Monday, September 2, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 163: August 1975

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 40

"Back From the Dead"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Fred Carrillo

"The Day After Doomsday!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Howard Chaykin & Bill Draut

"The Warrior Breed"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Buddy Gernale

"The Soldier From Space"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: Pete Akers and Joe Crane have had enough of fighting, so they desert when Germans attack their camp. Taking refuge in a burnt-out villa, Joe keeps going on about ghosts, convinced the place is haunted. Pete tells him to shut his trap and keep on the lookout for Nazis, but when there's a gun battle between the two G.I.s and a troop of Germans we discover that Joe was right and the villa is haunted by ghosts, "Back From the Dead"... of Pete and Joe! Holy cow, did you think Jack Oleck would have the onions to spring this old warhorse on us yet again? It was obvious from the get-go, but I assumed Oleck might spring some other twist on us. Nope.

Wait, hang on... Pete and Joe were dead?

The latest installment of "The Day After Doomsday!" is as disposable as its previous "chapters." The last man on Earth comes across the only pane of glass still in one piece and decides it contains too many memories, so he sends a brick through it. I'm too lazy to go back and see if this character is the same as that in the last installment. A young Howie Chaykin is muted by Bill Draut's heavy inking.

Robert Shurtleff is a bit on the diminutive side, but he can damn well fight, so he talks his way into the Continental Army and goes on to serve valiantly, being wounded in battle twice. The second one proves to be his undoing and he's given a ticket home, a fact his lieutenant is not happy about. When the looie demands of the doctor a reason for Shurtleff's discharge, the doctor sighs and explains that Robert is actually Deborah! An interesting little vignette but one that perhaps might be more comfortable in one of the other titles. While cross-dressing is a bit on the outre side, it certainly doesn't fit my definition of "weird." Add Buddy Gernale (in his WWT debut) to the expanding list of able-bodied Filipino artists recruited by the powers-that-be at DC.

Far out!
The Nazis come across the crash site of an alien spaceship and when its occupant comes to, they attempt to take advantage of the spaceman's amnesia. Luckily, the alien regains his memory just before blasting American troops to atoms and returns to his home planet, bearing plenty of food. So "The Soldier From Space" was sent out into space to scout for food and, luckily, our planet is full of the nourishment they crave... human blood. As opposed to Martian or Venusian or Neptunian blood. How could a race have survived for so long on a diet of human blood? I am so confused. Ric Estrada's style is perfect for this loopy cartoon. Another simply awful issue of WWT.

Jack: Agreed. The best thing about it was the two pages of Howard Chaykin art, though I suspect this was a file story, judging by the early '70s garb worn by the characters. The end of "Back from the Dead" is telegraphed early but the execution is inept. "The Warrior Breed" certainly gives new meaning to the term "weird," and it's hard to get up a head of steam when a four-page story is interrupted by four pages of ads between pages two and three. "The Soldier from Space" reminds me of Peter Fonda and is the grooviest vampire we've yet seen. I do like Chan's cover, though.

G.I. Combat 181

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

"A Canteen Full of Hate"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: The boys of the Jeb Stuart enjoy a well-deserved dip in a cool river, but a radio plea from Easy Company has them heading for shore pronto. As the crew makes their way to their unis, they are machine-gunned by a Panzer and must duck for cover. By the time they surface, their clothes and, perhaps more importantly, their tank, have made tracks. The boys set out au naturale, following the Jeb's hoof prints, and stumble on more Nazis. A vicious battle ensues and, when the dust settles, the crew are dressed in Nazi gear and heading back on the road. Coincidences abound as our heroes come across and commandeer another Panzer. Rolling along, they finally find their own tin can parked at a burning village. After killing all the Ratzis in the small town, Jeb and his men finally make it to the side of Sgt. Rock, who's not very happy that his back-up arrived so late.

"The Kidnapped Tank"

Thank goodness the guy in the last panel is identified verbally as Sgt. Rock, since we wouldn't know him from any other Sam Glanzman grunt. Looks nothing like the Heath/Kubert Rock we're accustomed to and his whining doesn't sound like the grizzled vet either. As for the plot hidden somewhere in "The Kidnapped Tank"... meh. It's nothing more than what we've gotten from Big Bob for several issues now; there's no sense of chronology or peril. The event happens and is wound up nicely (with a bow) in 12 pages' time, to be forgotten by the following month's adventure. These guys are superheroes; they don't bleed. I'm almost as bored as Kanigher was by this point in the title's history but then a new spin for a Haunted Tank after nearly 90 episodes might have been a task out of Big Bob's reach. Hey, David Michelinie, what are you up to?

