Monday, August 19, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 162: July 1975

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 39

"The Kangaroo Court-Martial"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Bill Draut

"Appointment with Doom"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Paul Kirchner & Tex Blaisdell

"The Spoils of War"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Peter: PFC Arnold Plunkett is Colonel Welles's gopher, lapdog, and errand boy and he sure is getting sick of it. When the Colonel sends Plunkett on a mission with a most important message to deliver to Division HQ, the PFC is captured by the Japanese and threatened with torture should he not divulge all he knows. While in his hut/prison cell, Plunkett is deciding whether to give up the goods to the enemy when a ghostly version of Colonel Welles and an equally spectral tribunal hold "The Kangaroo Court-Martial" for the befuddled private and find him guilty. Sentenced to death, he is run over by a haunted tank and his captors find him squashed on his prison floor, tread marks through his horribly-illustrated mid-section.

"The Kangaroo Court-Martial"

"The Kangaroo Court-Martial"
My thanks to George Kashdan and Bill Draut for making my choice for Worst Story of the Year so easy. Seriously, this has to be the stupidest WWT I've read yet and I've read some doozies, believe you me. Plunkett's ghastly fate is nonsensical and unwarranted; is it to be understood from the script that Welles and his lot are heartless bastards, first willing to sacrifice his young life by sending him on the suicide mission and then killing him in a most violent fashion? If these "ghosts" have the power to kill, why not wait a bit and see if the kid cracks? Absolutely daft.

Kapitan Horst Mueller is told by a prophet that "U235" will signal an "Appointment with Doom" for the high-ranking Nazi, but the German laughs it off and prepares for lengthy sea duty. When he is assigned to U-Boat #235, he has a twinge of fear but shakes it off and soon amasses a heavy kill count. His luck runs out when the U-boat is blasted out of the water by an American war ship, but he escapes death by abandoning ship and leaving his men to die. Mueller is picked up by a nearby German ship and transferred to Japan, where he flourishes as a Naval attache... until the Americans drop the bomb on his new home in Hiroshima.

"The Spoils of War"
Our skeletal host reminds us that the chemical symbol for Uranium is U235. A three-pager that doesn't outlive its welcome and contains a nice surprise in the tail, but what I derive most from the Kirchner/ Blaisdell visuals is that these artists truly believed the Germans had the worst teeth on Earth.

While Jack Oleck seemed to have found the perfect length for "Appointment with Doom," he has no such luck with the padded and weary "The Spoils of War," wherein a Naval diver discovers pearls in a small lagoon while laying mines. Rather than set the devices, the grunt decides to sacrifice his comrades and hide the pearls for a post-war return visit. As we know from these WWTs, things don't go well for him on that sophomore trek. Though "The Spoils of War" goes on and on and on and on, it does have a decent twist and some distracting visuals from ace penciler Yandoc.

Jack: Yandoc's art on "The Spoils of War" was the best thing about this issue, though I expected the scene on the cover to play out in the final story! Having skeletal soldiers confront the diver underwater would have been better than what we got. I did not guess the climax of "Appointment with Doom" and liked the yellow panel near the end when the bomb went off. As for "The Kangaroo Court-Martial," I was expecting a Dickensian conversion of the heart after Plunkett was visited by the Ghost of Court-Martials Yet to Come, but instead we got that ridiculous ending. Of interest is the letters column, where the editor admits that issue #34 was a failure and agrees that the last couple of issues were not well-balanced. He claims the ship has been righted, but the contents of #39 don't support that.

Kirby & Royer
Our Fighting Forces 157

"Panama Fattie!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby & Mike Royer

Jack: When an inspector discovers that the mastermind behind a criminal operation in Panama is an obese woman nicknamed "Panama Fattie!," she shoots and kills him to keep his mouth shut. She's so tough that she knocks out one of her henchmen with a punch to the mouth.

Meanwhile, the Losers are pressed into service as Navy men who are sent to drive a truck through the back roads of Panama in an effort to discover who has been hijacking vehicles and supplies for years. Panama Fattie appears in the middle of the road, pretending to be a distressed damsel with a broken-down car; when the Losers stop their truck, the hijackers try to steal what's inside, only to be confronted by men with guns.

A battle with firearms and fists ends when Panama Fattie tells her men to knock it off, and the Losers give her a lift to their club. At the club, she takes a shine to Capt. Storm, who punches Sarge for his insensitivity regarding the lady's weight. Panama Fattie slips them all mickeys and they soon are out cold. While the Losers are unconscious, Panama Fattie sells her supplies and secrets to Japanese Lieutenant Nakamura. The Losers wake up and find that they are tied up. When Captain Storm reveals that he overheard Panama Fattie's transaction, she tells her men to shoot and kill the Losers. To be continued!

"Panama Fattie!"
Our Fighting Forces has published some bad issues over the years, but this has to be the nadir. This issue is one of the stupidest comics I've ever read. Kirby's art is dreadful; if it were in a 1940s' comic it wouldn't even be quaint. The plotting is terrible, the dialogue is wretched, and the character of Panama Fattie is offensive. Can this series go further downhill? We'll see next issue when the "exciting" cliffhanger is resolved.

Peter: This mess just keeps getting messier, doesn't it? I won't even stoop to silliness and call the King "overweight people insensitive" or whatever PC term they use today; nope, my beef isn't with Panama Fattie but with Jack's story and graphics. Every one of these Losers installments follows a tried-and-true formula that breaks every few pages for a Losers fistfight. Those brawls can get awfully confusing when every character looks alike, and Kirby is devolving into a stencil machine with each passing month. Put a five o'clock shadow on Storm these days and he's Nick Fury of the '60s. What a long five years it's been since Kirby wrapped up his Fantastic Four run.

Our Army at War 282

"Pieces of Time"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada & Joe Kubert

"I Am Old Glory ..."
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: When Nazis perched atop a ravine attack the men of Easy Co., Rock seeks refuge in a cave after being hit with shrapnel. He imagines that he battles a giant German warrior in armor, then a dinosaur, then a giant bird. Snapping out of his reverie, he exits the cave and fights a Nazi with a flamethrower, a tank, and a plane. Rock vanquishes all three and thinks that these "Pieces of Time" now need to be picked up as he leads Easy Co. on its next march.

OK, I get it. The German warrior=the Nazi with the flamethrower, the dinosaur=the tank, and the big bird=the plane. Ric Estrada must have turned in a shoddy art job, because this story is heavily inked by Kubert and still manages to look rough. The story is a page-waster and seems like a retread of the type of story we used to read in the back of the DC War comics in the late '50s and early '60s. Not a good month for our favorite redhead! To confuse matters even more, the letters column says this issue's Rock tale is illustrated by Doug Wildey!

"Pieces of Time"
"I Am Old Glory..." is four pages of Sam Glanzman drawing the U.S.S. Stevens blowing planes out of the sky. Glanzman gives a history of the American flag and at the end admits it's an essay he wrote at the start of WWII. It's about as interesting as it sounds. Other than Kubert's sharp cover, this issue is suitable for lining a birdcage.

Peter: Some of Big Bob's Sgt Rock adventures of late can be accused (by me) of being boring, cliched, or recycled, but I don't think I've used the word "dumb" in my comments applied to the good Sarge. "Pieces of Time" is dumb and nonsensical, a forgettable hunk of tripe that introduces offbeat elements and then offers no explanation, as if the reader is just supposed to shrug and assume "it's just war." Nope, I ain't buyin' it. It's a lazy script and it's got some pretty bad graphics (the panel I reprinted here shows the Sarge with a body approximately 100 times the size of his head). Some of Joe's style shows through here and there (and I'd venture a guess that at least a couple of panels are solo Kubert) but there's not enough to salvage this one from the heap of TNT duds. Sam Glanzman's essay on Old Glory is much better than the Rock misfire, but that may be due to the fact that there are no badly-drawn human characters in the short-short.

G.I. Combat 180

"The Saints Go Riding On"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Baptism of Fire"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Frank Redondo

Peter: The Jeb Stuart rolls into another bombed-out Italian village, just after a Stuka has destroyed the town's church. The boys manage to rescue the Mother Superior but, alas, not Sister Angela, who was buried in the rubble. The nun insists that if she is going to be whisked to safety, the boys must carry the statues of the saints to the Haunted Tank as well. Once everyone is seated, the Mother Superior tells Jeb and the boys that she'll be riding on the outside of the tank since the inside is so crowded. No time to argue, since a Panzer squadron has been sighted just outside of town. Unfortunately, the boys can't get to safety before being attacked, but some quick thinking on the Mother Superior's part saves the day and the Haunted Tank survives to fight on. Perhaps in Japan tomorrow? Or Pearl Harbor?

Sure looks like early Miller to me

It really becomes tough to review "The Saints Go Riding On" on the merits of its story when the art is so incredibly bad. It's struck me just now that Sam Glanzman's doodles look like those of early Frank Miller. Incomplete faces. Indistinct backgrounds. Characters who have no distinguishing features. As for the plot, it smells familiar but it's good for a few laughs. Every time Jeb tells the nun they've got to get a move on, she tells him that St. Anthony is looking out for her and then dawdles while death flies all around them in small and large doses. If I'd been Jeb, I'd have given up on the Mother Superior quickly and saved my own fat.

