Monday, June 10, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 157: February 1975


The DC War Comics
1959-1976
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook



Dominguez
Weird War Tales 34

"The Common Enemy!"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Jack Sparling

"The Flying Coffins!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"To His Rescue Came a Maiden!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ricardo Villamonte

Peter: An American soldier ends up stranded on a deserted island in the Pacific during WWII, alone save a giant Easter Island-esque totem half-buried in the jungle. Then, after two years of solitude, the GI gets a visitor: a Japanese soldier, who immediately lets his enemy know he's not there to make friends. The two begin a never-ending war and during one of their mini-battles, the statue is hit by a potato masher and, amazingly, digs itself out. The two soldiers forget their private war for the moment and team up to fight this new menace. Then it seems the totem has become bored of the game; it calls forth its spaceship, parked at the bottom of the ocean "maybe a million years," and flies off. The two earthlings resume their battle for decades!

"The Common Enemy!"
I would proclaim this one of the stupidest DC war stories I've ever read, but then I'm sure I've said that before (and, doubtless, will again), but... seriously, this is the stupidest DC war story I've ever read. Writer Drake dusts off one of the oldest cliches in the book, the "Arena" rip-off, and then throws in some von Daniken just for the hell of it. But the rising totem is not the dopiest element... that would be the never-ending supply of ammo these two soldiers use on each other. The final panel lets us know that, 29 years after the war has ended, these two jamokes are still firing at each other! Did they figure out a way to make bullets out of coconuts?

In World War I, French ace Guy Genet and his German counterpart, Hauptmann Kleber, commit to a solo duel but both are killed before the match-up can occur. Death won't slow these two down, though, so decades later, during WWII, the aces finally get their duel. Well, actually, I guess death did slow them down since it took them decades to finally empty their machine guns into each other! Big Bob's weird script for "The Flying Coffins!" is as dusty as the rest of his contributions, but at least the art chores were handed over to Ruben Yandoc (Rubeny), and the visuals are pretty nice. The ending sputters out as badly as Kleber's Fokker DR-1, with no clear outcome of the ghostly duel.

What? Did you think I was lying?!
("The Common Enemy!")

Sadistic Nazi Colonel von Hoffman, fleeing from American soldiers, ducks into a castle and meets up with the caretaker, who promises the colonel he will lead him to safety. After the servant takes von Hoffman to an underground passageway, the colonel murders him and ducks through a doorway, unaware that he's walking into an Iron Maiden. Bloodthirsty Nazis have become the go-to monsters in WWT and von Hoffman is only the latest. As with "The Flying Coffins!," "To His Rescue Came a Maiden!" holds no surprises but is easy on the eye. Clever title, too.

"The Flying Coffins!"

Jack: It's hard to say which of these three stories is the worst, but I'll give the edge to "The Common Enemy!," which features dreadful Sparling art amidst a hodgepodge of cliches from war comics and the 1970s. It's like a racist space odyssey. "The Flying Coffins!" is similar to the story before it in that two enemies keep fighting after they should have stopped. Still, Yandoc is better than Sparling. "To His Rescue Came a Maiden!" is best because it's only four pages long. The end comes out of nowhere and Villamonte's art looks like he's still got a lot to learn.


Kubert
G.I. Combat 175

"The Captive Tank"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Ace Without Pity"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: On the way to defend Hill 217, the Jeb engages and destroys a German tank. The Nazi commander survives the ordeal but he's a little frazzled and believes the Jeb to be another German tank. Commander Jeb plays along with his German counterpart and obeys the orders given him, realizing that the directions to Hill 217 the Nazi is giving are taking the Jeb through mine-free territory. Once the Jeb Stuart makes it to the Hill, the Nazi regains his senses and tries to sabotage the mission, but our heroes survive to fight another day.

