Monday, February 18, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 149: June 1974

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 26

"The Survivor"
Story by John Albano
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"Jump Into Hell"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"A Time to Die"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ernie Chan (Chua)

Peter: During the first World War, French Corporal Deauville racks up some pretty astounding numbers as far as German kills go. He's a one-man wrecking machine (and he prefers hand-to-hand combat rather than from afar), but his comrades are deservedly spooked by the man's elan (and queer cackling) during battle. Then, one day during battle, Corporal Dupree has a deserting German in his sights but Deauville prevents the man from firing. It's as if Deauville wanted this particular German to survive. Later that day, that particular German, Corporal Adolf Hitler, muses with a medic on how lucky he is that the French are such poor marksmen.

"The Survivor"
The Hitler twist has been used a few too many times, but "The Survivor" is not that bad despite the obvious silliness (Deauville - oh how subtle you are, John Albano!) and the shorthand needed to fit all this information into six pages. Alfredo Alcala does his job even if there's nothing special to illustrate (give me Alcala werewolf over Alcala Satan any day). Alfredo does double duty this issue and jumps wars to WWII for "Jump Into Hell," a contrived and cliched mess about a band of paratroopers who literally jump into hell when they stumble on a centuries-old Satanic cult that performs human sacrifices for eternal life (I think). Every century (or so the legends say), the town of Germelshausen rises from hell, takes a few pounds of flesh, and then sinks back into hell. So, why bother performing the act if you have to be swallowed back into the pit again? Who knows. At least it looks nice.

"Jump Into Hell"
A year after abandoning his crew to escape his burning plane, Captain James Davis lies in a hospital bed, drifting in and out of a coma. The doctors can hear Davis's mad ramblings about saving his men, but what the docs don't know is that the captain is in a dream-world, trying to go back and correct his fatal mistake. He connects with his men on the "other side" and discovers the men were fated to die the next day in the desert. Now that he's found peace, the captain dies in his hospital bed. "A Time to Die" is yet another cliched Oleck script; it's also maudlin and forgettable. The finale, when one doctor questions whether a man can live in two places at once and another doctor shrugs and empties desert sand from the dead captain's shoe, is about as predictable as they come.

"A Time to Die"
Jack: I knew you would be happy to see two stories by Alcala! In "The Survivor!," Deauville reminded me of a baseball player who takes steroids. You don't really want him on your team until he hits a home run. The Hitler ending was just dumb. "Jump Into Hell" features some nice work by Alcala, especially in a large panel where blank-eyed peasants attack soldiers. The town that reappears every hundred years reminded me of a Satanic Brigadoon. I liked "A Time to Die" the best, even if Chan drew it and not Alcala. The story kept my interest even though the ending with sand in the shoe was strictly from hunger.

Star Spangled War Stories 180

"The Doomsday Heroes!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Jack Sparling

Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Walt Simonson

Peter: Over the Pacific, the Unknown Soldier poses as a pilot and must put his all-around military skills to the test when he's suddenly surrounded by kamikazes aiming for a US battleship. At the moment of truth, the jet's guns jam and US is forced to ram a diving plane, sending both pilots into the drink. US prevents the Japanese pilot from committing harakiri and the two head off in a skimpy life raft to find safer waters. Mines and Great Whites keep the pair busy until they wash up onshore. The two have formed a cautious alliance but, once the duo has landed on a small island, the enemy pilot clobbers our hero and swims out to sea to destroy a crippled aircraft carrier just off-shore. Grabbing hold of a mine, the pilot gets within range of destroying the ship but is eaten by a shark just before completing his mission. The Unknown Soldier swims back to the island to ponder life and wonder why there is war.

The Sparling art that had kinda grown on me by our last installment is grating on me with this one. It's really awful. "The Doomsday Heroes!" is the 28th US adventure and, I believe, the first to omit one of those scenes where our hero takes his face off (I'm assuming he's using a new form of latex since he doesn't seem to have the itching problem that gave him away to the Nazis a few issues ago) and shows those obligatory bandages. That gauze must have gotten a bit wet, no? The plot is one that's been used a million times in war comics and movies and this variation adds nothing new. This strip is heading for a slump unless Frank Robbins can find fresh ideas for "the man that no one knows but who is known to everybody."

Gerry Boudreau's "Return" is a sequel to "U.F.M." (from SSWS #170), and it's more of the same ponderous and cliched science fiction but, like its predecessor, it's nicely illustrated by Walt Simonson, and sometimes that's all that matters.

