Monday, January 23, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 96: October/November 1967

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

 Our Army at War 185

"Battle Flag for a G.I.!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Hold the Bridge With Your Life!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Easy Co.'s latest new recruit brings with him an American flag that his girl back home made for him to fly while marching into battle. Sgt. Rock points out that, in this war, they don't fly flags because they make too good a target. The soldiers fight Nazis as they approach Broken Neck Hill, but the new recruit doesn't get to fly his flag. When the young man is wounded and acts heroically while taking the hill, Rock helps him raise the flag and drags him onward as Easy Co. finishes the job.

"Battle Flag for a G.I.!"
Pretty thin stuff, this; "Battle Flag for a G.I.!" has a central idea and then passes the time with lots of fighting. I was glad that the young man didn't die at the end, for once. No such luck in the issue's second story, "Hold the Bridge With Your Life!," in which Stan Stone, a life-long loser, is the lone survivor of a band of G.I.s told to hold a bridge that the Nazis are trying to blow up. It comes down to Stan against the last Nazi and Stan hangs on a little bit longer than the enemy, just long enough to keep him from destroying the bridge. The story is not very good, and Abel's art is weak, but the final panel is surprising. A U.S. tank rides up to the bridge and sees Stan's dead body propped up against the railing. The tank commander says, "Well--will you look at that G.I. sittin' there without a care in the world! Just like he was king of the hill!" I had to look back to the previous page to make sure what I thought I was seeing was really what I was seeing, and there, in the panel before last, he is referred to as "the dying G.I." Too bad the rest of the story was not as effective as the final panel.

"Hold the Bridge With Your Life!"
Peter: I got so sick and tired of hearing Flag Boy whine about his flag that I was joining in on the chorus of "You'll never fly that flag in this war, boy, so shut the hell up!!!" even while knowing, all the while, eventually he's gonna get to fly that damn flag. There was no way Big Bob would miss out on shoving that last panel right down our collective throats (well, actually I was also tipped off by the spoiler splash). Bad Liss and Bad Abel team up for the umpteenth telling of the little boy who couldn't, who grew up to be the big G.I. who could. We're definitely stuck in a rut this month.

Jack: Great Kubert cover, though--a candidate for year's best.

 G.I. Combat 126

"Tank Umbrella!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Not Even the Dead Can Sleep!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Amidst the hot desert sands, the Jeb Stuart is in big trouble: Nazi Panzers are patrolling the area and the men are out of water. Up over the next rise, smoke is spotted and Jeb orders the tank to investigate. They discover the ruins of comrade Phil Smith's tank, but footprints leading away give them hope that Phil is still alive and kicking. Sure enough, minutes later, Phil is spotted shambling through the desert heat, but an enemy tank disrupts the revelry. Only some quick thinking keeps the Jeb from joining the scrap heap and, soon, Phil is picked up. Unfortunately, the man is not coherent, babbling on about a "whole army of Panzers hidden by an umbrella." Just then, the ghost of the General who "bodyguards" the tank materializes before Jeb's eyes. When Jeb asks the spirit about water, the ghost will only say that water will "spring forth out of flame" (or, two pages later, " . . . out of rock").

The tank lumbers on in search of either an oasis or a flock of Panzers. The oasis comes first but it's soon revealed to be nothing but sand. That is, until an enemy plane rat-a-tats the desert all around the tank and the men are forced to blow it out of the sky. The plane crashes into the oasis and a funnel of water shoots from the sand. Water from flame (and maybe rock at the same time?!)! With their reserves replenished, the men get on to the task of finding the "Tank Umbrella!," and it's not long until they stumble on just such a sight: a herd of enemy tanks hidden below a tent covered with sand. Jeb radios the info to a bomber in the area and very soon the sky is on fire.

A very satisfying installment of the (sort-of) Haunted Tank, full of dazzling visuals and blazing combat action; another feather in the HT cap. Russ's depictions of the desert always leave the reader feeling wrung out and over-heated and his battle scenes are unparalleled in the DC war titles. No one does it better! There are literally dozens of panels I could use to demonstrate my point if we had the room: the shot of Jeb from below as an enemy plane heads for the ground; Phil's maddened face, wet with sweat, as he tries to convince the men of an "umbrella" out there somewhere; the ghostly approach of an enemy tank through the smoke of another flaming Panzer; the list goes on and on. Big Bob does a great job of avoiding his usual potholes and junk food, with the only stumbling block the unfortunate editing gaffe that allows the General to claim that "water will come from flame" on page six and Jeb to repeat the quote as "flame springs from rock" on the following page. It's not just a simple typo but an error that changes the flow (never mind that when water comes, it's actually springing from flame and sand). Forget my nits though, this is a terrific story, one that will be near the top of my "Best of 1967" list next issue.

Captain Carter's company is being torn to pieces near the small town of St. Pierre, coincidentally where Carter's father bought the farm back in WWI. Just as it seems all hope is lost, Pvt. Jesse Zeno pulls the Captain's fat out of the fire time after time before disappearing after a bomb blast. Later, when Carter visits Zeno's grave he discovers that the Private actually died in World War I. Zeno's spirit hovers nearby, confessing that he was the sentry who fell asleep the night Carter's pop died and now the ghost's debt is paid. "Not Even the Dead Can Sleep!" might have been a bit more impactful if we didn't see the Twilight Zone-esque twist coming all the way from page two (if not the title tip-off), but I'll take it over the usual "Battling Brothers" back-up.

Jack: I thought the Haunted Tank story was dull, except for the usual fine art by Russ Heath. The mistake about what will spring from where distracted me and had me thinking there were going to be two signs, so when it just turned out to be a mistake I felt like I'd wasted my time paying attention. The other guys in the Haunted Tank's crew remain interchangeable, as much as Kanigher and the letterer put their names in bold--"Rick" and "Slim" could be anyone. As for "Not Even the Dead Can Sleep!," I also knew what was coming early on but I enjoyed it nonetheless, partly because it went exactly where I was hoping it would go. Jack Abel's art works this time around and the ghostly vibe is most enjoyable.

Novick and Kubert
 Our Fighting Forces 109

"Burn, Raiders, Burn!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

"The Unsinkable Subs!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: The Hellcats' new assignment is to parachute into France and destroy camps where Nazis are being trained to invade Britain. When their transport plane is shot down, they parachute 50 miles from their target and hook up with the Mobile Underground, a traveling circus run by resistance fighters who will take them to the Nazi camp. The leader, Mlle. Cherie, welcomes half of the Nazi garrison to that night's show, allowing the Hellcats to attack the undermanned camp. Trapped in an arsenal, it's almost "Burn, Raiders, Burn!" when a Nazi with a flame thrower nearly fries Lt. Hunter and his men, but they break out of the arsenal, steal a truck, and head back to the circus. A Nazi menaces Mlle. Cherie but Lt. Hunter rescues her and she opens the wild animal cages to let the beasts go after the Nazis. Later, she gives Lt. Hunter a peck on the cheek before he and the Hellcats head back to England.

From left to right: Suranne Jones, Peter Enfantino, Jack Seabrook

Call me crazy, but I enjoyed this adventure, even though Hunter's claim that "all we've got going for us is surprise" reminded me of the Spanish Inquisition on Monty Python's Flying Circus. As in the other DC War comics, the Hellcats always set out thinking that they are doomed, but none of them ever gets killed. The circus setting is a nice change of pace and Abel's art is decent, but I would love to see Neal Adams tackle one of these stories.

Peter: Howard Liss is on Jack Seabrook's enemy list right now for not including Mademoiselle Marie in this dopey adventure. At least Mlle Cherie speaks fluent English rather than zee peejun. If I didn't know better (and I don't), I'd say our old friend Jerry Grandenetti had a hand in visuals this issue; lots of dark, sloppy faces. The story is just the same ol', with tensions flaring within the Hunters only long enough to  remind us they don't like each other but will never take it to the next level. The massive talent of Howard Liss, evident the first year he's been with us, is very quickly being stymied by Big Bob's awful series constraints. At least I hope that's Howard's excuse.

A cool panel showing the vertical drop into the drink
Jack: A Nazi sub nicknamed the Steel Shark is wreaking havoc on Allied ships and escaping seemingly into nowhere. Three frogmen brothers fear that their kid brother Pee-Wee was on one of the doomed ships, so when they are sent on an underwater search and destroy mission it is personal. They find Pee-Wee's dogtags snagged on some kelp at the opening of a huge coral cave where the subs are hidden and use unexploded depth charges to cause a cave-in and trap the subs forever.

Howard Liss must be rubbing off on Hank Chapman, because this story starts dark and stays there. Pee-Wee is not found or rescued and the dogtags left behind by the dead sailor tip off his brothers to the location of the hidden subs. Not a bad issue of OFF, considering it's all drawn by Jack Abel!

Peter: "The Unsinkable Subs" reads like a throwback to the early DC war days but maybe it's because it uses a tried-and-true hook as its theme: the battling brothers. It's confusing (we never find out how these subs manage to get back into their deep-sea cave seconds after unloading their torps) and outlandish (Pee-Wee's G.I. Naval gear pops up everywhere but in Macy's store window), but what do you expect from Hank Chapman?

Star Spangled War Stories 135

"Save My Life and Kill Me!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"There's No One Left!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Bob Forgione
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #57, February 1958)

Peter: Japanese Zero Ace Yasuo Kiwara and American fighter pilot Bill Brooks shoot it out high over the Pacific when both of their planes enter a mysterious cloud formation and are plunked out of the air by two giant flying terrors from a prehistoric stone age! Parachuting out, the pilots trade bullets on the way down but Kiwara's chute is eaten by one of the pterodactyls and he falls, seemingly, to his death . . . until Bill grabs his hand on the way down. The men land on the strange island below and are immediately set upon by a ferocious T. Rex. Kiwara has been injured so Bill must hoist him upon his broad back and hightail it. Luckily, the Jap Ace awakens and lobs a TNT pineapple at the overgrown iguana. Kiwara explains that, since he's a Samurai, either Bill must die or Yasuo must kill himself. The two must fight to the death once the War That Time Forgot is over. They duck into a cave and find a cache of grenades and weapons, enough to blow their way across the island and get back to the beach. At turns, each has the chance to kill the other when he has the upper hand but they make a pact not to duel until the odds are even. Once the destructive duo make it to the beach, they find a wing from Bill's plane and use it to row away from the island. Bill is stung by an electric eel and is paralyzed; a giant horror/terror monster/nightmare rises from the polluted ocean and sets its eyes on the helpless Ace but Yasuo Kiwara, in a final act of heroism, sacrifices himself to save his sworn enemy. Bill sees a rescue plane flying overhead and half-heartedly waves. Today, his heart is half-broken.

Definitely a case of style over substance, "Save My Life and Kill Me!" is a boring, but gorgeously-rendered, dud rife with the kind of WTTF tropes that beg the question, "Was Big Bob even submitting a script by this time?" Consider that the two sworn enemies landing, ironically, on an island full of beasties that forces them to become comrades has played itself out long before this 45th installment. Bob's never been shy about recreating scenes in this series but how about the empty LST that reveals itself to be full of monsters (yep, "borrowed" from "You Owe Me a Death," just two issues ago!)? How many times do we have to watch as one of the warriors is lifted up by claw (or tongue) and his enemy thinks "Hmmm, if I let the monster eat him, I don't have to worry about him killing me!," followed by an act of bravery? The only bright light in this entire 17-page stinker is the ending, wherein Kiwara does the right thing and blows the sea monster into sushi. Of course, Big Bob can't leave well enough alone and has to punctuate the pathos with one last bit of (awkwardly-worded) dialogue, as Bill Brooks ponders the meaning of life and heroism in World War II: "It's a war . . . that time forgot! But . . . that's only one war . . . I fought . . . I fought another one . . . I'll never forget . . . with a guy that saved my life . . . then wanted to kill me . . . and wound up saving it again . . . losing his own!" Kill Me and Save My Mind. Meanwhile, Russ just keeps pumping out beautiful art.

Jack: Boring? Are you kidding? This is one of the best War That Time Forget stories I've ever read! Heath's art is excellent (no surprise) and Kanigher's script remains consistent to the end. Did Japanese pilots really think this way or is this an example of our Western misunderstanding of their code? Either way, it's a fascinating look at a foreign man whose code of honor makes no sense to us but who behaves in an honorable fashion to the end. Having him blow himself up to save the life of his sworn enemy is a much more adult ending than we're used to in this series. Thank goodness this wasn't drawn by Ross and Mike.

Peter: An Allied Sergeant must go out into battle when "There's No One Left!" to send. He's nabbed by the Nazis and interrogated by a smarmy German who continually bombards him with "Whom do you send out when there's no one left, Sergeant?" Our hero manages to escape and, while on the run, manages to shove a potato masher down his interrogator's gullet, forever silencing his annoying voice. Geez, what a dopey story. This Nazi has an Amerikaner soldier to torture and all he does is berate him with a stupid question. No wonder they lost the war.

Please stop! Please stop! Please stop!

Jack: I thought it was exciting and a very swift read. It's interesting to see how much simpler the 1950s DC War stories were in comparison to those from the 1960s. The amount of repetition in the story makes me think Kanigher wrote it.

Our Army at War 186

"3 Stripes Hill!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #90, January 1960)

"My Life for a Medal"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Neal Adams

Jack: A WWII soldier named Gallagher is desperate to earn a medal for some reason. Unhurt in an explosion, he does not get a Purple Heart. Blowing up an enemy pill box gets him nowhere because no one on his side witnesses it. Destroying a Nazi plane is also not good enough for a medal, since his partner was unconscious when it occurred. When Gallagher is sent to see why Tank 777 has been lost to radio contact, he ends up destroying an enemy tank. Impressed by the American's bravery, a dying Nazi pins his own Iron Cross on Gallagher's lapel, and the man finally has a medal to enclose in a letter to his son back home.

One of many great pages.
In another artist's hands, "My Life for a Medal!" would not work nearly as well, but Neal Adams continues to dazzle us with his astounding art as it grows by leaps and bounds from month to month in the DC War comics. The way he uses the panels like a movie director and the way he draws faces is impressive.

Peter: If the powers-that-be have to rip off the kids with a recent reprint, at least they pour that sugar on us with the back-up. It's one of Hank Chapman's better efforts, I must say, despite that annoying catch-phrase (Wouldn't it be great to run across a DC war story where two of the characters traded catch-phrases? There must have been dozens of these parrots running around in the same outfit, right?). "My Life for a Medal" ends on a surprisingly uplifting note when a Nazi-Rat Bastard has an epiphany and awards his Iron Cross to the guy who's killed him!

Big Bob hosts his first two-page letter column but gives the entire space over to one Rondy Hiteshaw of San Luis Obispo, Cali, who offers up many suggestions and pert near orders to the editor for changes in the four war titles. One of the requests, a regular feature for Enemy Ace, draws this from Kanigher: "I appreciate and thank your (sic) and other fans (sic) interest in Enemy Ace, but it is logistically impossible to put it out at this time or in the near future." Fortunately, some of the logistics were worked out and we'll see Hans begin his four-year run in SSWS in just a few months!

Next Week:
The Guilty!

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