Monday, April 11, 2016

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 76: September 1965

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

 Star Spangled War Stories 122

"The Divers of Death"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Tankers!--Where's Your Tank?"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Quadruplets Jim, Jake, Jinx, and Jess join the services during World War II. Jess and Jinx become frogmen while Jim and Jake are assigned to a tank squad. The four meet up when they're all scheduled to take the same beach but obstacles from the stone age keep them from achieving their goals time and again. There's nothing new story-wise with "Divers of Death," as we learn yet again that brothers not only made up the bulk of our fighting forces but, chances are good, they'd somehow be fighting on the same beach or in the same air space. Bob seems to have put the Suicide Squad to the side for this issue (as well as the notion that the Pacific Dinosaur Region is known to the Army) to fall back on the "brothers-in-arms" boilerplate and the results are trite. What's new (and far from trite) is the artist on The War That Time Forgot this issue. Though there have been 32 installments of WTTF, only one team has been responsible for the art and that's Andru and Esposito. Russ Heath steps in and does a bang-up job, creating what looks to be a cross between a T. Rex and Godzilla and a giant underwater spider. Who cares if these things probably never existed in the stone age; we're the better for Heath's imagination. Russ will contribute to WTTF five more times before its cancellation in 1968. Next issue: a guest stint from Gene Colan. Does it get any better than this?

A tank crew can't seem to get to where they're supposed to, no matter where they start from, and the C.O.'s always blasting an infernal "Tankers!--Where's Your Tank?" over the radio. Determined to get it right this time, the squad heads inland but runs into trouble when the bridge they're crossing is bombed by a Zero and the tank ends up floating out to sea. There they drift squarely into the cross hairs of the enemy but manage to beat the odds to live another day. Now all they have to do is shut that C.O. up. Hank Chapman's stories usually get on my nerves as, usually, we're fed the same three or four plots, but "Tankers!..." is good fun with nice Jack Abel art. Yep, it's a bit far-fetched (as usual, the enemy can't seem to hit the side of a barn door) but, hey, at least the crew isn't made up of triplets!

Jack: Did you notice the banner on the cover that reads: "DC breaks all the rules!" The splash page of the main story also notes that it was told to "DC's combat reporters." The only rule that I see being broken is the one that says that the art on The War That Time Forgot has to be second-rate. I'm no fan of Andru and Esposito, but I sure do love Russ Heath. Kanigher's story is more of the same, as you say, but Heath's art makes it seem like both men have upped their game this time around. "Tankers!" is also more of the same; unfortunately, the same in this case is a boring, repetitive script from Hank Chapman and uninspired art from Jack Abel. Still, it's been so long since we've seen Heath around here that I'm happy for this issue, even if it's only two-thirds worthwhile.

Our Army at War 158

"Iron Major--Rock Sergeant!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

Jack: A bruised and battered Sgt. Rock is alone in the Forest of Forgotten Skulls as a Nazi known as the Iron Major holds him at gunpoint and vows to drag Rock back to a POW camp by his heels like a stunned rabbit. Rock makes a successful gun jump but is laid low by a blow from the major's prosthetic right hand, which is made of iron. As he is dragged through the snow, Rock thinks back to how he got there.

Easy Co. was holding a machine gun position when they were attacked by a Nazi plane, but when Rock aimed the big gun at the plane it was all over for the Nazi pilot. Rock ordered his men back to base and insisted on moving forward on his own with a bazooka, only to come face to face with an enemy tank! The men of Easy Co. held the tank off with gunfire until Rock could destroy it with the bazooka. He then ordered Easy Co. back to base, telling them that he'd hold the position until relief arrived. Rock stayed put and nearly froze to death in the ice and snow until Nazi troops arrived, led by the Iron Major.

Rock is stunned by a blast from a potato masher and finds himself a prisoner in the Nazi camp. The only way out of Rock's cell is a dive through the window to a narrow river far below that winds through the Forest of Forgotten Skulls. He thinks back to his days in California when he and his younger brother Josh were in a special paratroop training unit. Rock survived a test jump off of the Golden Gate Bridge but his brother died; Rock vowed never to make another jump. When the Iron Major tells him that the Forest is booby-trapped to explode into flame when the Allied troops, led by Easy Co., march through it on their way to attack the POW camp, Rock makes the jump and finds himself in the Forest, facing down the Iron Major.

Sgt. Rock manages to get the Iron Major to blow himself up when his metallic hand comes down on a hidden mine. Rock drags himself back to Easy Co. and warns them in time, so the Forest is set ablaze in advance. The last thing we see is the soldiers marching past the Iron Major, his hand extended in death.

"Iron Major--Rock Sergeant!" is a full-length, 24-page story that succeeds on all levels. Kanigher introduces the tragic story of Rock's brother and comes up with a Nazi who is virtually a super-villain. Too bad he dies at the end!

Peter: After 76 issues as the star of Our Army at War, Rock finally gets his name in lights across the cover (12 years and 144 issues later, the transition would be complete when OAaW becomes Sgt. Rock) and Kanigher celebrates by knocking one out of the park. The cover blurb about a "giant war novel" might be over-hype but "Iron Major..." actually does feel like a novel, from the blazing battle action to the back story on Rock's brother, all wonderfully rendered by Kubert. Being nitpicky, I would question whether Rock could survive that land mine going off so close to him but wrapping myself up in such a great story (and not having to read yet another Hank Chapman "brothers-in-arms" snoozer helps as well, I'll freely admit) extinguishes any of my petty complaints this time 'round. It's a pity we won't see another full-length Rock epic for another three years.

Heath & Adler
G.I. Combat 113

"Tank Fight In Death Town!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Sink the Scorpio!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Gene Colan

Peter: Jeb Stuart listens helplessly as one of his tank commander friends is blocked in and blown away by a plethora of Panthers in a deserted town known as Morteville ("Death Town"). Jeb's C.O. commands him to head to the village and keep the Panthers from moving on to other tank divisions; to play "mouse" to the "cats." The Jeb hits Morteville and is immediately set upon by the bigger armor but, through clever trickery, our heroes are able to wipe out the entire division and keep the Panthers from spreading death and destruction. "Tank Fight in Death Town" is an energetic, well-written white-knuckler, the best "Haunted Tank" tale since "Blind Man's Radar" back in #104. The sequence where Jeb is forced to listen as his friend Al is killed is very dramatic (almost as though we're eavesdropping on a private moment) and, later, that moment becomes even more disturbing when the Jeb must continually navigate around Al's burned out tank. Jeb (the ghost) makes one of his cameo appearances to drop one of his confounding riddles on our tank commander, which continues to raise my ire. What good is a bodyguard if his warnings are almost Sphinx-like?

Ignore Hank Chapman's cliched script for "Sink the Scorpio" (was the army of World War II made up of nothing but brothers?) and just let that beautiful Gene Colan art sink into your eyeballs. I'd never realized, until now, how similar Colan's work is to that of Neal Adams.

Jack: I'm reading The Art of Joe Kubert and Adams is quoted as saying that the grit in his work represents Kubert's influence. I'm always happy to see a story drawn by Gene Colan pop up in one of the DC War comics, especially since it distracts me from Chapman's sub-par scripts. I agree with you about the high quality of the Haunted Tank story, especially the art, which is Kubert in top form. Still, this could be any tank--the "haunted" part doesn't really seem to make much difference.

Next Week in It's an Entertaining Comic:
The Debut of Crime SuspenStories!

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