Monday, October 30, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 116: February/March 1971

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Our Army at War 228

"It's a Dirty War!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Brave Soldiers!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: After 26 days of fighting near a German forest, Easy Co. has to hunker down and Sgt. Rock goes on patrol in the woods by himself. He is ambushed by a German soldier and kills the man after a fight but is dismayed to discover that the soldier was a 17 year old boy. Rock takes the boy's wallet to turn in for identification and finds a letter from the soldier's younger brother, with a photo of the boy and his father.

When the C.O. orders Rock and some of his men back to the command post to rest, Rock sets off alone through the woods again, determined to deliver the dead soldier's letter to his little brother. Surviving several attacks, Rock delivers the letter and is nearly caught by a Nazi patrol right after he leaves; however, the dead soldier's little brother sends the Nazis in the wrong direction and tells Rock that his brother wrote that Hitler lied. Rock later finishes off the patrol with a grenade and heads to the command post.

I could probably count on one hand the number of Sgt. Rock stories where the writing equaled or was better than the art, but this is one of them. Rock's decision to hand-deliver the dead soldier's letter is a bit strange, and I have no idea how he located the house, but there is a real sense of compassion in his actions. Kubert's art is not up to his usual standard, though, and is so scratchy in spots that I wonder if someone else inked it.

Back in the Civil War, Union cavalry soldiers are heading to destroy General Lee's supply depot and the only soldiers in the area are 33 young cadets spending the summer at the military academy. An old colonel leads them into position and they manage to hold off the Union soldiers with rifle fire for three hours while a message is taken to Stonewall Jackson. When the Union soldiers realize they've killed children, they give them a decent burial. All of this allows the message to reach Jackson in time.

Ric Estrada's simplistic art is not what we're used to seeing, but this is Bob Kanigher's second decent story in this issue and it shares the theme of children being killed in wartime with the Sgt. Rock tale. The story is entertaining, despite the art, and moves along quickly.

Peter: We get a pretty strong Rock this issue, poignant without being maudlin. I do wonder how it is that these Nazis are such bad shots after they pin down Rock twice, have him sighted in their cross hairs, but allow the Sarge time to pull out pineapples, pop the tops, and toss them. This happens twice in "It's a Dirty War!" and probably an average of 1.8 times per story over the life of the strip. I liked the little nuances of "The Brave Soldiers!" (especially the bickering between siblings), which felt like a chapter from a larger work. Nice irony in the climax when the Union men help bury the Rebs, helping to accomplish Sgt. Calder's goal.

G.I. Combat 146

"Move the World"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Hickory-Foot Soldier!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #13, September 1956)

"A Flower for the Front!"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #5, July 1955)

"The Secret Battle Eye!"
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #66, February 1962)

"The Bug That Won an Island!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #125, December 1962)

"Battle Tags for Easy Co."
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #120, July 1962)

Peter: The crew of the Haunted Tank are stuck in a muddy ravine while a kill-crazy Nazi tank awaits up on the ledge. Our heroes get out of the Jeb Stuart and apply elbows and lead pipes in order to free the sunken tank. Up above, the Nazi commander orders his men to head into the ravine on foot and "obliterate" the Jeb. Just as the men advance, the Haunted Tank comes free and fires a deadly round at the stinkin' Nazis; they then turn tail and escape before the entire German army can blast them to hell.   Undeterred, the Nazi convoy dogs the Jeb, firing but missing. Jeb Stuart (tank commander) receives an order from the C.O. to head to Fort Solitary on the double and defend the base "at all costs." Along the way, the boys run across a lone G.I. holding off dozens of Germans and give the kid a ride to the Fort. When they arrive, they are stunned to see the base has been reduced to smoking rubble. Just then, the Nazi convoy rolls up and begins firing but the boys have a surprise waiting for these cocky Germans: they manage to disconnect the tank turret from the Jeb, essentially granting two firing positions, and blow the vermin sky high.

