Monday, June 29, 2015

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 56: January 1964

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

Russ Heath & Jack Adler
G.I. Combat 103

"Rabbit Punch for a Tiger!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"TNT Duds!"
Story by France Herron
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: The boys of the Jeb Stuart get a little well-deserved R 'n' R when a female magician appears for an exclusive appearance. During the show, the magician pulls a rabbit from her hat and the ghostly Jeb Stuart warns the G.I. Jeb Stuart that the rabbit is sending a warning. Very soon, Jeb and his men will be hung up like a rabbit. Because the warning is (as usual) very vague, Jeb sees a rabbit analogy in every obstacle they face that day. The real deal happens when the Jeb rolls into a burned-out village and faces a mammoth Tiger. When Jeb is blown off his own tank and must take shelter in a demolished jeep, the Tiger lifts the vehicle in the air and attempts to blow our hero to kingdom come. With the help of an abandoned bazooka, Jeb is able to deliver a "Rabbit Punch for a Tiger." As with previous installments of The Haunted Tank, I'm beginning to wonder what the use is of involving a supernatural force that does nothing but speak in riddles and disappear. There's no addition or expanding of the mythos at all; General Stuart shows up, delivers a few lines, and then returns to the void. I wonder what he does in his spare time when he's not warning our heroes of impending doom (but not telling them enough to fully prepare for that doom). Kanigher could have excised all references to the specter and this story would not have suffered one bit. The driving force behind this strip is still the gangbusters art delivered by Joe Kubert, who makes even the most tedious proceedings exciting.

Jack: Did you notice that our hero is called Jeb Stuart Smith in this story? I did not recall the last name of Smith, but Wikipedia says it was used in early stories and later dropped. I'm not sure I'd call this an early story, and I'm not sure I trust this Wikipedia entry, but never mind. Kubert's art is fantastic, but so is that cover by Heath and Adler! It's a very dynamic rendering of the climatic battle, against a vivid red sky. At one point, a German in a tank exclaims "Dunder und Blitzen!" It's a little known fact, but this panel and this exclamation led Rankin and Bass to adapt Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer for TV and it aired about a year after this comic was on the stands.

Peter and Jack size
up this week's stories.
Peter: The lieutenant and his men have been labelled "TNT Duds" by their superiors. Time to prove the army wrong. I've been trying to remember when I was so bored by a DC war story and can't come up with an answer so this is it: "TNT Duds" is the most boring, insufferable, and repetitious junk I've had to wade through since signing on to this tour. There are 54 panels and the word "dud" is used 48 times (nope, not an exaggeration and, yep, I counted so you wouldn't have to) but, beyond the usual tedium of the "catch phrase run into the dirt" there's the overwhelming vibe of defeatism. It's absolutely unrealistic that these "duds," G.I.s who do nothing but complain and blather on about what losers they are, could take out the entire Nazi militia without really trying. At least Jack Abel steps up to the plate and delivers a double; it's not great but it gets the job done. If there was a job to get done, that is. This is only the sixth story we've encountered written by France (Ed) Herron while on our journey but, pre-1959, the writer contributed 164 scripts to the "Big Five," making him the fourth most prolific wordsmith for the DC war titles. Herron died in 1966.

Jack: It's a good thing I read the stories before I read your comments, because I jotted down "fairly exciting" in my notes! I thought Herron was playing off the DC war comics writers' penchant for repeating a phrase over and over and making fun of the tendency. He uses "Dud" so often that it has to be a joke. The Dud platoon actually does some good fighting and captures two hills for the price of one.

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 138

"Easy's Lost Sparrow!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Iron Sniper!"
Story by France Herron
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Just as Easy Co. is about to spring into action to prevent A Nazi advance, along comes a new recruit so slightly built that one of the men calls him a sparrow. Rock doesn't have time to learn anything about him, including his name, and tells the young man to follow along and do everything he does. The recruit quickly becomes "Easy's Lost Sparrow!" when he disappears during a Nazi bombing attack. Though Rock and his men halt the advance, the sergeant is mortified that he lost the recruit before even learning his name.

After defeating an enemy sniper, Easy Co. has to clear a small town. Rock inspects a cellar and find the lost sparrow being held captive at gunpoint by a Nazi, Rock tackles the Nazi and kills him, but the loud gunfire echoing in the cellar temporarily deafens him, so he is unable to hear the recruit when he finally shares his name. In Luke 12:6, Jesus says: "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God." Bob Kanigher quietly gives us a Biblical parable in this tale, where Sgt. Rock is the Godlike figure who refuses to forget about the sparrow put in his care.

Peter: Beautiful art and a quick twist help elevate this above the standard "new recruit" fare. For once, I would have appreciated a quick finale expository, explaining how the sparrow got to be a prisoner in the basement and what plans that dirty stinkin' Nazi had for him.

Jack: "The Iron Sniper!" has a keen eye and a steady hand as he picks off men in and around a U.S. Tank. He begins to doubt himself when a soldier at whom he aims seems to have the same face as one he recently killed. Soldiers close in on the sniper's perch in a building in town until they succeed in blasting him to bits. What he did not know before he died was that he had been shooting at identical twins! Jack Abel turns it up a notch in this story, using closeups of the sniper's eyes and panels built around his gun's sights to ratchet up the tension. It doesn't make complete sense that there are only two twins, since the sniper seems to kill (by my count) five men, but the story is entertaining nonetheless.

Peter: Most Sgt. Rock stories tend to be a little more on the sophisticated and "adult" side than any of the other stories or series in the DC titles but, aside from that really dopey finale, "The Iron Sniper" reaches new heights of sophistication for a kids' funny book. The comparison of the sniper to a "cold, methodical, and calculating thing" (all the while, ignoring the fact that the Allies had their "killing machines" as well) is pretty heady stuff as is the brutal picking off of the tank engineers. France Herron is an enigma, responsible this month for one of the best of the year and, surely, one of the worst ("TNT Duds" in G.I. Combat). This would have been a lock for Best Story of the Year had Herron not thrown in that silly reveal (and how could the G.I.s have known this trick would have thrown the sniper off his game?) but it's still going to land near the top regardless.

Jerry Grandenetti
Our Fighting Forces 81

"Battle of the Mud Marines!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Sunk Alive!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Pooch picks two names out of a helmet full of slips of paper to see which two Gyrenes will get a 48-hour pass to leave the island for some rest and relaxation. Gunner thinks back to many of the close scrapes the trio have had and recalls that they often ended up covered in mud, fighting the "Battle of the Mud Marines!" No sooner do the threesome head off on a PT boat for their time off than they engage in battle with a Japanese destroyer. A bomb from an enemy seaplane knocks them into the water, where they find themselves standing atop a Japanese sub. They blow up the sub and are captured by the seaplane, hanging onto one of its pontoons as it takes to the air. They manage to drop grenades into a smokestack and blow up the enemy destroyer before dropping back into the water. Back home on their island, Pooch picks their names out of the helmet again, but this time they decline the two-day pass, having had enough excitement.

What a dog!!

Peter: Why is it that, with each new installment, I get the funny feeling I've read the story before? WWII's dopiest and luckiest G.I.s (think Martin and Lewis) continue the yucks they've become famous for. At least there's no Col. Hakawa to contend with this time. I like when the C.O. tells Pooch to pick two names out of a hat and he does it. Arff!

Jack: Pete always looked up to Jack Bill as a civilian and it's no different when they join the Armed Services--Pete as a frogman and Bill as a torpedoman. When Bill is "Sunk Alive!" in a submarine, it's up to frogman Pete to come to the rescue. He does so swimmingly, even to the point of sharing his oxygen with Bill as they surface. Now that the DC war comics seem to have settled into a new format of one ten-page backup story, I hope the backup stories are more interesting than this one, which seems padded to fill out the allotted space.

Swapping breath or swapping spit?

Peter: How did the more-than-a-whiff of homoeroticism present in "Sunk Alive" ever make it past the censors? There's not much suspense in this one as we know exactly what's going to happen at least two frames prior. By-the-numbers script but nice Heath-ian art by Jack Abel.

Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
Star Spangled War Stories 112

"Dinosaur Sub-Catcher!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"No Escape From Stalag 7!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: The submarine UDT-7 is sent on a recon mission from their Pacific base; they must travel to the North Pole to unravel the mystery of Polar Ice Cap X-3, a weather station, vital to the Allies, that's gone dark. It seems as though the sub can't get more than three or four nautical miles without bumping into some prehistoric horror from the extinct dinosaur age. Three frogmen from the submarine are constantly dispatched to uncover what's troubling the tin fish. Each time the men must battle more fearsome and deadly creatures from a nightmare and, each time, their story is met with disbelief and derision. Finally, the UDT-7 reaches its destination and the threesome goes above the ice cap to investigate the source of the station blackout. As they rise from the freezing water, their senses cannot be ready for the sight that disturbs their eyeballs: a giant Duckasaurus is munching on the station's communications tower ("That's why the weather station hasn't reported in!!" screams the brightest of the explorers)! Something catches the monster's attention and, up through the ice, is hauled the UDT-7. Luckily, the boys have come armed with explosives and, after a harrowing battle, the Duckasaurus is blown to bits and the men are reunited with their fellow sub-men.

Helluva throw, boys!
Believe it or not, I really liked this installment. Maybe it's the change of scenery or the (at least, initial) intrigue of the journey, but there's a real sense of danger and a tad bit of suspense as well. Sure, there are enough holes here to accommodate a Russian Typhoon and some of the dialogue is a bit... rushed ("It's sealed up the hole under which the sub is!") but "Dinosaur Sub-Catcher" is, easily, the most enjoyable chapter of The War That Forgot since the opener. About those plot holes though (yes, you knew I'd have questions!): The journey to the North Pole must have taken weeks for the sub and yet, when they get to the station, here's the dino chowing down on the com tower. Has he been working on that tower for weeks? And what happened to the observers who manned the station? If they escaped, where to? Did they freeze to death? Eaten by dinosaurs? Wouldn't the submarine have picked up any giant monsters swimming towards them? Why are the same three guys sent on every mission while the rest of the men on the sub play cards or write letters to mom? These are all minor questions, of course, when compared to the most important: now that we know there are monsters at the North Pole and on every island in the Pacific, does this mean that the entire planet has been overrun by giants from the stone age?

Jack: I think you are suffering from the same sort of nitrogen narcosis hallucinations that the frogmen in this story are accused of having. This is the same old story we've read umpteen times! And I believe that "duckasaurus" is intended to be a hadrosaur. You're welcome!

Abel turns in some nice work
Peter: The tank crew of Sgt. Wilson have always depended on their chief to get them out of dangerous scrapes but when the crew find themselves behind the fences of a Nazi POW camp, even the sarge must throw up his hands in defeat. Well, for a few minutes at least. Even though Commandant informs the men that there is "No Escape From Stalag 7," Wilson begins hatching plan after plan. Only problem is that each escape attempt ends in failure; there seems to be a mole in the outfit leaking details to the Nazi chief. Finally, Wilson takes command of an enemy tank and blasts his way through the fences, taking the head honcho prisoner. When the Nazi asks how the Sarge could have escaped without being given up by the mole on the inside, Wilson allows how he was the mole, setting his captor up for the big charade. Not too bad, but our uncredited writer (probably Hank Chapman) relies on way too much hip dialogue for my tastes ("Our Sherman sneezed a 105mm sneeze at the middle tiger and when the pig-iron beast caught the TNT germ..." and "Tiger fangs clomped on the double-double..." jump out at me as two wretched examples). Thankfully, the dopey lingo is front-loaded and, by the halfway point, we're more involved with the (admittedly, Hollywood-style) great escape attempts. It is funny that, after busting the fences down, the sarge remarks to the Nazi that since he's been such a great host, maybe it's time the tables were turned. This, while the pair are inside a slow-moving tank, ostensibly surrounded by a zillion more Nazis. The prolific Jack Abel (four stories in one month!) turns in some nice work here.

Jack: Not bad! The escape attempts held my interest and the concluding tank action was exciting. Jack Abel will never be among my favorite artists, but at least he turns in a competent job month after month, much better than what we get from Grandenetti on Gunner and Sarge.

"Head" to Cyberspace next Monday for
the 56th Chilling issue of Do You Dare Enter?!

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