Monday, April 20, 2020

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 179: December 1976--The Final Battle!

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

G.I. Combat 197

"Battle Ark"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"No Grave for a Spy"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: Jeb receives a garbled message from command, something about a lamb at Lamaux, then the ghostly General gives Jeb an even more cryptic message about saving the lamb from the tiger. As the poor commander is digesting all these semi-messages, the tank approaches a small boy standing in the snow, holding a lamb, asking for a ride to Lamaux. An epiphany hits Jeb Stuart (the tank commander) like a bag of stale French pastries! The tank picks up the boy and rolls on. Very soon, they run across a young girl standing in the snow, holding what appears to be a blanketed child, asking for a ride to Lamaux. The "Battle Ark" stops, picks up the girl, and rolls on.

"Battle Ark"
Reaching Lamaux, they discover that the town is in ruins and guarded by a German Tiger. More light bulbs appear over Jeb's penciled skull. While our favorite tank commander is pondering their significance, the Tiger opens fire, but our boys are too smart and, through a little trickery, they send the Tiger to tank heaven. The pretty young girl unwraps her bundle, revealing a stained glass lamb for the church window. Another mission accomplished for the Haunted Taxi.

"No Grave for a Spy"
Sad that that would be my last impression of Bob Kanigher's mighty Haunted Tank and its crew but, of course, any originality, suspense, or character development was thrown by the wayside years before. The Sam Glanzman run has been particularly brutal but, going over my notes, the series as a whole never showed much growth outside of the core principle: a ghost that haunts a tank. That General has been disposable 90% of the time anyway (the only example to the contrary I can think of, off the top of my head, would be the "Alaric" arc in #161-162, where the General took part in the battle), so most of these scripts could be straight-ahead war stories. We covered 108 Haunted Tank stories and the series would continue until G.I. Combat was discontinued in March 1987 (288 issues!). The "OSS" back-up, "No Grave for a Spy," is about an undercover agent searching for Rommel's fuel cache in the blazing desert. It's an exciting little thriller with decent art by Estrada. The "OSS" series would, likewise, continue for years in the title.

Jack: As usual, the best thing about this issue of G.I. Combat is Joe Kubert's cover. The Haunted Tank story is just a retread of what we've read dozens of times before, with Sam Glanzman art that barely seems professional. This was the worst continuing series we had to suffer through. I didn't think the backup story was exciting and I won't miss Ric Estrada's art, though it's better than Glanzman's. The coming attractions for issue 200 say there will be a crossover with Sgt. Rock and the Losers. I'll have to imagine how that went!

Our Army at War 299

"Three Soldiers"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Redondo

"Death Salute"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: "Three Soldiers" have just joined Easy Co., and their nicknames are Rabbit, Heavy, and Stevedore. Rabbit is tall, thin, and nervous, while Heavy is short, fat, and apprehensive. Only the muscular Stevedore seems ready for action. Easy Co. is shelled and the three new men are buried alive in rubble; when they are dug out, only Stevedore seems unshaken.

Bulldozer helps Rabbit while Jackie Johnson helps Heavy. A surprise attack by a German machine gun nest in some woods causes Rock to take the lead and fight back, but who is behind him supplying much-needed cover fire? It's Rabbit, who suddenly found his courage when he saw Rock in danger. Similar heroics issue from Heavy when Rock is injured during a battle at a bridge over the Rhone. Finally, it's Stevedore's turn, but he freezes up during a fight with a Nazi tank and Rock saves him, explaining after the smoke clears that each man reacts to trauma differently, and Stevedore's reaction to being buried alive took time to manifest itself.

"Three Soldiers"
As our last Sgt. Rock story, "Three Soldiers" is a pretty good one. In it, Kanigher demonstrates that he knows how to set up a situation and play it out as expected. I was hoping that he wouldn't go down the obvious path of having Stevedore be the one who wasn't able to fight when the chips were down but, at this stage in Big Bob's extremely long career of writing comics, I guess surprises may have been behind him. Still, it's a tale well told and the character of Rock, along with his regular supporting cast, continues to make this series better than anything we're seeing from the Haunted Tank.

A young man whose father was killed in a WWI air battle grows up dreaming of avenging his Pop, so when he becomes a fighter pilot in WWII and visits an outdoor museum of WWI planes, he has a strange experience. When he climbs into a Spad and takes flight, is it a dream? When a Fokker Triplane confronts him and he battles it, is he imagining things? When his gun jams and he faces certain death, what the heck is going on? In the end, he seems to be flying alone in the sky, still alive, with no sign of the enemy ace. Yet his recurring nightmare will now end.

Stories about WWI air battles have often been the highlight of our journey through the DC War Comics, but "Death Salute" is not one of them, mainly due to the overly cartoony art of Ric Estrada. Kanigher's Gallery of War stories have been up and down, sometimes providing much-needed adult relief from the more childish lead stories in the comics, but Estrada is no George Evans and his depictions of WWI planes are not impressive.

"Death Salute"
Peter: Our last Rock to ponder on this voyage is, sadly, a predictable one. The minute you meet two scared chickens and a pompous bully, you know who's going to come out on top, in Kanigher's world, by the end of the story. Yeah, it's as textbook as Kanigher ever got, but it still has a bit of charm to it and Frank Redondo edges more and more toward a Heath influence rather than Kubert. To be totally honest, I couldn't make heads or tails of "Death Salute." So, the kid loses his nightmare because the ace who slew his father in battle gives him a pass in his dream? Okay. An odd "Gallery of War," then.

Our Army at War changed its title to Sgt. Rock with #302 and had a long and healthy life, outlasting all the other war titles. It was finally put to rest with #422 in July 1988 (the final issue was penciled by Joe Kubert and inked by his son Adam!). Jack and I dissected 207 Rock stories, if my tally is correct. Rock continues to be a major player in the DC Universe, resurfacing now and then in some mini-series (Kubert's The Prophecy from 2006) or guest appearance. Robert Kanigher died in 2002; though I poked and prodded Big Bob all during our journey, I stand in awe at the body of work he produced. Thousands and thousands of scripts for characters such as Wonder Woman and the Flash and, of course, for the war line. You might say he was the Stan Lee of War Comics.

Our Fighting Forces 170

"A Bullet for the General"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by George Evans

"Marines Are Born Not Made"
Story by Murray Boltinoff
Art by E.R. Cruz

Jack: The Chinese Army is spending too much time chasing a murderous, looting warlord named General Lin, so they don't have enough manpower to go after the Japanese Army. The Losers are assigned the task of finding and executing General Lin! Ona wants to help, but she is told that it's no place for a girl and she must stay behind.

The Losers are flown into China, where they meet up with Captain Yang, a secret agent from General Lin's staff, who will help them locate the general. Moving through the snowy landscape on horseback, the Losers witness the atrocity of men, women, and children who rebelled against General Lin and were murdered on the spot. When the Losers finally reach the general's camp, they are shocked to discover that he is a woman and the sister of Captain Yang! None of the Losers can bring themselves to execute a girl, but when Lin tries to escape, "A Bullet for the General" is conveniently provided by the fearless and merciless Ona, who stowed away on the plane and who has no qualms about shooting and killing a female.

"A Bullet for the General"
Our last Losers story is probably the best thing we'll read this month, mainly because of George Evans's dynamic art. Kanigher's script includes sexism (Ona is left behind and the men can't shoot the female general), racism (the usual nonsense about Japs and chop suey), and just plain stupidity (if they had just tied up General Lin, they could have brought her in with no problem). Still, it's a fun story and a good sendoff for a series that reached some real highs under Severin and some real lows under Kirby.

In Boot Camp, Sarge is frustrated by a new recruit who can't seem to learn to shoot and always misses the target. Proclaiming that "Marines are Born Not Made," Sarge tells the man he'll never succeed. When they ship out, Sarge is disconcerted to see that the man has been assigned to his battalion, but when they hit the beach at Saipan, the same man saves Sarge's life in an unexpected way: he thinks Sarge is an enemy soldier and takes a shot at him, but his aim is so poor that he mistakenly hits a real enemy soldier who was sneaking up behind Sarge!

E.R. Cruz's art elevates this four-page quickie above the disposable level into an amusing story where Sarge learns a lesson.

"Marines are Born Not Made"
Peter: The second that Ona is put in her place as a weak woman, you know who's going to ride to the Losers' rescue. But the dame's explanation of how she came to be in the right place at the right time doesn't float for me. Just another silly coincidence in this series, which we leave now after having lived through 48 installments, both very good (the Severin run) and very bad (take a bow, King Kirby). As with the Haunted Tank, I'm not sure this series ever lived up to its potential but then, at times, it was surely better than the Gunner and Sarge strip that preceded it. Speaking of Sarge, I mistakenly believed that "Marines Are Born Not Made" was our first glance at the origin of the Gunner and Sarge team but, alas, that was not to be. OFF will see only 11 more issues (all performed by the same Kanigher-Evans team) before feeling the ax in October 1978. In hindsight, I think the most interesting use of the Losers as a team was by Darwyn Cooke in The New Frontier, an "alternative history of the DC Universe," wherein the team is sent to the War That Time Forgot island on a top-secret mission. In Cooke's vision, the entire squad is wiped out by dinosaurs.

Jack Sparling & Vince Colletta
Weird War Tales 49

"The Face of the Enemy"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Leopoldo Duranona

"A Rite to Die!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ricardo Villamonte

"The Day After Doomsday!"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Steve Ditko & Vince Colletta

"Mark of the Conqueror"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ernie Chan & Bill Draut

Peter: In a remote German village, a small platoon of soldiers get the word that the war is over. They round up surrendering Nazis but the town's burgermeister refuses to surrender and insists the Germans will fight until they're dead. At that moment, a grenade is hurled at the soldiers and the captain is wounded. One of the G.I.s, Moore, a soldier who has never killed, takes chase, hoping the assailant will give up peacefully. Alas, the German fires on Moore and the G.I. is forced to kill him. Upon inspection, Moore finds that the Nazi is a young boy. Not only have we seen the plot of "The Face of the Enemy" umpteen times (especially in the Sgt. Rock strip), but we also must question what's so weird about a young Nazi? Sick, I'll admit, but not weird or supernatural.

"The Face of the Enemy"
In "A Rite to Die!" a murderous Nazi seeks shelter in a church, only to find it harbors priests of the black arts. Well, we should be happy they weren't vampires, right? A young hippie hears a rock band playing on "The Day After Doomsday!" How can that be, since he's the last man left on Earth? Well, it turns out the rock band is a trio of guitar-strumming mutants giving off radioactivity and the hippie dies from the exposure. No, seriously. Do you see the smile creeping across my face as I realize this is the last Day After Doomsday I ever have to read?  In a distant future (or on another planet), a dictator wipes out all rebels in hopes he can hand his rule to his son one day. "Mark of the Conqueror" is mind-numbingly dumb. It's never clear whether this is our future or not, but Oleck was obviously riffing on the Planet of the Apes films here, as this world is ruled by gorillas. There's a twist at the end but it's a cheat, as most of the information is withheld from us until the moment of the "shock."

An awful issue to complete our look at Weird War Tales, but then if I survey my notes, I can tell you that of the 139 stories published in WWT that I reviewed, only 39 received a 2.5-3.5 rating (none received the full four stars) so it was, sadly, a very average issue. WWT would see another 75 issues published, with the final number appearing in June 1983. The title continued its anthology format until #93, when a series known as the Creature Commandos ran sporadically through to the final issue. Now a bit of a cult oddity, the CC was a G.I.-style outfit made up of a werewolf, a vampire, a Frankenstein-like monster, a Gorgon, and the human Lt. Shrieve. Though I'm bound to regret it, I can see returning someday to cover the feature, possibly for the new print bare bones.

Jack: And that ends our mission! The last issue of Weird War Tales we read is suitably awful, from the predictable end to "The Face of the Enemy" all the way to the predictable end to "Mark of the Conqueror." Duranona's art in the first story is decent, but Ditko's work on the two-pager is a letdown. It's a toss-up as to whether this comic or the Haunted Tank series was worse at this point. I'd have to hand the title to the Haunted Tank, since it's just so bad, issue after issue, while a fairly good story sneaks into WWT every now and then.



Best Script: Robert Kanigher, "The Execution" (Blitzkrieg 3)
Best Art: Gerry Talaoc, "The Henschel Gambit" (Star Spangled War Stories 197)
Best All-Around Story: "The Execution"

Worst Script: "The Gunner is a Gorilla" (G.I. Combat 189)
Worst Art: Literally anything by Sam Glanzman
Worst All-Around Story: "The Gunner is a Gorilla"


  1 "The Execution" 
  2 "Target for Tonight--Me" (G.I. Combat 192)
  3 "The Henschel Gambit" (Star Spangled War Stories 197)
  4 "Shooting Star" (Star Spangled War Stories 200)
  5 "The Enemy" (Blitzkrieg 1)


Best Script: "The Henschel Gambit" by David Michelinie
Best Art: "The Line" by Frank Redondo and Joe Kubert (Our Army at War 289)
Best All-Around Story: "The Line" by Robert Kanigher, Frank Redondo, and Joe Kubert

Worst Script: "The War That Time Forgot" by Robert Kanigher (G.I. Combat 195)
Worst Art: "The Gunner is a Gorilla" by Sam Glanzman
Worst All-Around Story: "The Blitzkrieg Brain!" (G.I. Combat 194)


  1 "The Line"
  2 "The Rowboat Fleet" (Our Fighting Forces 165)
  3 "The Henschel Gambit"
  4 "Death Ride" (Star Spangled War Stories 200)
  5 "The Cure" (Star Spangled War Stories 202)


Peter: You might say, how the heck could you pull ten stories out of the more than 1500 we dissected over the last seven years (over 700 issues reviewed--you try that!) but, by golly, we did it! What I took away from this long journey is that the highs were really high but the lows were pretty low. There was only a small percentage of the DC war output that was egregiously awful, so the revelations of Kubert, Heath, and Talaoc are what I will remember.

Jack: What struck me in looking back over 17 years of DC War Comics was the precipitous decline in quality as the '70s wore on. Losing Kubert as a regular contributor to the inside of the books was a devastating blow; losing Heath also hurt. Replacing them with the likes of Sam Glanzman just didn't cut it. The consistently high level of quality in the '60s was impressive. Sure, there were a lot of bad stories, but there were a lot of good ones too and more than a few great ones. The late '60s were probably the most creative period, in my opinion.


Favorite All-Time Cover (Peter)
  1 "Killer of the Skies" (Showcase 57, August 1965)
  2 "Death Whispers... Death Screams" (Star Spangled 139, July 1968)
  3 "The Only Survivor" (Our Fighting Forces 87, October 1964)
  5 "Battle Window" (G.I. Combat 102, November 1963)
  6 "The Slayers and the Slain" (Star Spangled 138, May 1968)
  8 "Danger Sniper" (G.I. Combat 89, September 1961)
  9 "Vengeance is a Harpy" (Star Spangled 142, January 1969)

Best Writer: Robert Kanigher
Best Artist: Russ Heath


Favorite All-Time Cover (Jack)
  1 "End of Easy!" (Our Army at War 101, December 1960)
  2 "Easy's Had It" (Our Army at War 103, February 1961)
  4 "Sergeants Aren't Born--!" (Showcase 45, August 1963)
  5 "Suicide Mission! Save Him or Kill Him!" (The Brave and the Bold 52, March 1964)
  6 "What's the Color of Your Blood?" (Our Army at War 160, November 1965)
  7 "A Penny for Jackie Johnson" (Our Army at War 179, April 1967)
  8 "Death Whispers--Death Screams"
  9 "Vengeance is a Harpy!"
 10 "3 Graves to Home!" (Star Spangled War Stories 150, May 1970)

Best Writer: Robert Kanigher
Best Artist: Joe Kubert

Next Week...
Corben Magic
and the Bruce Jones era begins!

And in Two Weeks...
After a Seven-Year Hiatus
Jack and Peter revisit the Dark Knight!


andydecker said...

It is hard to wrap my mind around the fact that you did this actually for 7 years in a row. The era you started in is vague in my memory now, before the harsh fall through the rabbit hole.

When I started reading DC for earnest at the start of the 80s, the war books didn't interest me. Compared to the start of Vertigo or The Teen Titans they seemed dated and not worth my time. Of course I knew nothing of their history, and I wouldn't have cared. War tales, but according to the Comics Code and kids friendly. No thanks.

Sometimes I read your series eagerly, sometimes I just browsed. Things like The Haunted Tank or The Loosers left me cold, the first is an ridiculous concept, the second is not much better. Shouldn't they all be blown to pieces after the fith episode if they are the loosers?

Other things piqued my interest, though. Enemy Ace woke my interest for Kubert and his art, after reading about it I bought the Showcase edition. With Sgt. Rock I waited too long, and while every crap is now made avaiable digitally, the war comics don't seem to be high on DCs to do list.

Writing more than 1500 short story synopsises (and commenting them) is an incredible feat, I would have thrown the towel after 15. :-)

Thank you for your work! It is read and appreciated.

Of course I asked myself what you will do next (or if you cut back, which would be understandable.) I would never have thought it would be Batman again.

I will read it.

Peter Enfantino said...


Thanks for the kind words. As I've said often, it's the comments that keep us going. We have a very good visitor rate each day but not many people leave a comment. I do the same thing so I'm not blaming anyone.
Truth to tell, I'm not sure how we got through the seven years. There were times when I changed that 1976 to 1972 and told Jack no one would notice. But he's always the calm to my storm.
And then, just as I figured nothing could get worse, we'd get Kirby's Losers. And then, just as I lost grip on my sanity, we'd get the Michelinie/Talaoc Unknown Soldier. But 1976 is enough for me. I bandied about doing a "Ten Best Stories of the Year" posting (rather than individual synops and critiques) of 1976-1986 but then I read a few of those funny books and realized I'd had enough.
As for 1980s Batman... believe you me, I never thought I'd see the day when we returned but we had a look through some of those issues and there's actually some good stuff on the horizon. I hope so cuz we're looking at another six years of commitment!
Hopefully you'll come along for the ride.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Andy! We're always excited to read your comments. I gave up regular comic buying and reading by the late '70s and never read many of the war comics before we embarked on this project. I'd say the main thing I discovered was how much I love Joe Kubert's art. I'm really happy to be going back to the Batcave and I'm glad you'll ride along with us!

turafish said...

Great job, men! You deserve a well-earned furlough! Thanks for all the fun posts. Actually remembered a handful of war comics that I had thanks to your completed mission.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Joe! We will enjoy our 2-week furlough.