Monday, November 11, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 168: January 1976

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

G.I. Combat 186

"Souvenir from a Headhunter"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Medic in the Dark"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: The Haunted Tank is parachuted into the jungles of Burma to find a hidden Japanese rocket base. Safely landing, the boys make friends with a gorgeous native girl who takes them home to dad. Unfortunately, pop has old-fashioned ideas about men who lay hands on his (ostensibly) under-age daughter. Just as the boys are about to lose their heads (literally), gunfire erupts from the jungle and salvation arrives in the unlikely guise of Japanese soldiers. The boys escape but conquer the enemy and destroy the rocket base.

"Souvenir from a Headhunter"
Or at least, I think that's what happens since, I must admit, quite a bit of this rubbish was hard to follow. The writing in "Souvenir from a Headhunter" is almost as murky as the art. The Japanese "ambush" that saves our boys makes no sense whatsoever (it's almost as if the bad guys were just firing off their weapons for the hell of it and managed to lay lead on the chief as he's about to swing his sword), nor does most of the cockeyed action Glanzman plops into his panels. I don't presume to know enough about World War II to question Kanigher's use of the parachuting tank but I do cry "you got to be kidding" to the panels of the Jeb firing at approaching aircraft while 10,000 feet above the ground! Wouldn't the kickback knock them right out of the sky? I'm still a bit confused as to why the Jeb Stuart is the only tank that seems to be at every major battle in World War II.

A G.I. ambulance driver becomes a "Medic in the Dark" when the "hysterical blindness" that struck him as a child revisits at exactly the wrong time. The Army rejects this kid for his psychological problems but the Red Cross thinks it's okay for someone--who might black out when he's under pressure--to drive the wounded through battle zones? Um, yeah right.

"Medic in the Dark"
Jack: It's only January and already we have a candidate for worst story of the year: "Souvenir from a Headhunter." In addition to the problems you note, Peter, we have to put up with Leiya's offensive pidgin English. I can't imagine why Kanigher had to send the Haunted Tank to Burma, only to tell this idiotic story. I asked Google if tanks can be dropped by parachute and it seems the answer is yes, but only very close to the ground in areas where a plane can't land safely. The idea of the Jeb Stuart floating down from on high (and firing away in the meantime) is absurd. Not quite as bad--but close--is the backup story, "Medic in the Dark." Poor art, a story we've seen before, but still better than Glanzman in Burma. Sam had better watch out--no more Jack Kirby for us to kick around anymore!

Our Army at War 288

"Defend--or Destroy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Lehti

"Medal of Honor"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

Jack: After British paratroopers are wiped out trying to blow up a drawbridge that was supplying German soldiers holding a French port, Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. are sent to do the opposite job and hold the bridge, since the Navy plans to attack the port and the bridge is on the supply route. On the way to the bridge, a lone surviving British soldier joins up with Easy Co., but are they there to "Defend--or Destroy!"

Rock sends some of his men to attack a German ship and create a distraction that allows the rest of Easy Co. to attack the Germans holding the bridge. The German commander draws a bead on Rock but is pulled under the water by the British soldier, causing Rock later to raise a glass to his memory.

One of the less Kubert-y panels
from "Defend--or Destroy!"
Jack Lehti seems to have done a lot of newspaper comic strip work over the years, but seeing his name in a Sgt. Rock comic in 1976 is unexpected. I doubt we'll see him again in this series! The story itself is forgettable.

In June 1918, First Lieutenant Edouard Victor M. Izac displayed heroic behavior that resulted in another "Medal of Honor" being awarded. Izac was taken prisoner on a U-boat when his ship was sunk; he kept trying to escape until he was able to get out of a prison camp and make his way to Switzerland.

Norman Maurer is back with another run of the mill tale of heroism. I'm sure the real story was thrilling and inspiring, but it isn't told in a very exciting way and the art this issue is below par.

Peter: Even to my untrained eyes, it's obvious that Joe Kubert had a hand in helping Jack Lehti get his points across this issue. In the panels that look unassisted, Lehti comes off crude and sketchy (though nowhere near the extreme of Sam Glanzman). The story is decent, though nothing new. Unfortunately, I don't think we're going to see much in the way of originality in these strips anymore. "Medal of Honor" is informative and I guess that's the aim.

Our Fighting Forces 163

"Assault on Satan's Skull!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Lehti

Jack: The Losers are executed by firing squad and coffins containing their bodies are dropped from bomber planes flying over the English Channel. Fortunately, it was all a trick and the Losers are alive; they drop by parachute into the water and are picked up by a boat manned by German soldiers. The Losers quickly dispatch the enemy and head for French shores, each recalling the terrible incidents that led them to become a team.

Their present mission is to locate Dr. Tors Hanson, a scientist developing a rocket that can reach America. The Losers alone can identify him, so their execution was faked and they mount an "Assault on Satan's Skull!" to capture Hanson, who is located in a monastery nearby. They find two Dr. Hansons and take them both just to be safe. Making their way back to the boat manned by Captain Storm, the Losers run an enemy gauntlet with the two doctors in tow before making it safely back to the headquarters of General Thorne, who assigned them on the mission to begin with. The general's aide is revealed as a double agent when he kills the wrong Dr. Hanson, and the real Dr. Hanson has been brainwashed by the Germans and refuses to cooperate. Once again, the Losers manage to lose both versions of the doctor they sought!

Nah! Happens all the time!
It's such a relief to have Kirby off this strip that this book-length tale, even with some filler, is a welcome sight. Here's Jack Lehti for the second time this month, and his art is appealing in a primitive way. Best of all is having Kanigher back on script duties; even though there's nothing special about the story, its not an embarrassment like Kirby's stories were. Perhaps now the Losers can resume looking for Oona!

Peter: Why Big Bob feels the need to retell the Losers origin story is anyone's guess. If you put a gun to my head, I'd say it was to slam home the point that Kanigher was taking back the reins after a disastrous run by "The King." Though it's certainly more digestible than what Kirby wrought, Big Bob's script doesn't skimp on the outlandish. The parachuting coffins scene is ludicrous; there's no reason to take the subterfuge to such an extreme. Never mind the impossibility of activating your parachute while trapped in a coffin hurtling towards ground! Once the boys are out of sight of the traitor, they can go about their business in a much safer fashion. Are you telling me the pilot had no idea what was going on? Lehti seems to be flying solo here on this one (no Kubert trademarks that I can see) and, I have to say, the art is not half bad.

Star Spangled War Stories 195

"The Deathmasters"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Duel in the Desert"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Bill Draut

Peter: In part one of a two-part adventure, the Unknown Soldier is sent to a "School for Assassins" in Romania to impersonate budding Nazi killer Klaus Oster. Once undercover, the US is to destroy the compound and kill its commandant, Count Witschenbach. The Soldier safely ensconced in the academy, he befriends Witschenbach's pet killer, Ulrich Gherner, who confides in our hero that his father died from Nazi mistreatment and his mother desperately needs expensive medicine to keep her alive. The Nazis will pay Gherner for his "kills," so he's stuck performing atrocities for the men he'd rather be putting in the ground. Gherner is given the assignment to take out a Russian higher-up and the Soldier must follow. Before he begins his trip, he happily blows the School for Ratzi Murderers to hell!

"The Deathmasters"
"The Deathmasters" is one of the weaker Michelinie scripts so far, due to the fact that it seems quite similar to a couple other past adventures. I do like that, as is typical of Michelinie, the writer strays from the path he puts us on to beef up a sub-plot and make it the plot. We're not even sure that Witschenbach is at the academy when it goes blooey. Make no bones about it, a weak Michelinie story is still preferable to most of the other nonsense put before us this month. "Duel in the Desert" is just another tired Jack Oleck retread of a plot device we've seen countless times before: the Germans and the English clash over a Libyan waterhole in World War II. Neither side can win but both continue to fight until both sides are eliminated. If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it's that Bill Draut is working his way up to becoming an average penciller.

Jack: I like the cliffhanger in "The Deathmasters," with the Unknown Soldier in his Nazi disguise racing into the midst of a ceremony and leaping into action, only to have the story end in mid jump! This is easily the best DC War series going at this point, with Michelinie and Talaoc working well together to tell one exciting story after another. It's the only war comic I really look forward to at this point. I agree with you about Draut's work on the backup--it's not bad.

"Duel in the Desert"

Next Week...
Jack and Peter attempt to
wade through the cheese.

Peter leads Jack ashore
after the December 1976 post.


Todd Mason said...

No WWT! Say it isn't the case! My overweening self-importance will lead to supernatural comeuppance!

Jack Seabrook said...

Yes, it's true--Weird War Tales has gone bi-monthly! Only six more issues before the end of the blog. Treasure them!