the entrance, preventing the Nazis from getting inside. When the Losers arrive, they find that the Nazis are already in the cave, so our heroes enter the mine and decide to set off some TNT and trap themselves inside with the Nazis!

The Losers quickly find an alternate way out and kill some Nazis, only to discover that the ones who have the diamonds have already left. Nazis are discovered at a mountain pass, but when the Losers kill them they see that they do not have the diamonds. More Nazis are found in a jungle and the Losers kill them as well, but the diamonds fall to the ground and are snatched up by some local monkeys, who run off with the jewels. The Losers share a big laugh.

"Diamonds Are for Never!"

John Severin's art is very nice, but Kanigher's script is ridiculous. First of all, I can't figure out why the Losers felt the need to blow up the mine entrance with themselves inside. Why not walk back out and blow it up to trap the Nazis inside? If the baddies crawled out of the same hole the Losers found, they would be easy targets. "Diamonds Are for Never!" is a particularly dumb title, playing off the James Bond film that had been released two years before the comic came out. The whole story is basically a series of vignettes where the Losers find Nazis, kill them, and discover they don't have the diamonds. It's disappointing.

A couple of sailors on shore leave in war-torn Manila split up and head for the USO by separate routes. One of them is hit over the head by a thief, who quickly and efficiently checks him for valuables before the other sailor comes along and scares the thief away. Good thing the victim was wearing his "Tailor-Mades" and that his uniform had a hidden pocket where he kept his wallet and all his money!

Not a bad little four-pager by Glanzman, who is at his best writing and drawing human interest stories. Here, the sailor observes the poverty and desperation of the people before one of them attacks and tries to rob him. The surprise ending, where he had a hidden pocket in back under his collar, works well.

Peter: "Diamonds Are For Never" is an amusing bit of fluff, notable for John Severin's striking artwork. It must have taken Severin a whole lot of time to draw this strip (or any strip, for that matter) since he ignored the shortcuts so many weaker artists took and filled his backgrounds with detail. His scenes just come alive. Is it me or is Cloud beginning to morph into Robert Shaw? And, now that I think about it, what ever happened to Cloud's cloud warriors? He doesn't seem to draw from his background anymore, does he?

"Eleven hundred men went into the water . . ."

G.I. Combat 162

"The Final Victor!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Sam Glanzman

"May Day!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Mike Sekowsky and Frank Giacoia

Peter: Continuing the twin battles from last issue (the ghostly General vs. the demon Alaric and Jeb Stuart vs. a possessed von Todstrom), we find the Haunted Tank buried under tons of rubble, with our heroes presumably about to join the General in ghost heaven. Luckily, Arch managed to jump free before the landslide occurred and he's bent on avenging his "dead" buddies.  Meanwhile, the boys in the Jeb discover the cannon breech is open and allowing air to flow into the buried tank so Jeb (the commander) gets a bright idea and orders Rick to repeatedly fire the cannon. The explosions unbury the tank but the concussion causes it to tumble down the hill, coming to a rest hundreds of feet below.

"The Final Victor!"

"The Final Victor!"
Again, Arch believes his comrades dead and goes nuts, blowing away von Todstrom's guards and forcing the Nazi to turn his attention from the crippled tank to the sole soldier. The boys, down below, are fine and take notice of their buddy in peril, firing a shot at von Todstrom's Panther. As the tank erupts in flames, von Todstrom ruminates on the futility of vengeance and seems about to give up when the demon Alaric (who's been fighting the General all this time) controls the Nazi's mind and forces him to propel his Panther down the canyon wall towards the Jeb. Arch leaps aboard the tank as it speeds by and he's able to get inside and divert its path from the Haunted Tank but he's killed during his act of bravery. With his earthly subject dead, Alaric weakens and is defeated by the General.

The first part of this epic was pretty darned good but part two is a wall-to-wall auctioneer, a nail-biter with an actual honest-to-gosh fatality to its credit. I don't see Arch coming back from the grave a la Captain Storm. Yes, Sam Glanzman's art is still really rough but the script moves so fast from peril to peril that we don't really have time to dwell on the visuals. Archie Goodwin is delivering exactly what he promised when he inherited the editor's (and more importantly, the writer's) hat: an exciting, well-told story in a universe where war has consequences. "The Final Victor!" is the best Tank story in years!

