Monday, May 13, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 155: December 1974 + The Best of 1974

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 32

"My Enemy, the Stars!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"The Day After Doomsday!"
Story by Steve Skeates and Mary Skrenes
Art by Bill Draut

"A Glutton for Punishment"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jess Jodloman

"Mission Into Madness!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Bill Draut

Peter: G.I. Gene has been running on a streak of bad luck but he's convinced it's not his astrological sign, as his buddy Coley claims. Then, when Gene is laid up in the middle of a battlefield and watches as the stars descend from the heavens to battle the Nazis, he's not so sure.

"My Enemy, the Stars!"
A farmer and his wife have somehow missed out on the end of the world. The truth hits them square in the face when they have a drink from their well and begin shrinking.

During the Crusades, an obese commander leads his men into battle after battle but manages to stay far away from the combat itself while ravishing himself on the spoils of war. When the devil promises the fat slob he can live until he begs for death, the commander jumps at the chance to eat his way into the history books. As we've come to see in the past, Satan always seems to win these wagers.

A trio of G.I.s must face a whole platoon of killer robots.

"A Glutton for Punishment"
I can no longer keep it a secret. Weird War Tales has become a veritable torture to slog through; I sometimes find chores around the house in order to stave off the inevitable. Only Jack's calming coos of "It's almost over!" keep me going. What happened with WWT by the end of 1974 is exactly what we found befalling the DC "mystery line" at the same time: even while the skilled foreigners were joining the artistic bullpen, pushing to the side the archaic and skimpy abilities of Orlando, Grandenetti and Co., the editors at DC seemed content to let Oleck, Kashdan, and Kanigher pump out the same old cliches issue after issue. And so you get a bargain with the devil in which you can guess the outcome from the moment that Beelzebub materializes and the incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo that makes up "My Enemy, the Stars!" Never mind the two short-shorts where you almost feel as though editor Orlando (who, not coincidentally, was editing the aforementioned mystery titles at the same time) opted to run only the last couple pages of stories that were much longer. Not that I wanted to read any more. Skeates was a newcomer and was just getting his footing (he would go on to write some dazzlers for Warren), but Oleck, Finger, and Kashdan were past their sale-date. Based on the amount of typos found in the captions, I would say this was a title no longer given much thought or care at the DC offices. Aside from some passable art by Talaoc and Jodloman (whose styles were virtually interchangeable), this is one awful comic book.

Jack: Peter, Peter, hang in there! If you can read innumerable Atlas horror comics you can handle this. "My Enemy, the Stars!" starts slow but picks up halfway through and is more charming than weird, with decent art. "The Day After Doomsday!" is a ridiculous waste of two pages, while "A Glutton for Punishment" is a tasteless tale with ugly art. I don't think Jodloman can hold a candle to Talaoc. "Mission into Madness!" isn't as bad as "The Day After Doomsday!" but it's close.

Star Spangled War Stories 183

"8,000 to One"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Hell's Angels! Part III:
To End in Flames!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Thorne

Peter: The Unknown Soldier must impersonate a Nazi Captain and infiltrate the Gestapo in order to ax the planned slaughter of 8,000 Jews. The mission does not come without its sacrifices (US is forced to shoot a Jew who has turned rat in order to save her life) but, in the end, as Mister Spock once said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

"Ooooh, Captain!"
As with Our Fighting Forces, the exit of Archie Goodwin causes a bit of a shake-up in personnel but, unlike the Kirby debacle chronicled in our last visit, Star Spangled War Stories actually trades up from Robbins/Sparling to Michelinie/Talaoc and sees an immediate jump in quality. In the hands of Gerry Talaoc, the Unmasked Soldier is a horrifying sight to behold (although the reaction on the face of the Judas in one panel makes it look as though our Soldier is grabbing a handful of feminine rear end) and, thanks to Michelinie, the script has some bite to it. Gone (for now, at least) is the mud we'd been stuck in and what we get is a violent drama where the Soldier wins but realizes he's taken some hits as well. Save for one issue when Michelinie will be subbed by Gerry Conway, this is the writer/artist team we will ride off with into the sunset. Bodes well for future issues.

"8,000 to One"
In the "B" position in this issue's double-feature is the third (and final) chapter of "Hell's Angels," the big DC war hero mash-up between uber-villain Hans von Hammer and handsome rodeo man and balloon buster, Steve Savage. The two finally finish their begrudging grudge match, and the winner is... Oh, but that would be telling. I will say that I didn't think the triple length of this "epic" was justified, since the first two chapters were nothing but foreplay and the climax is a bit of a cheat. In any event, Frank Thorne's Joe Kubert aping (or perhaps an uncredited helping hand from the master himself) leave one satisfied visually. By far, the best issue of a DC war title this month.

"To End in Flames!"
Jack: I agree completely. That cover makes me think back to when I was 11 years old and bought this off the stands; I think this may have been the first issue of Unknown Soldier I ever bought. And it's a great one! The reveal of his real face on the splash page is a shock and the story is excellent. For once, I enjoyed it from start to finish and it could've been longer. Talaoc's art is perfect for the series and this is the best Unknown Soldier story in years. The Enemy Ace backup tale is not bad, there's just not much meat to it. The three-parter seemed too fragmentary and I would have preferred one long book-length story to three short ones. I thought they were really going to do away with Steve Savage, but no--there he is, wrapped in bandages, vowing revenge. Too bad.

Our Army at War 275

"Graveyard Battlefield"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Lucky... Save Me!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

"Sergeants Aren't Born--!"
(Reprinted from Showcase #45, August 1963)

"Man Behind the Flintlock!"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #22, June 1955)

"Trench Trap!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #39, October 1955)

"The Easy Way!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #67, March 1958)

"Valley of Missing Aces!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #106, May 1961)

No words necessary!
"Graveyard Battlefield"
Jack: While the rest of Easy Co. gets a much-needed rest, Sgt. Rock heads off alone in a jeep to visit a "Graveyard Battlefield" from WWI. He reaches the graveyard but his jeep is targeted by a Nazi plane; Rock crouches behind one of the crosses in the cemetery and shoots down the plane with well-placed fire from his machine gun. Coincidentally, the cross behind which Rock finds himself marks the last resting place of his father, Sgt. John Rock, who was killed in 1918.

Rock barely has time to talk to his late father before gunfire erupts from Nazi troops hiding in a nearby wood. Rock takes on the Nazis single-handedly and ends up bleeding and on the run, being tracked by a young Nazi officer. Rock manages to outwit and stab his pursuer, who tells the American soldier that the nearby German cemetery is the last resting place of his own father. Rock carries the officer to the grave of his father and leaves his body there, though the man lives long enough to thank the American sergeant.

I always get excited to see a 100-page super-spectacular from the mid-'70s, and this one is off to a great start with a classic Rock story by Kanigher and Heath. Sgt. Rock is the closest thing to a DC War Comic superhero that we'll ever see, and this story is essentially all Rock, with Easy Co. off resting somewhere nearby. Kanigher wisely keeps the verbiage to a minimum, allowing Heath to tell much of the story visually, and it works well. I know that it's too coincidental that Rock finds himself crouching by his father's grave when he is attacked, but I can live with it. I also like the humanity he shows toward his enemy at the end.

"Lucky... Save Me!"
A kamikaze plane crashes into an American ship and four men are incinerated in the blaze that follows. A fifth, Walt Rasmussen, is badly burned but alive, his only words being "'Lucky... L-Lucky." No one realizes he's referring to the beloved dog he played with as a child. Sam Glanzman is back with another U.S.S. Stevens story, though at four pages, "Lucky... Save Me!" doesn't amount to much.

Daniel Adams works in his father's gun shop but longs to join up and fight in the American Revolution. When he is old enough, he enlists, but quickly finds himself repairing guns once again. He is given the task of delivering guns to other fighting men and, on the way, Daniel encounters a troop of Hessian soldiers. The cunning of the young "Man Behind the Flintlock!" holds off the enemy until reinforcements arrive.

Herron packs some plot into six pages and Andru & Esposito's art has not yet (by 1955) settled into the annoying caricature it would become by the early- to mid-1960s, so this reprint is unexpectedly enjoyable.

An elevator operator before WWII, Mickey Williams longed for the wide open spaces of the battlefield. Of course, he ends up stuck inside a tank, battling the enemy and complaining a lot. When he finally gets out of the tank, he barely lives through a harrowing attack by plane and has to seek shelter in a trench. He is so happy to have survived that he rushes back to the tank and locks himself inside.

"The Easy Way!"
Not the best work I've seen from Russ Heath, and another in a string of Kanigher short stories where a point is driven home over and over again, "Trench Trap!" is predictable and meandering.

"The Easy Way!" is how a G.I. is taught to do things in basic training, so as not to over-exert himself. When he joins Easy Company, the sarge tells him to do everything the Easy way, but he learns quickly that the Easy way is not always easy.

Haney rips a page from Kanigher's book and drums a phrase into the poor reader's head over and over, but this time it's "easier" to take because of Mort Drucker's gritty, engaging art. If there's one thing I've learned doing this DC War Comics blog, it's that I can't get enough of Mort Drucker!

Peter: Despite the great Heath art, "Graveyard Battlefield" begins as something interesting and devolves into the usual maudlin, by-the-numbers script Big Bob had been hammering out for his most famous war hero by 1974. There's nothing new or thought-provoking here and Rock as indestructible Superman is getting really, really old. I had exactly the same reaction to the U.S.S. Stevens entry. We begin with the harrowing scene of the burning Marines and devolve into some kind of Disney After-School Special about a prize pooch. The tired "Man Behind the Flintlock!" espouses the thrill and fun of being "at the front" where the real men are. The Andru/Esposito wide-eyed art doesn't help one bit. Two stories full of Heath magic in one issue go a long way to settle my cranky disposition, but "Trench Trap!" is a dirge, cut from the same "Oh, isn't that ironic?" cloth that was surely down to its last two or three inches by 1955. Who would guess a guy stuck in an office would get drafted, expecting excitement, get stuck in a tank, and then learn to love his job? Not me! As far as "The Easy Way!" goes, I'll just end this review of the dismal 100-page giant-sized Our Army at War #275 the Easy way: I love Mort Drucker!

