Monday, November 19, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 143: November 1973

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Luis Dominguez
Weird War Tales 19

"The Platoon that Wouldn't Die!"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Gerry Talaoc

Peter: The War Department can't figure out why the Nazis go to the trouble of sending a special forces unit to rob a mass grave. It all becomes crystal clear when they realize the German bodies they're stealing have been photographed as corpses in several other places. What's up with that? Are the Nazis employing some kind of supernatural force to keep their armies at full capacity? Harry "The Actor" Nielsen is taken from Leavenworth, where he's serving a twenty-year term (for what, we're never told), and brought before Colonel Hagen, who offers "The Actor" a full pardon if he'll put on the make-up and infiltrate the Blue Bolt team, commanded by Major Bruekner, one of the resurrected corpses. Harry disguises himself as Blue Bolt Corporal Schlosser, stages an escape from an Allied POW camp, and wins back the trust of his Nazi comrades.

"The Actor" first discovers that the Nazis are using Caribbean witch doctors to raise their dead, but then further stumbles onto the truth behind the miracle resurrections. The "dead" are actually look-alike robots designed to give the Nazi boys the confidence that "Germans don't die," and the voodoo ruse is so that the Allied Forces will be convinced Germany can raise the dead. Harry shuts the project down with plenty of fire power and then heads back to the States a free man. A whole issue devoted to this claptrap? On the letters page, Joe Orlando lets his readers know that book-length stories will appear two or three times a year but only "when the basic story-line is strong enough to sustain our readers' interest . . ." Well, Joe, I'm here to tell you "The Platoon That Wouldn't Die!" failed miserably. It's got all the standard Arnold Drake traits, including incredible coincidences, plot points that go sideways (why, oh why, do the Nazis have to expend so much energy to try to convince us there's a squadron of zombies on the loose?), bizarre choices (the war department hires a convicted felon to crack the Blue Bolts instead of summoning the Unknown Soldier?) and cringe-worthy, purple-prose dialogue ("Only a lucky shot can stop these things--and it looks like I've run out of luck!"). I don't object to full-length stories, except when they're as bad and as unreadable as "The Platoon . . ."

Jack: I am very surprised at you, Mr. Grumpy DC Comic Fan! This story is a gonzo classic! It starts off with Nazis on motorcycles robbing a graveyard, which is a great way to begin any story, in my opinion. Yes, I admit it gets a bit confusing in the middle, but when we see the Haitian witch doctor bringing back dead Nazis as zombies we're off to the races! But wait, they're not really zombies--they're robots! If they're robots, why do they walk around with their hands in the air like zombies? It's all tons of fun and I enjoyed the heck out of it and am happy for a full-length story for a change.

Star Spangled War Stories 175

"A Slow Burn . . . From Both Ends!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Jack Sparling

"Hello Dolly Gray!"
Story by J. David Warner
Art by Ric Estrada

Yvette (a/k/a "Brussel's Sprout," see last issue) has lived through pain, on the Nazi stretch rack deep in the bowels of an Antwerp castle, that would have killed one hundred men, but enough is enough, and she tells the Commandant everything he wants to hear. Meanwhile, explosives are being laid below and above the seedy dungeon, with the Unknown Soldier preparing to blow the hell out of a German armament and Belgian resistance fighters in the catacombs about to do the same. The resistance leader has decided Yvette must become a sacrifice for the movement but Yvette's fiancé, Jan, has other ideas.

"A Slow Burn . . ."
As the leader sets the explosives for ten minutes and hightails it, Jan heads up to the torture chamber to rescue Yvette, only to find her approximately three feet taller than she was the last time saw her. He unties her from the rack and carries her to safety but, on the way, Yvette tells Jan that the Unknown Soldier is upstairs and the resistance explosives must be disarmed or the mission might fail. Jan picks that moment to tell Yvette he knows nothing about explosives. Unbeknownst to the love birds, the Unknown Soldier and his men are about to hightail it as well, but the oncoming sea of Nazi scum tips our hero off that, somehow, "Operation Scuttle" is no longer a classified secret. Yvette and Jan follow the easy-to-read disarming instructions on the outside of each bomb while the Unknown Soldier mows down a whole boatload of Ratzis and then blows the hell out of the castle and the German arms. Yvette dies from her injuries and somewhere in Berlin, Dichter Krantz speaks ill of the Unknown Soldier and promises that, very soon, Germany's secret weapon will blow the bandages right off his arch-enemy.

