Monday, July 22, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 160: May 1975

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 37

"The Three Wars of Don Q.!"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Leopoldo Duranona

Peter: American war correspondent Nick Taylor stumbles onto a career-making story but he's trapped by the Nazis in an old castle in Spain with nary a typewriter to be found. Luckily, while hiding in the crypt, Nick is discovered by a crazy old man who fancies himself Sancho Panza and Nick as Don Quixote. Nick scoffs at the old man's whimsy but, very soon, he begins to doubt his own sanity. Panza talks Nick into donning a suit of armor in order to fight the Moors and then produces a coin that can transfer the duo across time. After a few dangerous adventures, Panza and Nick end up in a future ruled by apes (stop me if you've heard this before) and only our heroes can prevent the simians from destroying the planet.

"The Three Wars of Don Q.!" is horribly disjointed, borrows from several sources, and suffers from  weak Leo Duranona visuals. I've often decried the four- to six-page story limits foisted on scripters; it's obviously not enough room to develop characters and rewarding plots. Here's the exact opposite of the spectrum: the Weird War "epic," wherein Arnold Drake is given 18 pages to pad and meander and still can come up with nothing readable. Well, I'm not always fair, am I? There's a nice touch Drake throws in towards the climax where we discover the "God" that the apes pray to; it's the remnants of an old King Kong poster with only "Starring Robert Armstro" showing under the great gorilla. Sure, it's a variation on the bomb idolized by the mutants in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, but it's clever nonetheless. The only bright spot in an otherwise dismal failure.

Jack: Oh, Peter, lighten up! I enjoyed this story and laughed out loud more than once. Sure, Duranona's art is a bit rough, but it's better than what we're getting from Kirby or Glanzman and probably about on par with Estrada. The story is best when it's shifting back and forth between the present and the past; Nick taking down a Nazi plane with a spear is neat, and his view of a tank as a dragon is rather inspired. The whole thing is like a DC/Weird War knockoff of Cervantes, in that the novel had Don Quixote tilting at windmills and here they're Nazi planes and tanks. The trip to the future is less successful, but again I chortled when the Armstro that they believe in turned out to be the cut-off word Armstrong from a poster of King Kong. Frankly, I enjoyed this issue more than any issue of Weird War Tales in recent memory.

G.I. Combat 178

"A Tank is Born"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Face of the Enemy"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: Just after the Colonel lets Jeb know he'll not be watching over the Haunted Tank anymore, the boys watch in horror as a fellow tank squad goes up in smoke. But what conked the tin can? At the site of the axed tank, Jeb meets an old sea captain who tells him that his ship was torpedoed by a U-Boat and all his men were lost. The Captain now spends his time planning revenge. No time to swap war stories; a score of FWs sets its eyes on the Haunted Tank and manages to score a bullseye before our heroes blast the birds out of the sky. Left with no tank, the crew ponder their future when, wonder of wonders, a brand new Pershing is discovered in the wreckage of a nearby bombed-out train. The boys christen their new vehicle by blasting the heretofore mentioned U-Boat out of the water and dub the new ride "The Haunted Tank II."

"A Tank is Born"
Not a horrible entry in the Tank series but really not much to get excited about either. This tin can is stuck in some deep mud and the plots (as well as the dialogue) are being recycled on what seems to be a yearly basis. I will say that Sam Glanzman contributes his best art in quite some time; the air battles are not up to Russ Heath levels but they're certainly exciting and well-choreographed. The Colonel definitely seems to be playing more of a part (physically) these days as he actually halts the tank's spinning action after it's nailed by a shell from the U-boat. I suspect that "The Haunted Tank II" era will be no more memorable than the first (it's a shame the Colonel couldn't halt the spinning of the series's wheels in the mud!).

In the short-short back-up, a disgruntled gunner complains about his job, arming a long-range weapon and wishing he could see the "Face of the Enemy." When his whole troop is wiped out by a Nazi tank, he finally gets his wish. The problem with Big Bob's "ironic tales" is that the set-up robs the pay-off of any surprise. Is that ironic?

"Face of the Enemy"
Jack: G.I. Combat continues its mediocre run. It's not howlingly bad, like Kirby's Our Fighting Forces, or wildly uneven, like Weird War Tales, it's just not very good... ever. Glanzman's art is better than usual and actually features some interesting layouts, making me wonder if another artist (Kubert?) had a hand in this story, but it's hardly fair to blame Glanzman when the work is poor and give credit to an imaginary other when it's less so. The backup story is short, at four pages, and Kanigher utilizes his classic trope of banging the reader over the head again and again with a topic until the story is over. This is told like a '50s-era story except for the very 1970s' downbeat ending.

Our Army at War 280

"Mercy Mission"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by George Evans

"Medal of Honor"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

"The Rock of Easy Co.!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(reprinted from Our Army at War #81, April 1959)

"The Rock and the Wall!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #83, June 1959)

"Every Man's a Sergeant!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #52, December 1957)

"Sentries Never Sleep"
Story Uncredited
Art by Fred Ray
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #6, February 1953)

Jack: Easy Co. crosses the Remagen Bridge into Germany and the war is nearly over! Four Eyes sees smoke and jokes with Little Sure Shot that he sees smoke signals, but when Easy Co. finds the source of the smoke it turns out to be a wrecked German tank that is being used as a decoy. Gunfire breaks out and Easy again defeats the enemy. In the battle, Four Eyes's leg is grazed and Sgt. Rock orders Little Sure Shot to take Four Eyes back to Battalion Aid.

"The Rock of Easy Co.!"
Rock is left alone, and a dying German soldier gives him a doll, asking Rock to take it to his little girl in their nearby farmhouse. Rock agrees to go on this "Mercy Mission," but when he reaches the farmhouse he is knocked out by a Nazi commander, who grabs the doll and removes orders hidden inside. The orders tell him to activate an electrically-controlled mine field right where Easy Co. is situated! Rock staggers to his feet and kills the commander, but not before the mines have been activated. Little Sure Shot shows up to help wipe out the rest of the Nazi guards, and Rock races back to the mine field, just as the mines go off.

Fortunately, Easy Co. knew to avoid it because Little Sure Shot sent smoke signals from the farmhouse to warn them. Easy Co. fights off another bunch of Nazis and resumes its march into the heart of Germany.

("Medal of Honor")
Even though George Evans's art resembles Jack Sparling's in spots--especially in the depiction of the Nazi commander--he does a decent job with another entertaining entry in the Rock series. Kanigher's trend of using fewer words and more pictures to tell the story continues and, while this probably would've been better illustrated by Russ Heath (or Joe Kubert, of course, but that's no longer an option), it's an above-average Rock entry for 1975.

In 1861, in the Arizona territory, an eight-year-old boy and a herd of cattle are captured by the Indian leader Cochise. The boy's father rides after the Indians but is wounded and must return to Fort Breckenridge, where he is tended to by Dr. Bernard Irwin. Lt. Bascom and 60 men head out and track down Cochise, but the Indians attack the white men in a box canyon and a scout travels back to the fort for reinforcements. Dr. Irwin leads the second group of soldiers and manages to trick the Indians and rescue the lad. "As punishment, Irwin burned the village."

"Every Man's a Sergeant!"
Yikes. Talk about tone-deaf. From the vantage point of 2019, this is a story of the white man's atrocities against the Indians. The whole point of the story is that Irwin was later awarded the first Congressional Medal of Honor but, from another point of view, he should have been tried as a war criminal. I can accept the back and forth battling between soldiers and Indians, but that extra bit about burning the village was uncalled for and ruined the tale for me. Better than expected Maurer art, too!

Herr Hauptmann may be a man of iron, but he's no match for "The Rock of Easy Co!" The American sergeant got really tough working in a steel mill back home, so when the Nazis come at the Americans, Sgt. Rocky stands up and blows them away with a machine gun. He also plants a mine under a tank and shoots a potato masher out of the air. Finally, he defeats the Iron Captain in hand to hand combat, earning him the nickname, "The Rock of East Company!" No, that's not a typo.

It's kind of hard to believe that this corny story, written by Bob Haney and illustrated by Andru and Esposito, would give birth to our beloved Sgt. Rock--or Rocky, as he is called repeatedly in this six-pager. He does demonstrate the super-heroic tendencies we'd later see in Kanigher's long-running series but, other than the name and general appearance, this isn't yet the leader we'd come to know and love.

"Sentries Never Sleep"
In a jungle outpost nicknamed Green for Baker, three soldiers--Howie, Ed, and Dave--hold off the enemy while waiting for a sergeant to arrive and tell them what to do. They manage to defeat an enemy force in a dense jungle before the officer arrives and, when he does, he remarks that "Every Man's a Sergeant!" in Green for Baker, based on their success at fighting in close quarters.

Mort Drucker's art always makes me smile, and this six-page reprint is no exception. He just knew how to draw war stories and, especially, the faces of the men who fought. It's obvious what's going on from early in this story, but with Drucker at the drawing board it's still fun.

In the early days of the American Revolution, a Colonial soldier named Will Latham is sentenced to death by firing squad after falling asleep at his sentry post. His executioners all load their muskets with blank charges and he pretends to fall dead, thus escaping the Grim Reaper. He joins another company and is promoted to captain for bravery, but when another sentry falls asleep he takes the man's place and loses his life in the course of repelling an attack by the British.

Mediocre Fred Ray art drags down the excessively wordy "Sentries Never Sleep," a story from the very early days of DC war comics. It's a good thing we didn't start this blog in the early 1950s, because stories like this might have knocked us off our track before we ever met Sgt. Rock!

Bill Mantlo would have probably called this
"The Doomsday Gauntlet" or some such rubbish
("Mercy Mission")
Peter: Despite the fact that Big Bob considers "The Rock and the Wall!" to be the first Sgt. Rock story (and not "The Rock of Easy Co.!"), the powers-that-be (I assume editors Allan Asherman and Joe Kubert) deem this issue to mark the "200th Anniversary of Sgt. Rock!" Even with the new millennial math they're teaching in grade school, I can't figure that out. According to my notes, the boys are jumping the gun by a couple of issues. Well, no matter. With "Mercy Mission," we find poor Sgt. Rock still in the same old script doldrums, only this time the Sarge has to deal with some awful George Evans doodles as well. Big Bob's most famous war character continues to be a conundrum; he's one of the smartest tactical brains in World War II but he falls for some dopey traps at times, doesn't he? Speaking of dopey, the plot comes off like recycled Fantastic Four with Colonel Schnitzel (or whatever his name is) and his grand device which, if operated correctly, will blow up one field in the entire war. How many millions were spent on this doomsday machine? No wonder the Nazis lost the war. "Medal of Honor" is really hard to slog through; it looks (and reads) like a Scholastic book report.

"The Rock of Easy Co." is a Rock story in name only. The plot was borrowed years later by Big Bob for the "Iron Major" stories and there's just no getting used to that goofy Andru/Esposito art, is there? For me, the greatest joy of the 100-page "super spectaculars" is that it usually means we'll get a Mort Drucker story and, sure enough, we get "Every Man's a Sergeant!" Predictable, yes, but I couldn't care less about the words when I have Drucker's "gee,whiz!" style to admire. Speaking of words, I think "Sentries Never Sleep" could hold the record for DC war verbosity; it's the equivalent of a Stephen King novel.

Kirby & Berry
Our Fighting Forces 155

"The Partisans!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and D. Bruce Berry

Jack: Somewhere in the snowy woods of Yugoslavia, Sarge drags a wounded Gunner along with him when he comes face to face with a man in a furry hat and another man in a green hat. The two men are silent but, when furry hat man waves his hand, a large group of locals with guns emerge from the mist. They all head off somewhere and Sarge follows with Gunner slung over his shoulders.

After a long march, Sarge sees Nazi soldiers guarding a railroad bridge that "The Partisans!" plan to blow up. The locals attack a railroad station to divert Nazi attention from the bridge, leaving Sarge alone on the bridge to battle an enemy tank. The tank points its gun at the group of partisans, who have appeared on a rocky spot next to the bridge but, when the tank blows them up, the entire hill explodes, having been mined with explosives.

The bridge is destroyed and Sarge is badly wounded. Nazis are about to shoot him when another group of partisans, along with the rest of the Losers (Johnny Cloud and Captain Storm), appear and all of the Nazis are killed. Gunner and Sarge are given emergency medical attention in a tent and Sarge is shocked to learn that the man in the fur hat was the ghost of a man who had been killed in fighting the year before.

Essentially a solo outing for Sarge, this story is better than the worst we've seen from Kirby, but that does not mean it's anywhere near the quality of the Losers stories we were getting before Kirby took over the strip. The King's fetishistic drawings of big machinery are a little weird, frankly, and his Sarge could be anyone--Sgt. Rock, Sgt. Fury, etc.

Ben Grimm guest-stars as Sarge in "The Partisans!"

Peter: There's no denying that "The King" delivers the goods when it comes to big bulky inanimate objects and the results of exploding devices, but I've still got major problems with the individual characters and the lack of any personality or distinguishing features. Seriously, I can't tell them apart. The story is a tad confusing and it's capped by another of the endless "You mean our savior was a ghost?" denouements found in the funny books of the period, but I'll allow that it's the best Losers Kirby has contributed yet. I ain't sayin' it's very good, though.

Star Spangled War Stories 187

"A Death in the Chapel"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Waiting for a Legend"
Story by Don Kaar
Art by Frank Redondo

Peter: After the events of last issue (Unknown Soldier is sent into Monte Grande, a small village held by the Nazis, to eliminate a priest who may be collaborating with the enemy), our hero is caught with his guard down and threatened by a vengeful soldier. US makes quick work of the Nazi and then sets about convincing Father Memmoli that it wasn't American soldiers who ran down innocent children in the village square. US drags the corpses of the Germans who had masqueraded as Americans into the father's church and leaves them there for discovery. When the priest confronts Colonel Weile about the charade, the Nazi drops all pretense and admits to the ruse, assigning a guard to watch that Memmoli doesn't escape to alert his townsfolk. Memmoli talks his way out of the church and heads for the forest where the men have made camp, awaiting orders from the Nazis. When Memmoli reveals the truth, the men angrily head back into the village and mow down the stinkin' Nazi scum that murdered their children. When Colonel Weile's orders to Memmoli go unheeded, the German shoots the father in the back and is then murdered by the Unknown Soldier.  Back in D.C., the Soldier is informed that the Americans are pulling out of Monte Grande and leaving it to the Germans. Our hero's reaction leaves his C.O. without his prized world globe.

"A Death in the Chapel"
Certainly better than any other war series entry this month, but I have some concerns that David Michelinie might be throwing in a few too many superhero conventions for a character who's grounded in "reality" (well, as realistic as a guy who can fabricate a full-functioning face mask out of pretzel dust and twigs) rather than fantasy. The finale, where US reduces a globe to tin with one fistful of fury, stretches my credulity more than a tad and there are several instances where the bandaged daredevil seemingly darts between bullets. I do hope that Michelinie makes something of US's anger at all the lives destroyed at the whims of our fickle government. Still, despite my misgivings, this is still the only DC war series worth reading at this time.

"Waiting for a Legend"
Sgt. Liam O'Connor and a handful of U.S. Cavalrymen attempt to hold off the Moros in a Philippine Catholic Church while "Waiting for a Legend," the famed Sgt. Quinn. While the men wait, O'Connor tells them of his history and friendship with Quinn, including several fistfights and weekends in the stockade. The Moros attack the church just as Quinn's men arrive and the combined cavalry forces are able to repel the invasion. When O'Connor inquires as to the whereabouts of his old friend, he is informed that Quinn died three days earlier. O'Connor collapses and dies, the victim of a stab wound during the siege. The fourth and final script for SSWS by writer Don Kaar, "Waiting for a Legend" is an entertaining read that avoids most of the cliches we find in these back-up stories. I say "most," because O'Connor's collapse is a little silly but, luckily, doesn't torpedo the entire tale. Also well-done is the art by Frank Redondo, whose style resembles that of Gerry Talaoc.

Jack: As we learned when reading our way through the DC horror line, the influx of Filipino artists at DC in the mid-'70s meant that the readers had better get used to their particular art styles. Fortunately, Gerry Talaoc was one of the better ones, and his work on Unknown Soldier continues to impress me. I have the same concerns as Peter about the superhero-like nature of the character under Michelinie, but I enjoy it nonetheless. Of course, it's all heavily seasoned with circa-1975 malaise, but a good story is a good story. In fact, I think "A Death in the Chapel" could have been longer, exploring more of the priest's personality. The backup is also good, and Quico (Frank) Redondo's art is pleasing without being overly stylized. The bromance between the two main characters is entertaining without being overdone; Kanigher would have been more direct and less successful with this story.



Here's how our favorite war titles did in 1974 (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. As you can see, sales for the DC titles were up across the board.

                                                        1974        1973         1972         1971                
G.I. Combat                                    168,042   161,702    170,557    167,841        
Our Army at War                            178,134   163,221    165,021    161,881          
Our Fighting Forces                       161,417    147,968    156,524    164,142      
Star Spangled War Stories             144,765    144,292    154,716    145,869      

Amazing Spider-Man                     288,232   273,204     288,379    307,550    
Batman                                           193,223   200,574     185,283    244,488    
Superman                                       285,634    240,558     252,317    325,618    

Next Week...
Join us for a dissection of illustrated
terror and suspense!

From Our Army at War 280

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