Jack:  As I began to read "The Doomsday Heroes!" I thought it was just a retread of a similar story we saw awhile back in the Sgt. Rock series, but as it went along I got wrapped up in it and found it exciting. My only complaint is that the hero could be anyone and the fact that he's the Unknown Soldier seems meaningless. This is a rare tale where the writing is better than the art. The opposite is true of "Return." The story isn't much but, once again, I'm thrilled to see Walt Simonson's dynamic pages. Too bad all of the men in this future world wear their hair and beards like it's 1974!

Our Army at War 269

"A Man Called Rock!
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by George Evans

"The Mighty Mosquito"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #49, September 1957)

"The Sergeant and the Gun!"
Story by Robert Bernstein
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #63, November 1958)

"Stop the War--I Want to Get Off!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #196, August 1968)

"Death Ship of Three Wars!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #101, February 1964)

"Foxhole Fever!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by John Severin
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #65, January 1958)

"No Loot for the Hellcats!"
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #114, August 1968)

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

"A Man Called Rock!"
Jack: "A Man Called Rock!" leads three replacement soldiers across the edge of a cliff in North Africa when one of the green apples falls onto a ledge below. The other two new men lower Rock down by a rope to rescue the new recruit, but a German plane happens to fly by and its bullets cause a break in the rope, allowing Rock to slide to the foot of the cliff. When he is unable to climb back up, he wanders off and is taken captive by natives, whose chief leads Rock around by means of a rope around his neck. When a Nazi tank approaches the natives' village and starts blasting away, Rock blows up the tank and saves the chief. Fortunately, Easy Co. locates Rock at this point and the dreadful tale comes to an end.

"The Mighty Mosquito"
When I saw the Kubert cover to this issue, I got excited and thought it looked so appealing that I would buy it today! I love the DC 100-page format. However, the first story is not a good one. I can set aside allowances for changing times, but the idea of a tribe of black villagers in North Africa is hard to accept. Even more surprising, for a 1974 comic story, is the caption where Rock thinks of the villagers as "hairy-lookin' monkeys." This is the same company that published so many stories on race relations in the late '60s and early '70s! Kanigher's script must have been bare bones, because many panels are free of captions or dialogue. The story is uninvolving and borders on offensive.

Not much better is "The Mighty Mosquito," a reprint from 1957 with typically strong Kubert art but also typically cornball writing by Ed Herron. The title craft is a small PT boat that finds itself in the middle of a battle with much larger planes and ships. Of course, in the end, it's the little boat that saves the day and earns the title moniker.

"The Sergeant and the Gun!"
When a Soviet MiG destroys the tractor that pulls a big gun, a lone sergeant must enlist the aid of locals on the move to transport the gun to its destination. Along the way, he has to use his wits and some armaments to destroy any enemy that stands in the way. Leave it to Mort Drucker to deliver the best story so far in this big, fat issue, and it's a reprint from 1958! Drucker's realistic art is so detailed and impressive that I found myself turning the pages in this six-pager to see what happens next. The yellow-skinned locals and the Soviet MiG make me peg this story as happening in the Korean War, though time and place are never mentioned.

We then get a reprint of the classic Rock story, "Stop the War--I Want to Get Off!" from 1968, followed by "Death Ship of Three Wars!," a Johnny Cloud reprint from 1964 that Peter and I had very different reactions to when we wrote about it in 2015. Another former EC artist, John Severin, contributes "Foxhole Fever!," a story new to us because it was first published in 1958, before the 1959 start date for issues covered in our War Comics blog. A soldier named Al is an expert at digging foxholes, but when he finds himself in combat he has to resort to a series of makeshift shelters instead of digging the real thing.

"No Loot for the Hellcats!" follows, a '68 story about Hunter's Hellcats featuring some nice work by Russ Health, before the issue wraps up with another new story, "Horseless!," by the team of Bob Kanigher and Ric Estrada. After the cavalry wipes out an Indian village, a lone brave follows them and steals their horses. They track him and find that he has ridden into a dead end canyon. The cavalrymen can't climb the slope after him at night in the snow, so they decide to wait till morning. In the morning, the brave is still alive, having skinned a horse and worn its skin to keep warm, while the cavalrymen are dead from the freezing temperatures overnight. The title has a double meaning, since the cavalrymen are both "horseless" in the sense of having no horses to ride, and "horseless" in the sense of not having a warm horse hide to wrap around themselves to avoid a frozen death. The story is effective but Estrada's childish art pales next to the likes of Drucker, Kubert, and Heath.

Peter: I disliked Robert Kanigher's script and George Evans's art for "A Man Called Rock!" immensely. Where does Rock find the time to be in all these different places and training so many green recruits and why would he be separated from the rest of Easy? Big Bob's monstrous monthly workload obviously contributed to the cut-and-pasting from past scripts and the silliness thrown in to ramp up the drama (doubtful the Nazis would waste firepower on a bunch of harmless natives and then sit tight inside their tin can while Rock set them ablaze). Best just to forget this sub-par Sgt. Rock and hope for better out of both Kanigher and Evans next issue. Much better is "Horseless!," another grim "Big Bob's Gallery of War" entry, with passable art by Estrada. Yes, I'd rather this was illustrated by John Severin, but there aren't a lot of close-ups of human faces so Ric's art doesn't grate.

