Monday, September 30, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 165: October 1975

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 42

"Old Soldiers Never Die"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ernie Chan & Ricardo Villamonte

"Twice Dead"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Frank Redondo

"The Year 700 After the Bomb!" [Part One]
Story by Sheldon Mayer
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Peter: An Army captain interrupts the war to call upon Satan to grant him eternal life. The devil promises that no enemy will kill the Captain and that he will never grow a day older (pay particular attention to the italics, students) if he follows one simple command: kill the company priest. Without hesitation, the captain heads back out into battle and drills the padre when no one's looking. Immediately following, the world's stupidest man learns that Satan always gets his man. "Old Soldiers Never Die" is dreary and predictable (just how many times does Oleck have to stress no enemy will kill you before it becomes a banner flown high across every page?), as if no one cared anymore. Ernie Chan's art looks like it's best suited to a superhero strip.

"Twice Dead"
A World War II pilot is convinced his father, a pilot in WWI, is helping him clear the skies of Ratzis. "Twice Dead" suffers from a Ripley's Believe It or Not premise and a lame climax but gets points for Redondo's sharp art.

A visitor from "The Year 700 After the Bomb!" wanders into Lacy's department store and causes quite a scene with his Robin Hood-inspired garb, so it's only a matter of time before "Barry of Bleeker Street" is hauled up to security and spills his story. It's not a story worth repeating and worse... it's only the first half! The most intriguing aspect of this boring and overlong experiment in fantasy (which has not one iota of War within its eight pages) is that (according to the GCD) it was originally constructed as the third chapter of the Adventurers' Club back-up, set to run in Adventure Comics #430 before being replaced by another strip under the AC banner. The Adventurers' Club was nothing more than fantasy tales "hosted" by an eye-patched he-man by the name of Colonel Nelson Strong. The series never caught on and only three installments saw publication (in Adventure #426, 427 and 430). It's a shame when Alfredo Alcala is given nothing but talking heads to work with (and some of the panels look like they may have had some other hands working them). Can't say I'm looking forward to Part Two but then, lately, I'm not looking forward to anything between the WWT covers.

"The Year 700 After the Bomb!"
Jack: I think this is a solid, enjoyable issue of Weird War Tales. I had to laugh when the 35-year-old captain in "Old Soldiers Never Die" said he wanted his youth back; ah, to be 35 again! The story is well done, especially the art, despite the predictable ending. I guess I like Chan's superhero style! "Twice Dead" is an enjoyable four-pager with good art and no surprises. What does surprise me is that you didn't like the Alcala story. I was proud to see that an emperor from New Jersey succeeded in conquering Manhattan in the future and I found the story entertaining and intriguing. I'm looking forward to part two! The art certainly doesn't hurt. I remember those Adventure issues where they got away from superheroes--they were fun.

G.I. Combat 183

"6 Stallions to Hell--and Back!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Triple Booby Trap"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: While the boys are enjoying a rare break from combat, the ghostly General Jeb Smith pops up to give another cryptic warning to his descendant, Jeb Smith, commander of the Jeb Smith: take care of the six white stallions even now approaching over the rise. Just as the spirit dissipates, a Stuka screams out of the sky, attempting to blast the horses into dog food. The Haunted Tank does what it does best and the Stuka is soon lying on the ground in flames, its pilot a smoldering pile of ashes. Turns out the steeds are the "world-famous Lipizaners from the stables of Prince Schwarzenberg of Austria," and Hitler will do anything he can to lay his grubby German talons on the stallions. Suddenly, the men of the Jeb Stuart have to play babysitter to the Lipizaners and their jockeys. Despite insurmountable odds, our heroes manage to fool the simpletons on the other side and deliver the horses to the promised land with very few casualties (well, the leader of the riding crew is gunned down and has quite the maudlin death scene) and gain a healthy respect for animals.

"Nope... no one will see us!"
Well, no, I'm not going to harp about the dull and boring script attached to "6 Stallions to Hell--and Back!," nor the unintentionally funny scene where Jeb recommends they camouflage the horses (with berry juice) and the men (with civvies) but follows close behind in the Haunted Tank as if the Nazis are not only stupid but blind, nor even the Kanigher-recycled bad dialogue ("Let em eat... the hot stuff!"). Believe me, it's going to be a lot easier coming up with something to say about this series if it ever surprises me and delivers anything but a turkey.

American  and Japanese subs exchange torpedoes and sink to the bottom. While both crews work on damage, the respective sub commanders send out frogmen to set charges on their enemy. As the American fish heads back to his vessel, he watches in horror as it explodes, leaving him stranded in the middle of an unfriendly ocean. I thought the tale might end a bit edgy when our sub goes blooey and, in an interesting twist, the Japanese frogman finds and disarms the bomb on his ship. A secondary charge blows the sub to hell and our sole survivor rises to the surface to hitch a ride on a passing PT boat. "Triple Booby Trap" rehashes Big Bob's tired "dual-screen" story; we literally see each side go through the same motions (and utter the same lame dialogue) throughout. Our boy has obviously contracted PTSD since he surfaces with a smile on his face, joking that he has a date with a dame back in Pearl, the multitude of dead comrades below already forgotten!

"Triple Booby Trap"

Jack: A dreadful issue from start to finish. I thought we were off to a good start when they put a helpful banner on the first page of the Haunted Tank story, identifying the members of the crew as Jeb, Slim, Rich, and Gus, but it was all downhill from there. I never can remember who's who in the Haunted Tank. The ghostly general pops up on page one as well but to no real purpose; why should he care if the stallions are saved? I get that he led Confederate horse charges, but that doesn't seem equivalent. Kanigher is coasting along and Glanzman's art does nothing to tell the story in pictures--he just draws what Kanigher writes and there's no excitement to it. "Triple Booby Trap" finds Kanigher using his old trick of parallel stories and I think Kubert or Heath could've made something of this, but Estrada's art is limp.

Our Army at War 285

"Bring Him Back"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Doug Wildey

"Royal Flush"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: North of Salerno, Rock sees in the war news an item that Private Pete Falco is to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. After a brief, violent interlude in which the men of Easy Co. blow up a Nazi tank, Rock recalls his interaction with Falco, who did not do very well under Rock's tutelage in training camp. The C.O. shipped the private to a rear echelon company and Rock did not hear about him again till he read of his award in the paper.

Called back to H.Q., Rock is told that he must take Falco safely to the embarkation port so he can return to the states to record "Rock Me, Amadeus" lead a bond drive. On the way, Rock's jeep encounters enemy mortar and he must drive onto thin ice. The surface cracks and Rock and Falco manage to fight off Nazis and escape with their lives. Back at H.Q., Rock visits Falco in the hospital, where the private tries to give Rock his Medal of Honor. Rock refuses to accept it, lecturing Falco about its importance before heading back to his company.

"Just one more thing, Sgt. Rock ..."
Kanigher's writing is so much better here than in the Haunted Tank series; I suspect he had more respect for and understanding of the Army soldiers and their sergeant than the tank crew. Doug Wildey does a very good job of telling the story and his gritty art reminds me a bit of Mort Drucker's work. The story does make me wonder why Rock and co. don't get the Medal of Honor every issue, since they seem to destroy at least one tank per story! Kubert's cover is terrific; he draws all five covers this month, and they're impressive.

"Royal Flush"
Charlie dreams he draws a "Royal Flush" in an ongoing poker game with Ben, but his dream is shattered when Kamikaze planes attack the aircraft carrier on which both men are stationed. While defending the ship against the planes, Charlie insists that he'll get a real royal flush some day, but Ben reminds Charlie that he already owes Ben around $800K. On a break, the pals go below deck to continue their game; unfortunately, another Kamikaze attack leaves them trapped and they die before they can be rescued. Charlie's corpse finally holds a royal flush.

Kanigher saves his grimmer stories for the Gallery of War series in the back of Our Army at War and this one is no exception; it would work better with another artist. Estrada's style is too cheerful for a story like this, though I do like some of his bold lettering.

Peter: The Rock saga this issue is exceptionally maudlin and the Wildey art very rough (his Falco is obviously inspired by Peter Falk and Rock looks nothing like the Rock we've become accustomed to). It's not horrible but it's not very good. Actually, it's superb compared to the dim-witted "Royal Flush," which brings out all of Big Bob's bad habits within its brief page count. The ending's supposed to be ironic but it's just dumb.

Our Fighting Forces 160

Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby & Mike Royer

Jack: Among the Russians who collaborated with the Nazis was "Ivan," a tubby young man who enjoyed machine gunning helpless civilians lined up against a wall. He does not know that the Losers are masquerading as Nazi officers and staying in his home, where his stout mother delights in feeding them terrible food.

