Monday, October 19, 2015

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 64: September 1964

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

Joe Kubert
G.I. Combat 107

"The Ghost Pipers!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Dogtag Guard!"
Story by Kin Platt
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

Peter: Jeb Stuart (the ghost) warns Jeb Stuart (the tank commander) that the Jeb Stuart (the tank) will encounter someone who will attempt to "pipe them out of the war." Taking this to mean an enemy who will blast them to bits, Jeb keeps alert. But even after weathering a couple of major attacks, Jeb continues to hear the Colonel's warning. Then, the men come upon an Irishman blowing bagpipes on the battlefield. He asks them to follow him and leads them to a strange tableau: a World War I battlefield. The Haunted Tank does its part and blows away the bad guys, then finds itself right back in the present, with the piper still in the lead. When the latest battle is done, the crew meet up with another piper, who tells them the story of the ghost. The young man had enlisted in the army and met up with the same fate as his brother did in WWI. Both swore they would lead a tank into battle but both were killed before their dreams came true. Now "The Ghost Pipers" can rest.

Even though this is a series about a Haunted Tank, I never get a supernatural vibe, but this entry is nice and eerie (especially the dead eyes on the pipers). I'm not a fan of the expository but I'm glad we got one here as it's not clear until the final panels that we're actually dealing with two different pipers. Kubert's doing a great job as always but I'm with Jack in missing Russ Heath (who won't return until #114).

Jack: I was blown away by Kubert's cover and art on this story. It starts with a great splash page featuring three vertical panels showing a bagpiping soldier coming closer to the reader and the fine work continues to the end of the tale. It was a little jarring to have what seems like the same scene occur twice, but I liked the idea of two ghost pipers. Kanigher relies less than usual on the ghost of Jeb Stuart this time, and that's a good thing.

Peter: One of the most stringent rules in the superstitious ranks of WWI American G.I.s is the safekeeping of dogtags. Just before his squadron heads out for battle, the rookie is handed a wooden box and told to guard it with his life. If anything happens to the tags, it would spell doom for the owners. The green G.I. dodges tanks, planes, grenades, and prehistoric monsters to keep hold of the wooden box. In the end, his squad comes back safe and they salute their newest hero. "Dogtag Guard" is another gimmick disguised as a story. If the men wanted their tags to be kept as safe as possible, why put them in a wooden box? Our poor rookie looks like he either hasn't slept in weeks or is hopped up on heroin, thanks to the wide-eyed art of Andru and Esposito.

"You're getting sleepy..."

Jack: Prehistoric monsters? No way! It's funny how Platt populates the squadron with a cross-section of immigrant names: Connors, Duwalski, Faschetti, Samuels and Weed sound like the partners in a law firm! Though the story features a nice selection of WWI machines, it is marred by the repetition of the word "dogtags," which I counted no less than 25 times in 10 pages.

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 146

"The Fighting Guns of Easy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"No Score for a Frogman"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: "The Fighting Guns of Easy!" narrate the tale of Easy Co.'s attack on a farmhouse. Sgt. Rock destroys a Nazi machine gun nest with a grenade, then the guns of Easy bring down an attacking plane. That night, in a sudden snowstorm, the guns face a Nazi infantry march and a new recruit makes a run for it. Rock tracks him down on a frozen lake, where the rookie gives his life to help destroy an enemy tank.

If there has ever been a worse Easy Co. story than this one, I'd be surprised. Kanigher drags out his old gimmick of talking guns, but this time they don't let up! Rock's gun drops the "g"s at the end of words just like its owner, the seasoned guns poke fun at a new gun, and even the Nazi guns answer back with a German accent. The action is by the numbers and the loss of the new recruit is poorly handled. Dear Mr. Kanigher: no more talking gun stories!

Kubert makes the best of a bad story.
Peter: On the second page, we get a panel of Rock firing his Tommy gun but, other than that one quick glimpse, this story focuses on the weapons and keeps the human characters off-panel. The story is unique in one other way: all the dialogue is "spoken" by the weapons. We've had talking tanks and guns and horses and latrines before, but never a story told entirely from the perspective of a non-human character. Unique does not always add up to good, though, and "The Fighting Guns of Easy!" just makes me groan and roll my eyes. Kanigher's dialogue, usually so deep and insightful (well, all right, with the exception of War that Time Forgot and Gunner and Sarge) is downright hilarious. My favorite line comes from the aforementioned Tommy: "Then the moment came that made my bore warm with pride!" I'll bet Bob was waiting for years to work that into a script.

Jack: Submarine commanders, fighter plane pilots, and gun-toting marines all have places to mark to display their enemy kills, but there's "No Score for a Frogman," or so thinks an underwater fighter who laments the lack of a place to tally his victories. In rather short order, he saves his brother's sub by destroying an enemy sub, saves his brother's plane by blowing up an enemy plane, and saves his brother's hide by using an enemy tank to an enemy tank and ship. In the end, his victories come to light and his three grateful brothers paint silhouettes on his frogman suit. It's rare that a dopey Hank Chapman story like this outshines a Sgt. Rock story, but it happens in this unusually poor issue of Our Army At War.

Peter: With all the action this frogman sees, it's a wonder there's still a World War II to be won. And, heck, what a coincidence: this guy runs into all three brothers in one day!

Andru and Esposito
Star Spangled War Stories 116

"The Suicide Squad!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Baker's Dozen!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Irv Novick

Peter: A disgraced Olympic bobsledder joins the Army and his first mission pairs him with the brother of the man he accidentally killed years before in a tragic bobsledding incident. It's not long before Barry Mace realizes that Vic Morgan still seeks vengeance for his dead brother and the two are at each other's throats constantly while making their way out onto the "frozen wasteland" where ships are being mysteriously destroyed by enemy missiles. Mace and Morgan, aka "The Suicide Squad!", must travel a treacherous toboggan slide and jettison themselves onto the missile silo but encounter deadly roadblocks: prehistoric dinosaurs from the forgotten stone age. The pair manage to destroy all monsters and missiles and make it back to base in one piece, with Morgan assuring Mace that he'll be along on every mission from here on out to make sure Barr doesn't panic.

Well, if not inevitable, it was ideal that Bob Kanigher finally decided to throw a little something new into the dino-mix. After 25 War That Time Forgot entries, the formula had long since dried up. We've had carnival acts, circus acts, trapeze brothers, carnival and circus brothers, and just about every other combination of the same month in and month out. Does the new fabric make for a better suit? Not really, because at the core, this is just another "soldiers-pinballing-from-one-dino-to-another" tale, but it at least gives one hope that at some time in the future we'll be applauding rather than snoring. Here, in fact, the dinos are more of an afterthought. Vic Morgan, who perpetually holds a .45 to Mace's head while they're out on the ice, hardly registers that they're surrounded by forty foot carnivores. He's more interested in reminding his partner (over and over and over) that, in his eyes, Mace is a murderer. The final panel, where Vic shows his feelings have not changed one bit, despite having his life saved by his enemy, is a good send-off and bodes well for future chapters with these two (unless the emphasis then becomes "you killed my brother" ad nauseum).

Tobogganing. It's just that easy.

DC has gotten quite a lot of mileage out of the title "Suicide Squad." Several groups have been formed using the moniker (this incarnation has nothing to do with the super-villain team that will hit the big screens next summer) and the histories are complicated and, frankly, boring, but if you wish to read more, this is a good summary. This World War II Suicide Squad is not the same SS that graced the pages of SSWS #110 and 111 and we'll see a revolving character carousel during its nine-issue run (with Mac and Morgan starring in four of those adventures).

Jack: Here's a classic Kanigher line from this story:

Cats on the battlefield.
The mind boggles!
"I felt like an aimless juggler trying to toss a hot potato in the teeth of an audience out for blood . . ."

I was wondering how the Russians could have built a missile silo and been firing missiles without running into a dino-sized problem, but at the end of the story it's revealed that their sub was destroyed and the missiles were left unmanned and on "auto-fire." The timing of this story made me look up the 1964 Winter Olympics, since I suspect Kanigher wrote this early in 1964. It seems a Polish-born British luge racer died in a training run days before the games started; this could have influenced Kanigher to write this story.

Peter: The superstitious Baker Company refuses to accept a rookie, the 13th member, and faces all sorts of mishaps before coming to their senses. "Baker's Dozen" is a really, really, really dumb comedy/drama, one of those annoying wastes of time where the men in the midst of war pay more attention to trivial details (like black cats) than to the exploding bombs around them. What C.O. would allow this sort of thing to run rampant? Irv Novick does his best Joe Kubert imitation here.

Jack: I can see Novick in this story but someone else has to be inking, because it doesn't look like Novick all the way through. Maybe Jack Abel inked it? It's much softer than Novick's usual work.

In our next hair-raising issue,
Pooch gets his own series in the House of Mystery!
On Sale Oct. 26!

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