Monday, August 5, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 161: June 1975

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 38

"Born to Die"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Frank Redondo

"The Renegade Dogface!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Jack Sparling

"The Return"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by E.R. Cruz

"The Man Who Would Be God"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jess Jodloman

"Born to Die"
Peter: Nazi soldier Wilhelm Schneider believes he was "Born to Die," lying across his own grave. Schneider dreams he has died endless times, always in the same fashion. When his troop comes across a wooded area he recognizes, Schneider begs his lieutenant to turn back but the soldier scoffs at Wilhelm and the troop pushes forward. In the end, Schneider does die, draped across the grave of American William Taylor, killed in action during World War I. And, as the lieutenant relates in our final-panel expository, "In German, the name William becomes Wilhelm. And in English, the name Schneider means--a tailor."

How positively clever! Oh boy, these WWTs are getting more and more like Ripley's rejects every issue. What's the point of the story? We've seen this kind of plot dozens of times before and here the only effective use is to fill six pages before the deadline. Frank (Quico) Redondo's art is very good but, like Schneider's dream, there's almost a sense of deja vu to it. Almost as though Mort Drucker took a turn at inking Alfredo Alcala.

"The Renegade Dogface!" is a two-page cliche about a World War IV soldier who goes amok, killing everyone he comes in contact with. Why? Surprise... he's a robot! Did George Kashdan really believe that reader turnover occurs so frequently we wouldn't have seen that one coming? Perhaps I should just count my lucky stars Jack Sparling was given the two-pager to illustrate and move on. I'll do that.

Jack Oleck decides that mining the "prophesied death" twice in one issue is just fine but then forgets to write two engaging scripts to go with that hoary old chestnut. "The Return" finds George Gordon, a sea captain, fighting with Greek rebels against the Turkish cavalry. The Captain reveals to his men that he believes he died once before on Greek soil and will die here again but, naturally, the men dismiss such talk. As predicted, the captain does indeed die and his heart is buried on Greek soil. Our skeletal host reminds us that George Gordon was also the name of Lord Byron. How any of this ties together, I have no idea. Men with brave hearts or good imaginations are reincarnated throughout the ages? I guess so, but Oleck certainly could have whipped up a more interesting way of telling us than "The Return." But, as with "Born to Die," we're graced with nice art. E.R. Cruz contributes gorgeous, detailed images, so feel free to skip the words.

"The Man Who Would Be God"
Shamar the Barbarian takes yet another city but cities alone will not quench his thirst for power. Shamar wants to be ruler of the world and looks to his wizards for the answer. He is told there is but one being more powerful than he and that is Thorgeld the Terrible, who lives high in the nearby cliffs. Shamar ventures to Thorgeld's cave and confronts the gruesome God, with a long battle to follow. Thorgeld tells Shamar that within this cave, time means nothing and, when the barbarian emerges from the stronghold victorious, he discovers the true meaning of the demon's words.

From deep down somewhere, Jack Oleck finally pumps out a script worth reading and just in time, I should add. This title has been a disaster for so long, I automatically assume the next story is going to suck as well. Thankfully, "The Man Who Would Be God" elevates itself above most sword and sorcery tales of the era. Usually, the barbarian character is the hero but Shamar is a brutal and self-obsessed despot who doesn't get the girl (there is, in fact, no girl--another oddity for S&S) and is left, ironically, ruling a world of the distant future where nothing exists. Looking over a list of Jess Jodloman's credits (the artist died in early 2018), I'm surprised he wasn't used more frequently on Marvel's various barbarian titles, as he displays an obvious knack for the muscleman and creepy surroundings.

Jack: This issue seems like one that editor Joe Orlando threw together by gathering four stories intended as backups. "Born to Die" is decent but nothing special and, as Peter points out, the conceit is repeated in "The Return," which seems a lot longer than its three pages due to being overly wordy. "The Renegade Dogface!" is two pages of confusion but the best is saved for last in the seven-page "The Man Who Would Be God." The stories are six, two, three, and seven pages long, so it's hard to get any plot going in such brief space.

Our Fighting Forces 156

"Good-bye Broadway... Hello Death!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer

Jack: A Nazi submarine in the Hudson River is tricked into giving away its position when it torpedoes a decoy American ship. The Nazi sub is destroyed but the crew escape and are rounded up--all except Helmut Steger! The Losers are ordered to go on furlough but can't resist keeping a lookout for the escaped Nazi as they hurtle down Broadway in a taxi cab.

