Monday, January 7, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 146: February 1974

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 22

"Wings of Death"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by George Evans

"The Day After Doomsday..."
Story by Len Wein
Art by Jack Sparling
(Reprinted from The Witching Hour #9, July 1970)

"Last Rites for the Living"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Tony DeZuniga

Peter: In "Wings of Death," Jack Oleck tells the real story behind the Nazi surrender at the end of World War II. In France, the Baron Henri de Saville has had enough of German bombs disturbing his peace and quiet so he talks the Allies into capturing thousands of bats, rigging them with explosives, and dropping them over Germany. The ensuing firestorms are enough to convince the Germans to surrender and the baron goes back to his chateau to live the life of a peaceful vampire. A pretty hokey (but, to be fair, somewhat enjoyable) tale with some seesaw art by George Evans (some panels look like he might have gotten a bit of help). Since the bombers had to fly over Germany to let the bats loose, I'm not sure why the Army even said "Hey, let's try it!" to the Baron's idea.

"Wings of Death"

"The Day After Doomsday..." reprint was covered by Jack and I during our (plug! plug!) discussion of the DC mystery titles. It's silly to reprint it here since it's out of context when taken away from the rest of the series. Perhaps Joe couldn't fill an entire page full of letters?

"Last Rites for the Living"
Lieutenant Kogan is a self-serving, medal-loving, glory hog who wants nothing more than to climb the Army brass ladder and he doesn't care one bit if that means he has to step on corpses along the way. When he and his men save a gypsy camp from a band of sadistic Nazis, the gypsy leader gives Kogan a medallion he claims has mystical powers. The medal will tell the soldier the year he will die and, as long as he wears it around his neck, it will keep him safe. Kogan dons the trinket and sees "1994" flash across his mental screen. The date emboldens him and he goes on a mission to kill as many dirty stinkin' Ratzi bastards as he can level in his scope, throwing caution to the wind and taking chances no sane man would attempt. Of course, the crazy schedule finally catches up to him and he ends up armless and legless in a basket, horrified by the knowledge he'll live another fifty years in this condition.

I like DeZuniga's rough and scratchy art but the script definitely has a moldy odor about it. At 12 pages, it's also about twice the length it needs to be, which means we get a lot of padding. I hate to complain but I am not digging the Arnold Drake/Jack Oleck era of Weird War Tales one bit.

Jack: Me neither! George Evans continues to puzzle me. How could he be so great at EC in the '50s and so weak at DC in the '70s? Much of the art in "Wings of Death" looks more like the work of Jack Sparling than George Evans, and that's not a good thing. The story is not very good and the twist ending where the old man is revealed to be a vampire is ridiculous. DeZuniga's art is uneven in "Last Rites for the Living," but the panels that are good are very good indeed. Still, it's an old story and one where anyone reading horror comics would have no trouble predicting the ending.

Our Army at War 265

"The Brother"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by John Severin

"Rocco's Roost!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Blockbuster awakens from a nightmare in which he sees his friend Joey killed in combat by Japanese soldiers. Hours later, Easy Co. sustains heavy casualties when they cross a river under heavy mortar fire. When replacement soldiers arrive a few days later, Blockbuster sees that one is Japanese and attacks the new man. Rock explains that the new scout is a Japanese-American named Johnny Hayakawa, but all Blockbuster sees are the man's Asian features. The scout leads the men of Easy Co. across a river and into woods, where they are pinned down by enemy fire until Blockbuster comes to the rescue. Finally, they reach the Nazi encampment and Rock is trapped in an open field under heavy fire. Hayakawa runs out and covers Rock with his body, sacrificing his life to save the sergeant and allowing Blockbuster the opportunity to lob a grenade at the enemy. Blockbuster sees the error of his ways and mourns the replacement soldier.

"The Brother"
Blockbuster's remarks about a "slant-eyed nip" and Rock's use of the term "kraut" seem jarring in the early pages of "The Brother," but soon it becomes clear that this will be a plea for racial tolerance. While such stories were common a few years before at DC, they were less common by 1974. I liked how Jackie Johnson spoke up for Hayakawa and thought Kanigher mixed elements of the morality play with exciting battle sequences effectively. Bulldozer's conversion is believable and it helps that John Severin provides strong illustrations, especially in the sequence where Hayakawa saves Rock.

"Rocco's Roost!" is a hatch on the deck of the U.S.S. Stevens where a fat sailor named Rocco likes to perch and block the fresh air from reaching the sweltering decks below. He is unpopular due to his selfishness, but his profile improves after he saves a couple of sailors scalded in an explosion. Sam Glanzman's less than slick art fits this story unusually well, since he is able to draw Rocco as a caricature of a hairy fat man. I am no fan of the Stevens series but this entry is better than average.

"Rocco's Roost!"

