Monday, October 8, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 140: August 1973

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Our Army at War 259

"Lost Paradise"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Accident . . ."
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: No sooner does Rock get comfortable on the abandoned P.T. Boat then he finds his vessel under attack from a Japanese zero! He shoots it down but the flaming plane crashes into the floating boat and Rock must dive into the ocean, where he comes face to face with a hungry shark! Lucky for him, a hospital boat happens by and three injured soldiers blow Jaws out of the water. Rock is taken aboard ship, where pretty Lt. Kathy Wilson fattens him up with some much-needed chow.

Rock helps minister to the wounded soldiers on the ship until they mutiny and take over, insisting that the vessel set its course for "Lost Paradise," an island where they can leave war far behind. Unfortunately, they come upon a pitched battle where Marines are trying to land on an island defended by a battery of guns. The hospital ship is destroyed and Rock finds himself on another island, battling the enemy with the aid of the soldier-patients from the hospital ship.

Amazing Heath
More, more, more! I am loving this continued story. It's too bad the format only allows for fourteen pages per issue. A few years back, Bob Kanigher would've wrapped up this story in no time and Rock would've been smooching Lt. Wilson before it was all done. Heath's art is strong and there is even a somber sequence where one of the soldiers on the ship passes away. This is a candidate for top ten stories of 1973.

Japanese planes attack a convoy of Allied ships for days on end, fraying sailors' nerves to the breaking point. A peaceful Chinese fishing boat sails into the area and, by "Accident . . .," the U.S.S. Stevens blows it to bits.

Another four-page lesson from Sam Glanzman features mediocre art and little plot, but the anti-war message is clear.

"Accident . . ."

Peter: The Rock this issue was okay, if a bit choppy, as if Big Bob had no idea where the adventure was going (one panel these guys are pacifists, the next they're screaming "Now! Let's blow these Japs to kingdom come!" or something similar) but I'm ready now for the Rock Tour to wind down and for the Sarge to reunite with his Easy pals. Heath remains untouchable, just awe-inspiring. Much better is Sam Glanzman's "Accident . . .," which is the strongest USS Stevens installment I've read in quite a while.

Star Spangled War Stories 172

"A Cocktail for Molotov!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Jack Sparling

Story by Don Karr
Art by Walt Simonson

"The Thousand-Stitch Belt"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Peter: The Unknown Soldier has just pulled himself from the muck of one mission when he's assigned another: impersonate Vyacheslav Molotov, Foreign Affairs Minister to Stalin, and board a plane to England so that the real Molotov can make it to London without incident. Thanks to some help from the Russkies, US pulls off the charade and Molotov makes it to his meeting unharmed. I gotta say, now that the "Unknown Soldier" series is "written" by Frank Robbins and "illustrated" by Jack Sparling, my interest in this series went from zero to . . . um . . . less than zero.

"A Cocktail for Molotov!"

Who cares about a guy in bandages?
Robbins is the guy responsible for some of the worst art of the 1970s (just check out any of his Batman or Captain America issues if you don't believe me) and I'm not too sure his writing is much better if this installment is an indication. It's needlessly complicated and, as usual, insanely unbelievable. The plane carrying US is bombed, but that's okay because he and the crew parachuted before the plane could catch fire. And if any of the Ratzi pilots saw parachutes in the sky, the jig would be up, correct? And why, oh why, is it that US doesn't remove his bandages before putting a mask on? Are you really going to tell me the gauze wouldn't play havoc with those masks? It's going to take a major overhaul for this series to become readable again and I don't see that change coming anytime soon.

"Decision!" is an interesting short-short about James Bonham's role in the fall of the Alamo. It's got very early, very crude Walt Simonson (it's tough to spot any of the artist's style here) art but then Walt wasn't given very much breathing room in three pages. "The Thousand-Stitch Belt" is a USS Stevens entry that's a bit different in that the bulk of the four pages takes place on land. It's a lot like one of those Big Bob tales about the similarities between enemies.

Remember the Simonson
Jack: The Unknown Soldier story reads like an interesting history lesson, though the suggestion that Molotov cocktails were developed during the Nazi attack on Russia does not seem to be quite accurate based on my brief research. Still, I enjoyed the race against time to get Molotov out of Russia before Natasha could give up the details under torture. Sparling's art is not getting any better but the cheesecake on the last page definitely helps. It's neat to see Walt Simonson's skill develop in "Decision!" but the Glanzman story is a dud, where the only interesting fact is found in a caption after the last panel.