"The Final Victor!"
Lt. Roy Harris commands a bombing run over the Pacific and everything seems to be going okay until the bomber is attacked by Zeros. The ship disabled and heading for the sea, Harris calls "May Day!" and then parachutes to safety, where he's picked up shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, none of his men got out of the plane and that fact haunts him right into his next bombing run. The same thing happens again, but this time Harris calls "May Day," watches as his men parachute, and then decides to stay with his dying co-pilot. Another strong entry in what is turning out to be one hell of a sub-series, "Gallery of War," stories that are darker and don't necessarily have that happy ending Big Bob usually delivered. The only downside to "May Day!" is the awful Mike Sekowsky art. I'm trying to survive Sekowsky's contributions to early Marvel/Atlas horror anthologies right now on the Journey Into Strange Tales blog but, believe me, it's rough going. Sekowsky was born to draw DC superheroes with their bug eyes and always-open mouths. There's a missive on the letters page from Craig Ledbetter, who published the excellent horror fanzine, European Trash Cinema, for several years out of Texas.

"May Day!"
Jack: I'm with you on the art in both stories dragging down the writing, which is the opposite of what we're used to. The battle scenes between General Stuart and Alaric are cool and the Alaric character seems more Marvel than DC to me, but Glanzman's sketchy panels really hurt. I get why it's notable that one of the Haunted Tank's crew was killed off, but who was Arch anyway? Over the (many) years of this series, the guys in the tank other than Jeb were indistinguishable from each other, so losing one of them doesn't mean anything to me. It's not like Ice Cream Soldier got killed! As for "May Day!," the gritty finish does go some of the way toward redeeming a fairly run of the mill story, but that Sekowsky art is something I have a hard time enjoying as an adult. It did not bother me as a kid.

Our Army at War 258

"The Survivor!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"The Kiyi"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Alone on a raft in the South Pacific, Rock struggles to maintain life and sanity. Birds circling overhead look like attack planes and he recalls Easy Co. being attacked by German aircraft at a river before they stormed a Nazi pillbox. Rock's raft washes up on an island where the only inhabitants are three Japanese soldiers; he kills two of them in battle before reaching a standoff with the third. The two sergeants agree to a truce and set off on a raft together; Rock saves his enemy from drowning when a wave knocks the man overboard.

Soon, a boat appears on the horizon and the Japanese sergeant tells Rock that the truce is over. They fight, the Japanese sergeant is killed, and before he expires he thanks Rock for allowing him to die with honor. Ironically, "The Survivor!" finds that the Allied boat is an abandoned P.T. and Rock sets off for home, leaving the dead Japanese sergeant tied to the raft.

"The Survivor!"

Whew! Although the premise seems familiar, I can't put my finger on when we've read this scenario before. For once (and this may be a first), I think Heath's interiors surpass Kubert's cover. The story is exciting and moves quickly from one episode to another, never lingering too long on any one event. The two sergeants treat each other fairly and it's conceivable that things could've turned out differently. I love that we're in the midst of a continuing Sgt. Rock saga; the multi-issue arcs we're seeing in these war comics are most enjoyable.

"The Kiyi"
As the U.S.S. Stevens blows away an enemy gun emplacement, sailor John Douglas keeps reading "The Kiyi," a telegram he has received reporting that his son was killed in action. Soon, Douglas is reported missing and it appears he committed suicide by jumping ship.

That was depressing! Just the thing for young readers in 1973. On the letters page, there is a missive from Robert Guinan, who writes directly to Sgt. Rock as if he's a real person. Editorial assistant Allan Asherman comments that he hopes the letter is a put-on, since the main purpose of DC War comics is "to show how terrible the face of war is!"

Is it my imagination or does
this Heath guy just get better and better?
This, in a nutshell, is the difference between DC War comics of the late 1950s and early 1960s and those of the late 1960s and early 1970s. They have grown up to a certain extent and reflect the zeitgeist of the time. We've come full circle, back to the grim, adult-oriented war stories Harvey Kurtzman wrote for EC during and just after the Korean War.

Peter: Another stop on what may be a long tour of the Pacific for Sgt. Rock. The longer, the better, I says. I like the pace and so does Big Bob, it seems, as though he's been released from shackles and is free to let his imagination wander. His dialogue sometimes resorts to that silly GI gibberish ("Looks like that flyin' swastika is goin' to put us in the ice-box--with a TNT iceberg!") but he more than makes up for it with something a little more deep, as when the Japanese Sgt. tells Rock, "I wonder what you left out . . . to make that long story so short, Sergeant?"

Star Spangled War Stories 171

"Appointment in Prague!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Jack Sparling

"Who to Believe!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Peter: The Unknown Soldier is given a mission he'd rather not complete: find Anton Vladchek and kill him. Who is Anton Vladchek, you ask. Good question. Turns out Anton is the actor who fled Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and went to work for the American government teaching secret agents everything they need to know about "becoming" the perfect spy. Vladchek's son and daughter-in-law were murdered by Nazis but his young grandson was captured and forced to live with a German family. Anton swears to get him back and, years later, learns that young Josef has escaped his foster family and is in hiding. The actor heads home and is captured by the Gestapo, necessitating the Unknown Soldier's orders since the Allies don't want their secrets divulged under torture. US disguises himself as a Gestapo chief and manages to rescue Anton but it's not long before the Nazis get wind of the trick and corner them in a small village where Anton used to have his theater.

"Appointment in Prague!"
The Soldier and Vladchek hide out in the bombed-out auditorium until the old man hears a familiar voice beckoning him outside. Fearing a trap, US has a look and discovers young Josef in the snow, calling his grandfather. But the shadow of three Nazi soldiers standing on the roof above him warns the US that the innocent scenario before him isn't what it seems to be. Soldiers dispatched, US brings the boy inside to meet with his gramps, only to witness an ugly display: the boy confesses it was he who sold out his father and mother and brought the soldiers here to kill his traitor grandfather. The boy whips out a potato masher and proclaims his loyalty to Adolf Hitler before he goes up in a puff of smoke. Anton is injured and decides he doesn't want to make the trip back to America, instead using the Soldier's pistol to off himself.

Wow, talk about a dark and depressing story! I love it! I also love how, even after 20+ installments in the Unknown Soldier series, Archie doesn't think it too late to fill in some of the blanks in US's origin story. Between this title and G.I. Combat, Archie Goodwin is turning the DC war titles on their heads and delivering powerful and, more important, exciting scripts to his artists. What they do with those scintillating instructions is another matter altogether, since we're saddled with Sam Glanzman and Jack Sparling for visualists rather than Kubert and Heath. But, as with the G.I. Combat story, I was too busy enjoying the words to care about the pitchers. Two Sam Glanzman vignettes (one a USS Stevens installment, the other a short on soldier John Stock) close this issue; neither struck my fancy. I'd just as soon see a bad eight-pager with a bit of character development than two four-pagers that are nothing more than snippets of war life.

Jack: I like the photo-collage splash pages that open the Unknown Soldier stories; Kirby pioneered the technique and this is the only comic we're reading that makes use of it on a regular basis. I enjoyed reading the Unknown Soldier's "secret origin" and was interested to see the reason for his mission and the background of his training. It's a great premise: rescue or kill the old man who trained you--just make sure he doesn't spill his secrets. At first I thought it was a cheat to have the grandson turn out to be an impostor, but the final panel shows he was the real deal and bravely gave his life. I'm sorry Goodwin is turning the writing duties over to Frank Robbins with the next issue. As for the two back up stories, Sam Glanzman has become the king of filler for the DC War line, churning out short stories, dioramas, etc. to fill the pages of these comics. I guess it's better than reprints of stories by Jerry Grandenetti.

G.I. War Tales 2

"The Killing Ground!"
(reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #134, September 1967)

"Suicide Volunteer"
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #133, January 1969)

Jack: Looking back at our earlier posts, I was impressed by the art on both stories that are reprinted in this issue. I had forgotten that Neal Adams drew a War That Time Forgot story and it's always great to see his early work. The Kubert story is a reminder of those glory days when Joe was doing more than covers, and Heath's cover (from the same comic that had the Adams story) is a winner.

Next Week in EC #67 . . .
Doctor Jack once again plumbs the depths
of Coloproctology!

From Weird War Tales 15


andydecker said...

Another memorable Dominguez cover on Weird War. I know he drew few stories for Warren, but nothing which left a lasting impression.

But his covers for the DC Mystery line are so well done. Often better then the content.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Andy. The covers are usually great. I'm really enjoying the new 100-page DC comics that Wal-Mart has been carrying. They seem to get better each month.

Grant said...

I've always been very attached to "The Survivor." The ending is a little like the OUTER LIMITS episode "The Sixth Finger," or at least the next-to-last parts of that episode.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Grant. I'm really enjoying the extended Rock story.

Todd Mason said...

"The Survivor" Grant refers to, I believe, is the WWT story that confused the reviewer...the monkey isn't one of the Vikings, but the post-imbibing pet monkey on their ship, now capable of writing (in English, it seems, but we're Choosing to Overlook this) after suffering the effects of the arguable enhancement...or so I remember it.

This was the second WWT I bought, and helped cement it as one of 8yo me's favorite comics...along with the Atlad/Timely horror reprint comics from Marvel, and the DC reprint issues from the same vintage...

Jack Seabrook said...

Two stories with the same title in the same month. No wonder I'm confused.