Monday, July 13, 2015

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 57: February 1964

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

Russ Heath
All American Men of War 101

"Death Ship of Three Wars!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"My Brother, the Enemy Ace!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

Peter: A new recruit looks up to Johnny Cloud and promises him he'll make the Captain proud in battle. When an enemy pilot displaying a death's-head pops into view, Johnny is thrust back into his days as a youth, when the local medicine man forecast that Johnny would have to fight this enemy three times during three different wars. After the new recruit is shot down, Johnny enters into a cloud and exits, amazingly, in a Spad from WWI with a zeppelin in his sights. The death's-head pilot manages to shoot Johnny down but, before he crashes, he is magically transported into the cockpit of a Sabre, fighting a battle in the Korean war. Once again, Johnny is shot down and lands in the sea, right next to the new recruit. When the enemy jet closes in for the kill, Cloud uses his flare gun to blow the aircraft out of the sky. Wham-O, Johnny Cloud is back in his own jet, with the enemy right in his sights. This time, the bad guy pays the ultimate price.

As the kid fell to his death,
all Johnny could think was...
A really confusing and inane piece of story-telling, "Death Ship of Three Wars!" makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. How could Johnny Cloud know how to pilot these alien crafts (as a matter of fact, I was waiting for the fourth war where he'd be flying a saucer) the second he's teleported into them? The answer, obviously, is that the whole thing was in Cloud's mind but then, what was going on while Johnny was daydreaming? And why is it that Cloud is always conveniently musing about an incident in his childhood that, minutes later, has resonance in battle? Hasn't this storyline (and a variation of the title) already been used, Jack? (I ask Jack because I'm too lazy to look through the last five years' worth of notes and Seabrook remembers everything.) The only redeeming feature of "Death Ship...", besides its splendid art, is the continual back-and-forth between new recruit and grizzled vet:

Newbie: I'll make you proud of me, Captain Cloud!
Johnny: All I want is your safety--and don't call me Captain!

I kept waiting for Leslie Nielsen to peek around the corner of one of the panels and say "I just want to tell you good luck, we're all counting on you."

Jack: Peter, this was such a good story! I did start to wonder if all Native Americans have a storehouse of childhood prophecies to draw upon every time they face a crisis. Do Palefaces have the same experiences? I am still waiting for Gunner and Sarge to think back to their childhood days on the streets of Brooklyn, when one of the young toughs taught them a lesson that would later come in handy while fighting Colonel Hakawa.

As for the time travel cloud, why not? We've seen variations of it before, both on stories set over Europe and in stories over the Pacific. I was waiting for Johnny Cloud to see some dinosaurs! I did think this was a clever way to work the "three wars" theme of this comic into this issue.

20/10 vision pays off big for the twins!

"Later we can svap childhood photos, yah?"
Peter: Twins Richard and Carl are sailing on the Titanic with their parents. When the ship goes down, the two are separated and raised by different families, Richard as an American and Carl as a German. All through their lives, they wonder what has become of the other. When war breaks out, the two run into each other... and each one exclaims, there's "My Brother, the Enemy Ace!" At first, the twins avoid firing at each other but when their COs demand kills, Richard and Carl have no choice. When they've run out of ammo, the two ram each other in the sky and, while falling to their deaths, they manage to save each other. Even though Carl will now be a POW, he smiles at the thought that he'll be near his brother. If Hank Chapman has to use another variation on the brothers-in-arms, at least he uses a unique one. That doesn't make "My Brother..." any less silly in its coincidences and lame dialogue ("I am glad... the fight... is over... for good... Richard -- even if I will be a prisoner..."). How the hell could anyone write a happy ending onto the saga of two brothers forced to kill each other?  That final panel, of the twins grinning like idiots, as their planes go up in smoke behind them, is a kitsch classic. One of them's heading for a POW camp and the other is likely facing a court-martial but, hey, life is good!

Jack: This story is a sign of things to come, as we read our way, month by month, toward the debut of Enemy Ace. This is a rare example of Andru and Esposito signing their work--usually, only Kubert & Heath do so. I played the game of "guess the writer" as I read and came up aces, identifying Hank Chapman by the frequent use of corny slang. This is also the second time in recent memory that a German exclaims "Donner und Blitzen!" The other reindeer will start to get jealous.

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 139

"A Firing Squad for Easy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Battling Mustaches!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Why are Sgt. Rock and three members of his company standing on a Nazi dock facing "A Firing Squad for Easy!"? It all started when Easy Co. happened upon some frogmen being shot by Nazi planes. Rock and his men rescued the swimmers and used TNT tied to a log to blow up a tank. This led the frogmen's major to recruit Easy Co. for a top secret mission in which they would provide above-water cover for underwater frogmen to blow up Nazi ships. They were captured and stood before a firing squad, threatened with death if they did not disclose details of their mission. Some quick thinking by Rock and a timely explosion of TNT not only saves the day but ensures the destruction of enemy ships. I did not enjoy seeing Easy Co. in an unfamiliar environment. I think they should stick to land and stay out of water!

"A Firing Squad for Easy!"

"The Battling
Peter: A good, solid adventure and a change of pace for Easy. I love what Kubert does, here and there, with the trisected panels.

Jack: Lt. Taylor wrecks a plane and joins the rest of his flying squadron of losers who all are forced by their C.O. to grow and maintain Hitler mustaches until they demonstrate that they can down a Nazi plane and shave the darn things off. "The Battling Mustaches!" succeed and, one by one, the offending facial hair is removed--all but Lt. Taylor. When he finally uses his plane to destroy an enemy flyer, he is captured and the Nazis shave his mustache off for him because they are offended by it! Hank Chapman is certainly third best of the three regular DC War comics writers, and this story is one of his worst.

Peter: These one-note stories always lack realism. All the while he's staring death through his cockpit windshield, our hero is only concerned with getting this mustache shaved off. By the second bombing raid, you've lost interest. Even though Jack Abel is credited with this story, it sure looks like Irv Novick's work here and there.

Jerry Grandenetti
Our Fighting Forces 82

"Battle of the Empty Helmets"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Prisoners of the Runaway Fort!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Gunner, Sarge and Pooch are out on patrol when they spy Colonel Hakawa planning a Banzai charge on the Marines' tiny beach stronghold. After destroying an enemy tank, pillbox and gunboat, our heroes return to base, where the commanding officer plans the "Battle of the Empty Helmets." The marines set up a fake line of defense using empty helmets perched atop guns. Hakawa attacks and is lured into rolling over the decoy, at which point the real Marines open fire, decimating his attack force. Convinced that the U.S. presence is greater than it really is, the Colonel retreats to plan his next attack. A bland story with typically scratchy art by Grandenetti, "Empty Helmets" reads like empty prose.

War in the Pacific was such fun!

Peter: I was hoping the title meant we'd see a battle to the death between Gunner and Sarge (with Pooch Arf-Arf-Arf-ing on the sidelines) but, alas, 'twas not to be. What we get instead is more of the same insipid scripting and awful illustrating we've become accustomed to these past five years. An extra half-star added to my rating for the immortal caption: The C.O. gave us mud marines the poop--without trimmin's... After reading this junk, I know just what Sarge meant.

Jack: A washout in training back in the states. tail gunner Tommy Matthews finds himself in England and assigned to the Perfect Angel, a flying fortress with 24 successful missions and no losses. The plane takes off in the lead of a squadron on a bombing run, but Tommy is knocked unconscious and, when he wakes up, he discovers himself alone on the giant plane, which is flying itself toward its target and which won't let him take the controls! "Prisoner of the Runaway Fort!" Tommy manages to bomb the target successfully and lead the rest of the planes toward home before bailing out and allowing the Perfect Angel to head toward her doom. Bob Haney's only story this month is my favorite of the six we read. Abel's planes are beautifully drawn and the story is exciting and suspenseful.

Nice work by Jack Abel!

Peter: By this time, I think we've used up just about all the plots DC could use in these early years after the Code swooped down and took all the fun out of funny books. I'm going to assume right here and now (and will take my lashings if I'm wrong) that, as we get further into the mid- to late-1960s, scripts may get a little grittier and darker. At least, that's my hope. America's involvement in the Viet Nam War will escalate soon (the Gulf of Tonkin is only months away as this issue hits the stands) but mention of that conflict has yet to be acknowledged (at least, in the stories themselves) in the pages of the DC War titles. The hook of "Prisoners of the Runaway Fort," that a bomber could fly itself and exhibit almost a supernatural presence, has been done before but it's executed quite skillfully and successfully here. Yes, we get the catch phrase that's run into the ground ("Angel's a perfect ship!") but I don't think we're ever going to be free of that constraint. The look on Matthews' face when he busts into the now-empty cockpit, with its bullet-riddled pilot's seat, is chilling.

Nino Returns!
In the Fear-Filled 57th Issue of Do You Dare Enter?
On Sale Monday, July 20th

And in two weeks...
A rare venture outside the "Big Five"!

No comments: