Monday, August 21, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 111: April/May 1970

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Our Army at War 218

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"The Tortoise and the Hare Went to War!"
Story by John Reed
Art by Sam Burlockoff and Joe Giella
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #5, July 1955)

"Frightened Boys . . . or Fighting Men"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: From the time Easy Co. landed in North Africa, they were nursed and patched up by a faithful "Medic!" who always remained quiet. Bulldozer complains that the medic never gets involved in the fighting, but Rock tells him that each man has his job. Pushing up into Italy, Easy Co. continues to rely on the medic, though Bulldozer doesn't let up with his criticism. Suddenly, a Nazi ambush causes a landslide to bury Rock and Bulldozer, but the fearless medic braves enemy fire to rescue them, forfeiting his own life in the process.


Kanigher and Heath work well together here and Heath draws one particularly strong page near the end that is completely wordless, conveying the medic's heroism in pictures alone.

In "The Tortoise and the Hare Went to War!," brothers Bill and Donny are assigned to a tank and a plane in WWII. The tank lumbers along like a tortoise and the plane zooms ahead like a hare. The plane saves the tank, the tank saves the plane and, in the end, the plane makes an urgent landing right on top of the tank and the two join forces to keep the enemy at bay.

Not much to recommend this six-page filler reprint; the story is by the numbers and the art is inoffensive and run of the mill.

When the destroyer called the U.S.S. Stevens is attacked by Japanese firepower in the Pacific in 1942, will its crew act like "Frightened Boys . . . or Fighting Men"? Fortunately, it's the latter, as they survive a kamikaze attack and sail on.

A four-page entry, this eschews any characterization or dialogue to present a battle incident with a series of breathless captions. The art by Glanzman is good until he tries to draw a closeup of a soldier's face. Glanzman died very recently.

"Frightened Boys  . . . or Fighting Men"
Peter: Solid Rock tale this issue with stunning Heath visuals. Nice to see an unsung hero of the war get his due, but Bulldozer's unending whining got on my nerves. I know Big Bob liked to create "highlights" during a story (such as a character going on and on about something, seemingly for the first time) but it only helps to minimize the story's impact in the finale if we know that Bulldozer will see the light due to his victim's sacrifice. We know that "Medic!" is going to die because 'dozer needs to learn a lesson. Anyway, it's still a memorable melodrama and . . . did I mention Russ's flawless art? I didn't? Well, it's reeeeeally good! Also, isn't it unique that Rock introduces his "memory" by giving it a date? It's a nice touch and a reminder that these adventures and morality plays aren't necessarily delivered to us in chronological order. The plot of "Tortoise and the Hare" sure smells familiar to me but, at the very least, it helps remind us that the war was fought by an awful lot of brothers. "Frightened Boys . . ." is the premiere installment in a serialized back-pages feature on the U.S.S. Stevens, a "series " that would last six years and hop across all four of the war titles. Unique in that the entire series showcases one battleship and its various highs and lows, "U.S.S. Stevens" became a quick fan favorite and the entire epic was collected in a gorgeous full-color hardcover by Dover last year. Glanzman could tell a hell of a story but he sure couldn't draw (although I must say this first chapter looks pretty good); the art will become secondary to the insights shared with us by Glanzman, who actually served in World War II aboard the Stevens!

Star Spangled War Stories 150

"3 Graves to Home!"
Story and Art by Joe Kubert

"Monster of the Viking Sea!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from The Brave and the Bold #12, July 1957)

"The Marne"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: When his plane catches fire and he's forced to ditch, Hans von Hammer seeks shelter to nurse his wounds. First up, he's taken in by a kindly blind woman who mistakes him for a French pilot, dresses his wounds and soothes him with her soft voice. She tells Hans of her son, a French pilot who flies a plane with specific markings. Hans remembers shooting the plane down two weeks before. When police come to the door, Hans tells the woman that he's wanted by the local gendarme and she hides him in her cellar. The police tell her that they're looking for the infamous Hans von Hammer and the woman points to her cellar. Hans is already on the run. The exhausted Enemy Ace takes refuge in a barn and is fed cheese by a small French boy who tells the Hammer of his older brother, a pilot in the No. 24 squadron. Hans remembers shooting that squadron down recently and heads off to find a different place to lay his head. He falls asleep in a field and is awakened by a beautiful shepherdess who bandages Hans's exposed wounds and tells him of her man who has promised to marry her when he returns from war. Perhaps Hans has seen this man? About so high, blond hair, and flies a Nieuport with the markings of two hearts entwined. Once again, Hammer's photographic memory recalls shooting down this lovely lass's beau while putting the kibosh on some French recon balloons. "How in the hell do I get myself into these messes?" muses the Enemy Ace while he heads for home. Once there, he collapses in his valet's arms, confident he hasn't murdered any of Schulz's family lately.

This sub-par episode reminded me of the old Abbott and Costello routine, "Susquehanna Hat Company," where poor Costello can't walk down the street without running into someone who has it in for the brand of hat he's carrying. The Enemy Ace just wants some rest and a few band-aids but he can't dodge the relatives of some his recent fatalities, no matter how he tries! Joe Kubert takes Big Bob's annoying old habit of pushing the coincidences at least two steps too far with "3 Graves to Home!" But if his writing hand has taken a leave of absence, the one with the pencil sure hasn't. More full to near-full page posters here than you could shake an Eisner Award at.

Jack: I thought it was a great story! Did you notice how the cover depicts a scene that is exactly the opposite of what happens in the story? On the cover, the old woman covers for Hans while he cowers in the crawl space; in the story, she does not hesitate to tell them where she thinks he is, but he is already gone. I found the kindness of the French peasants very interesting, though even the ones with sight should have recognized him for an Enemy Ace.

Peter: Jon, the Viking Prince, "Fighting Fury of the Frozen Fjords!," has his most monumental task before him: to figure out what's been tearing apart the fishermen's nets before they turn their backs on Jon and look to villainous Ulric for leadership. A dive to the bottom of the ocean uncovers a hidden cave where dwells a T. Rex (well, I think it's a T. Rex . . . let's just say it is for argument's sake). Jon discovers that the monster has been reaching its arm through a small hole and nabbing the nets. Advising his men to fish in another locale, the Viking Prince is confident he's secured enough votes for re-election but the evil Ulric destroys the monster's lair, freeing him! The dinosaur goes wild, destroying the village, until Jon uses fire to beat the beast back into the water. It has a go at Ulric's ship and Jon tries to save the crafty and downright nasty Ulric but "The Monster of the Viking Sea!" pulls the vessel and its master to the bottom of the ocean. Another rip-roaring and absolutely delightful fantasy from the Haney/Kubert team. I wonder if Ulric popped up in the next installment as if nothing happened, a la the good old Golden Age of DC Storytelling. Sadly, this is the last of the Viking Prince reprints as, next issue, SSWS tries something new and (hopefully) exciting.

Dinosaurs and Vikings.
What's not to like?

Jack: The cover blurb says that this story is from the Golden Age of Comics, but I think that's pushing it--1957 was the Silver Age! Maybe the Ages weren't quite so well-defined as of 1970. Whatever the case, the story is fun and Kubert's art is excellent.

Peter: Finally, Ric Estrada educates us to the battle that saved Paris in "The Marne," a history lesson that, thankfully, doesn't take long to digest. Circulation statement shows that SSWS sold an average of 149,170 copies a month during 1969, down from 170,310 the year before. Let's hope Joe Kubert's big experiment (commencing next issue) is a success or we'll have one less title to cover. Oh, who am I fooling? It's a fairly successful test but I'll tell you more in our next issue.

Jack: I like these short stories by Ric Estrada mainly because I hope to learn a bit more about famous battles without expending too much effort. That said, I didn't really follow this one and I think there might be more to the story than could fit in such a short space.

More from "3 Coincidences Too Many!"

G.I. Combat 141

"Let Me Live . . . Let Me Die!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Sea Devil!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #65, January 1959)

"Churchill at Omdurman"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: While at an ammo depot, the men of the Jeb Stuart meet an African-American G.I. with a chip on his shoulder. Without the time to investigate further, the boys roll the Haunted Tank toward their destination: a valley currently held by Sgt. Rock and Easy Company but about to be visited by a load of Krauts. Seemingly just as the Haunted Tank rolls in, the fireworks begin. Our side makes a dent but the tank is out of ammo and Rock orders his buddy, Jeb, to head back to the depot for more ammo. When the men get to the depot, they find it's been blown to hell and the only survivor is the man with a grudge. He helps the boys load up as much ammo as is salvageable and then boards the tank, telling Jeb he's eager to hit the spots where bullets are flying instead of being a "delivery boy." On the way back to the valley, the tank is attacked by a Focke-Wulf and Jeb is wounded; the new recruit takes over and machine guns the plane until it explodes into a ball of fire. The tank gets back to Easy just as the boys are taking on heavy fire from the Ratzis but, with the tenacious willpower of the "delivery boy," the Jeb and Easy defeat the powers of evil. Unfortunately, our new hero is fatally wounded and dies in Jeb's arms. "We didn't even know his name," remarks one of the crew. Answers the commander: "All you've got to know is . . . he was--a man!"

"Sea Devil"
"Let Me Live... Let Me Die!" is a good, solid drama that doesn't ramp up the preachiness (yes, we know the man is black but the color of his skin is pretty much irrelevant here, other than his placing in the depot) and what could have been a schmaltzy climax is, instead, a very moving scene thanks to the stellar art of Russ Heath. I know I'm continually saying this, but Heath seems to top himself with each successive art job. The man's work is absolutely mesmerizing.

Jack: I wasn't as impressed with Heath's work on this story, but I was impressed by Kanigher's script. The black soldier on the cover being held is shown only from the shoulders down, and the story itself seems subtler than what we sometimes read from DC "message" comics of this era. The soldier's wish to die like a man is coded language that would have meant more to readers in 1970 than it does to us today.

Peter: The "Sea Devil!," a brand-spanking-new German U-Boat, can move up, down, and sideways with ease, making it virtually impossible to destroy, and the commander of a US destroyer is finding that out the hard way. But arrogance can be a U-Boat captain's undoing and that's just what kills the Sea Devil in the end. What a great story! If this wasn't a reprint, it would definitely find a place in my Top Five this year thanks to Haney's exciting script and Mort Drucker's cinematic art. What I liked was that the Captain of the destroyer used a bit of training and a whole lot of luck to gain the upper hand.

Jack: Mort Drucker's art carried this story for me, though I really like the final panels. After the Nazi captain spends the entire story boasting that his sub can move in any direction, the well-aimed (with a lot of luck involved) drop of an anchor sends the U-boat one way: "And down . . . down . . . down plummeted the Sea Devil . . . in only . . . one direction . . ." It's too bad we don't see more Bob Haney scripts.


Peter: Ric Estrada's "Churchill at Omdurman" chronicles a battle the future British Prime Minister took part in against the Dervishes that resulted in the British reclaiming the Sudan. These little bits of military history can be very entertaining; this one a bit less so (and yet I'm quick to point out that I'm not sure why it left me cold--it just did, sorry). Estrada's art remains solid and, until I've seen proof somewhere, I'll continue to believe that Estrada was responsible for the scripts as well.

Jack: I'm as big a fan of Winston Churchill as anyone, but this brief exercise in Colonial might also left me cold. Perhaps it was the unfairness of using a gun against opponents armed with swords.

More Heath!

Our Fighting Forces 124

"Losers Take All!"
Story by Joe Kubert
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

Story by Jerry DeFuccio
Art by John Severin

Jack: Captain Storm pilots a small boat across the English Channel to France, taking Gunner, Sarge, and Johnny Cloud along with him. Once ashore, they enter a forest and find an abandoned WWI plane, which Cloud uses to fly them to a small village, where the Nazis are holding a king prisoner. The mission of the Losers is to rescue the king! After hiding the plane, they are ambushed by Nazis guarding the castle, but an exchange of gunfire wipes out the Nazis.

The Losers enter the castle and find that the king is just a boy in short pants. They fashion makeshift parachutes out of drapes and leap out of the tower window where the King is held, floating safely to the moat below and then swimming fast to avoid Nazi gunfire as they make for the nearby village. A huge statue of Adolf Hitler holding a sword has been erected in the village square, and the Losers blow it up, the pieces burying approaching Nazi forces. Next morning, American troops arrive to take the king home, and the Losers are on the way to their next adventure.

As I read "Losers Take All!" two things occurred to me: this series follows the same pattern as Hunter's Hellcats, and we're in for a long slog. The Hellcats were a bunch of misfits who were put together as a team and given impossible assignments. How is that different from the Losers? The only difference I see is that the Losers are established characters while the Hellcats were not. Joe Kubert has written some good stories in the past but this one reads as if he cranked it out of the Kanigher automatic war story machine. And don't even get me started on Andru and Esposito. My only hope is that soon they'll be too busy with Spider-Man to handle DC War chores as well.

"Losers Take All!"

Peter: Though I held out hope this new series would be something different, I'm afraid it's living up to its title. The plot (never mind the concept of the series for a moment) makes little sense--you've got an important job, so you send your biggest schmucks? I thought the fact that the king was a tyke was a nice twist but then the poor little runt gets sideswiped by Andru and Esposito and comes out looking like a ventriloquist's doll. Well, folks, at least there are only another 46 "Losers" to wade through.

Jack: In Afghanistan in the 1880s, British Sgt. Patrick Tubridy tells a reporter visiting from London a "Parable!" A young man named Shelley had impressed onlookers in London with his ability to walk a high wire strung above the street, so when he was sent to Afghanistan he repeated his act for the tribal chieftains. He was later discharged and went to live with the locals, who thought him a holy man because he cured their ills. They decided to murder him, thinking he would be even more useful to them in Paradise, and took him up into the hills and cut open his belly. He did not die right away, though, and British soldiers found him and brought him back to the fort. When asked how his wound was, he quoted Shakespeare, and was thus identified as an Englishman.

Coincidentally, we are reading EC War Comics every other week and we've seen plenty of work by Severin and a few stories by DeFuccio. Severin is a fine technical artist and the pages look impressive, but the story is a bit dull.

Peter: The back-up is another story altogether, thank goodness. You'd be excused for thinking you'd wandered into a Harvey Kurtzman-scripted EC War title (especially since you're greeted by the friendly visuals of John Severin) while reading "Parable!" It's so unlike anything we've seen in a DC war comic yet and I'm hoping it's a sign of things to come. Severin's art is gorgeous and a high-class touch after wading through the Ross + Mike muck; I love love love that panel of the two men resting on the porch, the sergeant casually looking back over his shoulder at his guest. It rings as such a captured moment of real life, doesn't it?

Our Army at War 219

"Yesterday's Hero!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Russ Heath

"Follow Sgt. Gruggles"
Story Uncredited
Art by Fred Ray

Jack: The latest replacement soldier to join Easy Co. is P.F.C. Duncan, formerly a hero in Baker Co. After leading the way during the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach, he went on to destroy two enemy tanks on his own, but when he was sent out on a recon mission with three other men he was the only one to come back alive. As Rock and co. head off to hold a town at an important crossroads, Duncan tells his new sergeant that he only looks out for himself.

"Yesterday's Hero!"
After reaching the town, "Yesterday's Hero!" does not take part in a group action by Easy Co. to defeat Nazi snipers by pushing a flaming wagon of hay straight into them. Duncan admits to Rock that he's a fraud who only looks out for himself and Rock lectures him by stating that they are all doing the same thing but that they realize that looking out for each other is the best way to protect themselves. Assigned to keep watch in a bell tower, Duncan sees Nazi tanks approaching and opens fire on them, giving the rest of Easy Co. time to attack and knock them out. The bell tower is leveled but Duncan survives, having learned a valuable lesson about the importance of teamwork.

Fairly standard Sgt. Rock fare, this is a rare story where the writer has not been credited in the GCD. I suspect it's Joe Kubert, since he wrote the story in the prior issue, but we can't know for certain. It's a shame Kubert's editorial duties keep him from drawing these stories as well; Heath is fine and all, but I'd rather see Kubert doing Sgt. Rock.

Peter: PFC Duncan's story seems rushed, which is a shame since it held my interest. The boys note that Duncan must be Clark Kent looking for a phone booth and, after he survives a direct tank hit while he's in the tower, I'm inclined to believe that.

"Follow Sgt. Gruggles"
Jack: In the Civil War, Union troops "Follow Sgt. Gruggles" as he leads them to take Missionary Ridge. Private Tom Cort thinks Gruggles is mad, based on the fervor with which he attacks the enemy's position, but he is grateful for the sergeant's help when Gruggles saves Cort's life at the last minute. Next day, the same soldiers have to take the same ridge again because of a mistake in identification the prior day. They are defeated and thrown in prison, but when Gruggles plans a dangerous escape, Cort volunteers to sacrifice himself to ensure that the effort is a success. Cort distracts the guards, everyone else gets out, and Gruggles admits that Cort was a brave man.

This is a good story that survives Fred Ray's pedestrian art. Perhaps the anti-war sentiment in the air in 1970 led to more downbeat tales such as this appearing in the DC War comics; it seems like we're seeing more and more where the heroes and villains aren't so easy to distinguish and where the good guys don't always get out alive.

Peter: "Follow Sgt. Gruggles" tells a tough, violent story but it's illustrated by Fred Ray and we know from experience that that's not good. Ray doesn't seem to have any kind of style; it's all slapdash and shaky and very distracting. The remaining circulation numbers come out this month (Our Army's numbers appeared in the March issue) and, across the board, the news was not good for the DC war titles. Below are the numbers for 1969 and then 1968, showing the drastic drops in some of the books. That drop would continue on into the 1970s.

                                                                        1969                         1968

G.I. COMBAT                                               186,264                    209,640
OUR ARMY AT WAR                                  180,137                    189,221
OUR FIGHTING FORCES                           133,154                    158,350            
STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES             149,170                    170,310

Next Week . . .
Ray Bradbury takes us on the
Million-Year Picnic!

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