The three reprints offer up a lot of nice artwork from Kubert, Drucker, and Severin, along with the patented catch phrases and impossible GI odds and situations that 1950s' DC War titles excelled in. Any of the three are certainly preferable to the main event this issue.

G.I. Combat 171

"The Man Who Killed Jeb Stuart"
Story by John David Warner
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Sword of Blood!"
Story by John David Warner
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: While rumbling through Italy, the boys of the Jeb Stuart come across a kid named Rod Carson, who's escaped from the decimated town of Carola. He begs the crew to take him to the village so that they can save the men who are trapped by the Germans. After getting the GI aboard, the Haunted Tank heads for Carola, but something about Carson is nagging at Jeb Stuart (the tank commander) and that same nagging extends to the ghost who "protects" the Haunted Tank. The General materializes to his descendant and insists the Jeb should stay clear of Carola and, further, should drop Carson off on the side of the road and leave him be. Jeb (the younger) explains that they can't shirk their duty and the General disappears in a funky vapor. Later, the General appears before Carson and tries to talk sense into him as well, but to no avail. Just then, a sniper cuts down Carson and the crew assumes he's dead, so they roll into Carola to blow the hell out of some Nazi bastards. Carson shows up in the nick of time to save Jeb from eating German shrapnel and Carson's comrades are saved. The General makes another appearance to confirm to the younger Stuart that Carson is the descendant of "The Man Who Killed Jeb Stuart."

"The Man Who Killed Jeb Stuart"
There's a jumble of confusing war action to start off this very-average war tale and Glanzman's art is... well, Glanzman's art, but one aspect of the script interested me and that's the increased "screen time" of our favorite Civil War General. There's quite a bit of interaction with Dead Jeb, but writer John David Warner never explains why Carson is not startled by the appearance of a ghost on a horse. It's almost as though Carson's been waiting for this day. Does his descendant appear to him as well? Unfortunately, Warner doesn't explore these avenues and the whole mess ends up very puzzling. Warner is also responsible for the back-up, "Sword of Blood!," a sequel to "Swords at Dawn" (from GIC #159). I really liked the earlier chapter and this one, about Samurai Zenkiyata (the quickest blade in the East), and his campaign to avenge the murder of his master, Mukaido, is equally involving. Warner keeps the action moving and throws in a couple of interesting twists but I just cannot get on the Ric Estrada train. His art is very cartoony and the subject matter requires something a little more... maybe, Severin-ish.

"Sword of Blood!"

Jack: Another example of an issue where the writing is better than the art, G.I. Combat 171 is hobbled by more sub-par work by Sam Glanzman and Ric Estrada. Twenty-one year old John David Warner brings some fresh ideas to what has become a stale comic book. The increased involvement of the ghost in the first story is welcome, as is the small history lesson. The second story reflects the kung fu craze that was in full swing at the time.



Here's how our favorite war titles did in 1973 (Weird War Tales was still too young to qualify and we won't see sales figures for that title until 1975). We're suckers for lots of trivial data, so we've included the sales reports for the three previous years as well. After a growth spurt in 1972, sales of DC war titles are down across the board (in the case of G.I. Combat, drastically so), but then so were sales of just about all comics titles.

                                                        1973         1972         1971              1970         
G.I. Combat                                    161,702    170,557    167,841         178,363     
Our Army at War                            163,221    165,021    161,881         171,510     
Our Fighting Forces                       147,968    156,524    164,142         139,770     
Star Spangled War Stories              144,292    154,716    145,869         136,204

Amazing Spider-Man                     273,204     288,379    307,550        322,195
Batman                                           200,574     185,283    244,488        293,897
Superman                                       240,558     252,317    325,618        329,925

Next Week...
This is what happens when you
read too many comic books every week!


Todd Mason said...

Wow. Wonder what drove the huge drop in the comics circulation...and suspect it was drugstores and supermarkets particularly dumping their comics racks, as the nickels and dimes they made on the comics became less and less valuable...and probably no little single-issue sales resistance from readers as prices rose to 20c, 25c, and onward.

Jack Seabrook said...

I think you're eight, Todd-the price hikes had a lot to do with it, along with a general drop in circulation of periodicals across the board. I know that when I was a teenager in the mid- to late-'70s, I was incensed at one of the price hikes--40 cents?--and decided it was just too much to keep paying for comics. Now, I pay $4.99 for a 100-pager at Wal-Mart without blinking an eye.