Monday, March 9, 2020

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 176: September 1976

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Our Army at War 296

"Combat Soldier"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Redondo

"The Eternal Survivor"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Lee Elias

Jack: Sgt. Rock is accompanying a wounded member of Easy Co. to a medic station when a sniper pops up out of what appears to be a ruined Nazi tank and opens fire. Rock leaps on the tank and is engaged in hand-to-hand combat when he receives unexpected assistance from Pvt. Angelo Morelli, a replacement soldier who has just arrived to join Easy Co.

Like Rock, Morelli has no interest in a promotion. The C.O. tells Rock that Easy Co. needs to take Slaughter Hill, but first Rock has to lead his men through the woods, where Morelli again helps out as he and Rock dispatch another Nazi tank. Reaching the edge of a river, Rock and Morelli start to swim across and Rock explains that Slaughter Hill is on the river bed below the surface of the water; that's where the bodies of soldiers who tried to swim across lie in such numbers that they make a hill.

"Combat Soldier"
Nazi snipers open fire from the other bank and Rock and Morelli swim back to Easy Co. Rock has his men swim in pairs, one dragging a log and the other using the log to steady his rifle and shoot at the snipers across the river. The men make it across and Rock is found to have been wounded in the crossing; Morelli takes over and leads Easy Co. in a wholesale slaughter of the Nazis. Fortunately, Rock recovers and awakens to learn that Morelli agreed to accept a battlefield commission, since he had to lead the men when Rock was injured.

"Combat Soldier" is about as good as we're likely to get in the Sgt. Rock series at this point. The Frank Redondo art is good, but doesn't approach the quality we grew used to from Kubert or Heath, and the Kanigher script is good, but all of it seems vaguely like we've read it before. Still, a pretty good Sgt. Rock story is worth something.

In a thick fog in the South Pacific, an American Destroyer and a Japanese Destroyer fire on each other at point blank range and both vessels sink. One Japanese soldier and one American soldier survive and both men swim for the nearest island, unaware of each other's existence until they confront each other on the beach. The Japanese soldier has a knife and quickly overpowers and kills the American soldier, but soon, the sea rises and engulfs the island, drowning the Japanese soldier.

"The Eternal Survivor"
The sea is "The Eternal Survivor" of the title, and this five-pager doesn't amount to much. I was pleasantly surprised by Lee Elias's art, since I think I recall not being impressed by his work in some other DC Comics we've read, but the only thing notable about this story is that the American soldier loses. The ending seems pointless.

Peter: This is the second Rock in a row I've really liked (which is saying something, since this era of Rock was pretty darn weak). Frank Redondo was easing into his role as the new Joe Kubert on this strip; his characters are well-drawn and differentiated and the battle scenes are dynamic and exciting. A good trend. I also liked "The Eternal Survivor," despite its familiar hook. Artist Lee Elias was having something of a second-coming in funny books at about this time. Good for him and good for us.

G.I. Combat 194

"The Blitzkrieg Brain!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Dead Man's Walk"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: During a fierce battle, the Haunted Tank is destroyed but the boys make it out uncooked. Not so lucky was the enemy tank commander, who's rescued from the tank by the Jeb boys, suffering from massive burns. Just then, a platoon of Germans roll up and take the boys prisoner, carting them off to a POW camp loaded with dead G.I.s. Turns out the cooked tank commander was the famous Colonel Hugo von Holtzer, war strategist and all-around genius guy. The top brass wants the Nazi scientists to rebuild him... to make him better... faster... stronger.

"The Blitzkrieg Brain!"
Meanwhile, back at the camp, our distraught heroes manage to kill their guards and make a break for it, stumbling upon a brand-new Sherman, whose crew had been ambushed and killed. They commandeer the tin can (this would be HT Mach IV, for those still keeping track) and head back to the line, but they are brought up short by the blast of yet another Nazi tank. Amazingly, they destroy the vehicle, but its driver disembarks unscathed. It's von Holtzer, now half-machine, all-killer! Jeb flings himself into hand-to-hand combat with the robot and very quickly short-circuits it with a simple eye-poke. The boys climb back into their new tank, laugh about the fragility of Nazi super-weapons, and head off down the road, not noticing the new man of steel rising from his own ashes.

Obviously meant to cash in on the cyborg craze sweeping the nation (two years after The Six Million Dollar Man and Marvel's "Deathlok," and four years before DC launched its own Teen Titan Cyborg), von Holtzer is a paper-thin villain, trumpeted loudly on the cover and dispatched in a handful of panels. There's not one iota of suspense hiding within "The Blitzkrieg Brain!"; it's lightweight but it's not entertainment. I'm not even sure what the plan is with this character. Was the technology there and waiting for the right benefactor? Why spend what must have been millions to resuscitate a war genius and then simply send him out to crush... kill... destroy? Boy, these Nazis sure were dumb. The General briefly appears twice, first to warn of an impending attack and then to threaten Jeb that he's not coming back to act as bodyguard to a tank named after his sworn enemy. If I were Jeb (the commander), I'd tell Jeb (the General) to go pound sand. The spook changes his mind, though, before the adventure ends. No reason is given. He just does it. The final panel threatens a rematch but that won't happen until G.I. Combat #198, one month after we close the curtain on this show. You're on your own if you want to know who wins that one.

"Dead Man's Walk"
The back-up, the third in Big Bob's "OSS" series (penned under his super-secret code name of Bart Regan), is a clever bit of alternate history concerning an OSS agent who plays dead and gives up documents purporting to show where the Allies will land on D-Day. "Dead Man's Walk" isn't quite as grim or powerful as "Target for Tonight--Me" (from #192) but is certainly stronger than last issue's misfire, "The Naked Code."

Jack: Is "The Blitzkrieg Brain!" the worst story of 1976? It'll be hard to beat. One annoying thing that runs through both stories in this terrible issue is an overabundance of German dialogue that is "helpfully" translated in a caption at the bottom of each panel. What's the point? To fill up space by saying everything twice--once in German and once in English? The Haunted Tank story features tasteless panels of the tank crew loading corpses on a truck at a concentration camp, and the bit where the ghostly general gets in a huff about the Sherman tank is unintentionally hilarious. "Dead Man's Walk" is only bearable in comparison to the story that precedes it.

Star Spangled War Stories 201

"The Back-Alley War"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

Peter: A small Nazi sub surfaces just outside of New York and, luckily, is spotted by the Army. As they paddle ashore, five Germans are arrested and sent to base for questioning. Unfortunately, it's soon discovered, there were actually six Germans... and one has escaped! It's up to the Unknown Soldier to track down the errant Ratzi who has, doubtlessly, made his way into the city by now. To attract attention, the Soldier disguises himself as Fredrik Nagel, a well-known fascist sympathizer jailed for "seditious activities." US attracts the attention and wins the confidence of a group of Nazis hiding in New York and spearheaded by Major Joachim Deutsch, the missing German.

Very soon, the German plan becomes apparent: Deutsch will dump a toxin into the city's drinking water and kill the population. With a little help from a see-sawing G.I. who can't decide which side he wants to fight on, our bandaged hero foils the insidious plot and saves New York from more nasty bacteria than they are used to drinking. I like the extra room Michelinie and Talaoc are given to work with in "The Back-Alley War," but this is a middling plot and some of the elements make no sense. The big ferinstance would be when the Soldier is beating Deutsch to death at the climax and a handful of G.I.s mistake him for a dirty Kraut, their leader pipes up that our disguised super-spy is " of us. I recognize him from pictures at the Intelligence briefing this morning." Sorry, I call foul on that one. If this is such a top-secret suicide mission, why would pics of the Soldier's identity be handed out? That's the number one lesson they teach you in Super-Spy School: Trust no one!

Jack: I too was disappointed with this "book-length" Unknown Soldier story and expected better from the crack team of Michelinie and Talaoc. I do think the portrayal of a German-American soldier who is treated unfairly due to his heritage is unusually sensitive, though he does flip-flop a bit from understandable frustration to complete treason to confusion at being duped. The character isn't fully developed but at least he's interesting, and he is part of a trend at seeing the other point of view that we've observed in the post-Vietnam era.

Next Week...
Wonderful Wood!

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