We finally learn where US has been!
Wall-to-wall action and sleazy Nazi exploitation (granted, not exactly as sleazy as Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, but still on the edge for a kid's funny book) keep the pages turning and (oh lord, I can't believe I'm going to say this) Jack Sparling's sketchy art is just perfect for the theme. I'd never noticed before but Sparling's and Frank Robbins's art are quite a bit similar (read: awful), but for the fact that Sparling's characters have wrists that don't bend at funny angles. No, it's not the glory days of the Kubert scripted/drawn Unknown Soldier but at least "A Slow Burn . . . At Both Ends" provides entertainment and keeps your attention the same way the shudder pulps used to. I've got no problem with that. There's an uncharacteristically dark climax and also a brief "Holy Cow" moment when Jan is on his way to rescue Yvette and overhears the Nazis talking about how his girl spilled her guts (almost literally). Jan's thoughts betray the love he feels for the gorgeous Frau: "Yvette . . . talked? Told those dogs what even we don't know . . .? If--if she did . . . I'll kill her with my own hands!" And how about that last panel tease? I can't wait to see what lurid drug-fueled experiment Krantz will unleash on the Soldier!

The five-page "Hello Dolly Gray!" takes place in 1899 South Africa and focuses on when women began fighting alongside their British men. It's an interesting piece but it's a tad dry and Ric Estrada's art is not getting any better. It still looks like Archie Andrews Goes to War.

"Hello Dolly Gray!"

Jack: We must have read different comic books this time around, because the one I read was terrible! Here's some purple prose from the Robbins script: "Any goose-stepper sticks his schnozz up heah gets hisself a silent gesundheit!" If "heah" means this character is from the South, why is he using Yiddish slang like "schnozz"? I started to wonder where the Unknown Soldier was in this story until he finally yanked off his mask and revealed himself to this puzzled reader. I thought it was hard to figure out what was going on throughout the action. As for the backup story in the Boer War, Estrada's art won't win any awards but it's a notch above Sparling's, though the plot goes nowhere.

Our Fighting Forces 145

"A Flag for Losers!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by John Severin

"A Feast of Caterpillars"
Story by John David Warner
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: An Afrika Korps column of two Nazi tanks and numerous men on foot approaches Fort Fini in the North African desert, determined to take the fort and drink the precious water from its well. Inside Fort Fini are the Losers and a French major. Gunner shimmies up a flagpole to repair the French tricolor but finds it may be "A Flag for Losers!" when an enemy plane suddenly attacks.

"A Flag for Losers!"
The Losers shoot down the plane and go to the well for water, only to discover it has run dry. Major Fouchet tells the Losers that his brother, who is with the Vichy French, is the man guiding the Nazi column toward the fort, and the battle begins, as Nazi tanks bombard Fort Fini's walls and the Losers return fire with small arms. Nazis on foot approach the walls with TNT but the Losers kill them and use the TNT to destroy the onrushing tanks. In the end, the Fouchet brothers square off and kill each other, leaving the Losers to abandon the empty fort and head across the desert on foot.

John Severin has not shown any real deterioration in his art since he was at EC in the early to mid-'50s, unlike George Evans, whose EC work was so strong but whose work at DC in the '70s is disappointing. This latest chapter in the ongoing Losers story is fun, despite some Kanigher Kliches, mainly due to Severin's excellent work.

"A Feast of Caterpillars"
In the year 1282, the great Mongol warrior Kublai Khan was rampaging through what would later be known as North Vietnam. General Tran Hung Dao uses caterpillars and honey to fool Khan's troops into retreat, and when Khan does attack with a diminished force the locals are able to defeat him.

"A Feast of Caterpillars" is a surprisingly delightful little tale, with art by Ric Estrada that fits the story. Warner's history lesson is unusual and entertaining and shines a light on a little known aspect of Vietnam and its history.