Ivan has a side job, which involves hiding Russians in his basement, taking all of their possessions, and promising to help them escape the country; what they don't know is that he also alerts Nazi soldiers to the presence of his guests. When the Nazis arrive to collect the helpless Russians, the Losers shoot the enemy soldiers in the back, free the Russians from the basement, and knock Ivan out cold, leaving him for the Nazis to find.

The next day, Ivan is against the wall with other Russians, facing the firing squad for supposedly killing the Nazi soldiers found dead in his house.

Another horrible story by the King! The art is bad enough, but now we have our heroes shooting a group of enemy soldiers in the back. I'm sure Kirby would tell us, "That's war, buster!" I don't like it. Happily, the letters column makes it clear that Kirby's time on the strip is nearly over.

Our "heroes"

Peter: The irony is that by 1975 all of Jack's continuing characters were "undercover," since there was no continuity from panel to panel. Ivan's mom is a Russian Panama Fatty and the Losers are just big blocks of flesh. Jack should have been wise enough to bring Ona back; at least we'd have been able to tell her from the rest of the pack. Aside from my usual quibbles (the dialogue is still dreck), I have to admit that this is the first Kirby Losers I actually enjoyed. It's massively dark, which isn't usual for "The King." Of course, it all ends predictably but, for a few pages anyway, the script actually held my interest. The writing's on the wall, though, and Jack's tenure on this title is coming to an end. The first sign is that his cover art chores have been pulled.

Star Spangled War Stories 192

Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Something to Kill For"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Frank Redondo

Peter: On the way to delivering the infamous Unknown Soldier into Nazi hands, Lt. Strada has his driver pull over in a deserted forest and then orders the man to drive away. Strada explains to US that he's not going to trust his superiors with the task of cleansing the Earth of the man who killed his mentor (Father Memmoli); he's going to do it himself. Quick thinking allows the Soldier to escape but Strada reminds our hero that he'll be out of a job if he doesn't come back to rescue his magical make-up kit. As US ponders his next move, a pack of wolves attacks him and the only thing that saves him is... Prada! Wolves would never do, he tells the Allied secret-weapon, but idle chit-chat, it would seem, is the consistent downfall of evil Nazi masterminds and Strada is no exception. Using a ploy that's usually found in a silly buddy-cop movie, US once again gains the upper hand and Strada finds himself hanging over a cliff. The Soldier tries to talk sense into the young Nazi but when Strada considers a world without Father Memmoli, he lets go of the branch and his "Vendetta!" at the same time.

The Talaoc art is aces as usual but Michelinie's script this time out is a bit jumbled; some good, some not so. There's a brilliantly choreographed flashback sequence that takes place in the minds of both protagonists, but that's the highlight. As I sarcastically noted already, Strada takes the road traveled by way too many James Bond villains, explaining things a tad too much while the hero prepares the sand at his feet or, inexplicably, the branch above Strada's gun hand. Then there's the uncharacteristically (for Michelinie, at least) maudlin finale where Strada sees the error of his ways and kills himself. A weak conclusion to what was a very strong arc.

Jack Oleck's "Something To Kill For" masquerades as something more thought-provoking than it is. A squad of Germans meets a squad of Brits in a snowy field near the end of World War I and the leader on each side decides to call a cease-fire and walk away. Things go well until a pink box is spotted in the snow and both sides open fire. Of course, the battle leaves only two standing: kapitan and lieutenant. The two men blow themselves away and, in the end, we discover they were all killed over a box of Red Cross rations. Oh, how ironic! How heavy-handed as well. The art, by Frank Redondo, gets a thumbs-up.

"Something to Kill For"

Jack: I love Gerry Talaoc's work on the Unknown Soldier; characters' legs are lanky and everyone looks as if they're in a horror strip! I thought "Vendetta" was a nice wrap-up to the four-issue arc, despite the gun-jump and coincidences. The maudlin finish did not bother me. Is the character name Rico Strada a sly nod to artist Ric Estrada? Even better was the five-page "Something to Kill For," with excellent art by Redondo and a finale that was both unexpected and satisfying.

This month's crop of DC War Comics was particularly good, I thought, especially due to five superb covers by Joe Kubert.

Next Week...
We'll search under six more rocks in hopes
of finding something good.

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