Peter: In the mid-1960s, when Big Bob's first wave of morality fables were published, they seemed like something new and exciting, a shot in the arm for a dying funny book genre. Unfortunately, by 1974, Kanigher's short jabs at the evils of racism come off as calculated and formulaic. For instance, I don't recall Bulldozer being a loud-mouthed, bigoted lout; he was just a lout. Is he just taking on those characteristics for the sake of Big Bob's narrative and next issue he'll return to the fun-loving brute we've all come to know? As far as the art goes, John Severin does a great job filling Russ Heath's shoes, which is a good thing because John will be riding a carousel with George Evans (gulp!) and Russ for the next sixteen issues. "Rocco's Roost" is a nice change of pace from the usual downbeat U.S.S. Stevens vignette (even though I do like those, too!) but the chronological leaps to and fro in each succeeding installment are jarring; there seems to be no continuity.

Walt Simonson
G.I. Combat 169

"The Death of the Haunted Tank!"
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #150, November 1971)

"Peace With Honor!"
Story and Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: It's not enough that Archie and Co. steal our hard-earned dimes and deliver no new Haunted Tank this issue (Arch lays blame right at the feet of the dreaded deadline), but then they add insult to injury by reprinting a story that's only a little more than two years old, on the pretense that this will jar our memories as to how the current Haunted Tank got its wheels. I ain't buyin' it (literally!).

So what we're left with is five original pages devoted to one of Ric Estrada's historical war sagas, this time chronicling the battle between Coriantumr and Shiz, two mighty leaders who fought meaningless wars and watched both of their armies dwindle down to one man each. The final battle, between the two kings themselves, ends in death for both. Though I'm not fond of these little history lessons ("Peace With Honor!" is adapted from The Book of Mormon), Ric Estrada's art is getting better each succeeding installment.

"Peace with Honor!"

Jack: A "historical" battle tale adapted from The Book of Mormon? I did not see that coming. Or should I say, I wish I did not see that coming. Speaking of wishes, I think you are engaging in wishful thinking with your comment about Ric Estrada's art getting better. He's one of those artists whose drawings did not register with me at age ten, but at age 55 they look pretty dreadful.

Star Spangled War Stories 178

"Sting of Death!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Jack Sparling

"A Nice, Warm Bed!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Vicente Alcazar-Serrano

Peter: The Unknown Soldier escapes detection by the Nazis and continues his daring secret mission to find the terror missiles, armed with poisonous gas, weapons designed to kill thousands on contact. Working against him is his German counterpart, Captain von Sturm, a man so filled with hatred for the Allies that he'll sacrifice his life and forego his family life to take down the Unknown Soldier. With help from Hans, a Dutch prisoner of war, the Soldier manages to infiltrate the chamber holding the bombs and sets off a monstrous explosion that blows to hell the factory and its contents. Narrowly escaping through a hidden hatch, US and von Sturm engage in a vicious battle before being ejected into a river. Only one human mummy emerges from the drink. Is it our hero or his nemesis?

Again, I'm finding myself getting used to Sparling's doodles (a declaration I swore I'd never make) and Robbins keeps the action flowing, though the events in "Sting of Death!" do tend to become a bit complicated at times. I like the cliffhanger and the fact that we really don't know which super-spy has pulled himself out of the drink. Von Sturm has become the US equivalent of Rock's "Iron Major," a super-villain that I hope will be around for some time to come. It's surely preferential to faceless Nazis and fat Commandants.

Two GIs bemoan the fact that they have to constantly slog through the rain, sleeping in the mud, when just out of reach, in a bombed-out village, is "A Nice, Warm Bed!" Frank Robbins's short fable is deceptive, leading us down the path we trod so many times before with, say, Robert Kanigher and Mort Drucker. Good old boys who continually prattle on about some such and always get their wish by story's end. Not so here; Robbins's nasty final page is a kick in the head. Newcomer Vicente Alcazar-Serrano (who would contribute but one job for the war titles before moving on to become regular artist on DC's Jonah Hex) even kicks in a fairly good variation on the old Drucker style

Jack: In "Sting of Death!" we see that the German version of the Unknown Soldier does not wear bandages under his masks, which leads me to ask why the Unknown Soldier does. Don't they get wet, dirty, and sweaty? Don't they show through the eye holes? The story, though I was primed not to like it, was pretty good in an action/pulp sort of way. The backup story had better art but seemed similar to many Kanigher tales that beat a phrase into the ground. This version is more violent, however. The Kubert cover makes me want to know why we don't get more Kubert in the war books! Other than two covers this month, he's nowhere to be found, and that in itself is the biggest loss to the line. In the letters column, Goodwin writes that Frank Thorne may draw some upcoming new Enemy Ace stories. Is this going to come to pass?

Next Week...

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