Monday, June 23, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 30: November 1961

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

Jerry Grandenetti
Star Spangled War Stories 99

"The Circus of Monsters!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Blind Tank!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Russ Heath

"Double Jinx Fort!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: The famous acrobatic brothers, The Flying Franks, give their last performance before a live audience (a masterful one, if I do say) and then it's time for the trio to do their magic in army uniforms. Unluckily, the three are assigned to find a lost scouting party on yet another uncharted Pacific island. Once they get there, the Franks discover the island is infested with "The Circus of Monsters!" Henny, Tommy, and Steve make good their acrobatic skills as they must duck, cover, and flip from giant snakes, pterodactyls, brontos, and even a T-Rex before they finally find the men of the scouting party and rescue them in their own showy way. Yep, the ninth chapter in the "War That Time Forgot" saga is just as silly, predictable, and enjoyable as the eighth (and the seventh...). Something about thunder lizards brings out the best in Andru and Esposito and their variety of "prehistoric horrors from a dinosaur age" continues to impress. The idea that the three green recruits, all assigned to the same platoon, would be given the important task of finding the missing men is a little silly but then we are talking about a strip where a sub is picked up by a sea monster, dropped from a great height, and still manages to pull off a rescue mission at story's end. Not to mention the fact that there are so many uncharted island in DC's Pacific that they must overlap at some point!

Jack: I usually can't wait to get to the end of these stories, but for some reason I enjoyed this one. I think it was the novelty of the three circus performer brothers and the fact that the story focused more on them and their personalities than on the usual parade of dinosaurs. Too often, Kanigher just throws a group of random soldiers on an island and has them go through the same series of perils. This series could really take off if it had some continuity, but I doubt that will happen.

Peter: A GI who constantly complains about the amount of walking he does and a tank commander who can't stand the small range of sight he has through his slit team up when both are debilitated. Together they're able to destroy the entire enemy militia. Russ Heath's talent is sadly wasted on this hum-drum script, one that reaches its inevitable conclusion four pages too late. As I complained a few weeks ago, Heath's art needs room to breathe rather than being constricted to small panels of tank battle and "Blind Tank" slaps heavy handcuffs on The Master.

Jack: As I read this story I kept thinking, "This is by Russ Heath?" There are a few panels where his talent shows through but overall it's a weak entry. I did like the detail of the crippled soldier, though--something we haven't seen much of in DC war comics so far.

Peter: With two men experiencing a whole war full of bad luck, they're about to fly as pilot and gunner of a "Double Jinx Fort." Despite what our math teachers proclaim, sometimes two negatives equal a positive and, luckily for our heroes, this is one of those rare times. Even as their bomber is falling to pieces, Wilson and his skipper make the most of their presumed fate and blow every stinkin' Nazi out of the sky. There's a modicum of suspense halfway through this adventure when the plane starts disintegrating in flames and the boys are basically saying their prayers but you have to accept quite a load of horse apples (a whole field of the stuff, actually) when the skipper is able to land a plane that's been reduced to the yoke and a couple of seats. Jack Abel's art is stirring throughout.

Jack: This story featured a surfeit of two things: words and planes! Some of the panels are so crowded with captions and balloons that its a miracle Jack Abel found room to draw. And others are so jammed with planes that it's an impressive feat. In one panel I counted 21 planes! It was not even that big a panel!

Jerry Grandenetti + Jack Adler
G. I. Combat 90

"Tank Raiders!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Patrol in the Parlor!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

"Flame Fighter!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Irv Novick

Peter: One of the biggest no-nos in the World War II arena is to lose your vehicle. To lose your tank is a cardinal sin, but that's exactly what happens to the men of the Jeb Stuart when a band of "Tank Raiders" takes advantage of a nice swim on a hot day. A bit of ingenuity and a daring drive off a cliff manage to reunite men with Haunted Tank. The fourth adventure of the Jeb Stuart is the best so far and a welcome comeback by Russ Heath (after a one issue substitution by Irv Novick). The men steering a jeep over the edge of a cliff into the path of the stolen tank (a la a movie serial) is a fantastic but wholly entertaining sequence as is when our boys get robbed with their literal pants down. Another nice touch is when the men have commandeered the jeep with an injured Nazi in the driver's seat. The GIs leave the man on the side of the road with the sign for "medic needed" (the helmet atop a rifle). Sometimes, it's those small moments that make me admire these DC war writers all the more.

"Tank Raiders"
Jack: Isn't it a treat to have Russ Heath illustrating a lead series? I think the strength of his art lies in the faces of the men that he draws with such humanity. His layouts are never particularly unusual. This story gets back to what works for the Haunted Tank--there is a sequence where the sentient tank takes over the action while Jeb is unconscious and we get the occasional words of wisdom from the ghostly face of the Civil War general whom no one else can see. Despite the humanitarian gesture of leaving the Nazi for the medic, there is one brutal panel where our heroes essentially massacre a group of Nazis who are trapped inside the stolen tank. I guess G.I.s in combat had to leaven cruelty with mercy.

Peter: GI Harper can't seem to find his field of expertise in fighting. He gets seasick, can't handle the heat, starts avalanches in the snow--he's a real mess. That is, until he's sent by his C.O. to recon a deserted castle and starts his "Patrol in the Parlor." Unfortunately for Harper, the castle is anything but deserted but he learns quickly that fighting in close quarters may be his forte. Dreadful Jack Abel art (a term I haven't used in a while) married to a dopey slapstick plot. I suspect Abel was not at his best when his workload was as heavy as it was this month (four of the nine stories were penciled by Abel).

Jack: Is the low point of this story the Abbott and Costello moment where he kneels to tie his shoelace and thus avoids being hit by a barrage of bullets? Or the subsequent panel where he yanks the rug out from under the Nazis? Or is it when he slides down the banister with his Tommy gun blazing? Hard to say, but I thought the Abel art was better than Chapman's story, which features lines like this one: "They started to 'serve' . . and it wasn't Wiener Schnitzel . . ."

Peter: Kirk is afflicted with pyrophobia, a malady that can cause embarrassment in a family of fire fighters. When he grows up and realizes he can't follow in Dad's asbestos shoes, Kirk enlists in the Navy, thinking the water is the best place to hide from the heat. As is often the case with these dramas, poor Kirk finds himself detailed as a "Flame Fighter" aboard a battleship and his fear is put to the test very quickly. Can our young protagonist rise above his irrational fear of being burned to a crisp? Even though it's a given that Kirk will overcome his pyrophobia before the sixth page or Japan's surrender, there seems to be no explanation of just what cures the kid. He simply starts fighting fires after several panels of the poor schmuck getting ill in his asbestos suit. Novick's art here could be mistaken for Jack Abel's. The mediocre Jack Abel.

Jack: The fact that the GCD lists this story as "Nothing on the Nose" and credits it to Chapman and Novick makes me question the credits. I do see some faint flashes of Novick here but the preponderance of characters in fire-fighting suits makes it tough to be sure. Perhaps it's Novick inked by Abel? The last two panels almost look like they're by one of the Superman artists.

"Flame Fighter!"

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 112

"Battle Shadow!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Fighting Blip!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Tell It to the Marines!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Easy Co. is trapped by enemy fire while trying to cross a river. To keep his men calm, Sgt. Rock tells the story of Tag-A-Long Thomas, a once-new recruit who followed Rock everywhere and become his "Battle Shadow," helping him out of many jams. When Rock jumped on an enemy tank, so did Tag-A-Long. When Rock dove under a bridge to fight off Nazi frogmen, Tag-A-Long was swimming alongside him. The story holds the men's attention long enough for them to escape danger and Rock leads Easy Co. to another victory as they wipe out the source of Nazi shelling.

Do you recall back when we were commenting that the members of Easy Co. seemed faceless? Not anymore! As this series continues to grow and develop, Kanigher and Kubert have begun to use repeat characters with identifiable faces and personalities. I love this issue's cover, which pulls together the combat-happy Joes into a group, but I don't recall Archie. He may have been in a story a year or two ago.

Peter: I wasn't overly fond of this Sgt. Rock installment. There's nothing new being said and the situation set "in the present" (just before the flashback) is forgotten after Rock tells his story. The usual top-notch Kubert though.

Jack: An American fighter pilot gets lost after dark and is pursued by a Nazi pilot whose radar makes it easy for him to see "The Fighting Blip" and follow the plane in the dark. The U.S. pilot can't see but manages to trick the Nazi and destroy his plane in the end. This is an unusual story in that it is set at night. Jack Abel uses shadows and colors, especially black, to great effect.

Peter: I read this twice and still can't decipher what it's about. Meandering storyline and very un-Jack Abel-ish artwork (almost looks like Will Eisner in spots!). Must have been a fairly easy job for Jack though since most of the panels are taken up with black ink.

Jack: A cynical marine named Nick doesn't want to "Tell it to the Marines" and sing along with his fellow soldiers when they belt out the Marine hymn. As he goes through a battle, he sees things happen that mirror the lines in the song and bit by bit he becomes convinced that it's not the "'flag-waving rah-rah'" he thought it was. By the end of the story, he is singing louder than anyone! I thought this was a terrible story. It represents the sort of "flag-waving rah-rah" that Nick abhorred.

Peter: I'm almost embarrassed to admit I fell for "Tell It to the Marines," a clever though highly predictable recruitment story. Sometimes these things only have to give off the spirit of the time for me to get involved. Yep, I knew from panel one that, by the time the boys hit the Halls of Montezuma, our hero Nick would be front of the choir but it's still a pretty good fable.

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