It's inexplicable to me that Jeb would have let the Nazi take command of the Haunted Tank from the get-go (after it's apparent the tank is heading through a safe zone, I get it, but Jeb sure didn't know that, did he?) and it's at that point in "The Captive Tank" his crew should have been questioning their commander's losing his marbles rather than earlier, when he's having his usual beginning-of-the-adventure powwow with the great General in the Sky (and, Big Bob, can't we refrain at least one issue from the obligatory discussion amongst the crew about the mental state of their commander?).

"The Captive Tank"

World War I pilot Bruno Krieg has one goal as he takes to the skies and that's to become a German ace no matter what the cost. He engages a British pilot but the Brit soon runs out of ammo. That won't stop Krieg from attaining his glory, so he opens up on his defenseless enemy and awaits ace-dom. His euphoria is short-lived, however, when the Brit sends his plane crashing into Krieg's Focke-Wulf and the German takes a nose-dive. Krieg survives the crash and swims to shore but, later, while attempting to reach his airfield by sea, he is attacked by a Great White... an enemy as cut-throat and unforgiving as he. Much better than the lead-in thanks to its ironic climax, "Ace Without Pity" sure feels like a "Gallery of War" entry. It's got the heavier and more violent script by Kanigher and roller coaster visuals by Estrada. It's the best Ric/Big Bob entry in quite some time but still more evidence that, aside from the Enemy Ace, Kanigher's Nazis were glory-hungry, bloodthirsty androids.

"Ace Without Pity"

Jack: "The Captive Tank" got pretty exciting despite Glanzman's art and it was nice to see Gus get some action for a change. I like how Kanigher (at least this time out) works to distinguish the members of the usually faceless tank crew from each other. As for "Ace Without Pity," I was sure this was a Jaws tie-in but then I saw that the movie did not come out till the following summer, so I guess Big Bob anticipated the feeding frenzy in advance! The letters page has Glanzman's autobiography, which is reproduced at the bottom of this post.


Kubert
Our Army at War 277

"Gashouse Gang"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Death-Watch!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: Marching through snow on their way north through Italy, the men of Easy Co. suddenly find themselves under fire. Rock sustains a serious injury to his foot and instructs Bulldozer to take command and check out the area while Rock stays behind in a hillside cave. Hours pass and Bulldozer returns, distraught over having lost track of some of his men.

The next night, Bulldozer goes out again with a reduced force and comes back at dawn, having lost even more men. By the next evening, Bulldozer has gone off the deep end due to grief and thinks he's back in his boyhood haunt on Chicago's South Side, fighting the "Gashouse Gang." Rock knocks him out but later that night Bulldozer escapes. Although he is still injured, Rock sets off alone to look for his comrade. He saves Bulldozer from some Nazi gunners and then convinces the still-addled soldier that they are both kids in Chicago and the Nazis are the Gashouse Gang.

"Gashouse Gang"
Rock and Bulldozer manage to destroy a giant Nazi gun and, when they head back to base and see that the men who were thought to be lost are alive and well, Bulldozer snaps out of his funk and is back to his old self.

Russ Heath may not be capable of turning in a bad art job, and this one is pretty good, especially in some of the more violent spots. Still, Kanigher's script is corny and goes over some tired territory. It's also a bit hard to follow at times. I do like getting a bit of back-story on one of the men of Easy Co., though, something I wish they'd do more of.

Marine Sergeant Sam Huff is asked by one of his men to tell the story of war photographer Arnie Anderson, who won a prize for a picture he took during battle on Guadalcanal. Huff explains how the intrepid photographer followed his unit from island to jungle, snapping pictures but seemingly managing to avoid injury while men were dying all around him. The soldiers began to think he was bad luck, so he went to sit in his jeep, where he was promptly killed by enemy fire. Sgt. Huff's photo of Anderson, dead in the jeep, was published in Life.


"Death-Watch!"
Kanigher and Estrada team up for an impressive Gallery of War entry! The black and white panels that represent the photos Anderson took are more impressive than Estrada's color work, probably because they're grittier than what we're used to from this artist. I looked up Arnie Anderson but he seems to be a fictional character.

Peter: Another issue, another serious injury to Rock. Bulldozer remarks "You ought be on your way back to the base, Rock..." when, actually, the Sarge probably should have been laid up in a military hospital for months after all the wounds he's suffered lately. And who really thought any of the regulars had met with untimely fates? Again, Bulldozer makes a pithy comment upon seeing the return of all his missing comrades: "I feel like--I'm comin' back--from a bad dream!" Yep, feels just like one of those dream stories to me as well. The "Gallery of War" entry is a strong one, graced with a powerful final image and perhaps the best Estrada work yet. I wonder if Big Bob was basing his Arnie Anderson character on famed WWII journalist Ernie Pyle, also killed in action.


Kubert
Star Spangled War Stories 184

"A Sense of Obligation"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Death on the Russian Front"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Ramona Fradon

Peter: The Unknown Soldier receives the word on his latest mission while he's perfecting his killing skills. In order to protect the "Operation: Torch" mission the Allies have sweeping through North Africa, US must infiltrate the German Commando training center located in France. Once there, our hero befriends Heinrich Staub, a German soldier not entirely sympathetic to the Nazi code of ethics; US saves the man's life during a field exercise and earns his trust. Later, during a raid on a French resistance headquarters, Staub witnesses the Soldier unmasked and says nothing to his superiors, believing US to be a disfigured German soldier seeking anonymity. Eventually, US leads a band of French freedom fighters in an assault on the commandos and US is forced to kill Staub. Again, the Unknown Soldier has excelled at his job but feels no triumph.

"A Sense of Obligation"
"A Sense of Obligation" is another really good Michelinie/Talaoc installment, with lots of standout dialogue and twists. As when Staub looks on in disgust at Nazi soldiers executing villagers:

Staub: There are other ways of punishing rebels--more humane ways! But these "elite soldiers" seem to delight in inflicting pain! Sometimes I think that's the only reason the blasted Nazis started the war!
US: The blasted--? But Heinrich--you are a Nazi!
Staub: Nein! I am a German! I will never be a Nazi! I hate what these devils are doing to the country I love!

Equally effective is the scene where Staub helps the Soldier out from under some debris and hands him his mask, mistakenly believing this is a comrade who only wants to hide his scars from fellow soldiers. It's a fabulous scene and creates a foundation for the tough choice the Soldier must make in the end. Gerry Talaoc's art for that scene is like something out of Tales From the Crypt. We are in good hands here.

"A Sense of Obligation"

The second half of this issue's double-bill is Steve Skeates's preachy "Death on the Russian Front," wherein a Nazi officer must contend with two soldiers and their disregard for the fancy officers of the Luftwaffe. War is hell and it makes good men do bad things. A new message. The art, by Golden Age artist Ramona Fradon, is not awful (it's a kind of low-rent Will Eisner if you look at it sideways), but the huge, fried-egg eyes on all three characters is a bit annoying.

"Death on the Russian Front"

Jack: This was easily the best of the four comics we read for this post. Gerry Talaoc is a great choice to draw the Unknown Soldier series, which has taken a welcome turn with the decision to eschew the bandages and instead have US look more like a living skull. Michelinie's story is very good, involving a decent German who forces US to make a difficult decision. I enjoyed the second story more than you did, Peter. I'm happy to see something set on the Russian Front for a change, since this is a big part of WWII that is neglected in the DC War Comics. When I see Ramona Fradon's art, I immediately think of her work on Metamorpho; it takes a bit of getting used to, but I really like it, and I seem to recall she did some great work in the DC Horror books later in the '70s. It's also cool that she was a female comic artist at a time when men overwhelmed the industry.

Next Week...
Praise for Grandenetti?
Peter Needs a Vacation?
Jack Weighs In!

From G.I. Combat 175

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