Monday, March 31, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 24: May 1961

The DC War Comics 1959-1976
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 106

"Meet Sgt. Lt. Rock!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick? Jack Abel?

"Valley of Missing Aces!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

Jack: Just before attacking a beach, Sgt. Rock is dressed down by a tough general when he salutes too abruptly and knocks his own helmet off. Rock's brave leadership in an assault on a Nazi gunner leads the commanding officer to remark that Rock should be promoted, something the sergeant does not want. Rock's next heroic act, which involves destroying a tank, results in the general ordering the captain to send Rock to officer's candidate school. But before the combat-happy Joes of Easy Company get to "Meet Lt. Rock!," the sergeant intentionally upsets the general by being seen once again without his helmet on. As a result, he loses one of his three stripes, though we know his heroics will have him back to three soon enough. It's really not fair to the readers to have a Kubert cover on an issue of Our Army at War and then have the Sgt. Rock story inside drawn by someone else. The Grand Comics Database credits this to Irv Novick, based on Julie Schwartz's notes. However, I read and re-read this story and I think it's drawn by Jack Abel. Peter, what do you think?

Peter: It sure looks like Abel to me, Jack (especially that panel below), but then we've only been doing this "Professional DC War Correspondents" stuff for about a year so I'll leave the identifications to the experts. The art's not bad but it's not Kubert, that's for sure. The story's a bit lackluster as well but I think that's because Kubert brings a lot to the storytelling and when he's absent, the tale will suffer.

Abel or Novick?

Once again, Abel or Novick?

Andru swiping from Heath?
Jack: A major in the U.S. Air Force in WWI is haunted by the disappearance of every plane that has flown off to patrol Sector 2. He takes to the sky himself to see what happened and finds his plane sucked into the "Valley of Missing Aces," where German Baron Lothar is using a wind machine to capture U.S. Spad planes. His dastardly plan involves using the planes to attack Allied targets, knowing that fighters will not realize that the planes are being piloted by the enemy. The Major does a little secret painting on the underside of the wings of the captured planes, then escapes and flies off to warn the good guys. Happily, the other Allied fighters spot the iron crosses he painted beneath the wings of the pilfered planes and a battle ensues, with the U.S. fliers once again emerging victorious. This is a neat story that moves quickly and features some of the least annoying art by Ross Andru that I can recall.

Peter: I got the feeling we'd come in right in the middle of a Saturday afternoon serial, with references to previous dogfights between our hero and the (Hiss! Boo!) villain, the dastardly Baron Lothar (HA! HA! HA!). The almost science fiction-ish giant wind fan was a hoot but I'm not sure our hero had enough time to paint those Iron Crosses on all those planes. Maybe he had a stencil? I believe the Major's dramatic dive into the waterfall would have been the cliffhanger of Episode Nine!

"Valley of the Missing Aces!"

Russ Heath and Jack Adler
G.I. Combat 87

"Introducing--The Haunted Tank!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Dead End!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

Peter: Since he was a child, Jeb Stuart has felt the presence of the long-dead confederate cavalry leader of the same name. Now that he's a member of a tank crew (in a tank called the "Jeb Stuart"), he feels that presence even more. The iron monster seems to take care of itself even, as in one instance, when the tank crew is incapacitated. Mowing its way through the larger German "Tiger"s, the "Jeb Stuart" could very well be the Allies' new secret weapon. "Introducing--The Haunted Tank" is no classic, it's overlong and Heath's art suffers here from too much "claustrophobia" (too many close-ups), but it's a decent enough intro to a series that would prove immensely popular. How does what seems to me to be an oddball one-shot concept stretch out to almost 250 adventures (the last turret spin occurred in the final issue of GI Combat in March 1987)? You got me. I guess we'll find out together but I'm skeptical. There are way too many unanswered questions in this opening installment and we may not get some of those answers until the origin story runs in GIC #114 (November 1965). Why is the Tank named after "Jeb"? Most of these tanks were nicknamed after actresses, weren't they? Don't the other men find it odd that they're driving around with Jeb Stuart in the Jeb Stuart? A bit egotistical if the guys don't know the whole story, no? Despite my dubiousness, I should note that The Haunted Tank is beloved by DC war fans (The Jeb even made the cover of Comic Book Marketplace #47) and has even seen reprinting in the DC Showcase format, so what do I know? At least we'll have Russ Heath to gaze at, even when the plots get repetitive (Heath will remain the principal artist on The Haunted Tank until 1972, when he'll be replaced by Sam Glanzman).

"Introducing--The Haunted Tank!"

Jack: Now we're getting somewhere! I had been waiting for the Haunted Tank series to get going and I was not disappointed by this introduction. Peter and I both like Russ Heath's art and, while I would not say that this long (18 page) story features what I would call consistently great work from Mr. Heath, it's certainly enjoyable and nice to look at. I did not know that the tank was haunted by the ghost of Jeb Stuart and also driven by a contemporary soldier named after the civil war general, but it's a neat idea. I am looking forward to more tales of the Little Tank That Could!

Peter: In the middle of the Pacific, a downed fighter pilot finds himself facing a "Dead End." Should he surrender to the enemy, drown, or keep on fighting? Luckily for our hero, an American sub happens along and a frogman rescues him. As the sub prepares to torpedo the Japanese battleship, they themselves are hit by a torpedo. The only survivors are our pilot and the frogman who saved him. Together they manage to steer a floating mine into the battleship and save the day. Now where was that nearby sand barge? A double dip of Heath goes down really well. Here Russ is able to breathe and his art is exquisite (perhaps the best of the year, Jack?), with the splash page worthy of its own poster. Keep the Heath coming, Bob! If there's only one quibble, it's the same old "what now?" when the story finishes with our heroes drifting in a Pacific filled with man-eaters and no land in sight.

Jack: If I gave the Haunted Tank story a high rating, "Dead End" gets an even higher one! This is a very exciting story with Heath at his best. Haney's prose even reaches a level that DC war tales rarely reach--poetic and moving. "Fighting machines can only do what they are bidden . . . fighting hearts can do what seems impossible!" Heath even draws Japanese characters without resorting to offensive stereotypes. A Heath cover, two Heath stories, good writing, a good new series--this is the best DC war comic we've seen recently!

Russ Heath
Star Spangled War Stories 96

"Mission X!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Bodyguard for a Flattop!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"The Nothing Ace"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Peter: A sub crew assigned to "Mission X" finds itself being dragged to the bottom of the ocean by a giant turtle. Torpedoes give the giant some aches and pains but before the crew can get the sub back to working order, they're assaulted by a giant eel. Luckily the crew is equipped with brave men as well as explosives and the eel is reduced to bits and pieces. Just as two men head for a local island and "Mission X," a pterodactyl destroys the sub, leaving the duo at the mercy of an island filled with creatures from the dinosaur age! A well-timed tidal wave destroys the island and all its monsters but the soldiers manage to ride the waves in a giant turtle shell. They're picked up by a patrol plane, sent back to their base, and finally get to their Mission X! Is this The War That Time Forgot or The Time That War Forgot? These two guys are standing before their C.O. at the climax of the story and neither says a word about the monsters from the dinosaur age! If I was around to read this series when it was ongoing, I would have written editor (and writer) Bob Kanigher and suggested that perhaps he write in a mysterious fog around these islands that causes amnesia to anyone who leaves. That would have been the best way to explain the utter lack of knowledge on the military's part despite thousands of casualties amassed through the first five adventures. I love how the two GIs are almost like balls in a pinball machine, bouncing from one monster to the next and thank goodness that tidal wave came along when it did! These dinos have been living on this island for millions of years but the minute a couple of rangers land, the whole place goes to hell. As dopey and repetitive as this series is, it seems like it's more fun with each succeeding installment and this chapter is the best of them all. Andru and Esposito, while still tanking it with their human characters, are really getting into the swing of things with their outrageous dinosaur creations. There's a high mortality rate here as well: an entire submarine crew (save our two heroes) bites the dust. Now, can we find out what Mission X was?

Jack: I'm glad you liked it! I thought it was just as dumb as all of the other stories in this series, which all follow the same pattern. The height of hilarity came when the two sailors were outside the sub exchanging Morse Code messages with the men inside by tapping on the hull with a wrench. As the giant sea monster whooshes along with the sub in tow, the men men hang on somehow, and they continue to tap out endless messages! The raft made out of a broken giant turtle shell was goofy, too. The GCD says this episode was written by Bob Haney rather than Kanigher, but how could you tell the difference? The stories are all the same.

"Bodyguard for a Flattop"
Peter: The crew of the PT 57 find themselves "Bodyguard for a Flattop" and some of the men are none too happy about it. The aircraft carrier "Big Y" is massive but still needs lookouts else Japanese subs will sink her. Though the captain continually chides his men that they're on the sea to clean the path for "Big Y," there's still moaning and groaning to be heard, some claiming that the battleship "doesn't even know we're here." When an enemy sub sinks the 57, the "Big Y" comes to her rescue and, suddenly, all the whining and moaning ceases. Yet another "hook line" story where the dialogue almost becomes a monotone, with every other panel highlighting "they don't even know we're here" or "do you think they'd do the same for us?" The concept, little fish looking out for the big fish, is an intriguing one and I wish Haney had accentuated the action rather than the grumbles. Jack Abel is becoming more and more dependable at delivering solid art.

Jack: I thought this was good! Haney managed to avoid using a catch phrase over and over, though you're right that the sentiment does get repeated. Abel's art is at its best and the sight of the little PT boat destroying everything that threatens the flattop is exciting, especially the final battle when the PT boat crashes straight into the kamikaze boat!

"The Nothing Ace"
Peter: Jet Pilot Lt. Ned Norris has always been known as "Nothing" Norris. He fumbled passes in college football, dropped boxes of merchandise in his vocations, probably even left his fly open in Science class, but one thing he always excelled at: skipping stones across the neighborhood pond. When "Nothing" finally gets a chance at blowing up stuff in the war, he constantly comes up short, ostensibly killing innocent bystanders with his errant missiles. Then, on one fateful mission, "Nothing" Norris becomes the "Nothing Ace" when he tests his unique stone-skipping talents against some enemy subs. Nothing story, nothing art.  I have nothing to say about this nothing story. Jack?

Jack: Once again, I liked it! Yes, the constant repetition of "Nothing" is a drag, but Hank Chapman's captions create a sense of suspense that reminded me of an EC story or even something Cornell Woolrich would have written. I liked how the narrator addressed Norris in the second person as "you" and kept needling him, pushing him and the story along to its conclusion. I even liked the plot device with the skipping stones and the skipping bombs. I guess I'm just so grateful when a story does not have any dinosaurs that I give it a break!

DC was really sticking it to Dell!

Another Infantino PSA

We love house ads!


Anonymous said...

It looks like Gamera about a dozen years before he hit the big screen! :o

Why is it do you think that war stories don't trnaslate to readership beyond the mid 80s' and with recent attempts made as apart of the attempt to diversify the company's offering failed? It seems the readership said "More Batman and Superman,only heroes and not much beyond those two!".

Again,I hope to read you gentlemen will give your thoughts on Batman'66 the comic and get caught up on it and visit my little corner that I posted.

Jack Seabrook said...

You know, he does look a little like Gamera! I suspect that the lack of a draft, combined with the low sales figures of comics since the '80s, made war comics unappealing to the public at large. I looked at a preview of Batman 66 online but I can't bring myself to spend $2.99 a copy for any comic these days.

Anonymous said...

Next week the first trade paperback will be relased covering the first five issues. I suggest you spend the $10-$11 at your local comic shop or have them order it for you. That way you can get a true sample for yourself. A second volume collecting #6-#11 will be released but not until mid October. Also, if you want opinons and reviews you know to come to my site.

I guess its just the trend. Remember that Detective Comics was at cancelation level in 1980 at 160,000 copies average while the cancel level now is 20,000 average! Times sure has changed. I suppose the smaller audience means the less diverse the material can be. Its a shame really. I blame it on my Generation Y.

John Scoleri said...

Hey Jack -
You can pre-order the hardcover of issues 1-5 on Amazon for just over $10... even cheaper than the paperback!

Greg M. said...

Hey, folks.

Glad to see you've hit some premium stuff. The Haunted Tank can be very entertaining.

The War That Time Forgot is one series that I sometimes scratch my head at, trying to figure out just what they were thinking.
Then I remember it was the 60s, and dinosaurs went well with anything. Case in point: "Valley of Gwangi." :-)

And I'm pretty sure the island eventually became a mistcovered island, so maybe somebody had the same idea you did.

Keep up the great work, guys!

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for reading, Greg! I am looking forward to Enemy Ace.