Monday, September 21, 2015

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 62: July 1964

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

Joe Kubert
G.I. Combat 106

"Two-Sided War!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Boobytrap Souvenir"
Story by Kin Platt
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: The men of the Jeb Stuart are sent on a mission to capture live Nazis to be interrogated. The first leg goes off well and the men bring back their prisoners but it's not good enough for their command post and the boys are sent back out, this time with orders to capture German tank soldiers. When the Haunted Tank comes face to face with a Tiger, the Stuart is quickly dispatched and the men must abandon ship. Conked on the head,  Lt. Jeb Stuart begins imagining he's in a "Two-Sided War!", bouncing between WWII and the Civil War that Jeb Stuart (the ghost) fought in.

Our heroes advance on the Nazis but, luckily for Jeb and the boys, the Nazi commander also wants to take some enemy tank soldiers prisoner and doesn't open fire. The G.I.s are able to get close enough to overpower the bad guys and the CP has the POWs it needs. A good enough story but the "twin wars" aspect really doesn't come in to play until the final pages. Still, there's the gorgeous Kubert art to marvel at and, for laughs, the continuous drone of the CP over the radio, questioning whether the Jeb had managed to lasso the requested Nazis yet.

Jack: I'm glad you were able to follow the story because I found it a bit confusing. I didn't understand how the Civil War soldiers managed to avoid getting blown up as they approached the Union guns. You're right about the Kubert art--it's great, as usual--but what happened to Russ Heath? This was his series and he has disappeared!

Peter: G.I. Johnny King and Hitler's Finest, Hans Baum, both promise their girls lots of souvenirs once they get to the front. The next few months seem to be a comedy of errors as the men get very close to nabbing just that proper souvenir, only to have calamities like land mines and hidden armories blow up and snatch the really good baubles from their hands. This goes on for quite some time as the two naturally head towards each other across the blazing African desert. At last, they meet up at an oasis and, once the hand-to-hand combat is through, Johnny King has a really big souvenir! Combining those DC war staples, the parallel stories and the catch phrase, "Boobytrap Souvenir" has only its decent Jack Abel artwork to recommend it.

The mystery of Kin Platt intrigues me. Platt was a children's book writer who dabbled in comic books before and after WWII but only contributed five stories to the DC War titles (all within a six-month period in 1964). Why so few and why that time frame? Could be a result of Platt's scripting for TV animation like Milton the Monster and The Jetsons. In an interview in Alter Ego #35 (April 2004), Al Jaffee said that Platt "looked like Groucho Marx, and had both Groucho's sense of humor and delivery; a very funny guy."

Jack: I groaned when I saw page one of this story--not another parallel tale! Yet Abel's art is very good, and the punishing desert heat comes across as the two soldiers move closer and closer together. Despite howler panels like the one where the G.I. thinks, "It'll be like Xmas in July!" while imaging Nazi souvenirs, the story worked for me, and by the end I was impressed.

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 144

"The Sparrow and the Tiger!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Tin-Can Tank!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Gene Colan

Jack: Sgt. Rock has had it! He can't climb another hill, cross another river or collect another dog tag. He stands immobile as two Nazi planes bear down on him. He fires his machine gun till it runs out of bullets and one plane crashes in the river before him; Easy Co. helps out and the second goes down as well, though Sparrow is badly injured in the battle. As enemy artillery moves closer to Easy's position and they have to take to the river to escape, Rock picks up Sparrow and carries the wounded soldier, recalling another time when Rock saved Easy in another river and destroyed a bridge in Italy. As Rock leads his men and carries Sparrow, he happens on a Nazi machine gun nest. Some timely gun work from Sparrow, coupled with a grenade thrown in a tank by Rock, save the day, and Rock thinks that the courage of the wounded man is all that kept him going.

One of the best Rock tales I've read in awhile, "The Sparrow and the Tiger!" features art by Kubert that is, if possible, even better than usual. I don't recall him making such frequent use of Zip-A-Tone before but it fills in backgrounds in five separate panels, by my count. As Rock laments that he can't do another thing, I wondered if, in the background, Bob Kanigher was thinking, "I can't write another war story!" There is one haunting panel with the helmets of dead soldiers off to the side on the butts of rifles buried in the ground--each of  the helmets has an ominous hole in it. Finally, when Sparrow shoots his machine gun underwater, I had to go online to confirm that that really is possible!

Peter: "The Sparrow and the Tiger" is just about the most maudlin and tedious Rock tale I've ever read. It's literally fourteen and a half pages of Rock mumbling (in thought balloons), "I can't do this anymore and they're asking too much of me" and the Sparrow fawning over his Sarge. I like things changed up now and then  but Bob turning Rock into a stumbling wimp is not on my menu. Do we even find out what Rock's going on about? He's obviously had a traumatic experience but isn't that his day-to-day life in the army? What's so special about this day? I want details, Bob. If I haven't mentioned this before, Kanigher will write nearly 1500 stories for the five titles we're covering right now so the guy deserves a night off now and then.

Jack: In WWI, Carter's little tank, nicknamed "Baby," blew away a German plane and was buried in the rubble and left there when the Armistice was signed. Now it's WWII and Carter joins his son, another tank commander, in a fight against Nazi tanks that leaves the son's tank inoperable. Nazi blasts free Dad's tank and he and son hop into the "Tin-Can Tank!" and resume the battle. The small, light tank's maneuverability allows it to destroy the bigger enemy piece of hardware and save the day. I can ignore Hank Chapman's slang-ridden writing because this story is drawn by one of my favorites, Gene Colan! Sure, it's basically one long tank battle, but Colan chooses interesting angles and includes vivid details that make the story more than the usual DC war comics backup. More Colan, please!

Peter: Coincidence piles upon coincidence until it's all a little too silly. What we learn from "Tin-Can Tank," above all else, is that the vets of Hank Chapman's WWI could talk just as dopey as those in WWII ("I need a steady stand to scramble those eggs before they scramble the doughboys in the trenches!" and "That flying Fokker fowl didn't like the omelets I was making..." are just two of a dozen examples I could bore you with). Chapman's foreign lingo doesn't help the narrative flow smoothly if the reader has to stop each and every panel to wonder what the hell the character is saying. With re-reading all the Marvel books over at Marvel University, I've become a big fan of Gene Colan's work but here it's barely distinguishable from Jack Abel's. Maybe the genre didn't float his boat but only a few years later he'd display those noir-ish flourishes on Daredevil and Captain Marvel (and later place the cherry on top with Tomb of Dracula) that would make him a household name (in a comic fan's household).

Joe Kubert
Our Fighting Forces 85

"The TNT Pin-Points!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Abel

"The Flying Coffin!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Why are Gunner and Sarge on the deck of a Japanese flattop with Sarge facing a firing squad? As usual, it all started with a patrol where Gunner and Sarge discovered a gathering of enemy tanks in a jungle clearing. When they reported back to base, they were fitted out with radio tracking devices embedded in their teeth so that they could go back to the tank hideaway and send signals to lead bomber planes right to the spot. Gunner and Sarge thus become "The TNT Pin-Points!" that lead to numerous successful bombing missions of targets hidden in the island's jungles. There's one problem, though--every time they open their mouths, bombs start falling! Eventually, they are captured by the Japanese and taken to a flattop. Certain that planes will only pick up their radio signals if they are up on deck, they get together and start chattering and, sure enough, down rain the bombs, destroying the ship and saving Gunner and Sarge, whose radio-signal-containing teeth are knocked out in the conflagration.

Jack Abel rarely draws a lead story in the DC war comics, but his art is a welcome relief after the usual sub standard work we've seen on this series from Jerry Grandenetti. The story is not bad, but it doesn't make a lot of sense to me that the radio signal would not be sent if their mouths were closed. At one point, either Gunner or Sarge makes a plug for Our Army At War: "I'm not goin' to let that buzzard stop me from readin' about what happened next to Sgt. Rock of Easy Co. and his combat-happy Joes!" The temporal problems that this statement creates make my head hurt.

Peter: The fact that this is the best Gunner and Sarge story I have ever read is due to several factors, I'm sure. It's all down to mathematics. Add in a decent plot and good action and subtract Jerry Grandenetti, Pooch, and three-quarters of the bad, jokey dialogue and, voila, you've got "The TNT Pin-Points." I'm not going to say that this is a classic (nor will it land in my Top Ten for 1964) but just the fact that I didn't feel like throwing the funny book in the neighbor's swimming pool after consuming it is a hell of a step up, I'd say. I wonder if Big Bob felt the need to provide comedy when he knew he'd be saddled with Jerry's exaggerated action and melty faces. Pooch isn't even mentioned here (could he be off on shore leave with the female Pooch he hooked up with many moons ago?) but, alas, Jack's favorite canine G.I. will be back next issue.

Jack: Lt. Rogers is the new man in the WWI flying squad. He crashes the first spad he flies, so he's grounded unless he wants to try "The Flying Coffin!", a plane that has claimed the lives of three pilots before him. His first two tries end in crashes that he survives. His third, which is part of a group effort to destroy enemy supply lines, finds him successfully landing atop a moving train and bombing it. Taking to the air, he bombs an important bridge before landing atop a zeppelin and blowing it up for good measure. The eventful mission ends with the spad crashing once again, but Rogers swears he'll fly no other plane. Not only is this an "all-Abel" issue, this story is even signed by Jack! It's entertaining and Abel gives us a lot of nice WWI flying action with cool biplanes.

Peter: In the sub-genre of "living vehicle" stories, this one isn't too bad. Yeah, it's pretty doggone silly (especially the fact that the plane survives multiple crashes--and multiple pilots--without being mothballed) but it's got a charm about it and the art's pretty good as well. Jack Abel has become the go-to guy when Kubert is busy.

Andru & Esposito
Star Spangled War Stories 115

"Battle Dinner for Dinosaurs!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Empty-Handed Frogman!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Poor schlub Mickey has had his life saved by Ace Waller countless times over the course of their "friendship." Now, with Ace's plane missing in that part of the Pacific that can get pretty... primeval, Mickey's hoping his helicopter prowess can make a payment towards the debt he owes. Ace's plane sighted, Mickey prepares to land his 'copter but, out of nowhere, a giant prehistoric creature from a time long ago clamps its jaws on Mickey and won't let go. Luckily, our hero turns out to be an "ace" with a grenade and... scratch one dinosaur from the ice age. Landing, Mickey discovers Ace still in the cockpit, unconscious, and manages to get his pal into the copter and headed off. Of course, this being "The War That Time Forgot," Mickey pinballs from one gargantuan, huge behemoth to another, trying to avoid becoming "Battle Dinner for Dinosaurs!", all while Ace sleeps it off. Even though he's "busier than a one-armed paper hanger trying to tie sixteen pairs of shoelaces at once" (whatever the heck that means), Mickey gets Ace back to the battleship and bandaged up. Ace is awarded a medal and the military remains blissfully ignorant of the upcoming dinosaur apocalypse.

Well, what more can you say about a series that never changes? The 25th chapter plays out like most of the previous 24, so we know what we're getting and, to a point, it's still fairly entertaining if quite tedious. Still, even as a ten-year old kid, I'd have started getting itchy by this time, wondering when the army would head into to this prehistoric zone with flame throwers and scantily-clad paleontologists.

Jack: Maybe we've been reading this series wrong all along. Did you read Life of Pi? What if there never really were any dinosaurs? What if the soldiers were so traumatized by what they saw in wartime that the only way they could deal with it and tell it to others was to tell it as if it were full of dinosaurs? What if the dinosaurs were really enemy tanks, planes, etc.? Perhaps Robert Kanigher was thinking much more deeply than we realize.

Peter: Three brothers... three frogmen... all on the same demolition team! What are the chances?, I hear you saying. Two of the scuba boys are highly trained and the youngest brother, Dave, is a "polliwog" but dying to learn the ropes. The trio head down to destroy the infamous Japanese sub, the Sea Dragon, but a major calamity separates the brothers and Davey, after an obstacle course of sharks, TNT eggs, enemy frogmen, and an empty oxygen tank, becomes the hero of the day. Most of "Empty-Handed Frogman" is by-the-numbers and silly (Dave seems to have stumbled upon the buffet of danger) but the sequence after the three brothers are separated and Dave loses his compass, watch, and weapons, is quite tense and almost claustrophobic. The writer (probably Hank Chapman) manages, in just this one segment, to put us down there with Dave, not sure whether the surface is up or down.

Jack: I'd credit this one to Bob Haney for two reasons: it's pretty interesting and it lacks goofy jargon. Once Davey is on his own, the story definitely gets more interesting, as he has to figure out how to survive and get the job done without his gear. Abel gives us a hint of what it must be like to be a frogman and spend so much time underwater, something we don't usually feel in these tales.

In the Next Brain-Bleeding Issue of
Do You Dare Enter?
On Sale September 28

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