Monday, November 10, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 40: September 1962

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

Russ Heath & Jack Adler
G.I. Combat 95

"The Ghost of the Haunted Tank!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Deliver--One Hero!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Grounded at 10,000 Feet!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Colonel Jeb Stuart, "The Ghost of the Haunted Tank," returns to give really good advice to his descendant and the crew of the tank that carries his name. When the tank is faced with a panzer division behind and a steep drop into a river ahead, the Colonel advises full speed ahead. The tank manages to make the jump onto a raft and drift down the river. But the boys aren't out of trouble yet and it takes the smarts of a spirit to lead them through another forest filled with enemy tanks and hidden trap doors. When the men overhear a one-way conversation  between young Jeb and his ghostly relative, they are convinced their comrade has battle fatigue and tie him up below. Luckily, the old ghost takes this moment to reveal himself to another crew member to lend advice and the boys avert yet another disaster. I'm glad Bob Kanigher decided to open up this "circle of trust" a bit more as the "battle fatigue" story would grow old very quickly. Jeb Stuart appearing before another crew member opens up more possible story routes. That's a great panel, by the way, of Slim (just after being contacted by the Spirit World) with brow raised admitting: "Maybe Jeb really thinks he saw the general... you can imagine all kinds of things outside... with all the thunder and flame and smoke of the shooting!" Slim's trying to back up his buddy, Jeb, without "giving up the ghost," so to speak. This is the first time since the debut of the series that old Jeb has taken an active part in the events. Usually, we'll get a reminder the Tank is haunted and then we're plunged into the usual GI fare but, if this series is to last (and we know it does), Kanigher must find a few more hooks to hang some plots on.

"The Ghost of the Haunted Tank"

Jack: I too was pleased to see the ghost take a more active role. The concluding escape, where the Haunted Tank manages to destroy a slew of enemy tanks all by itself, strained credulity. But what really bugs me about Bob Kanigher's scripts is his too-frequent use of "T.N.T." as an adjective--he's always referring to "T.N.T. this" or "TN.T. that." Cut it out! It's just stupid!

"Deliver -- One Hero!"
Peter: Lt. Bolton is ordered to "Deliver--One Hero" back to headquarters. The hero in question is Commander Hall, "top secret radio spotter on Tin Pot Island," an important asset to the army who may have been compromised and captured already. Several urgent messages hinting at trouble have found their way to the top and an immediate rescue is planned. Bolton heads to the island but the only things he finds are the enemy and a gorgeous half-naked girl who speaks no English. The Lt. bumbles into one enemy line of fire after another, saved only by the pretty brunette. Eventually, Bolton finds Hall buried in a shallow grave and the girl reveals she sent those messages in Morse code. Bolton grabs the girl and heads off the island, believing he's still responsible for delivering the army a hero. Stories with twists I never see coming are automatically given an extra star in my rating book so "Deliver--One Hero" ekes out a passing grade. Grandenetti's art here is toned down a bit from the usual mess but there are a few glaring Jerry-isms such as the soldier in the shadows with those trademarked cat's eyes.

Undeniably Grandenetti

Jack: At the start of the story, Lt. Bolton is handed a photo of Commander Hall and told to memorize it. How hard would it be to memorize the face of someone drawn by Jerry Grandenetti? Just look for the guy who looks like no human on earth! I was not happy to see Bob Haney picking up on Kanigher's overuse of "T.N.T."--"Here comes the cease fire order--spelled with T.N.T.!" Make it stop! Favorite line, spoken by Bolton to the native gal: "I don't understand your lingo, baby!" Nothing like talking in corny slang to make yourself understood by a native.

How the hell is this possible?

Peter: Sent to destroy a key enemy bridge, a pilot finds himself "Grounded at 10,000 Feet" when he crashes into a mountain. Using the inherent skills bred into him by his ace father, the pilot manages to dislodge himself from the cliff he's teetering from and glide down to blow up the bridge. The sequence where our hapless hero crashes into the mountain side is laughable. Didn't they give these pilots eye exams? I can hear him later on: "The mountain jumped out of nowhere!" And how the heck could he have landed on that precipice based on the drawing of the mountain in the panels reproduced above? The climax, where he parachutes out of the plane just before it crashes into the bridge (below), is just as far fetched. A special parachute maybe? Start to finish, one wild and crazy fantasy.

Or this?

Jack: At the start of this one, our hero's dad says: "Just do the best you can, son--and I'll be satisfied!" Finally, a nice dad! We've seen so many stories where the poor soldiers are tortured by unrealistic expectations from the generation that fought before them. This is a crazy story but it's kind of fun, and Jack Abel's art is quite good.

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 122

"Battle of the Pajama Commandoes!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Battle of the Bucket Ship!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Irv Novick

Jack: Why is Sgt. Rock in the hospital? It’s not because he took it upon himself to take out a Nazi tank hiding behind a hedgerow, nor is it because he took out a Nazi plane almost on his own. Instead, it was his heroic flying tackle of Wee Willie after the soldier stepped on a mine. Rock took the brunt of the blast and is confined to a hospital bed, but when Nazi tanks roll too close to the hospital window, Rock and the other invalids head outside in their pajamas and stop the tank in his tracks, fighting the "Battle of the Pajama Commandoes!" Kanigher’s story is not one of his strongest but Kubert’s visuals are especially crisp this time around.

Peter: I liked the round table debate about how exactly Rock got into that hospital bed. Who are these guys telling the story for? It's gotta be us. It puts the reader in a chair just outside that circle of GIs, listening raptly as these boys break the fourth wall and tell their tales.

Wee Willie is nearly blasted to bits

Jack: Nick isn’t very proud of his Navy assignment as the skipper of a ship that moves cargo around but never gets to fight. Nick’s first assignment had been an exciting one, but when he was injured right off the bat he felt worthless. That time, a Japanese sub painted to resemble a tiger shark worked with a Japanese carrier boat to wreck Nick’s ship. Nick vowed revenge, so he is surprised to see the tiger shark sub attacking his own messenger ship! Nick and his men use weapons they find in the cargo hold to attack the Japanese sub and carrier, destroying both in the "Battle of the Bucket Ship!" Irv Novick brings his A game to this story and, while the extended flashback makes it a little hard to follow, this one was exciting.

Peter: I thought for a minute that Colonel Hakawa had been assigned to sub duty. This one was too long and tedious for my tastes and climaxes with something we'll see again this month - a storage ship used as a battering ram. In fact, this was a good month for recycling ideas.

Does this panel remind anyone else of
Kirby's Boy Commandos?

Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
Star Spangled War Stories 104

"The Tree of Terror!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"The Silent Tin Can!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Sink That Tank!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: The acrobatic trio, The Flying Burrito Brothers, put their skills to the test when they parachute onto an island of monsters from the dinosaur age! Somersaults and tumbles will come in handy against critters on the ground but when they become entangled in "The Tree of Terror!", can even elastic bones save them? I'm pretty sure I've got the whole dino-island thing worked out. It's silly to believe that half the Allied forces (and a handful of Nazis) have landed on the exact same island of prehistoric terrors so it only makes sense if we accept that the entire Pacific Ocean is filled with dino-islands. That explains why our latest acrobatic troop didn't parachute right into the middle of a showdown between Mac, robot buddy Joe and giant Nazis. So, I can accept that. What I can't rationalize is a second trio of circus acrobat brothers (remember The Flying Franks way back in "The Circus of Monsters," #99, November 1961?) fighting monsters. Coincidence piled upon coincidence? Or maybe Bob Kanigher believed the turnover for these war comics was about nine months and the little fellers wouldn't know any better. That log ride (reprinted below) is, of course, "borrowed" from King Kong.

Jack: Isn't this the same tumbling trio we saw before? The Flying Boots? I think it is. They have been treated with the Army's special memory-erasing spray, since they don't recall their earlier visits to dino island. This time, the island is called Fireworks Island, so I think you're onto something when you suggest that more than one island harbors prehistoric creatures. Note that Kanigher refers to "T.N.T. Spray" at one point. And why the heck is Zig-Zag Zack wearing a derby hat and smoking a cigar when he helps them onto the ladder at the end? Is that regulation? (and why is he even out there saving them?!-PE)

"The Silent Tin Can"
Peter: Naval officer Danny Frank is put in charge of salvaging his father's sunken battleship (the "Old 53") and then, later, put in command of "The Silent Tin Can" when it's put back out to sea. The old WWI ship is fairly useless when faced with enemy ships but, when push comes to shove, Danny uses her as a battering ram to sink a Nazi battleship. Jack will be pleased to know that there are at least two kind and gentle military fathers in the DC war universe. It seems that, in the DC War Universe, as Danny's dad (who looks as though he was drawn by Steve Ditko) gives his son pretty much the same speech the hero in "Grounded at 10,000 Feet" got. Not a bad story at all though, with nice Jack Abel art.

Jack: This has to be one of the shortest stories we've seen at 3 and a half pages. I am glad there were some nice dads out there. I was starting to think I failed my son by not being mean.

Peter: The crew of an Allied tank must put her on a raft to ferry her across a hazardous river but events conspire to send her out to sea. There, enemy fighter planes attempt to "Sink That Tank" but our boys are too smart for them. The idea of a raft-bound tank may be an unusual one but, obviously, in September 1962, it was one that was popping into every DC war writer's mind. "The Silent Tin Can" contained good Abel art but "Sink That Tank" is some of the best I've seen. As goofy as the hook is, I thought this was an exciting tale.

"Sink That Tank"

Jack: In this story we have references to "TNT Presents" and a "TNT Egg." The writing seems like Hank Chapman's, since there are goofy words like "whambo" and "boffo." The art is definitely Abel in spots but I also think I see signs of Russ Heath in others. Perhaps they both contributed?

Sure looks like Ditko to me

In Our Next Spine-Freezing Issue!
On Sale November 17th!

23 year old Jack Seabrook
gazes fondly at his new toys

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