Peter: Another solid "Losers" chapter. It's almost like one of those all-star war blockbusters Hollywood cranked out in the 1960s, full of action, pathos, and macho dialogue (love the scene with Gunner and Sarge drinking from empty canteens atop the fort wall). Severin's art is exciting and very realistic. The biggest compliment I can think to pay Big Bob and Jovial John is that these latest "Losers" strips make me forget Gunner and Sarge were once a punch line to a very bad joke.

Our Army at War 262

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

"Where . . . Where Have All the Heroes Gone?"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Sgt. Rock finally reunites with Easy Co. but "The Return!" comes with an unexpected twist: Rock was listed as MIA and now Sgt. Decker is the new topkick. Rock tags along with his old unit and reacts quickly to a couple of Nazi threats, but when Decker decides to use an old farmhouse for shelter it's the new sergeant who approaches it and gets shot to pieces by Nazis. As he dies, he tells Rock that he had been the only survivor of his old outfit and wanted to prove himself to his new men.

I've never been as big a fan of Russ Heath as Peter is, but I have to admit his work on "The Return!" blew me away and I thought it was the best story of the month. People are getting blown to bits left and right and Heath does not shy away from depicting bodies flying. The panel reproduced here, where Decker is being shot to pieces, is brutal, and Kanigher's script eschews the old TNT references he relied on for so many years to tell an affecting tale of a man trying his best to live up to his legendary predecessor. "The Return!" is a sharp bit of sequential storytelling.

"The Return!"

"Where . . . Where Have All the Heroes Gone?" is just the opposite--there's no story at all, just Sam Glanzman drawing four pages of dead soldiers lying in various poses. One panel shows men hanging and is disturbing, but what's the point of this story? War is Hell? We know that. How about a decent story?

"Where" did the story go?
Peter: Never thought I'd see the day when Our Army at War was the title I least looked forward to reading each post. Oh, no mistake, the art is still the best money can buy but the plots seem to be stacked on a carousel and Big Bob pulls one off and puts it right back when he's done with it . . . because he's never done with it. The other titles may be lacking in the visuals department but their continuing stories get better and better each issue. I'm a little confused about Rock's reunion with Easy since he reunited with them last issue. Maybe Big Bob had lost that sticky note? Sam Glanzman's latest USS Stevens entry features Sam's best art to date, but is the point being made that men on both sides die in war?

G.I. Combat 166

"Enemy from Yesterday!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Two Roads to Destiny"
Story and Art by George Evans

Peter: Well, the boys have figured out how to get the Jeb Stuart back on terra firma but just before the tide goes completely out, the crew is fired on by crazed Nazi commander Reinhardt and his band of scum Ratzis. Our heroes are taken prisoner and, after going through the usual "name, rank, and serial number," Reinhardt pays particular attention to Gus Gray, explaining that Gus beat him out at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Claiming he was sidelined by a charley horse, the goofy German demands that Gus give him another chance at beating him in a race but the disgraced Olympic medalist vetoes that idea.

And co-starring
David Bowie as Reinhardt!
The commander then orders Gus into the Haunted Tank (which Commander Jeb rightfully claims is a violation of the Geneva Convention--you know, the rules that the Nazis have followed since day one?) and takes him for a little ride into a nearby village. Forcing Gus, at gunpoint, to stand outside the turret, the Nazi starts blasting the Greek village to hell. The villagers see only an American tank and a black soldier and immediately change sides in the war. As the tank is about to squash a helpless child, Gus cries "Uncle"; he'll race the Commander for the gold. To be continued . . .

Well, "Enemy From Yesterday!" is quite the comedown from the fabulous "Alaric" epic a few issues ago but it does fill in a few gaps in Gus Gray's back story. We learn that Gus took the pay-off from the sports equipment company (who knew there were endorsement opportunities in 1936!?) to pay for the care of his dying sister, Amy. The young girl died soon after, which made the Olympics scandal that much harder to handle. I gotta say (yet again) that Sam Glanzman's art is really really really hard to look at. Our first look at Reinhardt might convince us the guy is twelve years old; then he's all teeth. Glanzman has his supporters but I'm not sure how anyone could look at this and find anything resembling art.