Yep, that's Sgt. Rock!

A corporal urges his men to take only sips from their canteens during desert battle but the boys just can't seem to keep their thirst slaked. When their supply runs dry, they turn their weapons on the corporal but the soldier has a surprise for them. "A Canteen Full of Hate" has a nice (if predictable) twist in its tail and would have made for a perfect "Gallery of War" (a department which seems to have dried up by this time). It's still got the problematic Ric Estrada art but at least it seems as if Ric is adding a few darks to his (often too) bright palette. An off-beat letters column lacks any praise for previous work, with all of the missives dealing with technical jargon and personal war stories. Perhaps readers of G.I. Combat weren't really enamored with what they were buying?

"A Canteen Full of Hate"

Jack: I think they weren't getting enough letters to fill a column, so they resorted to the tried and true method of making them up. I was surprised by the naked soldiers in the first story and smiled at the creative ways Glanzman found to avoid showing us their naughty bits. Don't you just know that the Nazis would show up when the four guys finally shed their inhibitions and frolic naked together? It gets awfully boring being cooped up in that hot tank all day. I was most concerned about poison ivy causing a rash as they marched through the jungle without a stitch of clothing on. The second story was slightly better, if only because Estrada is a better artist than Glanzman. The depiction of desert thirst was not bad.

 Our Army at War 283

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Doug Wildey

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: Rock is ordered to march Easy Co. to the town of San Gullio to help a small Allied force hold the town against enemy attack. On the way, Easy Co. helps a convoy of trucks fight off some attacking planes, and Rock has to loan some of his men to assist the convoy. Easy Co. next comes to a bridge, where U.S. engineers are under attack. Rock and his men help beat the Nazis again, and a few more of the Combat-Happy Joes are loaned out to guard the bridge until reinforcements arrive.

What's left of Easy Co. engages in another battle to aid some tanks that are trapped in a gully; for the third time, Rock has to loan some men to help guard the tanks on a temporary basis. Easy Co. is now down to Rock and three soldiers, all of whom are killed in a fight with a tank once they reach San Gullio. All alone now, Rock discovers that the Allied force left to hold the town is made up of nothing but Italian children. To be continued!

This panel from "Dropouts!" could be a swipe from Mort Drucker.

"Dropouts!" follows a familiar Kanigher formula of a series of sketches, where the only members of Easy Co. to die are the ones with no names. We haven't seen Doug Wildey in a few years, and his art veers back and forth between what look like swipes to some fairly rough portraits of Rock and his men. I'm in favor of a continued story for a change, though, and look forward to seeing what happens next.

"Bushido," the warrior's code, guides both American and Japanese soldiers during WWII as the Americans make a suicidal attack on a Japanese bunker perched on a hill. One by one, the U.S. soldiers are picked off until the Japanese think they have won, but the last effort of a dying American soldier delivers some TNT through the viewhole of the bunker, and everyone is finished.

Bob Kanigher's Gallery of War stories often outshine the lead story in the issue in which they appear, and this one is no exception. The tale is gritty, dark, and satisfying, and Estrada's art is as good as I've seen.

Peter: Newcomer Doug Wildey's penciling isn't as smooth as that of Kubert or Heath but at least he's no Glanzman or Estrada. We're settling into a schedule of barely-tolerable Rock adventures interrupted, it seems, every six months or so with a winner. "Dropouts!" is no winner; it's predictable and suffers from Big Bob's mantra that if a hook works one time, pound the readers with that hook over and over. It's a coincidence that Rock's "dropouts" are the supporting crew we've come to know and love and the three grunts who bite the bullet in the climax are, obviously, the guys we never got to know.

Just as I'm complaining about the lack of a "Gallery of War" entry for some time, Big Bob drops "Bushido" in my lap. It's a quickie but it's also easily the best story I read this month. The most successful Gallery stories are those that leave an impact and the image of the dying G.I. crawling up towards the bunker carries just such an impact.

Kirby & Royer
Our Fighting Forces 158

"Bombing Out on the Panama Canal"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby & Mike Royer

Jack: As Japanese soldiers prepare a suicide mission to destroy the Panama Canal by dropping bombs from an airplane, the Losers are about to be executed by goons taking orders from Panama Fattie! Despite being bound hand and foot, our heroes manage to overpower the men with guns and avoid being ventilated; Panama Fattie cannot bring herself to shoot Captain Storm because she is kind of sweet on him.

Fattie makes her way to the Japanese camp and tries to shoot her way in but is mortally wounded. The Losers follow and, after a tender moment between Captain Storm and a dying Panama Fattie, the Losers destroy the camp and shoot down the plane before it can really get airborne and head off to bomb the canal.

"Bombing Out on the Panama Canal" is as bad as anything I've ever read by Jack Kirby. Below, Peter notes some of the awful dialogue but omits my favorite--"'This Roscoe says you've had it!'" The use of the term "Roscoe" to refer to a gun goes way back and has been the subject of ridicule in regard to some of the less talented pulp fiction crime writers. The fact that Jack Kirby would use it with a straight face in a 1975 comic, even when putting it in the mouth of a character in WWII, is incredible. The aborted "romance" between Captain Storm and Panama Fattie is also hard to believe.

Peter: It's not just Kirby's frenetic pace and (ofttimes confusing) wall-to-wall action that gives me a headache, but his acid rain of cliched and silly dialogue as well. "'That's for you, meathead!,'" "'Stop--or I'll shoot!,'" and my personal favorite this issue: "'She's off again--goin' like a runaway blimp!'" That last bit is just one of the nuggets sprinkled here and there pertaining to Panama Fattie's girth. Even more surprising than the fat jokes is, even as late as 1975, comic book colorists really thought the Japanese had bright yellow skin!

Star Spangled War Stories 190

"Project: Omega"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Who Will Mourn for Corporal Kruger"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Peter: Only the arrival of top Nazi brass saves the Unknown Soldier from catching one in the back from Dr. Schopfer, the slightly-crazed but patriotic German scientist behind the top secret "Project: Omega" who believes US to be sadistic Lt. Rolf When the top officers arrive, it coincides with an underground insurgence outside the castle and the brass demand an exhibition of power from Schopfer's technological terror. With a gun held to his hand, Schopfer throws the lever and his army of intelligent (but zombified) gorillas heads outside to kick some rebel butt.

Seeing his chance to destroy the secret weapon while the Nazis are busy, US sneaks back into the castle but Schopfer follows him and attempts to make good his vow to kill Rolf. US unmasks and wins the nutty professor's trust, activating a switch on his gizmo to turn the gorillas against the Nazis. One of the Germans enters the lab and a firefight ensues, with Schopfer catching a fatal hunk of lead. Just before he heads off to the great science lectern in the sky, he makes US vow to rescue his daughter Gudren and, once he's sure the Soldier is clear of the castle, Schopfer blows the building to hell. Later, sifting through the rubble, a noticeably perturbed one-armed Nazi holds the mask of the Unknown Soldier high and swears as his name is Lt. Rico Strada, the Amerikan schweinhund will die! Yet another unsatisfied customer come to call.

A slightly off-kilter, but action-filled, chapter of the Unknown Soldier serial, "Project: Omega" feels like a 'tweener to me, one of those rushed scripts that fall between super-duper installments. Not a lot happens and what does is pretty predictable. The only surprise is the arrival of Lt. Strada, who I immediately figured was a support character from a previous issue that I'd forgotten about but turns out to be a sinister enemy we've never seen before. More on that next issue.

Corporal Kruger still believes there's love in the world even as his Nazi comrades have turned their backs on him and forage for food in the freezing fields outside Stalingrad. As the Russian army moves in on Kruger and his fellow soldiers, the Corporal finds a friend in a starving dog. But when the dog abandons him, Kruger gives up hope and accepts death when it arrives. As his corpse lies in the field, the dog returns to grieve. "Who Will Mourn for Corporal Kruger" is a bit on the maudlin side but still a decent read (certainly better than most of the recent contributions from writer Oleck), as Oleck does a good job evoking the sheer futility of the situation. The art by Yandoc is nicely done and has a very macabre atmosphere (although I will say that either the dog keeps getting smaller or Kruger is a giant by tale's-end); it's easy to see why "Rubeny" was often utilized for the DC horror line.

Jack: What a disappointing issue! We had grown used to such good work from Michelinie that a run of the mill script like this is a real letdown, especially since most of the other DC war comics by August 1975 were not much good. I knew we were in trouble when two pages of a 13-page story were used for recap, but when the zombie gorillas appeared, I thought, "Oh no! DC's gorilla obsession again!" The backup story is weak, though the art in both stories is decent, as usual. Here's hoping part three of the Unknown Soldier saga is better.

Next Week...
No, actually it's
the sound of an
empire crumbling!

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