Monday, August 29, 2016

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 86: July 1966

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Andru & Esposito
 Star Spangled War Stories 127

"The Monster Who Sank a Navy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"The Mustang Had My Number!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti
(reprinted from Our Army at War #59, June 1957)

Peter: Talbot and Peters, two members of the elite Suicide Squad, stand at attention and report on the success of their latest mission; well, Peters does, anyway, as Talbot has been reduced to a giggling madman. Peters then lets us in on what drove Talbot to the loony bin: "The Monster Who Sank a Navy!" The Suicide Squad is informed that the Japanese have come up with a deadly new toxin that transforms G.I.s into zombies and Talbot and Peters are the men sent to destroy the gas, stored aboard the battleship Kuruna. After boarding a plane, the men enter a strange bank of fog and are attacked by several dinosaur monsters from the prehistoric stone age. Talbot is swallowed whole by a giant catfish and Peters can't seem to find a way to get his partner out of the fish's gullet. Fortunately, Talbot was carrying a big batch of TNT bait with him and he explodes out of the mackerel's small intestine with a loud WHUMP! (so loud it's heard underwater). Not so fortunately, the impact snatches Talbot's marbles and Peters must drag his comrade to the surface. Fortunately, they're both picked up by frogmen and brought aboard a battleship. Unfortunately, it's the Kuruna (hang on, that was their mission in the first place, so that's a Fortunately) and the ship is attacked by a gigantic shark monster. Fortunately, Talbot is just-this-far-away-from-bonkers enough to destroy the nerve gas and the monster sinks the ship. Our tale ends with the C.O. saluting a job well-done as Talbot chases butterflies with a net.

Finally Revealed! The Joker's War Years!

With its frenetic pace, its general inanity, and its truly horrible art, "The Monster Who Sank a Navy!" is a prime contender for Worst of the Year. I love when the pilot who flies T and P to their mission says something along the lines of, "You see that fog bank up ahead? We have no idea why but it never moves and we're pretty sure the enemy is in there somewhere!" I know I'm beating a dead horse but this is the same fog bank that several G.I.s have entered and returned from. Is their mission report buried under Pooch's Purple Heart recommendation on some General's desk? And, though I've never been fond of Andru and Esposito's work on this series (other than a spark here and there), they seem to be channeling Jerry Grandenetti in this installment. How observant is the C.O. on the splash page when confronting the obviously-deranged Talbot at inspection? Don't these guys go through some kind of psych evaluation upon return? The one bright shining star in the dark dismal sewer of Andru + Esposito is the atmospheric panel reprinted at right.

Speak of the devil . . . and the devil appears. Jerry Grandenetti provides the illos for "The Mustang Had My Number," which doesn't exactly break any quality barriers but is amiable enough with its western roots (which Bob will resurrect in the origin for the Balloon Buster) and likable central character. Jumping prairie gophers! This 8-pager shows that Jerry could pump them out with the best of them before he radically changed his style at some point in the early 1960s, introducing a fair share of mud to his pencils and distorting features like a carnival hall of mirrors.

Jack: I've never liked Andru and Esposito's art, not even on The Amazing Spider-Man in the 1970s, so reading this series tries my patience. This is one of the worst entries, consisting mainly of one dino attack after another. It's rare that I can say this, but Jerry Grandenetti's art on the backup story is very good and makes me sad that his style got so bad so fast in the '60s and '70s. On this issue's letters page there is a letter from Cary Bates, a future DC writer, bemoaning the "unattractive blurbs" that ruin nicely drawn covers. You tell 'em, Cary!

 G.I. Combat 118

"My Buddy--My Enemy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"You Only Die Twice!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Lt. Jeb Stuart has a whopper of a problem on his hands: Slim, one of his men, is a racist and refuses to work with the Nisei (Japanese-American soldiers fighting for the good guys), going so far as to attack one of them. When the boys roll into a battle-scarred town and their treads get hung up on debris, they're trapped like rats in a cage by sniper fire. When the flame-throwers show up, they know they have to do something so Slim hops out of the tank to see if he can take out the sniper. Slim is pinned down but, luckily, the two Nisei show up to save his hide. When one of the soldiers is killed, Slim asks what he can do. The surviving G.I. answers that it's too late to save his dead brother but not too late for Slim to change his attitude.

"My Buddy--My Enemy" is a particularly heavy-handed message story that I can just about forgive because of when it was published but there are a few nits to pick. Is Slim a new member of the Jeb and, if so, was his predilection for white folk evident before this incident occurred? Why is this a Haunted Tank story in the first place since Jeb (the spook) is basically a no-show with no good advice or riddles to dole out? Johnny Cloud (whose tank-busting Mustang has a cameo in this issue) sure shows up a lot. I find it curious that Bob Kanigher, in the middle of a heart-felt plea for racial tolerance, has one Japanese character tell another to "cool off his rice." A bit cliched and racist that, no? On the newly-interesting "Readers--Sound Off" page, answering a query from one Will Forgelly of Philadelphia, Bob spills some of the beans on his co-writers, Hank Chapman and Howard Liss, and their service records. There's a reference to Chapman having a "hair-raising experience in the Air Force during the war which had him falling out of a plane in flight." An excellent source of info on Chapman and that incident can be found here.

Jack: In this follow up to "What's the Color of Your Blood?" (Our Army at War 160, November 1965), Bob Kanigher again tackles racism, this time involving a Japanese-American soldier instead of an African-American soldier. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act encouraged immigration from Asia in part as a way to battle Communism, the thought being that people would want to come and live in a free and democratic country. DC did its part with stories like this one, even though Irv Novick's art isn't what I'd call inspired. Still, the legacy of Japanese caricatures was hard to shake off--as shown by the ad for this month's issue of Metal Men, found in Star Spangled War Stories and reproduced at the bottom of this post. Apparently, DC readers could handle both a story against bias and a villain named "Egg Fu, the Oriental Mastermind" without their heads exploding.

Peter: After his entire squad is killed in a bombing and he's the only one to crawl out of the hole, a G.I. becomes obsessed with learning if he survived for a reason. He wanders from bad event to bad event, saving many lives, but still can get no peace until he winds his way back to where the first incident happened and saves an entire squad by sacrificing his life. Howard Liss has not only helped us forget Hank Chapman but he's also giving Big Bob a run for his money. "You Only Die Twice!" takes a fascinating concept (what is this man's purpose in life?) to its logical conclusion. What I like so much about Liss's writing is that it actually accentuates the dark aspect of war (which is as it should be, correct?) without becoming maudlin or cliched. I doubt if we'll see Liss scripting Gunner and Sarge anytime soon.

Jack: An existential story in the back of a DC war comic? Will wonders never cease? Liss writes the best tale we've read lately and Abel steps up his game to provide moody art depicting a soldier wandering through a snowy landscape. This was a real surprise, and a pleasant one.

 Our Army at War 169

"Nazi on My Back!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Bare Hands of Death!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Gene Colan

Jack: Sgt. Rock shoots a hidden Nazi sniper out of a tree and Bulldozer recalls an incident in Italy when Rock uncovered an ambush of Nazis hiding under water and breathing through hollow reeds. Rock knows that he's not foolproof, however, and thinks back to the time they were in the North African desert and he took two new recruits out on patrol, only to see them cut down by a Nazi tank. Rock destroyed the tank but was blinded in the battle. Wandering back in the direction where he hoped to rejoin Easy Co., he came across a soldier with his leg in a cast. Rock put the man on his shoulders, unaware that he had a "Nazi on My Back!" The soldier pretended to be an American until Rock tripped and felt his hobnailed boot; a fight ensued and Rock shot and killed the enemy. This story is another example of how the men of Easy Co. idolize Sgt. Rock while he keeps to himself the knowledge that he is only human. The ability of the Nazi soldier to speak with an American accent and use American slang is suspicious or impressive, depending on how you look at it.

A hullabaloo party?

Robert and Li were boyhood friends in Vietnam who grew up to find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. Li swears that he will kill Robert if the young man ever returns to the Far East; sure enough, Robert comes back as a soldier and is captured by Li, who gives him a sporting chance to escape through the jungle. Robert turns the tables and, though Li tries to use "The Bare Hands of Death!" against his old pal, it's Robert who ends up the victor. Kind of like "The Most Dangerous Game" in Vietnam, Liss's story is fairly interesting but it's Colan's art that makes it a fun read.

"The Bare Hands of Death!"
Peter:  Once again, with "The Bare Hands of Death!" Howard Liss proves he was the best writer of war comics in 1966. "Bare Hands" is a brutal, unflinching look at two friends who grow up to be enemies because of politics. Hank Chapman's climax would have seen the two men sitting down and sharing a can of baked beans and reminiscing about pulling pigtails in grade school. Liss's antagonists fight to a violent end where only one survives and that man looks back, not in sorrow, but in hate. This one will be hard to beat come award time. "Nazi on My Back!" has a casual build-up and a rushed pay-off, as if Bob got to page 13 and realized he still hadn't produced a piggy-backing German. There's a lot of violence and a graphic (well, as graphic as a CCA-saddled funny book can get) killing where two new recruits get their heads blown off by enemy fire. Rock's job these days seems to be to reminisce about the "old days" to new recruits.

Heath & Kubert
Our Fighting Forces 101

"The Killer of Vietnam!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Abel

"The Battle of Coney Island!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: As Capt. Hunter continues to search for his brother Nick in Vietnam, he finds himself still doubting the loyalty of his companion, Lu Lin. They happen upon the remnants of an ambush of American soldiers, one of whom saves Hunter with some timely gunfire. The dying sergeant begs Hunter to find Joey Krone, the sergeant's kid brother, who is in line for a Congressional Medal of Honor. Though he has so far been unable to find his own brother, Capt. Hunter locates Joey in short order and, with the help of Lu Lin, yanks him out of a pit of quicksand where the Viet Cong had been watching him sink. It's a bit too late for poor Joey, so Hunter carries his body back to camp, dodging Vietcong fire all the way, and Joey gets his medal.

"The Killer of Vietnam"
And so it goes in "The Killer of Vietnam!" When will Capt. Hunter learn to trust Lu Lin? Will he ever find his brother? Who will draw the next story? These exciting questions will soon be answered!

Harry Kelly comes splashing out of the surf on a lovely summer day at Coney Island in 1914 and suddenly finds himself in a strange place--fighting German soldiers on a WWI battlefield! After the French pin a medal on him, he suddenly finds himself battling a tank amidst barbed wire! Next, he discovers he's in the arms of a local beauty on a haystack, with a German plane shooting at him! Finally, he's back at Coney Island, with spooky keepsakes to help him remember his dream. Or was it a dream? The newspaper anounces that war has been declared, and "The Battle of Coney Island!" seems to have been a premonition.

A whole issue of Jack Abel's art is not something I'd go on the hunt for, but at least the backup story by Liss is a tad more entertaining than the lead story.

Peter: Neither one of these stories is worth the paper they're printed on. The Captain Hunter installment is nothing but macho bluster and the time travel ditty is a batch of vignettes with an inane connector (it says Liss but reads more like Chapman). More interesting are the circulation numbers printed this month:

"The Battle of Coney Island!"

All American Men of War     247,717
G.I. Combat                           255,496
Our Army at War                   243,906
Our Fighting Forces             207,885
Star Spangled War Stories    215,495

For comparison's sake, the five top-selling comic books in America in 1966 were Batman (898,470), Superman (719,976), Superboy (608,386), Lois Lane (530,808), and Jimmy Olsen (523, 455). Nine of the top ten were DC titles. The biggest-selling comic magazine in America was Mad, which sold an astounding average of 1,635,612 per issue!

From G.I. Combat 118

See what happens when our lone female reader decides
to crack open an EC comic! Right here, next week!

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