"Enemy from Yesterday!"

"That ther' polecat shore cain get ornery, eh, Festus?"
Unfortunately, the bad art day continues in George Evans's "Two Roads to Destiny," which proves that, without a plane in the story, George is just another average artist at this point in his career. The script, about a pair of cousins who keep together all during the Civil War until one has to go off and man a Hunley (a very early submarine), is chock-filled with southern drawl and nigh on unreadable, fer Pappy's sake. Evans does get across the claustrophobia of being in one of these easily-sinkable tin cans but, otherwise, it's a slow slog.

Jack: Seeing Sam Glanzman's art makes me wonder if I should have stuck with my attempts at drawing comics as a boy. I don't think my efforts could've been much worse than this! Goodwin's story tries to be relevant and it's not bad, but the wretched art really takes away from any enjoyment here. The Southern dialect in the Evans story is distracting and he's not the artist he was 20 years before at EC, but the story is okay and there are flashes of the old George here and there.

(from Our Fighting Forces 40, 12/58)
G.I. War Tales 4

"Four-Legged Tank!"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #36, August 1955)

"Soldiers of the High Wire"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Bernie Krigstein
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #10, May 1953)

"Medal for a Marine!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #78, February 1959)

"Four-Legged Tank!"
Jack: Fighting in France in WWII, Private Mike Wilson laments the disappearance of horses in the cavalry and their replacement by tanks. This all changes when he attacks Nazis holed up in a farmhouse and is surprised by a friendly horse left to wander when the farmer left the premises. Mike mounts the horse and launches a one-man attack on the Nazis, discovering to his delight that a horse is sometimes better than a tank!

"Four-Legged Tank!" is nothing special, but we always enjoy a little touch of early '50s Heath art.

"Soldiers of the High Wire"
While the rest of the G.I.s spend their time fighting North Korean troops, Don and Steve are "Soldiers of the High Wire," repairing telephone lines so everyone can communicate. War correspondent Lionel Danby asks them to drive around in a jeep he has rigged up with a tape recorder to record the sounds of war for the folks back home. Steve and Don survive an attack by a MiG fighter but forget to turn on the recorder, then they are ambushed and their jeep and recorder are destroyed. Marines save the day and the correspondent records the whole thing through the phone lines from his safe spot back at base, but when Steve and Don return he tells them no one would believe what happened and destroys the tape.

Synchronicity again for those of us reading DC War comics and EC Comics, as Bernie Krigstein makes a surprise appearance as the artist in this reprint from 1953! For a six-page filler, it's not bad; Krigstein is not one of my favorite artists but he does a decent job and it's a fun tale.

On TNT Island, Marines wait in formation for a medal to arrive so it can be awarded to one among them. Another soldier is given the medal to deliver but has to fight off an attacking boat, a plane, and a soldier to get the "Medal for a Marine!" safely to its destination. When he gets there, he gets a medal, too!

Boy, Mort Drucker sure could draw war stories. This is a very predictable eight-pager but Drucker makes it so gritty, exciting, and believable that I enjoyed every panel.

"Medal for a Marine!"

I'm sorry this is the last issue of G.I. War Tales because these have been some great reprints!

"Four-Legged Tank!"
Peter: Well, we know that 90% of the time, these reprints provide great art but little in the way of brain food in the script department. Nothing here to change that fact but there are little tidbits in each story to entertain. I love the almost telepathic bond between man and horse in "Four-Legged Tank!" and can someone tell me how exactly you stay on the horse while firing a machine gun and leaping over hedges? I like how Big Bob lets the action stray from the main point in "Soldiers of the High Wire"; the two G.I.s on a mission to record the perfect battle almost seem like an afterthought while Kanigher was crafting a tale centering around a telephone pole. The narrative goes in a much more interesting direction. The climax saves "Medal for a Marine!" from being just another "G.I. grunt fights against insurmountable odds and stands tall in the end" snoozer; far from being maudlin, I thought the final panel was a lump-in-the-throater. If you've just got to have a magazine filled with 1950s DC war reprints, you could do worse than this package.

Next Week . . .
This Ain't the End of EC . . .
But You Can See It From Here!

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