Spotting him making contact with an undercover Nazi spy, the Losers catch Steger and find, hidden in his hat band, news of a second Nazi submarine. That sub has reached Long Island shore and is about the launch a missile when the Losers burst upon the scene. A pitched battle erupts and the missile is launched, but the Losers manage to blast it out of the sky before it can do any harm.

Ben Grimm tells Johnny Storm to shut up!
("Good-bye Broadway... Hello Death!")
As far as I know, no Nazi subs got close to New York City during WWII, so this story is a bit of fantasy by Kirby. His art is as rough as ever, and it's once again hard to tell one Loser from another. Jack does love to stick pipes and cigars in the mouths of his characters, doesn't he? Suffice it to say, "Good-bye Broadway... Hello Death!" is no better or worse than any of the other recent entries in this series. In the letters column, the editor writes that "For all intents and purposes, this is a totally new book." Too bad it's not a good one.

Peter: Another dumb installment of an incredibly dumb series. The script reads as though Kirby opted to edit out any "slow spots" to heighten the action, with the result an incomprehensible mess. The idea that a group the Army calls "The Losers" would be jetted around the world for pert near every catastrophe is pretty darn silly (especially when you consider the Army is giving the same treatment to Sgt. Rock, the Jeb Stuart, and the Unknown Soldier). Kirby actually worked my interest up very briefly in the confrontation scene between Storm and Steger but then the moment passed. Such a big deal made about their past meetings only to end the tension with a thud. Could there be a follow-up in our future? Not according to my notes. Have I mentioned that every character resembles Ben Grimm?

Our Army at War 281

"Dead Man's Eyes!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Heads I Win, Tails You Lose!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: A line of Italian peasants lead their mules down the snowy hill from the town of San Pietro, the beasts of burden carrying on their backs dead American soldiers. The corpses are laid out at the foot of the hill and among them is Sgt. Rock. Flash back to Rock finding other corpses on the ground and taking a group of soldiers with him to look for the Nazis who are responsible for the killings.

Rock breaks a neck
("Dead Man's Eyes!")
In the woods, Rock was ambushed and hit in the throat with a gun butt, which paralyzed his vocal cords. He is thought dead and left lying on the ground while the rest of his group of soldiers are executed by Nazi machine guns. The Germans leave without checking to make sure that Rock is dead and he makes them pay for this mistake by following them and killing them, breaking one's neck and machine-gunning others. Rock captures the cruel Nazi leader but spares his life; in return, the Nazi leads Rock through a mine field. A mine goes off but Rock survives and his opponent is killed.

Back in the present, Rock's voice suddenly comes back and he awakens with a start, much to the relief of the rest of Easy Co.

When I first read "Dead Man's Eyes!" I thought it was outstanding and, on second reading, I still think it's one of the best Sgt. Rock stories in recent memory. Russ Heath is largely responsible for the quality, of course, with his (by now) patented wordless sequences building tension and excitement. I also like that the cover--for once--is not a cheat; the men of Easy Co. really do think Rock is dead. I have but two minor quibbles. First, neither the Nazis nor the men of Easy Co. bother to check to see if Rock is really dead. Second, Rock takes a group of no-name soldiers with him to look for the Nazis and, when all of the American soldiers but Rock are executed, we don't know who they were and we don't miss them. What are the chances? I understand the need to keep Rock's usual companions alive for the good of the long-running series, but it strains credibility to think that none of them ever gets killed.

Larry Rounds loved games of chance, but he never learned how to play dice. He joined the Navy and, while on the U.S.S. Stevens, some African-American sailors gave him a lesson in dice and he lost $200. One of the sailors later taught him how to make the dice do what he wanted. Larry soon found himself the lone survivor of a landing craft that was destroyed while approaching a Philippine island and he struck up a friendship with his captor over their shared interest in the game of Go. When it came time for Larry to be executed, he convinced his captor to give him a shot at freedom based on a roll of the dice, but a shell fired by a guerrilla killed both men before they could roll.

I'll say this for Sam Glanzman: he can't draw very well but, once in a while, he can tell an engaging story. In four pages, he packs a lot of plot and entertainment, enough to make me wonder (not for the first time) how many of these Stevens tales are based on true events.

Peter: The Rock story is a confusing and confounding mish-mash. So, Rock devolves into a Charles Bronson-inspired vengeance machine, shooting Nazis in the back and sparing no one, until he comes face-to-face with the man who ordered the killing of Rock's men and... spares him? WTF? The finale is confusing as well; are we to assume that Easy believes their Sarge to be dead until he tears up (a la Joseph Cotten in the Hitch episode, "Breakdown")? And I'm no doctor but I gotta believe a rifle butt delivered to your throat is going to result in something a little more serious than injured vocal chords. First Stevens installment in quite a while is a decent one with a nasty punch in the tail.

G.I. Combat 179

"One Last Charge"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Night Without End"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: After a particularly fierce tank battle, Jeb and the boys are ordered to stand their ground and give the impression that there's a fleet of tanks ready to blow any stinkin' Nazi tin cans to hell. Best laid plans and all that... A regiment of Germans atop a nearby cliff delivers a death blow to Commander Jeb's "Haunted Tank II" and, after the boys climb the cliff and toss some TNT pineapples at the enemy, they're off to the tank graveyard for some parts for the still-smoldering wreck. What they find instead is the original Haunted Tank, still intact and waiting for demolition. Jeb requisitions the tank (at gunpoint) and the boys head on down the road, happy but still confused about their commander who talks to ghosts.

The previously stand-up Commander Jeb pulls a gun
on fellow G.I.s just doing their jobs...
I'm still waiting for another good "Haunted Tank" installment but I guess I'll have to resign myself to the fact that it ain't coming. There's no forward motion to this title; we're stuck in a Bob Kanigher-induced suspended animation. Last issue, Big Bob made a big hullabaloo about a Haunted Tank II, only to destroy the new model and, oddly, have the boys make their way back to the original. I thought that old thing was a pile of useless nuts and bolts after being blown out of its treads by a Focke. Now it not only works but, while the Army was stripping it for parts, some kind fella managed to tend to the burned paint. And let's just talk about that scene where Commander Jeb holds a gun on a fellow G.I. and demands the return of Jeb I. Seriously? Like this would just stand; the other soldiers would laugh it off with an "Ah, you know these guys!" and then get back to work like nothing happened. Fat chance. This series gets more inane with each successive chapter.

But, evidently, it's all good!

Dropped into a small French village with orders to destroy the local Gestapo headquarters, a paratrooper becomes entangled on a church spire and must watch the blazing combat from up high. Obviously inspired by the Red Buttons character and his predicament in The Longest Day, "Night Without End" is entertaining enough and reminiscent of the 1950s DC war stories. It's certainly more tolerable than the main event this issue.

Jack: I thought the highlight of the Haunted Tank story was the two-page sequence where the ghostly general relates an event from the Civil War similar to the one happening in WWII. At least it was a break from the monotony of the tank battles. Glanzman's art is just unpleasant to look at. The backup story's art, by Ric Estrada, looks good in comparison to Glanzman's work and the story is fairly entertaining in that '50s DC War Comics way you pointed out.

Star Spangled War Stories 188

Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

Peter: Heading home from Monte Grande (seen last issue), the Unknown Soldier is thrown into intrigue yet again aboard the ship he's traveling on. It's not long into the voyage that US discovers the Nazis have taken control of the barge with some sinister plan in mind. Luckily, US has packed his "Make Any Face" kit and, after doing away with a German the hard way, he assumes the Nazi's appearance and snakes his way into the operation. The Germans plan to sink the ship at the entrance to Bourgin Harbor, a port important to the American fleet. The Nazi's secret weapon aboard is Nazi Captain Johann Kraus, disguised as a wheelchair-bound war vet, who has gained the trust (and love) of a nurse named Molly. When the inevitable showdown occurs and US is forced to sink the ship before it gets to its destination, Molly gets the drop on the battling war heroes, pointing her pistol at the shocked pair. Despite his pleas, Molly ventilates Johann and then helps US evacuate the sinking ship. US thanks Molly for saving him but the girl confesses she's never used a handgun before and she wasn't aiming at Johann.

Despite some soap opera trappings and a few clumsy expositions ("You see, men, even though I've explained our mission a dozen times before, let me explain it yet again..."), "Encounter" is another winner from the Michelinie/Talaoc team. Michelinie seems compelled to toss in some cliches ("Eat steel, Fritz!") that, in the hands of a skilled surgeon, come off as a wink and a nod at the seasoned war readers. The crowning achievement is, of course, Molly's shocking confession. I assumed the girl had been overcome by a sense of duty and realized that even love must suffer in war but no... perfect climax. And nice that there's no back-up, giving David and Gerry some extra breathing room.

Jack: Two four-star stories in one month! This one was going along just fine until the first ending, which was satisfying, and then the second ending, which was completely unexpected! Writing and art are firing on all cylinders and I love the full-length format. No wonder the Nazis lost the war--they keep missing US with a machine gun at about ten paces!

Next Week...
We bid a very fond adieu to Archie
and gird ourselves for the valley below us.

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