Ken Barr

G.I. Combat 163

"A Crew Divided!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Just a Shot Away!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Ken Barr

Days after burying their fallen brother, Arch, tensions are still running high between the men of the Jeb Stuart, particularly between Slim and Arch's "replacement," Gus. Arch isn't happy with anything Gus is doing, least of all using Arch's clothes, and he's letting Gus know every chance he can. The kettle is about to boil just as the tank is attacked by a German fighter plane and the distraction is probably good for the men. Nuisance taken care of, the boys suddenly have a more serious problem at hand: Rick's busted wing needs mending and may be infected, which is probably why he passes out. Gus picks him up and offers to hoof it to a nearby village to look for a doc. Minutes later, Jeb and Slim are approached by a strange group of men, carrying firearms.

"A Crew Divided!"

"A Crew Divided!"
Meanwhile, on the road to the village, Gus and (the now-conscious and walking) Rick happen upon an equally dubious crowd of men armed with MGs and scowls. Gus makes small talk with the leader and discovers the men are a small band of  Communist freedom fighters looking for anyone who might be traveling through their small village with a tank. Success! Back at the Haunted Tank, Jeb and Slim discover they are in the presence of a small group of Yugoslav anti-Communist freedom fighters from the same village. Our boys know they're in the middle of a civil war but, as Gus reminds us all while he holds up a Molotov cocktail and threatens to blow the tank to kingdom come, while the two sides fight each other, the Nazis win. Brotherhood overcomes and the Jeb Stuart blows the rotten stinking Nazis to hell. Slim shakes Gus's hand and allows how the day has definitely changed his point of view. The Jeb is no longer "A Crew Divided!"

"A Crew Divided"
I usually can't stand these preachies, but Archie (as usual) finds a way of delivering the important message (one that applied to the America of 1973 just as much as it did to the America of 1944) without a lot of flag-waving and four-page monologuing (the way Doug Moench might have done around the same time). Gus keeps it to a couple of simple lines:

"You're like some folks in the States . . . ready to go at one another 'cause you maybe don't look or believe the same. Never mind that while you two do that, somebody else usually wins . . . like those Nazis in your village! That's my speech. Now you can either listen and start pullin' together . . . or I'll blow the tank sky high so nobody gets it! Understand . . .?!"

Sir Paul and Stevie couldn't have put it more succinctly. The business between the two factions within the village is handled quite well. Both sides have their beliefs but they're too pig-headed to put those beliefs aside for a day and win back what they most love. Even in the end, after the dust settles, neither side will shake hands as Gus and Slim eventually do but, rather, get right back into the nasty political business they were attending to before the pesky war broke out. As for the art, this is bad Sam, really bad Sam. Some backgrounds are incomplete, character faces have no consistency (Gus, in particular suffers a cruel fate at the hands of Glanzman), and a lot of it just looks plain rushed.

"Just a Shot Away!"
Speaking of Doug Moench: our old Marvel buddy is responsible for the runner-up this issue, "Just a Shot Away!," a cautionary tale of the future, about the first mission of G.I.s armed with laser-beam machine guns and the man who created the new weaponry. It's about as pretentious as most of Moench's mid-1970s protest strips (even the title, derived from the best Stones song ever, made me roll my eyes) and winds up exactly where I figured it would, with Doug telling us for the 155th time that month that war is meaningless and stupid. Thank you, Doug, I didn't know that.  Don't get me wrong, when Doug was on, as he was with Deathlok and Master of Kung Fu, he could be one of the biz's shining lights, but when he ventured into CSN&Y territory to ask us why we follow Nixon like lemmings or remind us racism is just, you know, a drag, man, I want to just stick my lazy, affluent finger down my throat. As we get deeper into the mid-1970s, I assume we're going to run across more and more of these protest stories written by the "new wave of comic book writer" and I can only assume what Big Bob thought of the new kids in the bullpen. I do like Ken Barr's art quite a bit.

Jack: It's a chore slogging through bad comics like this and the art by Sparling and Glanzman is hard to take. Sorry, Peter, but Goodwin's story is a forced lesson in how we all should get along. The art is dreadful. Moench's story is even worse, overwritten and pompous, but at least we have Ken Barr's art to help us along to the end. I like Barr's work; it looks like something you'd see on a 1970s paperback cover.

Weird War Tales 16

"More Dead Than Alive!"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"The Conquerors"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alex Nino

"Evil Eye"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Alex Nino

Peter: That replacement GI, Stacey, keeps getting blown to hell but, luckily, the docs keep patching him up and sending him back to the line. His comrades start noticing funny things, like the fact that he's got a tattoo on his arm just like one of their fallen friends. Then, when Stacey's legs get blown off, he comes back not only with two good legs but with the same mole as another of their dead. Turns out, one of the docs, Martel, is conducting Frankenstein-like experiments on corpses, transplanting limbs from the newly-dead and then sending the super soldier back out to war. When Stacey gets his lungs blown out, the mad scientist explains that she's got no donors ready and that he'll die. This sends Stacey into a psychopathic frenzy and he throttles the doc. Before she's dead, one of her fellow mad scientists shoots Stacey and saves Martel by giving her Stacey's body. "More Dead Than Alive!" is nothing new, just limbs transplanted from other stories, but the art is great and that panel of Martel with her new body is pretty queasy. Hard to believe the CCA let that one through as tight-fisted as they were.

This will lead to some interesting discussions.

"The Conquerors"
An invasion from outer space leaves Earth a charred wreck but "The Conquerors" are stunned to find survivors in the wastelands. They herd them up and march them aboard their space ship with experimentation in mind but, deep in space, the truth comes out: the survivors are vampires who were freed when the great fires burnt the stakes in their hearts to ashes! Holy Toledo, what a stretch. Jack Oleck scrapes the bottom of the barrel to come up with this nonsense, but at least he populates the silliness with those rare vampires made of asbestos (the stakes burn but not the vampires!). Come to think of it, most of these future war stories are a waste of time, either a chance (as in this case) to trot out a tired old cliche or to provide one of the rebel funny book writers with an orange crate and a microphone. Unfortunately, the space SF/war drama seems to have been a popular genre back in 1973 and I've got a sinking feeling we'll be seeing lots more.

"Evil Eye"
American troops liberate a small Italian village and the townsfolk are happy to see them but a seemingly innocent incident changes everything. After a sergeant witnesses a small gypsy boy being thrown out of the village for having an "Evil Eye," the platoon adopts the mite, feeds him, and makes him their official mascot. The GIs begin rebuilding the town church to give the people something to believe in but the sarge learns the church has an interesting background. In the 15th century, a priest supposedly drove a nest of witches from the village and built the church to keep them out. Accidents begin happening to the squad and tensions run high; the men begin taking stock in the "evil eye" nonsense. But, sure enough, while under construction, a bridge collapses while the entire squad is crossing and no one survives. Soon, the Nazis move in on the town and adopt a strange little boy with an "Evil Eye." Though the outcome is predictable (to his credit, Oleck discloses the boy's secret fairly quickly so we know the kid is a warlock or spirit or whatever), I thought "Evil Eye" was nicely creepy, certainly the best story this issue, and it comes complete with dyn-o-mite artwork by Alex Nino, who manages to keep the little imp looking innocent while, at the same time, sinister.

Jack: That Nino art on "Evil Eye" is gorgeous and the tale is a grim one. I have not read nearly as many comic books as you have, Peter, so I did not see the end of "The Conquerors" coming in advance. Like the story that followed it, this one also had terrific art by Alex Nino. I prefer his work in this issue over that of Alcala, who drew only the first of the three stories, but it's fine as well. That first story, with the transplants, went from bad to worse and that panel at the end really shows the writer going off the rails.

Four Star Battle Tales 3

"Island of Armored Giants!"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #90, May 1960)

Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #50, October 1956)

"A Stripe for St. Lo!"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #83, July 1959)

Jack: When they were kids in school, Vic Anderson was bullied by Billy Douglas because he couldn't do chin-ups or climb a rope in gym class. The boys stayed together in the Army and the bullying continued through basic training and all the way up to the landing on D-Day. Suddenly, sick of being laughed at, Vic has a shot of adrenalin. He climbs a rope up the side of a cliff on his own, throws a grenade, and destroys a Nazi machine-gun nest. Who's laughing now?

"Cliff-Hanger!" is a reprint from 1956, before we started reading DC War comics, but it could've appeared at any time in the '50s or '60s. The flashback to youth, the sudden heroism in battle--they're hallmarks of the Haney/Kanigher model and, at only three and a half pages (one full page is the splash), at least it's short. The Andru and Esposito art is nothing to put in a museum.

I thought "Island of Armored Giants!" was awful the first time we read it, but it is notable as the kickoff to the Land That Time Forgot series. At least Mort Drucker elevates "A Stripe for St. Lo!" into a decent read.

Peter: The only story new to us is the four-pager, "Cliff-Hanger," a by-the-numbers snoozer that Haney probably whipped up in between good scripts, just because they needed to fill those four pages. It hits all the same old notes: the guy who really wasn't a good athlete in college, the greenie who takes crap from his fellow GIs, the finale where our bumbling hero really does become a hero, and that awful Ross Andru art. The only thing I thought worthwhile about this drek was the moment when poor, bullied Vic Anderson lets loose with his MG. For a second, it almost appears as though Vic is saying "Enough of the ribbing, take this you sonsabitches!!!" But, alas, it was not so. More interesting is the one-page Kanigher tribute (reprinted below), a checklist of some of Big Bob's creations.

Next Week . . .
Peter tries to explain to his therapist
why he and Jack disagree about Psychoanalysis

No comments: