Monday, February 9, 2015

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 46: March 1963

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

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 128

"The Battle of the Sergeants!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Ghost Patrol"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Irv Novick

Jack: Sgt. Rock and Nazi Sgt. Krupp come up through the ranks at the same time but, while Rock is trained to free prisoners, Krupp is trained to conquer. Rock's unit battles Krupp's unit in the North African desert and, when Rock becomes a sergeant and takes his men out on patrol for the first time, he vows to bring them back alive. They spot a staging area for Panzer tanks camouflaged in the desert and try to return to base with this intelligence, but Krupp and his men pick them off one by one until the only ones left alive are Rock and Ice Cream Soldier. When Ice Cream Soldier is wounded, Rock carries him through the desert and has to engage in deadly hand to hand combat with Krupp himself to survive. Rock kills his Nazi counterpart and gets Ice Cream Soldier back to safety. A well-told tale, "The Battle of the Sergeants!" adds a bit to the Sgt. Rock origin story by showing us his training and first patrol.

The Battle of the Sergeants!"

Peter: This story reminds me of some of the classic Rock stories Kanigher and Kubert would cook up later in the early 1970s, with crisp script and gorgeous art. If you'll forgive me only one nit, I'll point out that the Sarge (as narrator) points out some background details on Krupp he couldn't possibly know.

Jack: Why does a soldier named Shannon run into battle alone, talking to men named Pete, Ben and Dave who are not there? They are all members of "The Ghost Patrol!" The foursome had fought together until the deaths of three of them left Shannon alone, yet he fights on as if he were four men. A new soldier named Grant witnesses Shannon's attack on an enemy pillbox and helps destroy it, but Shannon dies in the attempt. Soon, Grant finds himself fighting alongside four ghosts and manages to destroy an enemy tank and an enemy plane singlehandedly. One of those stories where the enemy can't seem to do much right, this one is pedestrian and not as exciting as it should be. Haven't we seen enough ghosts working with Johnny Cloud and Jeb Stuart?

"The Ghost Patrol"

Peter: This is Hank Chapman doing his best Kanigher impersonation while, in spots, Novick does his best Kubert (and in some spots, maybe Jack Abel?). Neither floated my boat. Especially the hokey hook where each man suddenly believes in The Ghost Patrol.

Russ Heath & Jack Adler
G.I. Combat 98

"Trap of the Dragon's Teeth!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Floating Booby Trap!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: After a sneak attack by enemy tanks, Jeb Stuart wonders aloud if there's not a way for a human being to sense danger. Jeb Stuart (the ghost) chimes in that he knew a guy back in the Civil War who would sneeze whenever the enemy was near. Somehow avoiding the mocking laughter that must have been bubbling up, Jeb "hmmm"s aloud and goes back to business at hand: winning World War II. It's not much later that Jeb gets a monstrous headache and suddenly the Haunted Tank is attacked from above by a pair of Stukas. The tank narrowly averts disaster by blowing both out of the sky but it's not long before Jeb's corns act up, he gets a toothache, his pupils dilate, his hemorrhoids itch... and with each new irritant comes an enemy attack. The question is, are Jeb's infirmities helping the crew of the Jeb Stuart or are they the cause of all these sudden violations? This is a story that just seems to run on forever (and at 16 and a half pages, I believe it's the longest Haunted Tank story so far). It's a hell of a thing to look at, mind you, which is why "Trap of the Dragon's Teeth" gets a passing two and a half stars in my ratings book but, make no bones about it, the prose is a drag. Heath's art is always a highlight but Russ's battle scenes here are almost otherworldly.

More jewels from Heath
Jack: I agree with you--Heath's art in this story surpassed Kubert's work in this month's Sgt. Rock story. I noticed that Jeb used the names of the three other men in his tank: Slim, Rick and Arch. Will they become recurring characters? The Dragon's teeth are a cool anti-tank measure. Wikipedia has an interesting article about them here; apparently, they were used extensively in WWII and some can still be seen in Europe.

Peter: The Germans have figured out a way of arming buoys in the middle of the ocean with mines. Allied boats, passing by and unwary of the seemingly innocent markers, are blowing sky high. The Nazi boats have been fitted with electrified cable which makes them immune to danger. Through a series of incidents, the good guys finally figure out what's been going down and reverse the polarity on the "Floating Booby Trap," making it a threat to the bad guys. Exit... one Nazi ship. I really liked the series of incidents (almost like a handing off of the baton at a relay) that occurred that led to the eventual blasting of the Nazis. Quite intricate and a bit complicated, a nicely written puzzle. And, as a bonus, we get decent Jack Abel art here.

"Floating Booby Trap!"

Jack: I had a hard time following this one, mainly because the focus on an inanimate object rather than on people made it seem boring. How do you switch the polarity on an underwater mine, anyway? Maybe I should have paid more attention in science class. By the way, this issue features sales figures: G.I. Combat was selling 205,000 copies per issue.

Ross Andru & Mike Esposito
Star Spangled War Stories 107

"Battle of the Dinosaur Aquarium!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Dynamite Pencil Pusher!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"The Fort Had Two Skippers!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Navy frogmen are caught between a rock and a Mesozoic era when a giant crab forces their sub into a deep sea grotto. Once in, the sub must contend with a whole fleet of dinosaur fish and sea animals, never mind the Japanese subs waiting outside the cavern. With quite a bit of Navy ingenuity, a sub full of torpedoes, and a little lemon juice and seasoning, the boys are able to kayo the Red Sun and win "The Battle of the Dinosaur Aquarium!" I know it does no good to dissect these inane little fables (and yet I do it, don't I?) but all through this one I kept wondering why these giant prawns and seahorses ignored the enemy subs. I mean, there are three "Yellow Fins" hovering right above the monster action and these creatures want no part of them. Was it because they instinctively knew the Japanese eat more seafood than the Americans? Well, then, why not reap some revenge for their tiny ancestors?

Maybe not the most frightening
dinosaur aquarium ever imagined
Jack: I kept waiting for Barney the purple dinosaur to swim by! The giant pink crab that takes up the first half of the story was hardly a dinosaur and looked more like one of Roger Corman's Crab Monsters. How many stories with submarines are we going to have to read where a frogman is outside banging on the hull in Morse Code? Did U.S. subs in WWII have Morse Code experts hanging around by the hull waiting for messages from outside? How fast can you bang out a message? What if you make a mistake? "Shoot a couple of torpedoes, please, there's a giant pink crab out here?" That's a lot of dots and dashes!

Peter: King Company is getting hammered but they're holding the small French town as they're supposed to. Radioing in for back-up, the Sarge is somewhat alarmed to see, instead, his military journalist brother parachute in. Explaining that the pen is mightier than the sword, little brother begins his minutely detailed report from the front. The men of King Co. are losing confidence until baby brother writes that the boys are on a mission they can't survive and suddenly no enemy is safe. What struck me the most about the titular "Dynamite Pencil Pusher" was how mediocre a writer the guy was. I know a character is only as smart as his creator but I don't see Little Brother selling his memoirs when WWII ends, let alone inciting courage and super strength in a washed-up bunch of GIs.

Somewhere, that day, Ernie Pyle exhaled a breath of relief

Jack: It's rare that I like the story better than the art, but this was one of those instances. Having a war correspondent come into a battle and write dispatches was a great idea, and I liked the way his reports got increasingly dire. Sure, it's a bit of a stretch to think that reading the story would spur the soldiers on to victory, but I was happy to see some words and thought go into the fight for a change rather than the usual guns and bullets.

Peter: On an isolated, bombed-out airstrip, an amnesiac pilot tries to regain his memories. Little by little, he remembers he was the skipper of an embattled fort who was blasted from his seat by some enemy flak. Rescued by the French underground, the pilot is nursed back to health and comes full circle in his head just as his old fort flies overhead in a massive air battle. Once the enemy has been bested, the men land the huge ship and welcome their old skipper back to his home. How long was this skipper in an amnesiac stupor? When the boys land their plane right next to him on the airstrip (yes, I know, quite a coincidence, but...), they boast about all the enemy kills they've had since the skipper went Jason Bourne on them. And what kind of Air Force nurse would drive a mentally questionable man out and leave him on an airstrip that might see action? The GCD lists Jack Abel as solely responsible for the generic art on "The Fort Had Two Skippers" and I know Abel can phone in his work sometimes (see "Dynamite Pencil Pusher") but I doubt he's the only one who had a hand in this one. Some of the panels look nothing like what Jack's contributed previously.

Only Abel? You be the judge!

Jack: You may be onto something, Peter. This story has two dynamite panels: a half-page splash with a great drawing of the plane/fortress, and another electric panel where the skipper gets blown out of his plane. It's interesting that two rather adult-themed stories follow the childish dinosaur story in this issue. I wonder if the kids who ate up the giant crab were interested in the WWII reporter and the memory-impaired skipper. At one point in this story, the skipper tells Wally: "feel that you . . . can do anything--and you will." Does that mean that if I feel I can eat six burgers and not gain weight I'll be able to pull that off? Just askin'. Sales figures: 195,000 copies per issue.

Really cool panel #1

Really cool panel #2
Could this be a swipe?
It has an Al Williamson feeling to it.

Next Issue!
The Lights Go Out!
On Sale February 16th!

No comments: