Monday, July 24, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 109: December 1969/January 1970 + The Best and Worst of 1969

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Star Spangled War Stories 148

"Luck is a Puppy Named Schatzi!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Fall of the Red Knight!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: After accidentally running down a puppy while landing on a runway, Hans von Hammer nurses the little pup back to health, christens it "Schatzi," and takes him along on his patrols, thinking the little mongrel a good luck charm. And a good luck charm he is, as the Hammer's kill-count soars, until one mission when the Enemy Ace encounters fierce m.g. fire and is forced to somersault. Schatzi falls out of the cockpit to his death. Enraged, the Enemy Ace returns to the battle and wipes out every plane he sees. Later, after the battle subsides, Hans lands and buries the pup, musing that some day he will join little Schatzi in that graveyard in the sky.

Uh oh. We never saw this coming, did we? Big Bob commits the funny book equivalent of "jumping the shark" with "Luck is a Puppy Named Schatzi!," seriously filling me with concern about the remaining E.A. entries. Please, Mr. Kanigher, leave the mascots to Our Fighting Forces. Why in the world would Bob introduce Junior Pooch to a strip so dark, realistic, and exciting? Was the title not reaching its intended audience and needed a shot of juvenile pathos? Amazing that, after the Schatz takes his deadly tumble, Hans goes berserk, blaming the French fighter pilots for what was obviously his fault. Who thinks it's a good idea to take a cute whittle puppy up in a dogfight? Let's hope this piffle is just Bob blowing off steam and next issue doesn't see the debut of Max, the Talking Fokker! In the short-short, "The Fall of the Red Knight!," Ric Estrada does a fine job illustrating the last battle of Baron von Richthofen, the "Red Baron." Estrada will become a major force in the DC war comics in the years to come.

Jack: I was thinking that Enemy Ace's wolf pal would make a quick snack out of the Schatzster but, surprisingly, they trotted off like old pals in the forest. Kubert's art is flawless, as usual, with many large panels/full-page/double-page spreads to marvel at, but the story is unusually short for this series at only 19 pages and so we get a four-page filler from 1967 (according to the signature by Estrada) that continues the theme of WWI air battles.

"The Fall of the Red Knight!"

Our Army at War 213

"A Letter for Bulldozer!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"The Ghost Bayonets!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sid Greene

Story and Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: "A Letter for Bulldozer!" arrives and distracts the big guy from responding to an attack from the air. Rock demands an explanation and Bulldozer explains that he grew up in Chicago and took a job in the stockyards. When payday came, he was jumped by four men who wanted his cash. In the fight that followed, Bulldozer thought he had killed one of the attackers and, instead of going to the police, he kept quiet. Years later, he began getting blackmail letters and paid up. He thought that he had put this problem behind him when he joined the Army, but now a letter has found him and he's afraid to open it.

Bulldozer--the early years
After a brief and violent battle with a tank, Rock opens the letter and, to Bulldozer's surprise, it's from the mother of the man he thought he killed. She apologizes for her son's actions, reveals that he was not dead after all, and returns all the money Bulldozer sent him. Bulldozer is so relieved and happy that he goes wild when Nazis attack; his gun wipes them out and he admits that a clear conscience feels good!

Finally, Bob Kanigher listened to me! This is not a classic Easy Co. tale, but at least it's something different and we finally get a peek into the prior life of one of the Combat Happy Joes. I am very hopeful for similar stories about Little Sure Shot, Ice Cream Soldier, and all the rest of the invincible soldiers.

In WWI, French soldiers fix bayonets but then are buried when a bomb goes off and all that's left are the blades of the bayonets, sticking up above the ground. They sit there rusting for decades until WWII, when an American flier bails out of his plane and parachutes down into the middle of "The Ghost Bayonets!" A Nazi is on the scene and tries to kill him, but the American yanks one of the old bayonets from the ground and fights back; the battle ends with the Nazi falling fatally onto the sharp objects.

Please help us figure out exactly what is happening here!

It's a little unclear exactly how all of those bayonets ended up sticking up out of the ground, not to mention why they'd be left for so long to create such a hazard. Still, the hand-to-hand combat that ensues is reasonably exciting and the four pages pass breezily.

Way back when, the Ancient Egyptians are led by their Pharaoh, Rameses, in a siege on the city of "Kadesh," when the Hittite army attacks from the Egyptians' rear. Rameses fearlessly rallies his men and they manage to hold out until help arrives and the Hittites flee.

The soundtrack to Joseph and the
Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
is now playing in one of our heads.
Hey, that was different! Those of us who are fascinated by Ancient Egypt welcome stories like this, even though it doesn't do much to develop a narrative or characters.

Peter: There's not much mystery and intrigue to "A Letter to Bulldozer!," is there? Seems like only a couple of panels after we're introduced to this secret chapter in 'dozer's life, he receives the good news! All better! At least we have Russ's art to look at. The short-short isn't much more than an incident disguised as a story; Sid Greene's work is very Novick-esque. Boys and girls . . . please turn your history books to page 1274 BC and we'll learn about Ramses (sic) and the Battle of Kadesh. Yes, I know that fighting Egyptians may be construed as outside the purview of Our Army at War but when there are four pages to fill, fill them we shall. Two pages of letters this issue, including a call-out from L/Cpl. Al St. Jean, stationed in 'Nam, who claims that the DC war books are "phony" and don't "show the world what the war is really about . . ." Kubert keeps his cool and explains that if his writers told it like it was, the stuff wouldn't get published. Joe's got a point to a point but I'd argue that dressing up war stories with talking mules and pooches that can read Japanese does tend to make the proceedings seem comical.

G.I. Combat 139

"Corner of Hell"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath and Joe Kubert

"A Man . . . a Chain . . . a Rock"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Fred Ray

Peter: After a parachute drop goes haywire, the Haunted Tank is dropped into a "Corner of Hell"! Stumbling on a good old-fashioned virgin sacrifice in the jungle, the boys race to the rescue just in time, but Jeb learns that the price for being savior is that he must marry the intended sacrificial lamb, Princess Azeela. The ceremony goes off without a hitch and the bride and groom head off on their honeymoon in the Jeb Stuart. Of course, honeymoon in Africa in WWII includes killer Nazi tanks and, very soon, the Jeb finds itself outnumbered in a battle. Luckily, the Princess's people ride up on horseback to the rescue. Unluckily, Princess Azeela is killed in the firefight and Jeb sadly gives her limp, yet curvy, body back to the people of the Princess. Like the Enemy Ace story in SSWS this month, "Corner of Hell" is a sappy change of pace for a very good series. Heath contributes his usual stellar graphics, though how he could muster inspiration after being saddled with a script better suited for Our Young Love is beyond me. Since the Jeb could hardly be expected to house the sweet young princess "til death do they part . . . ," it's obvious the outcome but I'll lay money down that, despite this being an important occurrence in the young tank commander's life, Azeela will never be mentioned again.

Jack: In this issue's letters page, Charles McDorman of Snyder, Texas, asks the editor to "leave the romance out," while Martin Lesny of Jersey City, NJ, wants the editor to "include more girls." I would say that Martin was pleased with this story! Jeb and Princess Azeela retire to a tent on their wedding night and she reclines, scantily clad, on his lap. The next panel shows them heading off in the tank as the sun comes up. Martin Lesny and I demand to know what was going on in that tent in between panels!

Peter: A Yankee prisoner is promised freedom by the sadistic Captain Cathcart if he can drag a huge boulder thirty yards across a Southern fort. The prisoner manages to drag the rock with some help from Mother Nature, but the Captain orders the man executed. Cathcart's guards mutiny and set the Yank free. Haney's script is a rousing one but it's tough to get past Fred Ray's excruciatingly bad scribbles. Jerry Grandenetti, please come home, all is forgiven.

Jack: You're right, this is sub-par art, making this a rare story where the plot is better than the illustrations.

So will Azeela haunt the tank too?

Our Fighting Forces 122

"24 Hours to Die!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Art Saaf

"Coward--Take This Hill!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Fred Ray

Jack: The newest assignment for the Hellcats is to travel to Crete, find a leader of the Underground named Zorba, and tell him about the Allied assault plans. So that they don't divulge any secrets if they are captured and tortured, the Hellcats are given delayed-release poison pills and have "24 Hours to Die!" if they fail in their mission.

Traveling from London to Crete, the Hellcats are met by Zorba's wife, who tells them that her husband has been captured by Col. Minotaur and is being held prisoner in his maze. The Hellcats allow themselves to be captured and join Zorba in the maze, which is flooded with loud music to drive them nuts. They use hidden explosives to blow the place to bits, rescue Zorba, and head back to a pre-determined meeting spot at sea so they can be given the antidote to the poison pills just in the nick of time.

"24 Hours to Die!"
Not a bad little story, with passable art by Saaf. Kanigher must have planned to continue the series, since Heller, the lone female of the group, is distracted at the start of the mission when she catches a glimpse of the man who killed her father. He ducks into the Underground and escapes and she has no choice but to let him go, since she has another mission and time is of the essence. I assume Big Bob was going to have this be a running theme through the stories before wrapping it up, kind of like TV's The Fugitive. Now we'll never know if Heller caught up with her father's killer!

Peter: What are the odds a Nazi Colonel named Minotaur would have his own maze? And a really big one at that! As dopey as this Hellcats installment is, I kinda liked it. Can't say that about most of the previous 24 Captain Hunter/Hunter's Hellcats fairy tales. This was the Hellcats' swan song and it's a shame that Big Bob didn't send them out the same way Arnold Drake said so long to his beloved Doom Patrol. Bob had the perfect weapon at his disposal with those poison pills but, for some reason, opted to save them at the last second. Well, at least they're not our problem anymore. They will return in a goofy prologue to the first official adventure of The Losers next issue and then sayonara. These Cats, it seems, weren't even interesting enough for some contemporary funny book writer to resurrect and reboot.

"Coward--Take This Hill!"
Jack: Lt. Jim Travers leads a Union Cavalry troop up a hill in the Civil War, right into fire from Confederate soldiers. Afraid of dying, he turns his horse around and flees as the rest of his men are massacred. A year later, he leads another troop in an offensive at Cemetery Hill. This time, thinking to himself, "Coward--Take This Hill!," he remains steadfast and is at the forefront of the battle. Once again, his men are wiped out, but he drags the Union flag to the top of the hill, where Confederate soldiers hold it up next to their own flag in recognition of his bravery.

The second battle must not be at Gettysburg, despite the name "Cemetery Hill," since I think the Union was holding the hill and the Rebels were mounting the attack. The story's not half bad, though the art is not much to look at.

Peter: It's hard to decipher what's going on in "Coward--" through all that scratchy, ugly stuff Fred Ray passed off as art. As wonderful a concept the ending puts forth, I highly doubt anything of the sort ever happened in the Civil War.

Our Army at War 214

"Easy Co . . . Where Are You?"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"The Bastille!"
Story and Art by Ric Estrada

"My Coffin, the Tank!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Sid Greene

Jack: Working its way up through Italy in the late summer of 1943, Easy Co. is surprised by land mines outside the seemingly quiet town of Bonventura. They are joined by Private Willy Hogan, a tough loudmouth from New York City's Lower East Side who thinks he doesn't need anyone's help. Everyone else pairs off to inspect the town, but Hogan goes it alone and enters a church. He thinks back to an episode from his childhood, when he reluctantly went along with some friends in robbing a candy store and ended up in juvenile court.

"Easy Co. . . . Where Are You?"
Back in the present, he sees Nazis hiding and they capture him, preventing him from crying out to warn Easy Co. by gagging his mouth. To avoid a fatal ambush, he runs out of the church and is shot in the back, but the noise of the gunfire alerts Rock and his men and they wipe out the Nazis. Hogan survives and hopefully learns a lesson about the value of teamwork.

Despite the lack of Joe Kubert's artwork, this is another very good Sgt. Rock story. Hogan is like one of Jack Kirby's tough New Yorkers from the 1940s and the background on his upbringing helps explain why he behaves like such a jerk. I was glad he was not killed, though I wonder if we'll see him again.

"The Bastille!"
The cover by Joe Kubert belongs in a group of similar DC covers of this era, where one character announces that he or she is safe and we, the readers, see that someone or something is hiding nearby. These covers were often drawn by Neal Adams and featured children in peril; some of the best were on the DC mystery comics. The funny thing about them is that they always seem to work! I also wonder if the story's title, "Easy Co . . . Where Are You?" is a nod to Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, which premiered on September 13, 1969, not long before this issue hit the newsstands.

Paris, 1789, and the peasants are storming "The Bastille!' Soldiers fire on the mob from the fortress walls, which only causes more chaos. Soon, the Bastille will fall and the French Revolution will be underway.

It's a good thing I know some French history, since this four-page fragment doesn't make a whole lot of sense without some context.

The African Desert, 1942, and an American soldier laments that he is riding around in "My Coffin, The Tank!" He is out getting water for the rest of the crew when a Nazi plane attacks and kills the tank's other three inhabitants. The soldier buries them in the sand and heads off alone in the tank, quickly pursued by a Nazi tank. Cornered in front of an ancient tomb carved into the side of a cliff, the American manages to blow up some rocks that fall and bury the other tank, allowing him to make his escape.

"My Coffin, the Tank!"

I think a more well-developed eight-page backup story might be preferable to these four-page throwaways. In this one, Sid Greene's art isn't even very bearable and the whole point of the story--that the American is trapped in the coffin-like tank when his hatch is jammed by a shot from the other tank--is forgotten at the end.

And starring Clark Kent
as the cocky new G.I.
Peter: "Where are You?" reads like warmed-up second helpings but I liked it anyway. Yeah, sure it's got the obligatory epiphany scene in its climax but it's also got some nice battle scenes and I gotta like one of these Rock adventures now and then anyway, don't I? Of course, it could be Russ's dynamite art. One month into 1970 and we've got this year's front-runner for Best Art of the Year. Standout panels include the evil Ratzis waiting to ambush Easy and that fabulous panel of Rock and the boys storming in through the hole in the wall like so many rats. Russ Heath could do no wrong in my book! "The Bastille!" is just a snippet but it has its desired effect: I went straight to Wikipedia to find out more. "My Coffin, the Tank!" has better-than-average art by Sid Greene and an interesting enough story but what I want to know is how the poor guy is going to get out of his "coffin" when the lid's been nailed down. Hope he's got plenty of food and water.



Best Script: Robert Kanigher, "Vengeance is a Harpy" (Star Spangled #142)
Best Art: Russ Heath, "I'm Still Alive" (Our Army at War #209)
Best All-Around Story: "Vengeance is a Harpy"
Best Cover: Joe Kubert, Our Army at War #202

Worst Script: Robert Kanigher, "Devil in the Dark" (Our Fighting Forces #120)
Worst Art: Ed Robbins, "SOS-Send Our Food" (Our Army at War #207)
Worst All-Around Story: "Devil in the Dark"


  1 "Vengeance is a Harpy!"
  2 "The Devil's General" (Star Spangled #143)
  3 "I'm Kilroy" (Our Army at War #210)
  4 "Death Takes No Holiday" (Star Spangled #144)
  5 "Dragon With Wings" (Our Army at War #211)

Best Script: Robert Kanigher, "The Devil's General"
Best Art: Neal Adams and Joe Kubert, "The Angel, the Rock and the Cowl!" (The Brave and the Bold #84)
Best All-Around Story: "Vengeance is a Harpy!"
Best Cover: Joe Kubert, Our Fighting Forces #120

Worst Script: Robert Kanigher, "The Troubadour" (Our Army at War #200)
Worst Art: Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, "Death is the Joker" (G.I. Combat #135)
Worst All-Around Story: "Hell Underwater," Robert Kanigher & Art Saaf (Our Fighting Forces #118)


  1 "Vengeance is a Harpy!"
  2 "The Devil's General"
  3 "Return of the Hangman" (Star Spangled #145)
  4 "Death Takes No Holiday"
  5 "The Angel, the Rock and the Cowl!"

In the 37th Issue of It's An Entertaining Comic!
Somebody's finally using their two fists to tell a tale!
Be in this spot next week!

Good ol' fashioned fun for the kids!

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