G.I. Combat 174

"Vow to a Dead Foe"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Hero in a Hole"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Sparling

"The First and the Last"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: On the Alaskan coast island of Attu, Commander Jeb Stuart makes a solemn vow to a dying Japanese soldier and then wonders if he's not sacrificing the lives of his men to honor that vow. The goofy decisions the US Army made during WWII! Imagine, ordering a tank to travel nearly six thousand miles from Italy to the Alaskan coast just to see if the tank could survive the cold! Was the Haunted Tank the only vehicle the Army had left standing? And how long would it take to make such a journey? Was it by land, sea, or air? The story itself contains some interesting and earnest emotional material but, by the third act, these elements become maudlin and trite. It's ridiculous to think Jeb would offer up the lives of his comrades for the wishes of a dead man (and the scene where Jeb re-enters a burning building to retrieve the ashes of the fallen soldier is head -scratching... how would he gather up the proper ashes in a room burned to a crisp?). "Vow to a Dead Foe" does break some ground, though, in that I believe this is the first instance where the general's ghost actually plays a part in saving the tank from destruction.

"Vow to a Dead Foe"
"Hero in a Hole" is a silly call-back to the 1950s' DC war stories (with Bob Haney still writing them like in the old days) and "The First and the Last" is a so-so fight against greater odds tale with truly awful art. I'm surprised this didn't have the "Gallery of War" banner flying over the title; it very much feels like one of Big Bob's deeper scripts even if the outcome is predictable.

On the "Let's Make Tracks" page, new editor Murray Boltinoff introduces himself and answers one grumpy letter hack (who wants to debate a past missive that the "P-51 Mustang was inferior to the F-4 Corsair") with a grumpy response: "Let's get something straight, fellers. We can't be responsible for how the previous guy guided this mag." All you have to do is read Boltinoff's first issue in charge to know his reign will be nothing like the stellar job Archie did with his war books. Man, I feel grumpy this week.

Jack: "Vow to a Dead Foe" is one of three stories this month that I rated one star out of four. The story was boring and far-fetched, even for a tale about a haunted tank, but when the spectral general blew a big wind and then reached out his massive hand to catch the tank as it teetered on the side of a cliff, I knew we were in wretched territory, even despite Glanzman's chicken scratch art. "Hero in a  Hole" is slightly better, certainly more interesting at two pages long than the Haunted Tank entry was at twelve pages long, but the Spalding art is not pleasing to my eye. Finally, "The First and the Last" was well on its way to a one-star rating, what with Estrada alternating between his own "style" and that of Grandenetti, when the finish was surprisingly good--but it only lifted the rating to two stars. This issue and Weird War Tales belong in the 25 cent boxes at the local comic store today.



Best Script: Archie Goodwin, "Burma Sky" (Our Fighting Forces #146)
Best Art: Alex Toth, "Burma Sky"
Best All-Around Story: "Burma Sky"

Worst Script: Arnold Drake, "The Story of a Real Dog-Face" (Weird War Tales #31)
Worst Art: Bill Draut, "The Story of a Real Dog-Face"
Worst All-Around Story"The Story of a Real Dog-Face"
(A note from behind the curtain: "The Story of a Real Dog-Face" earns its place in Star Spangled DC War Stories history as, I believe, the only story to take all three honors in the Worst of the Year prizes. It's truly a feat that Orlando, Drake and Draut should be proud of.)


  1 "Burma Sky"
  2 "Catch" (Our Fighting Forces #150)
  3 "Breaking Point" (Weird War Tales #29)
  4 "The Elite" (Our Army at War #268)
  5 "Last Battle" (Weird War Tales #24)


Best Script: George Evans, "Trial By Combat" (Our Fighting Forces 149)
Best Art: Alex Toth, "Burma Sky
Best All-Around Story: "Trial By Combat"

Worst Script: Jack Oleck, "A Glutton for Punishment" (Weird War Tales 32)
Worst Art: Sam Glanzman, "Chain of Vengeance" (G.I. Combat 170)
Worst All-Around Story: "A Glutton for Punishment"


  1 "Burma Sky"
  2 "Arena" (Our Fighting Forces 147)
  3 "The Last Charge" (Our Fighting Forces 148)
  4 "A Bullet for a Traitor!" (Our Fighting Forces 149)
  5 "Trial By Combat"

Next Week...
More Ditko Black Magic!

From Our Army at War 275

No comments: