Monday, July 8, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 159: April 1975

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 36

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Mike Sekowsky & Bill Draut

"The Moon is the Murderer"
(Reprinted from Weird War Tales #2, December 1971)

"The 13th Man"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"The Pool..."
(Reprinted from Weird War Tales #3, February 1972)

"Monsieur Gravedigger"
(Reprinted from Weird War Tales #2, December 1971)

"Bloody Halloween"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by E.R. Cruz

"The Day After Doomsday..."
(Reprinted from House of Secrets #86, July 1970)

"Colonel Clown Isn't Laughing Anymore!"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Frank Robbins

(Reprinted from Weird War Tales #2, December 1971)

"The Deadly Seeds"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alex Niño

Mike Sekowsky has Peter turning tail and running
Peter: G.I. Steve Talbot is about to get run through by the bayonet of a Nazi soldier when he discovers a way to "Escape" from his body: soul transference! For some strange reason, Steve is able to lift his essence up and out and take over the body of someone standing near him. It saves his life and later, when a German tank is about to demolish his comrades, it makes him a hero. What bad thing did we do to be subjected to a double issue of Weird War Tales at the peak of its mediocrity? A lazy script and ugly art make this one a candidate for inclusion in a Gold Key volume called Ripley's Believe It Or Not: The Stories That Got Away! No explanation for Talbot's sudden supernatural abilities; they're just there.

"The 13th Man"
Seaman John Chandler has horrible nightmares about his last day on the submarine, the Porpoise, which was destroyed by the Nazis, leaving Chandler the only survivor. When Chandler is reassigned to the destroyer, the Monahan, he keeps his mates awake at night with his moaning and screams. The ship takes some hits and must steer into a local cove, the area where the Porpoise was sunk, and Chandler elevates from nerves to terror. Revealing that he actually abandoned the sub and watched as his comrades were killed, Chandler insists that the men are waiting for him at the bottom of the ocean. When a Stuka flies in and attacks the Monahan, Chandler once again jumps ship but, this time, he doesn't escape. Though it's no classic, at least "The 13th Man" is readable, something we haven't been able to say about a story in this title for some time. The climax is predictable, but it's still a decent ghost story and Yandoc's art is pretty creepy when it needs to be.

choke... groan ("Bloody Halloween")
"Bloody Halloween" is a three-page waste of space, with G.I.s held up in a castle that has a reputation for evil. Hoping to give their skeptical C.O. a scare, a pair of lieutenants cook up an ingenious scheme: one of them will dress as a vampire and throw a scare into their colonel! George Kashdan was obviously poring over old DC horror comics at about this time since he uses one of the most cliched reveals of all time, and with a straight face yet. Bloody awful.

Yussel Arenski, entertainer in the "Underground Night Club," found in the Warsaw ghetto, keeps his friends laughing and cheerful despite the real world that awaits them outside. The Nazis get wind of the Club Yussel and storm the place, arresting the patrons and shooting Yussel in cold blood. Yussel's effects are sent to Colonel Schroeder, who will ready them to be shipped to Der Fuhrer as evidence that the Warsaw Clown has been executed. But something funny is going on with Col. Schroeder; he's suddenly donning red noses and funny wigs without a clue as to how they got there. When Hitler himself comes to call on Schroeder to congratulate him on his feat, the colonel launches into a comedy sketch belittling the chief Nazi. Schroeder is cut down as an example to his men.

"Colonel Clown Isn't Laughing Anymore!"
"Colonel Clown Isn't Laughing Anymore!" isn't the burning bag of excrement I expected it to be when I saw who was credited, but it's a bit confusing in spots. That could be chalked up to Frank Robbins's indecipherable visuals, which bleed from one panel into the next like a pesky neighbor who builds his shed on your property. Got to give Drake (and editor Orlando) credit for such a dark, nasty script. Obviously, by this time, the CCA wasn't even paying attention; it's not that the story is overly graphic, but it's got a dismal atmosphere compared to the rest of the pablum WWT has been serving up.

"The Deadly Seeds" is a short-short about a group of G.I.s sent to kidnap a German scientist who's working on a top-secret weapon for the Nazis. When the mission goes south, the soldiers discover just what the egghead's been up to. For a three-pager, "The Deadly Seeds" is not bad, thanks mostly to A+ art by favorite Alex Niño.

On the letters page, which is usually a must-skip, Joe (or whoever manned the letters page) takes us behind the scenes on the formation of Weird War Tales. Short but most interesting (and reprinted far below).

Jack: I was excited to see a DC giant-sized comic from 1975 with a cool cover by Kubert, but the insides are not that hot. The art team of Sekowsky and Draut on "Escape" did not bode well and Kanigher's story is a dud. "The 13th Man" is a run-of-the-mill story with the cool final panel that is reproduced above. "Bloody Halloween" recalls "Banquo's Chair" with fairly good art by Cruz, and "Colonel Clown Isn't Laughing Anymore!" was better than I expected, though the Robbins art is dreadful as ever. Even Niño can't save "The Deadly Seeds," which doesn't work up much momentum in three short pages.

Star Spangled War Stories 186

"Man of God--Man of War"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"The Last Kill"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Franc Reyes

Peter: Father Memmoli insists to the Nazis that occupy his small Italian village that his people will not wage war against either side. Things change when a couple of American G.I.s storm into Monte Grande to rescue one of their captured comrades, steal a jeep, and run down a group of toddlers on the way out of town. Embittered by what he sees as American brutality, the father urges his people to side with the Nazis. Enter the Unknown Soldier, whose mission is to exterminate the "Man of God--Man of War" and return Monte Grande to a state of pacification. US takes on the guise of wounded Nazi Lt. Aschermann and wins the trust of the confused padre. While roaming Monte Grande, our hero discovers that the two soldiers who killed the children were actually disguised Nazis. He guns down the scum and readies the bodies for hiding, unaware that he's being watched by...

"Man of God--Man of War"
A good cliffhanger and a decent story, but I'll deduct a half-point for the predictability of the "reveal." I think it would have been much more effective had the child-killers been simply gung-ho G.I.s trying to make their escape: the act leaving a conflict in the reader and raising sympathy in the padre's turn-around. It's still the best DC War comic being published at the time (if only by default), but Michelinie has proven in just a short time that he's a master of pessimism rather than a facilitator of the cliche.

Unfortunately, the subtle nuances found in Michelinie's Unknown Soldier scripts are nowhere to be found in the heavy-handed and preachy "The Last Kill," wherein we get a peek at future sports. Or is it the future? Borrowing pages from The Mechanic and William Harrison's "The Rollerball Murder," "The Last Kill" is the story of Dak Broadhurst, number one "professional warrior" in a world that has outlawed war, who is ordered to train an up-and-comer named Logan. You know where it's going from there. Michelinie lays out a world where the public demands lots of blood and guts and no mercy from their arena idols, and heaven help the gladiator who doesn't provide the spectacle. Yep, I get it, David. 2089 isn't so different than 1975 when it comes to the masochistic hunger of sports fans.

DC pushing boundaries? ("The Last Kill")
Jack: I liked this issue much more than you did, Peter. The Unknown Soldier story has a great opening that sets up a moral question. As the story progressed, it became clear to me that US is basically a superhero at this point, but I don't mind. The ending is excellent and the cliffhanger reminds me of the sort of situation often pictured on the covers of DC War and Horror comics, where a character thinks he's in the clear but we see menace he doesn't. "The Last Kill" was almost as good, which was a big surprise to me, since I don't usually enjoy these sci fi/war mashups. The "future" of 2039 isn't looking so likely from the vantage point of 2019, is it! I think Michelinie is easily the best writer in the DC War comics at this point and I look forward to each issue of SSWS.

G.I. Combat 177

"The Tank That Missed D-Day"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Sam Glanzman

"The Avenging Wind"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Redondo

Peter: The Jeb Stuart is airlifted to England to take part in the great invasion scheduled for June 6, 1944, but the men take a wrong turn and end up late for the party. The ghostly Colonel makes an appearance just long enough to let his descendant know that not all heroes will end up in Normandy. That's all well and good for a specter but our heroes find themselves heading for a court-martial for dereliction of duty. Jeb manages to find a salty sea dog to ferry them to the other side of the Channel and the small tug finds itself in the midst of many harrowing incidents but, helped along by the giant fists of Colonel Jeb Stuart, the tank makes it to the other side. The boys end up quite a ways away from the action but they manage to while their time away by saving a small coastal village from Nazi scum.

Ghostly intervention
"The Tank That Missed D-Day" is a very confusing chapter in the Haunted Tank saga which seems, more and more, to veer away from any sort of familiar geography or timeline. Why would the army fly the Jeb in from Africa "specially" for D-Day (and, forgive my ignorance, but wasn't D-Day pretty much a secret?--how would Commander Jeb know it was called D-Day?) and why, all of a sudden after 88 adventures, does the Colonel physically affect the action? The entire strip pushed my patience to the brink and, lord knows, I don't have much patience left for Sam Glanzman's Haunted Tank. More and more, the Jeb takes outlandish chances (how many times, ferinstance, has the damn thing turned upside down in the last twelve months?), only to emerge the next issue just fine. Speaking of which, I have a feeling the court-martial won't even be mentioned again.

Two boys, one Japanese, one American, grow up thousands of miles apart but with the same dream: to soar in a great bird and shoot down the enemy. Long story short: they get their wish. Well, "The Avenging Wind" is not as bad as my synopsis might infer, but it's built upon one of Big Bob's favorite cliches and climaxes with a preach (just as the two pilots are killed in battle, two more children, growing up thousands of miles apart, head for an inevitable showdown).Very nice art by Frank Redondo.

"The Avenging Wind"
Jack: I was interested to see how Bob Haney would handle the Haunted Tank, but he blew it! It seems the ghostly general can now make road signs spin around, conjure up storms at sea, and turn into a giant to lift a boat in his massive hand. That boat's skipper is a Dutchman named Jaans, whose fractured English is cringeworthy. The General should have just taken his namesake aside and said, "Hey, Jeb, I need you to head over to this little village to help out." Much simpler than moving Heaven and Earth to trick the tank crew to get them there! I agree about Frank Redondo's art on "The Avenging Wind"--it's sharp! Not so sharp is another example of Kanigher's parallel story structure, where the circular ending is more interesting than the main story. I can't believe this title is going monthly. God help us.

 Our Army at War 279

"Mined City!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. are just a few of the Allied soldiers in a long line approaching a French town formerly held by Nazis, but as they get close they discover that it's a "Mined City!" It seems the Nazis set land mines all around and left a master switch in a blockhouse in the city center. If the Nazis who are left sense an Allied attack coming, they will blow up the city.

Easy Co. is given the task of attacking the blockhouse at night, under cover of darkness, but as they move towards it they run into a couple of Nazi traps. For some reason, loudly killing Nazis along the way does not alert those holed up in the blockhouse and Easy Co. manages to reach it, but their attack is a complete flop. They kill all of the Nazis inside but one of them throws the switch as he dies and the entire town blows up.

"Mined City!"
It never ceases to amaze me how Rock and his men escape death at every turn, while others drop like flies around them! They fail utterly in their mission this time out, but in the end Rock tells Ice Cream Soldier that the Nazis didn't win this round--the war did. I have news for Rock--he and his team blew it! One person who didn't blow it is Russ Heath, who comes through with an excellent job of visual storytelling, using many wordless panels to advance the story without needless chatter. I wonder if he removed dialogue from Kanigher's scripts or if Kanigher just sent him scripts that were less verbose.

In WWII, an American pilot and a Japanese pilot take off and do battle in the air. The Japanese plane crashes into the American plane and both men are ejected. The American has a parachute but the Japanese doesn't. Fortunately, the Japanese pilot ends up in the arms of the American pilot as they descend, though he fights against being saved. Unfortunately, their "Rendezvous" is short-lived as a Japanese plane shoots both men dead and they continue their descent lifelessly.

Ric Estrada gives us a good example of why Russ Heath's ability to advance a story wordlessly is so notable. In this Gallery of War entry, there is not a single word--no captions or dialogue at all. Estrada tells the story reasonably well, but it's not crystal clear, and I suspect it's just beyond his abilities. The story itself is a trifle and ends, as expected, with a panel showing the futility of war. The "Make War No More" circle ends both this and the Sgt. Rock story this issue, showing that it was still in use as of the comics cover-dated April 1975.

Peter: "Mined City!" is the best Rock of the year. This is the kind of dark, gloomy script Big Bob usually reserves for his "Gallery of War" stories. It's refreshing that we're not handed yet another "green recruit" dirge and even more refreshing that Heath is back to deliver the eye candy. Good, solid climax as well. Speaking of Gallery of War, I wasn't much impressed with "Rendezvous," outside of the ironic finale. It's an interesting experiment (one that has been attempted before) but the "plot" is threadbare. I will say that Ric's Estrada's art might be getting a bit better.

Kirby & Berry
Our Fighting Forces 154

Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby & D. Bruce Berry

Jack: On a Pacific island, Johnny Cloud sneaks up on a Japanese general named Yamashita and shoots the cigarette in his mouth in half. Cloud then ties up Yamashita and carries him off, joining the Losers as they escape down a river in a Frenchman's boat.

Yamashita's men are looking for their leader, who manages to overpower the Losers and escape. Fierce fighting breaks out, but Yamashita lives by the code of "Bushido!" and captures Gunner, offering to trade him and Frenchy for the chance at hand to hand combat with Johnny Cloud, who has dishonored him.

Cloud agrees and the two men fight. Unbeknownst to Yamashita, all of this has been a distraction to give American planes time to approach the island and drop paratroopers to attack Yamashita's installation. The fight with Cloud ended, Yamashita returns to his men and leads a final, doomed Banzai charge, only to see himself and his soldiers cut down by machine-gun fire.

Not bad at all, though evaluating Kirby's work at this point in his career requires a low bar indeed. I did not expect the entire story to be a diversion and was pleasantly surprised at how the Losers tricked Yamashita to buy time for the attack force to arrive. Still, the art is mid-'70s' Kirby, which means very blocky, heavy on black inks, and an emphasis on details of equipment rather than people. If Johnny Cloud were not colored red, we wouldn't know which one he was. They have to refer to Gunner by name when he is caught, because otherwise we'd have no way of identifying him. Still, for Kirby, it's better than usual.

Peter: I've nothing new to add to my complaints about this title. It's still unreadable and unlookatable; Jack's way of saying "I'm the Boss," no doubt. "The King" has taken what was a fun adventure series about a bunch of schmucks who somehow get the right thing done and turned it into just another Kirby (circa 1975) superhero book. I was going to make a clever comment like "take the 'o' off the title of this installment and that's what I cry loudly while reading this tripe" but I've got more class. Alan Spinney of Alberta contributes the best writing of the entire issue on the "Mail Call" page when he calls out Jack for ruining the Losers and ignoring the fact that Ona has just up and disappeared. Read Alan's intelligent missive and the bogus reply below.

From OFF

From WWT

Next Issue...
A double-dose of Neal Adams
goodness arrives... just in time!


Todd Mason said...

The really irregular distribution of comics in my major source of them, a local indy drugstore in Hazardville, CT, meant I never saw a WEIRD WAR TALES giant...I would've snapped it up, even if it disappointed me (certainly, I would've liked to see 1950s reprints from DC, much as I did in THE WITCHING HOUR giant I had)...and would've liked reading that Origin Story!

Jack Seabrook said...

The topic of distribution is an interesting one. I lived in NJ and never had much trouble finding DC or Marvel comics in the mid-'70s, though I did have to bike to the next town for some early Howard the Duck issues with all the frenzy at the time. I also had to do some serious bike riding to find some of the Atlas titles! I also loved the DC giants and bought all I could, though my tastes were in the superhero vein. I had a subscription to Justice League that started with the 1st 100-pager. But it came folded in a brown wrapper!

Peter Enfantino said...

My distribution point for funny books was Stop 'n' Go, which might have been a regional chain (similar to 7-11). They had everything but well-thumbed. And they usually had a couple-three months worth on the racks. Then I found Bob Sidebottom's Comic Collector Shop in downtown San Jose and Bob got everything. Eden!

Grant said...

I know that Stop 'n Go wasn't completely regional, because Texas had them (I'm not sure about elsewhere).