Monday, July 7, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 31: December 1961/ The Best of 1961

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

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 113

"Eyes of a Blind Gunner"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Target of the Black Ace!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Big Bazookaman!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: When Easy Co. member Wild Man's bazooka-loading partner Burt is hurt, another soldier named Jackie steps in and helps Wild Man take down a Nazi plane from Easy's vantage point on a rubber raft in the middle of a river. Rock, Wild Man and Jackie then go under water to ride a Nazi tank before destroying it. Rock then agrees to Wild Man's request to have Jackie be his new bazooka-loader--once they get a new bazooka, that is! The supply plane drops one but the Nazis blow it up, leaving Wild Man and Jackie with nothing but a machine gun. They set up a nest and are about ready to start picking off Nazis when a shell blast blinds Jackie and injures Wild Man's hands. They work together as a team, with Wild Man guiding Jackie's "Eyes of a Blind Gunner," surviving the night and keeping the enemy at bay until the rest of Easy Co. can reach them.

This PSA appears right after the
story that introduces Jackie
Peter: It's unfortunate that this story comes so soon on the heels of last week's "Blind Tank" (from Star Spangled #99) in that it's pretty much the same story with different characters. But where "Blind Tank" was a badly written and poorly drawn mess, "Eyes of a Blind Gunner" is the polar opposite, a masterpiece of suspense and grit. We've gotten Rock solo stories before and the Sarge has been relegated to the support act a few times but we've never gotten a real honest to gosh spotlight on some of the other characters until now. Jackie and Wild Man (an obvious inspiration for Dum-Dum Dugan of the Howling Commandos) are so well-formed you'd be excused for thinking this was a pilot for a spin-off series. Is Jackie the first African-American character we've encountered on this journey, Jack? Best moment in this one: when the enemy flare goes up in front of his foxhole, Sgt. Rock gasps, "That must've landed right on top of the machine gun," and you can feel the tension and fear.

Jack: I don't recall another Black soldier up to this point. A quick online search says that this was the first time a Black member of Easy Co. appeared and that Jackie was one of the first non-stereotyped Black characters in comics. That's a pretty big milestone! EC's "Judgment Day" had a famous final panel where the main character is revealed to be a black man, but such instances were few and far between prior to this issue of Our Army at War.

Just in case someone forgot that
he was known as the Black Ace . . .
In "Target of the Black Ace!" a WWI flying ace meets a Black man of another type--a German pilot who is known for taking down Allied biplanes! Our hero, who is known as a "Trainbuster" because he destroys enemy trains, is captured by von Luckler, the Black Ace, and taken to a prison camp, but to his surprise he is given the chance to fly free in his repaired plane. The catch is that the German pilots will use him for target practice! He avoids everyone but the Black Ace, who pursues him into a train tunnel. Guess whose plane gets out in the nick of time and whose goes splat on a German train?

Peter: "Black Ace" is a far-fetched but fun little tale with a final plane stunt that resembles something Roger Moore would have tried a decade later as James Bond. It ends with our hero once again in the hands of the enemy but a caption tells us he'll be freed some day so don't worry. It's hard to remember that these stories were written with kids in mind and so a happy ending would have been a must.

Jack: Pee Wee Parker was always being overshadowed by his much taller brothers back home and the same thing is happening now that they've all enlisted. But when the brothers get in trouble, along comes Pee Wee with his big bazooka to even the score. I can always tell when Hank Chapman wrote a story because of his use of weird slang. Here, one caption refers to a jet plane with a "star-spangled schnozzola."

Peter: These brothers-in-arms stories seem to be multiplying. There's no real story here other than "short people are just the same as you and I." Lesson learned.

Jerry Grandenetti
Our Fighting Forces 64

"A Lifeline For Sarge!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Frogman in a Fog!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Joe Kubert

"They Took Away the Sky!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Russ Heath

Jack: A photographer is being dropped onto the Pacific island where Gunner and Sarge patrol and they are assigned to take him out on a typical mission so he can take some pictures. Imagine their surprise when the photographer shows up and she's Miss Vicky--a pretty girl! Our heroes and their faithful dog bumble around in the woods for a while as Vicky snaps shots here and there, but soon enough they encounter a sniper, a soldier with a sword, and a tank, dispatching them all. Pooch even provides "A Lifeline for Sarge" when his master dives into the drink to avoid the tank. Unfortunately, when they get back to base, all of the pictures are no good, so it looks like another patrol is in order! I don't think this is the same Miss Vicky who married Tiny Tim on The Tonight Show in 1969. Still, this is an above average entry in the Gunner and Sarge series, mainly due to the addition of the gal photographer.

Pooch, we know how you feel!
Peter: Poor Gunner and Sarge, always stuck with the pretty girls. A very effective Grandenetti cover gives way to one of the lousiest splashes I've seen in a long time, way too busy and cluttered. As to the story itself, eh, not too bad. Can't hurt that Pooch is silenced throughout most of the Martin and Lewis (co-starring Joey Heatherton) shenanigans. I still can't shake the feeling that Asians reading DC war comics in 1961 would not be too pleased with Jerry's renditions of Smiling Samurais.

Jack: Frogman Dan has failed to blow up as many enemy ships as his pals, but when he suffers from nitrogen narcosis and becomes a "Frogman in a Fog," he fights like a tiger and wins the contest for destroying the most targets. This six-pager has below-average art for Kubert, to whom I am usually willing to give a pass. One panel looks like Steve Ditko could have drawn it! Dan's hallucinations include monsters and dragons that would not be out of place in the War That Time Forgot.

Guest art by Ditko?

Peter: What more could a DC war reader ask for than a clever script and Joe Kubert visuals? "Frogman"'s got both and in spades. Best bit would have to be the scoreboard for the frogmen (shades of Glengarry Glen Ross!) with poor Dan at a big fat zero! Who'd want to go on a mission with this loser?

If only Kubert replaced Ross Andru!

Jack: When a pilot is shot down over the desert, he vows to protect the lives of his crew. Even though "They Took Away the Sky!" and the plane is grounded, the pilot and his men manage to use the plane and its weapons to defeat the enemy troops that surround it. After a cataclysmic finish in which the pilot sacrifices his plane by crashing it into an enemy jet, he wakes up in a G.I. hospital and soon discovers that his crew has signed up to fly another tour with him! Russ Heath wins the award for best art this issue and the trick of having a downed plane continue to fight makes this an interesting tale.


Peter: Even Russ Heath's majestic air battles can't save us from Hank Chapman's unending dirge about a green pilot who can't bring the boys back home... until he does. Interesting trick using a sand dune as a ramp for a multi-ton fighter plane. Wouldn't there be a bit of sinkage?

Jerry Grandenetti
All American Men of War 88

"The Ace of Vengeance!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Irv Novick

"Battle of the Outcast Sub!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"The Wingless Wonder!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Peter: When Johnny Cloud enlisted, his veteran father asked only one thing from him: revenge! Back in WWI, Chief Cloud had served on the western front and been shamed by "a black hawk the color of death, and with white stripes of doom...", a German ace whose hunger for sadism was unmatched. Before Chief Cloud could avenge his own personal shame, the war ended. Now, years later, Johnny Cloud finds himself shot down by the same masochistic devil. Johnny manages to bail out of his crashing plane but the enemy ace follows him down and hunts Johnny through the woods. Only Cloud's keen sense of survival tactics (and the silver wings on his lapel) help him become "The Ace of Vengeance" his father so desperately needed. Seven chapters in (with 23 to go) and I'm still not on board with this series, the latest of which sinks under the weight of its own prose. Bob Haney's usually not this talky but then maybe he felt like he had something important to say. He didn't. I find it hard to believe that the greatest German Ace (every one of these stories seems to have a different greatest German Ace, don't they?) would take the time to land and hunt down one American pilot. Wouldn't his COs be piping mad at him for wasting time when he could be cleansing the skies of Amerikanische dummkopfs? Well, as Jack would be quick to remind me, at least it's not Gunner and Sarge.

The Most Dangerous Ace

Jack: I was in the midst of reviewing the entire year of 1961 war comics when I read this story, and it's notable as one of the only lead stories written by Bob Haney rather than Bob Kanigher. It also continues the trend we've identified where art is nearly always superior to writing. Irv Novick is in the middle of the pack as far as 1961 DC war artists, but he does some nice work in this story. His layouts tend to stick to conventional panels, though, and his villains sometimes look like Dick Dastardly.

Peter: The submarine Perch, riding shotgun for a lame duck battleship, has the worst luck. To begin his headache day, the captain is convinced enemy subs are approaching so he fires a torpedo and nearly hits one of his own battleships. As if that wasn't embarrassing enough, the torpedo tube becomes damaged and the sub must surface to mend. This doesn't sit well with the battleship captain and he lets the Perch skipper know in so many words and then hightails it. That's when the trouble starts. Enemy subs have been lying in wait for a helpless ship and they converge but, thanks to some nice maneuvering, the skipper of the Perch makes the sea a safe place for the Allies yet again. "Battle of the Outcast Sub!" was a tough nut to crack, a bit more complicated than the usual DC war fare and I had a hard time following it. Ironic, you might say, when I'm always crying out for better, more elaborate plots! Regardless of my stumbling, I enjoyed the yarn a whole lot and Jack ("50/50") Abel is on target this time with smooth pencils and nice layouts.

"Battle of the Outcast Sub!"

Jack: Do you think the Nazis would really send six U-boats to the same place at the same time? It seems like an awfully big risk. Jack Abel is the king of the backup stories in 1961 DC war comics and his art this time around doesn't disappoint!

Peter: Al Gordon just wants to make his father proud by becoming a war ace just like dad but Al's finding the going a bit rough. Two crashed and burning planes later, Al is relegated to glider duty where his cohorts dub him the "Wingless Wonder." Al gets to prove his mettle though when he uses his glider to take out an entire enemy platoon on D-Day. A fairly exciting story, with all the usual trappings, graced with above-average Grandenetti artwork. We all know Al's going to wear his dad's ace scarf (which he's not allowed to don until he proves he's half the man pop was) by journey's end but it's the journey itself that's attention-grabbing not the endless "I just want to be a hero like..." prattle.

Jack: In this month's "They Took Away the Sky," a pilot has to keep fighting after his plane is grounded. Here, the pilot has to get a glider off the ground without a tow plane. It's neat that the plane falls straight off of a cliff and then swoops up in an updraft, but what if the updraft hadn't come? Splat! Above-average Grandenetti artwork is below average for anyone else, if you ask me.


DC published 36 war comics in 1961. Our Army at War was a monthly and the other four titles--All American Men of War, G.I. Combat, Our Fighting Forces, Star Spangled War Stories--were bi-monthly. Each issue had either one long lead story and two short backup stories or one long lead story and one long backup story. Three writers wrote all of the stories: Bob Haney did 39, Robert Kanigher did 34 and Hank Chapman did 24. Kanigher wrote 34 of the 36 lead stories and Haney wrote the other two.

Five artists drew all of the covers: Jerry Grandenetti (17), Joe Kubert (9), Russ Heath (5), Ross Andru (3) and Irv Novick (2). Interior art was by those five and Jack Abel (33). Other interior art counts: Russ Heath (16), Joe Kubert (15), Jerry Grandenetti (12), Irv Novick (12), and Ross Andru (10). All but Abel drew lead stories; Abel only drew backups and no covers.

Each title had a continuing series that appeared in the lead story. G.I. Combat started off poorly with the T.N.T. Trio, but that series ended after one lead story and one backup story in 1961. Starting in May, the Haunted Tank took over the lead sport in G.I. Combat. Sgt. Rock and the combat-happy Joes of Easy Co. led off every issue of Our Army at War, while the War That Time Forgot had the top spot in Star Spangled War Stories. Johnny Cloud, the Flying Chief, starred in All American Men of War, while Gunner, Sarge and Pooch fought on an island in the South Pacific in Our Fighting Forces.



Best Script: Hank Chapman/Russ Heath, "Danger Sniper" (GI Combat 89)
Best Art: Russ Heath, "Dead End" (GI Combat 87)
Best All-Around Story: Bob Haney/Russ Heath, "The End of Lady Luck" (Star Spangled War Stories 97)

Worst Script: Bob Haney, "My Rival, the Jet" (Our Army at War 104)
Worst Art: Jack Abel, (tie) "Battle Mess" (Our Fighting Forces 62) 
and "Tiptoe Through the TNT" (All American Men at War 86)
Worst All-Around Story: Hank Chapman/Jack Abel, "Battle Mess" 


  1  "Danger Sniper"

  2  "The End of Lady Luck"
  3  "Secret of the Fort Which Did Not Return" (GI Combat 86)
  4  "TNT Birthday",  Robert Kanigher/Joe Kubert (Our Army at War 105)
  5  "Dead End", Bob Haney/Russ Heath (GI Combat 87)
  6  "Eyes of a Blind Gunner", Robert Kanigher/Joe Kubert (Our Army at War 113)
  7  "Booby Trap Prize", Bob Haney/Russ Heath (All American Men at War 85)
  8  "Last Shot of the Triggerfish", Bob Haney/Joe Kubert (Star Spangled War Stories 98)
  9   "What's the Price of a Dogtag?", Robert Kanigher/Joe Kubert (Our Army at War 111)
10  "The Big Star", Robert Kanigher/Joe Kubert (Our Army at War 102)


Best Script: Robert Kanigher, "Easy's Had It" (Our Army at War 103)
Best Art: Joe Kubert, "What's the Price of a Dogtag?" (Our Army at War 111)
Best All-Around Story: Robert Kanigher/Joe Kubert, "Easy's Had It"

Worst Script: Bob Haney, "Everything's a Straight Line!" (G.I. Combat 88)
Worst Art: Jerry Grandenetti, "Everything's a Straight Line!"
Worst All-Around Story: "Everything's a Straight Line!"


1 "The Big Star!", Robert Kanigher/Joe Kubert (Our Army at War 102)
2 "Easy's Had It!", Robert Kanigher/Joe Kubert (Our Army at War 103)
3 "Dead End!", Bob Haney/Russ Heath (G.I. Combat 87)
4 "Doom Over Easy!", Robert Kanigher/Joe Kubert (Our Army at War 107)
5 "Haunted Tank vs Ghost Tank!", Robert Kanigher/Russ Heath (G.I. Combat 88)
6 "The End of Lady Luck!", Bob Haney/Russ Heath (Star Spangled War Stories 97)
7 "Last Shot of the Triggerfish!", Bob Haney/Joe Kubert (Star Spangled War Stories 98)
8 "Danger Sniper!", Hank Chapman/Russ Heath (G.I. Combat 89)
9 "What's the Price of a Dogtag?", Robert Kanigher/Joe Kubert (Our Army at War 111)
10 "Butterfingered Bombardier!", Hank Chapman/Joe Kubert (Our Army at War 111)

Coming Next Issue: Our Picks for Best Mystery of 1972!

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