And More Heath!
"Move the World" is a perfectly good action yarn but there's not much of a plot. That's okay though because we don't always need a lot of motivation and extra characters (the stranded G.I. provides nothing more than an excuse to stage some decent battle scenes) to get in the way of some fabulous Russ Heath art. One thing I'm noticing now that we've entered the 1970s is that the violence in these war stories has escalated; there's a scene here where the boys of the Jeb mow down a handful of Nazis with machine-gun fire (Jeb calls it a "hit and run"). War stories should be violent and I'm glad that restraints have eased, even if only by a hair. It ain't Two-Fisted Tales quite yet but there's a little more wiggle room.

"Hickory-Foot Soldier!"
A failed Olympic skier gets his second shot at glory when he must face an entire mountain of Nazis during his down-hill escape. I like World War II dramas set on skis and "Hickory-Foot Soldier!" is just my cup of tea. I'd never have known this was Kubert's work without the credit; it's early and raw (and looks more like Carmine Infantino to me). Four G.I.s try to save a "Flower for the Front!" from advancing German tanks. All seems to be lost until one of the Joes gets the bright idea of creating a diversion while he digs up the rose and replants it out of the path of the oncoming treads. Yep, you heard me right.

Jack: I'm not sure why they still call the lead series the "Haunted Tank," since by this time the ghost of J.E.B. Stuart is little more than a spectral cheerleader. "That's right boys! Give her the old heave-ho!" The story was basically wall-to-wall battle scenes but I found it uninvolving. The Kubert reprint has decent art but, again, minimal story, and the Andru and Esposito reprint is just another gimmick story with below average art. Below average is how I'd characterize this entire issue.

(imagine the sound of Peter sticking his finger down his throat)

Our Army at War 229

"The Battle of the Sergeants!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #128, March 1963)

"The Mouse and the Tiger!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #73, September 1958)

"The Fighting Blip!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #112, November 1961)

"Two Men--One Hill"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #96, July 1960)

"Surrender Ticket!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #149, December 1964)

Peter: The only "new" reprint (well, new to us at least), "The Mouse and the Tiger!" isn't a bad little suspenser but I've got one question that may make the whole affair moot: why doesn't the guy in the Tiger simply get out of his tank and capture the American rather than wait for his pretty-slow Tiger to get to him? Happily, Ross and Mike don't have much in the way of contact with human characters here (mostly, just tanks and snow) so their art is much easier to swallow.

Jack: "The Mouse and the Tiger!" looked familiar and, lo and behold, it was reprinted in Our Army at War 134 (September 1963) and we covered it here. We both liked it then.

The cover of this issue looks familiar for some reason.

One thing I like in this giant-sized collection of reprints is the framing sequence by Joe Kubert, which I've reproduced below. These are the first and last story pages of the issue.

Our Fighting Forces 129

"Ride the Nightmare"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Ironclad! Man Your Guns!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Fred Ray

Jack: The Losers are in wartime London and Johnny Cloud is troubled by recurring nightmares and episodes of violent behavior. His upbringing on the reservation left him with a belief that he should protect his fellow man, yet he holds himself responsible for the loss of the other pilots in his squad.

Meanwhile, the Losers are assigned the task of extricating a prisoner from a German concentration camp. It seems that the man has been forced to allow the blueprint for a Nazi terror rocket to be tattooed on his back. The Losers parachute in behind enemy lines and machine gun their way into a farmhouse near the camp to rescue the prisoner. They stumble upon a camouflaged Nazi rocket and the prisoner gives his life to save the Losers after a Nazi tosses a potato masher their way. The Losers destroy the rocket but lament their inability to rescue the prisoner without having him die.

Gene Kelly? Anita Ekberg?
"Ride the Nightmare" is an utter mess of a script but the art by Ross and Mike is surprisingly good. The Losers spend the first half of the story in London during the Blitz, which makes no sense, since we know they were fighting in Europe and the Pacific for years before getting together and the Blitz ended in 1941, before U.S. soldiers even shipped out. Johnny's nightmare flashbacks to the reservation are more interesting than the usual flashbacks, where he typically fights a brave who later turns up in his unit, but when the story switches to the rescue of the prisoner it goes off the rails. Why have the Nazis tattooed the blueprints on this man's back? Why do the Allies want the man? And what's with the Nazi rocket? It's all just a mess.

It's 1863, and on a Virginia river the order goes out: "Ironclad! Man Your Guns!" An armored Confederate ship is trying to get by a Union blockade and nearly succeeds until it is blown up by the heroic actions of a proto-frogman, who plants a bomb on its exposed wooden hull. He is rescued by a Confederate sailor and both are given medals by President Lincoln.

"C'mon people now,
smile on your brother--"
I think we can all agree that Fred Ray's art is not easy on the eye, and I had a bit of a tough time following who was who in this story, but it was kind of fun, despite the seemingly unlikely ending where Lincoln pins a medal on an unrepentant Confederate sailor.

Peter: Hard to believe but it seems as though the Losers series gets worse with every succeeding installment. The art is haphazard (as is most of A+E's DC war work) and the script is dopey as hell. I love the panel when, after we've been served up eight pages of goofy Cloud antics (dancing in the fountain at Trafalgar Square is a high point), the Losers' C.O. says, "If you feel one of you might crack because he's been under too much pressure--name him!" At least we didn't find out one of Cloud's compadres on the res put a delayed-reaction spell on him or that one of his old girlfriends was now hooked up with Rommel and the Nazis were coming for him. Johnny's dream, wherein his pop tells him that the white man was evil for taking the red man's land away but there are still good white folk out there somewhere, goes nowhere. What's the point? I was completely confused by the dual medal-grubbers of "Ironclad" (that might be chalked up to the simple art of Fred Ray) but interested by the iron boat aspect of the story.

Our Army at War 230

"Home is the Hunter"
Story by Joe Kubert
Art by Russ Heath

"Military Scout"
Story Uncredited
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Cause and Cure!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Trudging through the winter snow in Italy looking for Nazis, Rock and the men of Easy Co. encounter a funeral procession and the tracks of a giant bear. The local villagers report that the Nazis fled before the Americans arrived but left behind a curse, calling on the Demon of the Black Forest to kill anyone who helped the U.S. soldiers. Four villagers have been killed so far and, when Bulldozer is mauled by the creature while on night watch, Little Sure Shot sets out alone to use his Native American tracking skills to find and kill the behemoth.

Tracking the lumbering beast to a cave, Little Sure Shot is captured by a group of Nazis and discovers that the bear is really a man in a bear suit. Just as he's about to make Little Sure Shot his next victim, the rest of Easy Co. bursts into the cave, spraying machine gun fire and ending the menace to the villagers.

The Nazi in the bear suit is a true method actor,
wandering through the woods on all fours even
when no one is watching!

Russ Heath provides very nice artwork in "Home Is the Hunter," but the story is little better than what one might see on a Saturday morning cartoon. Sgt. Rock provides some unexpected sarcasm in the opening narration when he comments that the army is "noted for placin' the right man in the right job" and then gives examples of the opposite. Also, when Little Sure Shot is in the cave, why would the big Nazi in the bear suit put the bear head back on before advancing on the American soldier? It allows Heath to draw subsequent panels with Little Sure Shot fighting a bear, but it makes no sense!

In "Military Scout," Sgt. Rock gives the reader tips on how to be a scout and then provides a page on which we can look for hidden enemies.

Find the hidden enemies!

Finally, "Cause and Cure!" is another incident involving the U.S.S. Stevens. This time, a mail ship suddenly blows up near where a causeway is being built, and the commander of the Stevens deduces that the other ship was destroyed by Japanese frogmen, who are quickly captured. This is an average entry in the series and I sometimes find these a bit hard to follow and have to read them carefully more than once.

