Monday, February 1, 2016

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 71: April 1965

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Joe Kubert
 Our Army at War 153

"Easy's Last Stand!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Flaming Bait!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

Jack: Sgt. Montana of Charlie Co. staggers toward Easy, lamenting the loss of every member of his company. Rock vows not to let the same fate befall Easy Co. so, when he and a sugar-addicted Joe nicknamed Pony Boy come upon a Nazi tank hidden in a haystack, Rock tries to avoid "Easy's Last Stand!" Thinking that shelling has killed everyone but him and Pony Boy, Rock drags the soldier toward the medics but must fight off a bridge full of Nazi machine gunners. Fortunately, when he gets Pony Boy back to base, Rock discovers that the rest of his company is just fine.

The Rock story is strong this issue, with superb art by Kubert. Kanigher and Kubert also team up to provide the second Enemy Ace story, though we're already starting to see Kanigher rely on gimmicks to tell his tales--this time, Enemy Ace is haunted by the fact that fliers who have their picture taken right before a mission don't come back alive.

Peter: I found the art on Rock to be infinitely better than the script, which goes over old territory once again. You're on the money about the Enemy Ace installment, which falls into the problem we see frequently with these war stories: an idea repeated over and over until it's driven into the dirt. The series' main asset is its necessary grimness--since we're spying on the bad guys, there can't be a happy ending and so the photographer who continually ignores Von Hammer's pleas not to snap pics of the pilots becomes a victim of his own foolishness. As with the Rock installment, "Flaming Bait" contains amazing art by Kubert, but what I find startling is the way Joe managed to manipulate his style so that Ace has a completely different look than Rock. Interesting that Kanigher would feature two series in one magazine; obviously Bob was bursting with ideas and couldn't wait to get them out there (or else he was tired of his often-weighty subject matters segueing into Hank Chapman's "Captain Jackass" nonsense). Rock gets the cover space but Ace gets the larger page count (14 to 11). This two-series-for-the-price-of-one experiment will last in Our Army only one more issue (#155) and then Enemy Ace will be mothballed until the series reappears in Star Spangled #138 (May 1968), replacing The War That Time Forgot.

Irv Novick
All American Men of War 108

"Death-Dive of the Aces!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

Peter: An albatross plummets straight for the cockpit of Lt. Johnny Cloud's 1917 Spad but he awakens before the gruesome man-faced bird can bring him down. Later that day, Cloud must contend with an enemy ace flying an Albatros D. III. An omen of doom? Maybe, but... hey, hang on, I hear you saying. The last we saw Johnny Cloud he was a Captain flying a Mustang in WWII, not a Lieutenant in the first war piloting a Spad. Well, that's because our man Johnny Cloud is having one of his dream-visions, this time of a mission he's given to destroy Flak Tower Bridge, an essential tool used by the Germans to advance their tanks. Before Cloud can bomb the bridge, however, a bird-faced ace swoops down and riddles Johnny's Spad to nothingness, leaving our hero to take the long dive to a loud splat. Johnny awakens from this dream to find he's been given a mission to destroy Flak Tower Bridge. All events follow to the letter the dream he had the night before but, luckily, the climax is a bit different: after the Nazi whittles Johnny's Mustang down to shrapnel, Cloud manages to manipulate his fall and lands on the tail of the Stuka. After killing the Nazi, Johnny opens his own parachute and watches with glee as the Stuka crashes into the bridge, blowing it to pieces.

The "Enemy Ace"

Yet again, Captain Johnny Cloud (for some reason, demoted to Lt. in his vision) has a dream/vision that comes true that very day. Wildly, Johnny has a flashback and a dream within his own dream (that would be tough to do, wouldn't it?) when he sees the bird-face of the enemy ace above the flames of the smoke-maker way back in his days on the reservation. His explanation for dreaming about World War I is that "... it was only a wild dream!" but I think Kanigher really dug combining the two big wars. Since Cloud's dream came true right down to the very words his C.O. used in the debriefing, I'd say this tale falls into the supernatural war sub-genre. Nurse Running Deer telling Johnny that she could see on his face that he'd "received a sign of death" is a stretch as well.

Usually, even in quasi-technical tales, Bob Kanigher manages to make his words flow almost like a tune but, in "Death Dive of the Aces," his script is bogged down by over-stuffed tactical confusion like: "Cloud to C-Flight! The enemy low flight will be ramming their own high flight unless they scramble out of their way!" and "Here comes the low flight! Opening fire already! To claw our tails off! Knowing we can't turn around to fire at them without giving their high flight the same free shot at us!" Novick does a good job at visualizing the proceedings but, as in his previous Cloud adventure, a lot of the panels are just too busy, crammed with explosions and distraught metal.

Yes, we see the resemblance.

That's one of the best covers we've had for AAMoW, by the way (a reimagining of a panel on page 24) and, along with the title, perfectly evokes the excitement of the 1940s war pulps like War Birds and Sky Fighters. If only the script itself were half as exciting.

Jack: The thirteen-page dream sequence that opened this story confused the heck out of me. I kept thinking it was a dream but it just went on and on and on and I began to wonder if Johnny Cloud really was in WWI and was older than I thought. Then it turned out to be a dream and I knew what was coming--a replay of the same events! And I was right. It's just ridiculous that Kanigher expects us to believe that Johnny Cloud could hang on to the tail of a flying jet and not get yanked off in a split-second, especially with his parachute pulling him in the opposite direction! Not one of Kanigher's better efforts.

Joe Kubert
Our Fighting Forces 91

"The Human Shooting Gallery"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Abel

"Aces Always Die on the Last Day of the War!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: It's the last day of the Korean War and Lt. Nick Blakeny believes that he'd better watch out, because "Aces Always Die on the Last Day of the War!" His grandfather was a pilot in WWI who downed his fifth enemy plane on the final day of the war and then was killed in a plane crash. Nick's father followed suit, reaching Ace status and dying in a fiery crash on the last day of WWII. Now the Korean War is at an end, and Nick wants to avoid the family curse. When enemy MiGs attack and Nick is the only one able to take off, he takes to the skies and reaches ace status before ejecting from his plane. When his parachute fails, it looks like he'll be the third generation to go down, but he grabs hold of the enemy pilot's chute and floats to safety, taking a prisoner in the bargain!

Nope, it's not cameo art
by George Tuska!
What makes this story interesting is the fact that both the narrator's grandfather and father die in plane crashes. The first is shown as a biplane plunges to Earth; the second includes a panel where the pilot is trapped in his cockpit as the plane heads toward certain death. I found these images a bit unusual for DC War comics.

Peter: I find it interesting that the Blakeny who fights in World War II is told the war will end that day and, rather than cheer, he's upset that he hasn't been able to kill enough Germans to satisfy the family quota. As for our resident whipping dog (pun intended), Gunner, Sarge and Pooch return with more WWII hijinks in the grand style of Hogan's Heroes. Even though Jerry Grandenetti exited stage left several installments ago, it's nice to see that replacement Jack Abel keeps the quality level even. Col. Hakawa's teeth are so buck, it's a wonder Jack doesn't just pencil squirrel whiskers on him as well. The good news, for me at least, is that Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch are T-minus 3 issues and counting until retirement. The bad news, for me at least, is that I'll feel a sense of responsibility to read those last three.

But it is!
The penultimate issue of
Do You Dare Enter?
Slimes across your computer screen
February 8th!

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