Monday, October 5, 2015

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 63: August 1964

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

Joe Kubert
All American Men of War 104

"The Last Target"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"Battle Star Scarf"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Years before he became a Navajo Ace of the skies, Captain Johnny Cloud was warned by an Indian smoke-maker that he'd fight a vicious foe over water just as Johnny's father and grandfather did before him. The smoke-maker warns that he'll be the foe's "last target." On a mission to destroy bombs over the English Channel, Cloud manages to avert death at every turn but is given an ominous warning by one of the departing Nazi aces, the infamous Col. Ulrich, that he'll get Johnny even if he's "The Last Target" in this war!  The threat unnerves Cloud but he tries to put it out of his mind. Two days later, on another rescue mission, Cloud is notified that Ulrich is among those enemy aces trying to bring down our boys. Johnny's plane must make an emergency landing on an icy runway and, as predicted, the enemy tries to eliminate the Captain over water. Fortunately for Johnny, his foe is a cocky one and, rather than simply machine-gun our hero, he tries to sweep him off the ice with his Nazi wings. The best-laid plans of mice and men and all that. An exemplary tale of battle action with Novick turning in a stellar job on the visuals (I had to check the credits to make sure it wasn't Kubert's work), Johnny Cloud's series is becoming one I'm really enjoying despite the constant reminder that smoke-makers and shamans were lining up catastrophes for Johnny as early as kindergarten. You'd think our Navajo captain would have made a checklist by now so he'd know when he's hit all the speed bumps.

Jack: Seriously? You thought this looked like Kubert's work? I don't see it. Now that gorgeous Kubert cover is another thing entirely! The smoke-maker is really something if he can conjure up home movies in the clouds of smoke. I don't recall being told before that Johnny's father fought in WWI. We are getting closer and closer to the debut of Enemy Ace, and this issue's enemy ace is Hans von Ulrich, while the one we'll see in a few months' time is Hans von Hammer. Was Kanigher starting to formulate his new character?

Peter: When WWI ace Joe goes missing and his blue, star-spangled scarf is dropped in front of his comrades by the evil enemy ace Baron Klagg, brother Billy makes it his mission to win the right to wear the scarf. Billy performs outstanding stunts and completes awesome missions with lots of kills but his CO isn't having any of it. Every time Billy lands, the CO tells him that brother Joe did double the job. Billy decides the only way to impress the lieutenant is to bring down the enemy ace. While attempting just that, Billy is taken prisoner and discovers his brother is alive. The duo break out of the POW camp and Billy brings an end to the career of Baron Klagg. After a while, you become numb to these "brothers in arms" stories and go along for the ride. Yep, "Battle Star Scarf" (say that three times fast) is entirely predictable (was there one member of the audience who didn't see the rescue of Joe coming?) but at least Jack Abel is still shining.

Jack: I guess I'm dopey but I did not think brother Joe would turn up alive. It seemed clear at the start that he was dead. Hank Chapman's slang-filled prose is calmer than usual in this tale and the concluding escape from the POW camp is exciting. I enjoyed this more than the Johnny Cloud entry!

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 145

"A Feather for Little Sure-Shot!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Wear It--When You Earn It!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Sgt. Rock sets out alone to cross a rope bridge spanning two cliffs above a river far below but finds Easy Co.'s resident Indian, Little Sure-Shot, right behind him. Together, they blow up a Nazi machine gun nest on the other side. As the rest of Easy Co. crosses the rope bridge, Sgt. Rock and Little Sure-Shot defeat a Nazi tank that has the men right in its sights.

Rock thinks back to when the Indian first joined Easy Co., back in training camp in the States, and showed himself to be a great fighter who could appear and disappear seemingly into thin air. When Easy Co. crossed the ocean and landed in the North African desert, Little Sure-Shot set out on his own, having been challenged by his father to wrest a feather in combat from the enemy. Since there were no feathers in the Nazi tank or plane that he destroyed single handedly, he had to grab one from a hungry buzzard. After that, the men of Easy Co. followed Little Sure-Shot's feathered helmet.

This is a story that seems dated and almost insulting today, but for its time it must have been fairly progressive. In the opening pages, every clever move Sgt. Rock makes is followed by a comment from Little Sure-Shot about how the sergeant is acting just like an Indian. Then there are the passages where Little Sure-Shot displays the typical Indian traits of craftiness and silence. Finally, he needs a feather to be considered a true brave. It's all a bit much, but surely it was a necessary reaction after decades of cowboy vs. Indian movies.

Peter: Great action segment to open the story. Yep, it's a bit outlandish but, thanks to Kubert's genius, it's a masterpiece of choreography. Sgt. Rock breaks the "fourth wall" at least once an issue but has he ever spoken to his "audience" in a thought balloon? Lucky for the big guy there's never a psych around when he's standing off in a bush telling us about his latest exploits. The introduction of Little Sure-Shot leaves the door open for a DC War Indians Team-Up co-starring Captain Johnny Cloud. Stay tuned!

Jack: Private Ruskin is awarded a Silver Star for bravery but thinks the medal should have gone to Corporal Miller, who died in battle after shoving Ruskin to the ground to protect him from machine gun fire. If he doesn't think he deserves it, Ruskin is told to "Wear It--When You Earn It!" He is soon injured in mortar fire and sees three enemy soldiers with dragon insignias on their jackets. One of them steals the Silver Star, and Ruskin vows to get it back. He encounters and kills each of the men until finally recovering the medal, which he sets up as a memorial to Miller. He is awarded a second medal, one he thinks he has earned. Excellent art by Jack Abel and another stirring story by Hank Chapman make this the second solid effort by the duo this month.

Peter: My thoughts echoed those of our hero: His chances of finding the guy who held the medal in this great big war were as slim as having the right dragon man fall out of the sky on him. Only difference is that I knew that, despite the odds, Ray would stumble on him by the last panel and get that medal back. Just call me prescient.

Joe Kubert
Our Fighting Forces 86

"3 Faces of Combat"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Abel

"Battle Seas Hitchhiker!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Gene Colan

Jack: Gunner, Sarge and Pooch are the "3 Faces of Combat!" They take out an enemy sniper ambush and a camouflaged tank, but when the C.O. announces that he'll give a five-day pass to the marines who take out a special target, the trio finds that they have unexpected competition from Big Al, Little Al, and Charlie Cigar.

The T.N.T. Trio heads out on patrol, certain that exploring the jungle will put them where the action is, yet Gunner, Sarge and Pooch get all the excitement they can handle back on the beach. First, Gunner downs an enemy plane. Next, Sarge destroys an enemy tank. Finally, with Pooch leading the way, our heroes blow up an enemy sub and win the five-day pass.

Poor Jack Abel is dragged down into the mud with the rest of the marines in this sorry saga. Why bring back the T.N.T. Trio if you're going to send them off into the jungle for the better part of the story? The only good thing about this one is that Grandenetti wasn't around.

Why We Fight

Peter: You really have to admit that Big Al, Little Al, and Charlie Cigar have a point: no one in the military seems to fight except Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch. They're always flying solo. So, as dumb as this "He Said/He Said/He Said" bit of fluff is, I have to admit to smiling at the climax, where we find out it was Pooch who was telling it as it really happened. You might think I'm crazy but when the ol' dog talks (or thinks, actually, in his little balloon) I can understand him! No, really, the mangy mutt is forming sentences like "Their laughter stopped when they saw two ghost-like hands rise from the water and flip grenades into the raft nudging their sub..." What a relief; can you imagine trying to decipher that from "Arf... Art... Arf!"?

Jack: A frogman sent to recon an enemy beach discovers an underwater reef studded with spikes that will destroy marine landing craft. He becomes a "Battle Seas Hitchhiker!" and grabs a ride on a Japanese sub and a plane before blowing up all of the enemy craft and landing back on an allied ship. Hank Chapman tells a goofy story, but this is even more consistent with what we'll see of Gene Colan's fine work at Marvel in the mid to late sixties than what we saw last month, and I think it's impressive.

Peter: There are more near-catastrophes in this nine and a half pages than in an entire Indiana Jones flick but, by golly, I liked it anyway. That would be, for the most part, because of the Gene Colan art. And, yes, this time (as opposed to last month's "Tin-Can Tank" in Our Army at War) it looks like Pristine Gene... and that's a really good thing! An extra half-star for the climactic panels where our frogman explains, "We fought... like relatives... on the way down..."

In Our Next Fur-filled Issue
On Sale Oct. 12th!

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