Taking enemy prisoners with respect.
Peter: If there's one thing I can't stand it's a "Scooby-Doo" story. Don't tease me with "Demons of the Dark Forest" only to reveal it's a guy in a bear suit (following a really stupid plan, I might add). I hate that. And can someone tell me why FauxBear murdered the civilians of the village but took it easy on Bulldozer? Back when I was in Junior High (I think the Beatles might have still been together), we used to get handouts from Scholastic with puzzles and little factoids. Sans the puzzles, of course, that's what Sam Glanzman's U.S.S. Stevens series is reminding me of. There's no real story and a lot of it seems like it's coming out of the man's head in a random stream (and dropping on the paper in the same way) but it's . . . informative and boatloads more interesting than most of the other back-up strips.

Star Spangled War Stories 155

"Invasion Game!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Hunter . . . and the Hunted"
(Partial reprint from DC Showcase #58, October 1965)

Peter: The Unknown Soldier has a new mission: to parachute into a small French town near the Belgian border and rendezvous with the mysterious resistance fighter known as Chat Noir! Drop successful and taking on the guise of an old man known only as "the Salesman," the Soldier is immediately pulled to the side by Nazis while strolling through town. Thankfully, the Nazi who grabs him is one of our guys and the faux-Nazi leads "the Salesman" to the lair of Chat Noir! The US is surprised to see the rebel is an African-American but even more surprised that this man has a mighty chip on his shoulder. Once a top Sergeant in the army, Noir is convinced he was given a bum deal and court-martialed; the Salesman must convince the man that D-Day is three days away and preparations must be made for the "Invasion Game!" At that moment, the lair is attacked and Chat and the Soldier must flee, barely escaping Nazi gun-fire. Rendezvousing later with his men, the freedom fighter learns all about the upcoming attack: on June 5th, Allies will storm the beaches and it's up to Chat Noir and his men to take the Nazi stronghold at Fleur-Le-Duc. At first resisting the order but finally giving in, Chat agrees to take part in the massive raid. The fifth of June arrives and Chat's men storm and take control of the stronghold but the promised invasion never comes. What does arrive is half the German army and a bloody battle ensues. Only Chat and the Soldier escape. The Unknown Soldier explains that the information was intentionally false and that the real invasion will take place on the 6th. The German army will never know what hit them.

I'm really confused about a whole lot of things that make this story "work." First, what exactly is our hero's mission? To seek out Chat Noir and then give him bad intel? For what purpose? To test him? Surely, if the Nazis found out about the 5th of June (the faux-date for D-Day given to Chat by the Salesman) from one of Chat's men that would have come out in the story, right? It's not mentioned (but maybe sorta kinda hinted at) so I assume we're suppose to assume the Allies leaked the info to the Nazis themselves. If Chat was "railroaded into a court-martial," how'd he get back to France? And why would he fight for men who would run him into the ground because of his skin color? It's an engaging story nonetheless and it comes wrapped in a poignant bow (as the disgruntled Chat finds his inner soldier and comes to the realization that every man has his place in this war), delivered in a very pretty package. The splash and the two-page spread (above) that begin the issue are top-notch images and set the tone for the cloak-and-dagger hijinks that follow.

Jack: This is starting to feel like the Unknown Soldier I remember from long ago, where the man with the face wrapped in bandages takes on a new identity each issue, aided by amazingly lifelike rubber masks. Peter's comments on some confusing plot points are accurate but I also enjoyed this story and would have liked it to go on for a few more pages. Kubert's art is excellent and suggests that he may be inspired by having a new character to play around with.

Dept. of Shameless Plugs:
Next Week, we cast our eyes on the beauty known as
Woman Wonder!

From Our Fighting Forces 129

No comments: