Monday, April 6, 2015

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 50: July 1963

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

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 132

"Young Soldiers Never Cry!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Wings for a Washout!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Jack: Easy Co. lands on the beaches at Normandy on D-Day and fans out. They soon find themselves pinned down by Nazi machine guns hidden in hedgerows. With Rock's guidance and some well-placed grenades, the threat is soon eliminated. Sending his men back to base for some first aid, Rock sets out alone with orders to bring back a prisoner. He sees a French farmhouse being bombed by a Nazi plane and, after the plane is destroyed, Rock goes into the house and finds the only survivor--a baby boy whom he christens Little Joe and puts in his backpack for safe keeping. Is it true that "Young Soldiers Never Cry?" Rock doubts it as he avoids the enemy and milks a cow to feed the baby before shooting down another plane and destroying another tank. He meets a French woman and hands the baby off to her, but when Little Joe yanks off her wig Sgt. Rock finds the Nazi prisoner he was seeking.

Strong action work by Kubert

First of all, it's great to see Easy Co. located in a specific time and place for a change--June 6, 1944, in Normandy! Second, having Rock rescue the baby shows his human side and having him change a diaper and milk a cow provides a little levity in the midst of all the fighting. As always, Kubert's work is brilliant.

Peter: Way too silly for my tastes, especially that comedic finale. I'll stick to the blood 'n' guts Rock, thank you. Two stars for Kubert's art, as usual, but that's about all the enthusiasm I can work up.

A great panel by Grandenetti
Jack: Poor Ted--his Dad was a war hero and now so are his three brothers. Ted fails as a pilot, a bombardier and a gunner, even though his brothers try to tutor him, so he ends up a combat photographer. Sent out on a bombing raid to take pictures, Ted has to take the places of the gunner, the bombardier and finally the pilot, defeating the enemy and landing the plane when the rest of the crew is shot. I don't usually like Jerry Grandenetti's work by this point in his career (though it will get much worse in a decade or so), but "Wings for a Washout!" was so propulsive that even his stylized drawings worked for me. I know it's far-fetched, but Jerry almost makes it work.

Peter: I'm not sure we've read a bigger pile of ludicrosity on our journey than "Wings for a Washout!" You can almost feel the excitement coming off the page as Ted runs from wounded brother to wounded brother, manning their posts and hoping out loud he'll do a better job than they did. Nothing like earning your wings while your kin drop like flies. "Gee, I can do this after all!" Never mind the massive coincidence of the three brothers landing at black sheep Ted's base and needing a ... wait for it... photographer. Two "brother-in-arms" stories are too much for one year, let alone one month (see Star Spangled below).

Jerry Grandenetti &
Jack Adler
G.I. Combat 100

"Return of the Ghost Tank!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Glory Box of Charlie Company!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"The Big Jump!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Jeb Stuart (the ghost) has a warning for Jeb Stuart (his descendant) about the Jeb Stuart (the tank): something really surprising is going to happen. When the tank is attacked by a Focke-Wulf, the tank becomes tangled with a tree and is almost blown to kingdom come before the men get hold of themselves and do a little blasting of their own. Jeb is convinced that must have been the surprise he was warned about but the ghost pops back up to let Jeb know he should keep his eyes and ears open. The best is yet to come. Small talk while traveling leads all four tank boys to discover an unnerving coincidence: their fathers all served in the same tank together and disappeared in World War I, never to be seen again. Could this be the surprise the Colonel warned about? Nope. It just gets better, boys and girls. Rolling by an infantry unit, the lieutenant in charge asks Jeb if they've ever met and then whips out a picture taken of his father taking a picture of the four missing WWI soldiers. Now, the men are particularly disturbed; could history be repeating itself? Will the men disappear just as their fathers once did? At about the time the soul-searching reaches a crescendo, the tank disappears down a very large rabbit hole and reappears in a village square, surrounded by Nazi tanks.

Just then, a WWI tank rolls into the battle and engages the enemy. The Jeb Stuart is saved but the men are left with no answers. Who was behind the wheel of the mystery tank? Well, that's a question I can't answer either as Bob Kanigher leaves everything (and I do mean everything) a mystery. Obviously, this was the tank that vanished into thin air decades before, a vehicle manned by the fathers of our present-day heroes. So what happened to the WWI GIs? Were they killed in action and now they want to keep the same from happening to their juniors? Once the old tank finishes its business, it doesn't go up in a puff of smoke; it just lays there in a heap. Why don't the men open her up and investigate? Since even the reason these four men were thrown together (fate? a grand scheme? ghosts having fun?) is glossed over, "Return of the Ghost Tank" comes off half-baked. Great idea, lousy execution. That lousy execution, of course, does not extend to the glorious Kubert art, Joe's second consecutive Haunted Tank job. So where's Russ Heath? Good question. Heath will be absent from the Haunted Tank series until #114 and until then (aside from a fill-in by Jack Abel next issue) we'll be getting double duty from Sgt. Kubert.

Jack: It says in the story that the tank in the middle of the square is a monument of a WWI tank. After the battle, the soldiers wonder if they imagined the old tank getting involved in the fighting after they first got hit. I did not take this to mean it was the same tank that their fathers had disappeared in. I thought it was a monument and they imagined that it came to life. That would explain why they did not open it up. Why would you investigate a monument to see if anyone was inside? In addition to the fantastic art by Kubert, we should mention the gorgeous cover by Grandenetti and Adler, which makes dynamic use of color. As for the story, Bob Kanigher sure loves coincidences involving families, doesn't he?

Peter: What is the secret of "The Glory Box of Charlie Company"? Why is that all the men are named "Charlie"? Why would a wounded soldier give up his medal rather than wear it proudly? These are the questions asked by a green recruit who swears he'll win a medal and, when he does, it's going on his chest and nowhere else. When the Company destroys a Nazi tank, the kid pulls off genuine heroism but when he sees the ghosts of the men who didn't make it he suddenly sees the light and tosses the medal in the box. The Glory Box idea is intriguing but this is too close to a few other stories we've gotten in the past where the young protagonist's eyes are filled with medals and, by the climax, he's a changed man. I don't buy the quick transformation. As with the "War That Time Forgot" series, Andru and Esposito prove they can tackle military vehicles just fine; it's the teenaged GIs with eyes agog that they struggle with.

Why do we get the feeling "Charlie"
will see the error of his ways soon?

Jack: The snowy setting and ghostly soldiers are impressive, but I find it hard to believe that soldiers ran around thinking of medals while under fire. I think they were just trying to stay alive. Were medals really handed out in the field? Stories like this make it seem like the commanding officer went around with a stack of medals ready to hand to survivors after a battle. Wasn't there more paperwork and delay involved?

Peter: GI Mickey has been training to be a paratrooper but, before "The Big Jump," he's having nightmares about faulty chutes.Come the big day, the chute opens but he's caught on the tail of a passing cargo plane and is a sitting duck for the enemy. Thankfully, Mickey is able to cut himself loose and take out a couple of Nazi planes on the way down. You can feel Mickey's tension before his first jump and for that bit of realism I'll recommend "The Big Jump." It's the standard Jack Abel art where everyone looks like they were drafted from Riverdale but it'll do in a pinch. Apply all the denigrating adjectives you can to Jerry Grandenetti's interior artwork (and we do), but the guy sure can deliver on the cover (with help from Jack Adler).

Jack: One interesting thing about this story is that it mostly takes place in the course of a single jump. It's far-fetched that a paratrooper's chute could get caught on the tail of a plane and he would not be killed instantly, but hey--I believe Superman and the Flash raced around the earth eight times in one second, so I'll believe anything.

Joe Kubert
Our Fighting Forces 77

"Double Cross!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Walking Booby Trap!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"No Foxhole--No Home!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Jack: In the North African desert, an American soldier and a Nazi soldier come face to face, holding each other at gunpoint in a tense standoff. Agreeing to flip a coin to decide which man will take the other prisoner, the American wins and begins marching the Nazi back to camp when a second Nazi jumps the American in a "Double Cross!" The Nazi's gun goes off in the struggle, killing the first Nazi and allowing the American to take a new prisoner and resume his march. Wow! Where did this come from? A four-page, black and white stunner with a single splash of color when the gun goes off. It feels like something from an EC war comic, and we couldn't have a better writer-artist team to pull it off.

Kubert's nod to Eisner

Peter: A walloping good yarn this one. I'm not sure why Kanigher (or Kubert?) chose the gimmick of printing "Double Cross" in black and white (but for that one panel) but it works. Sometimes the color can soften the "atmosphere" of a gritty story and it certainly works here. I may be wrong but this might have been the first B&W war comic (and probably the last until Archie Goodwin introduced Blazing Combat over at Warren two years after this issue went on sale) and when it gets reprinted, in Our Fighting Forces #115 (October 1968), it will be presented in four colors.

The only panel with color

Jack: The Nazis are launching rockets at London and wreaking havoc on the city, but Allied spies sent into enemy territory to look for the launching base never returned. A lone soldier is sent behind enemy lines with a plan: locate the launchpad and send a radio signal to a drone plane circling overhead so that the plane can fix the target and crash into it. "The Walking Booby Trap!" has no luck in finding the base until he is captured and taken prisoner on a train, which turns out to be a mobile rocket launching base! He manages to signal the plane and leap off the train as it passes over a bridge, ensuring that the movable base is destroyed. Two in a row! Who would've thought an issue of Our Fighting Forces would start out so strong! Even Grandenetti's art works in this action-packed story.

Grandenetti's take on the Blitz

Peter: Despite Jerry's cartoony squiggles, I really liked "The Walking Booby Trap." With its many tense moments of espionage, it's almost like a mini-Alistair MacLean epic. Wow, this issue is developing into one of the best in a long time. Hope that third story can... Oh, never mind.

Abbott and Costello meet the Japs
Jack: The small section of island beach held by the marines is being blasted by Japanese planes. Time to dive into a foxhole! But for Gunner, Sarge and Pooch, they find "No Foxhole--No Home!" In between blasting Zeroes out of the air and machine gunning enemy troops, the trio digs their own foxhole, but as soon as they settle in they are sent out on patrol. They board an enemy patrol boat but it blows up due to a time bomb; another enemy boat lands in the beach and they take refuge inside, only to find it destroyed by an enemy plane. The explosion creates a giant foxhole. Not the worst Gunner and Sarge story we've seen, but not the best, either. More a series of incidents than a real story.

Peter: Since I've always been an optimist when it comes to funny books, I approach each new Gunner, Sarge and Pooch "adventure" with a glass-half-full attitude. "Someday" I says to myself, "We'll get a GS&P worth writing about and I won't have to google synonyms for 'lousy' anymore." Having said that, after reading this latest snicker-fest, I'll have to maintain my optimism and look forward to next issue. If nothing else, I take away from this installment that Pooch can smell a Zero approaching. Perhaps we'll find out that Pooch and Krypto were separated from the same litter.

Andru & Esposito
Star Spangled War Stories 109

"The Last Soldiers"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"The Castaway Torpedoman!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Irv Novick

"No More Aces!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: When a flock of pterodactyls assaults a cargo plane, the tank men aboard must fashion a survival strategy pronto. Their tank is jettisoned and a parachute engaged but they land on the back of a giant monster dinosaur from the stone age of a prehistoric time and all hell breaks loose. "The Last Soldiers" end up at the bottom of a river but, luckily, they've packed a robo-pilot and the tin can (which resembles a cash register with legs) manages to save the day. At this stage of the game, all that changes is the names of the GIs and the species of dinos they encounter. Bob Kanigher's not even trying but, then, maybe this series was so popular he didn't have to.

Jack: Can a tank's descent really be slowed by a parachute? We haven't seen a robot soldier from Kanigher in awhile so it was a surprise to see this one, although it (he?) did not survive this story. The human soldiers don't even seem all that surprised to encounter dinosaurs anymore.

Peter: Born with two left feet, a stumbling, bumbling new torpedo man does not endear himself to his C.O. or his fellow seamen. Then, during a routine procedure, the sailor is left outside the sub during an attack and must fend for himself, with only a raft and a few supplies, on the open sea for days. When the enemy ship reappears, his sub fires a torpedo but the torp dies in the water. Our young stumblebum has one chance to make up for all his mistakes and comes through with flying colors. I think I saw the film version of "The Castaway Torpedoman" with Jerry Lewis (or was it Don Knotts?). It was so much better. I love the sequence where our Naval numbskull experiences a series of errors no one person could possibly be responsible for, capped off by a panel where he doesn't so much drop a monkey wrench as throw it! If I'd been this guy's skipper, I'd have packed him in one of the torpedo tubes and... Sayonara, sucka!

Inspector Clouseau Joins the Navy

Jack: This story was headed for a one-star rating until the final sequence, where the idiot rides a torpedo toward the enemy ships just like Slim Pickens on an atom bomb. Yee hah! I was kind of hoping he would forget to jump off, but no such luck.

Peter: A Korean fighter pilot has quite a bit of pressure on his shoulders to live up to the family name. Dad was a WWI ace and brother Bill notched several kills in WWII. Now, it's his turn, and he's finding it hard to avoid shaming the family name. Nothing seems to go easily for our hero until he manages to sink a stinking commie sub and, while there are "No More Aces" in the Banner family, there's at least another hero. Ah, another DC military dad who only wants the best for his boy... as long as the kid kills enough pinkos to merit some badges and keep the family name alive. These curios are so dated and so full of propaganda that they're barely readable.

DC Family Values

Jack: Although the comic has no credits and the GCD is silent on this one, I'm betting Hank Chapman was responsible. Neither Kanigher nor Haney could be counted on to pen such immortal lines as "That double bingo-bango gives you more aces than a stacked deck!" or to refer to the Korean War as the "Korean bang-bang." I won't even go into "If I scratch this MIG pussy . . ." By the way, if Dad is Eddie Banner and brother is Bill Banner, can our hero be anyone other than a young BRUCE BANNER, who later went to school on the G.I. Bill, got a pair of glasses, and saved a young man from a Gamma Ray blast???

In our next voyeuristic issue!
On Sale Monday, April 13th!

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