No one in Sgt. Donegan's outfit can understand why the old man is so hard on Private Forbes when the kid keeps showing moxie in the face of danger and death. Well, as it's revealed in the "you gotta be kidding me" climax of "Baptism of Fire," a pop always looks out for his son, even after he's divorced the kid's mom and the son has taken the new husband's last name. Sheesh. And if you didn't get the "twist" by the second panel, ace pulp hack Wessler hands you an awkward expository to seal the moldy deal. Thanks, Carl!

So, it was his son the whole time?
No way!
Jack: I'm not sure what those statues in "The Saints Go Riding On" are made of, but the crew of the Haunted Tank is able to cart them around with ease, tucking them under their arms and wading through a river in one unintentionally humorous panel. The story is not as bad as some of the Glanzman Haunted Tank efforts, which is damning with faint praise. Our old pal Carl Wessler makes a rare appearance in a war comic with "Baptism of Fire," in which Frank Redondo does his best to draw like Mort Drucker, and succeeds to some extent. I guessed the ending early on but the art in this story is easily the highlight of the issue. I am counting on the Unknown Soldier to rescue this month!

Star Spangled War Stories 189

"The Cadaver Gap Massacres"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Fred Carrillo

Peter: The Unknown Soldier gets another mission from the "S" File (that's "S" for Suicide!) when a strange and perhaps supernatural weapon used by the Nazis mows a path through American G.I.s in a region of Corsica known as "Cadaver Gap." According to intel, the Germans are doing all sorts of weird experiments in a castle in Austria and that's where US is bound. First order of business is for US to murder and impersonate high-ranking Nazi Major Wollheim. That taken care of, the Soldier arrives at the castle and meets sadistic Colonel Rolf and the father of the unnatural new weapons, scientist Dr. Schopfer, whose young daughter is being held hostage by the Ratzis. Our hero witnesses first-hand one of the newfangled gizmos the doc has whipped up for Der Fuhrer when a group of prisoners attempts an escape and are vaporized by a killer ray emitted from posts around the castle.

Later, while meandering through the castle halls, US discovers a top-secret room and attempts to gain access but is told by a suspicious Rolf that only he, Schopfer, and Hitler are allowed inside the room. That night, US sneaks into Rolf's room with an eye to taking over the colonel's identity but is foiled by Rolf, who was expecting some sort of coup. The Soldier makes quick work of the Nazi and, in order to eliminate any loose ends, makes Rolf up to look like Wollheim and has him executed. Meanwhile, Dr. Schopfer reaches a decision that could kill the Unknown Soldier's secret mission and, perhaps, the Unknown Soldier himself.

Another stellar episode of the Michelinie/Talaoc saga, "The Cadaver Gap Massacres" doesn't spare the excitement and sometimes gruesome violence of its previous installments (US strangles Wollheim with about as much emotion as he would show taking the garbage out) but David manages to work in some humor as well (Wollheim's chauffeur is named "Schultz" and stutters and bumbles exactly like the famed prison guard from Hogan's Heroes). I continue to be immensely surprised at the level of quality the crew ascends to most issues; this series is easily the best in the DC war canon since Enemy Ace. Can't wait to read part two of "Cadaver Gap" next issue.

Archie Goodwin's "Midway!" is like one of those short history lessons Big Bob is known for but, unlike the majority of Kanigher's Laboring Locutions, it manages to be both exciting and informative. There's no real plot but more a snapshot of what American fighter pilots dealt with in the Pacific Theater, and it avoids sentimentality or flag-waving; it does, in fact, end on somewhat of a downer as far as the fate of Commander Haley and his men. Fred Carrillo contributes great art, nicely choreographing those crowded skies. I'll bet dollars to donuts (based on the Michael Bay-esque trailer I've seen) this aces Roland Emmerich's upcoming big-budget tripefest of the same name.

Jack: I look forward to the Unknown Soldier's exploits every month (or two weeks, in blog time) and I love Talaoc's gritty art and Michelinie's thrilling stories. This entry is no exception and I'm glad it's part one of a four-part story; the cliffhanger has me wanting more! I'm not as big a fan of Archie Goodwin's work as you are, Peter, and I found "Midway!" a bit of a bore, despite the nice art. I saw the 1976 movie version in Sensurround and this can't live up to that.

Next Week...
Prepare yourself for what might be
the most off-beat Warren story of all time!

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