Monday, November 13, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 117: April/May 1971

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Our Army at War 231

"My Brother's Keeper"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"In the Frying Pan!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: A group of young, new replacement soldiers join up with Easy Co. and Rock takes Private Danny Anderson under his wing because the young man reminds him of his kid brother Eddie. After their father died, Rock looked after Eddie, who wasn't much good at sports but took up with a motorcycle gang and died in an accident during a rally at Devil's Ridge. Seeing Eddie in Danny, Rock tries to protect the soldier from harm until Easy Co. has to clear a bombed-out building in a ruined town. Trying to stop an anti-tank gun on his own, Danny is killed and Rock tells the dead young man that he is proud of him.

"My Brother's Keeper"
When I see a three-plus page long flashback in the middle of a fourteen-page story, I take notice. "My Brother's Keeper" is most interesting when looking back at Rock's younger years, when he had to be the man of the house after his father died in a mine accident. What's really strange to me is the one-panel mention of Rock's other brother, who was a high school football star. We get a lot about Rock looking after young Eddie but next to nothing about the third Rock. He seems to have dark hair but wait--wasn't Rock's brother Larry Rock, the Fighting Devil Dog, who saw red due to shrapnel in his head? A quick look online tells me that Kanigher screwed up Rock's chronology more than once and some kind and dedicated young readers tried to make it all work out. We do not take that approach here! We pride ourselves on Gotcha! moments.

The U.S.S. Stevens sets out for its first voyage in 1943 and reaches Pearl Harbor, where the sailors are immediately thrown "In the Frying Pan!" Planes fly off on a bombing mission and return in various states of disrepair, giving the new men on the Stevens their first taste of the ravages of war. This is a middling entry in the Stevens saga, with Glanzman doing nice work to show the effect that initial exposure to battle can have on new sailors. The most interesting part of this series is the sense that it's more reporting than fiction, as lived by the creator.

"In the Frying Pan!"

Peter: Another month, another sea of green replacements, but at least this entry in the Rock saga comes with some of the Sarge's back story, bits of which we've seen glimpses of in the past. So, Rock was a miner and had two brothers. Let's add that to the biography notes we've taken and see if, years later, Big Bob doesn't report that Rock was an orphan. Russ's art is dazzling as usual; I've run out of exclamations for Heath's work so will just let the evidence speak for itself. "Frying Pan" is another interesting U.S.S. Stevens vignette but I'd prefer it if, now and then, Sam would have written a larger piece with an actual plot.

G.I. Combat 147

"Rebel Tank"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Sniper's Roost!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #71, July 1959)

"Tin Pot Listening Post!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #70, June 1959)

"Broomstick Pilot!"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by John Severin
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #69, April 1958)

"Battle Window!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #36, August 1956)

"Target for an Ammo Boy!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #71, July 1959)

Peter: After a particularly grueling tank battle, in which the men of the Jeb Stuart watch their C.O. lose his life, the ghost of General Jeb Stuart appears before his descendant and vows, before the day is over, that the young man will be fighting on the same side as the spook. Though the message is, as usual, nonsensical when delivered, the gist of the warning becomes clear before too long when the boys run across the tank commanded by Major Bragg, a nut who still believes the South's Gonna Rise Again and that Jeb Stuart is a yellow-belly who let his commander die and stole his name from a Rebel legend. Bragg immediately assigns the boys of the Jeb to what amounts to K-P duty, running errands and rearming the other tanks "after the shootin's over." But, as we all know, Jeb Stuart and his men are made of sterner stuff and it's not long before they're saving Bragg's bacon and completely changing the Major's attitude about "damn yankees." A whole lot of nothin' goin' on here, as Major Bragg might say. Yes, we have Russ's fabulous imaginings to keep us entertained through "Rebel Tank," but the script smells awfully tired. The idea that a nut like Bragg is in command isn't exactly new (and it would reach its peak several years later in Apocalypse Now) but Bragg seems nothing more than a cliche and his 180 degree turnaround at the climax is one of Big Bob's oldest and moldiest tricks.

When we were kids, we dug dug dug these sixty-eight page "giants" and, to an extent, we still do, but what a racket this package was. Original page count plummets to fourteen, yet the cover touts this as "Two Magazines in One!" Be that as it may, the reprint selection this issue isn't that bad. Two of the golden oldies, "Sniper's Roost!" and "Target for an Ammo Boy!" received high marks from Jack and me way back when we covered them. "Broomstick Pilot!," about a stubborn pilot who bucks his C.O. and flies his fort very close to the ground to avoid flak, suffers from too much inking over Severin's work. I swear there are panels (such as the one reprinted to the right) here that look like Howard Chaykin's work. There's not much of John to be discerned here. "Battle Window!" is another of Bog Bob's run-that-phrase-right-into-the-ground time-wasters with typically amateurish work from Andru and Esposito. Though I will say that I thought A/E used an interesting perspective to get their idea across in the panels below. Nice break from the monotony.

Jack: I could not decide whether the artwork on that page was creative or just cheating! This issue is one of the weaker ones we've seen in quite a while, with 14 pages of new story and the rest reprints. I did not know our Jeb Stuart was a Yankee but it's ridiculous that a Southern commander would strip him of his command. There is also a one-panel cameo by Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. that serves no purpose. Kanigher's story lacks interest and Heath's art is uninspired. I agree with you about Severin's art on "Broomstick Pilot!" being far from his best work--we've seen enough of his efforts in the E.C. comics to know that he could do better than this, and this story was from 1958, not long after the EC stories we've been reading. In "Battle Window!" the first look we get at our hero makes him look like a dead ringer for Frank Sinatra and I wondered whether there is any profession that Kanigher has not used to tell a war story--this guy's a window washer who's sick of windows and, wouldn't you know it, he sees plenty of windows when he goes to war. Yawn.

Our Fighting Forces 130

"Nameless Target"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Three Graves to Eternity"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

Jack: Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels gets on the radio and challenges the Allies to attack Rouen Beach in France, certain that the invasion will fail. He does not know about the planned attack at Normandy, so the Losers are given the task of acting as decoys, flying a bomber that is towing a series of empty gliders toward Rouen. The Nazis must be distracted from the area of Normandy, where commando frogmen will sneak ashore to chart enemy defenses before the real invasion.

Of course, things don't go well for the Losers. The Nazis shoot down the bomber and the Losers are captured and taken aboard a Nazi ship for questioning. They manage to set fire to the ship and take it over briefly, but it is soon torpedoed and they reach land, where they sneak into a small village. This "Nameless Target" turns out to be a camouflaged supply town, and when a warehouse full of arms blows up the Losers are able to get away with some help from French resistance fighters. Back in England, they are told that their diversion worked and the scouting of Normandy was a success.

Looks like Kubert drew Capt. Storm in this panel
Joe Kubert lends a big hand to Ross and Mike in this installment and it definitely helps the artwork, but Kanigher's story is all over the place, seeming to trade any sort of characterization or plot for a series of quick battles and explosions. One thing troubles me: the Losers' mission succeeds, but by the end of the story they're still whining about being losers! Their big complaint is that they don't know the name of the town where the arms blew up. Who cares? Mission accomplished! Cheer up, guys!

In the North African desert during WWII, the men of Dog Company come upon the graves of three soldiers. Who were they? In a flashback, we see that they were the three Anderson brothers, who were making their way toward Dog Company as replacement soldiers. Inseparable since their youth, the brothers are killed one by one fighting off Nazi advances and keeping the enemy from reaching Dog Company. Red is killed first and buried by his brothers. Hank follows, and Rooster buries him, then digs his own grave and stands in it until he, too, is killed.

Russ Heath's art is very strong in "Three Graves to Eternity" and helps take a run of the mill Kanigher plot and elevate it to make an entertaining work. One question, though--who filled in Rooster's grave? He dies standing in it but when Dog Company arrives it's been covered over. Was it the work of sympathetic Nazis?

Nice work by Heath!
In the letters column, editor Kubert remarks that Pooch enlisted at age 17 and is now taking a well-deserved rest, presumably due to old age. The Kubert cover is very sharp and is yet another good example of the late '60s/early '70s DC cover style where a person or a group of people think they are safe and don't realize that they are about to face something awful.

Peter: Yet another ridiculous installment in what's shaping up to be the worst DC war series we've had to endure on this long journey (yes, even worse than Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch!), complete with bad one-liners, endless reminders of the group's moniker, and the requisite shot of Captain Storm taking lead in his wooden leg. Wouldn't machine gun fire blow his timber into so much balsa wood? Oh, and let's not forget the contribution of Andru and Esposito. Second thought, let's forget it. At least we have something to look forward to (hopefully) when John Severin begins his long association with "The Losers" next issue. In his excellent overview of Severin's non-EC work (in Squa Tront #11), writer John Garcia comments that "The Losers" series has "a feel for visual storytelling (if not plausibility)" and promises that the upcoming run is "Severin at his peak." I'm intrigued. With "Three Graves to Eternity," Big Bob takes one of the oldest DC War plots (the brothers who are all assigned to the same company) and caps it with a poignant final scene, rescuing the story from sliding into the same old cliche and, instead, tugging at the heart strings. I would question whether a hail of bullets would have covered Rooster with a layer of soil but . . .

Star Spangled War Stories 156

Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert

"A Dream Came True!"
(Original Title: "Slowpoke Spad"
Reprinted from Our Army at War #154, May 1965)

Peter: The Unknown Soldier is assigned to his most difficult masquerade ever: Adolf Hitler! US is told of an "Assassination" plot from within the Reich, so he dons a mask of downed Luftwaffe pilot Helmut Knauss and infiltrates the Wolf's Lair, where (he's been told) a super-secret meeting between Hitler and his top brass will take place. When he gets to the bunker, our hero discards the Knauss and pops on his Hitler disguise, easily fooling the guards. Once inside the Lair, US plants a bomb but, unfortunately, his plans go awry when the real Hitler shows up and discovers there's an impersonator in the ranks. Meanwhile, Col. Von Stauffenberg, one of "Germany's military aristocracy," plants his bomb and makes a quick getaway. Now back in his Knauss get-up, the Soldier also tries to make a quick exit but is stopped at the gate by a clever guard who never saw Knauss enter the compound! One of the bombs blows and the Soldier is able to escape. Hitler is understandably upset and orders the execution of everyone he suspects of having had a hand in the plot, including Von Stauffenberg. Disguised as an old woman, the Unknown Soldier slips across the border to safety.

Melding real-life intrigue and espionage with a little super-hero melodrama, "Assassination" is a fun little dive into history. Of course, I'm constantly wondering how US can make such incredible latex head pieces that everyone around him is fooled but if you don't go with the flow, there's no show. I like that the Unknown Soldier strip, like the much-missed Enemy Ace before it, highlights the "darker aspects" of war, such as Hitler's mad, murderous, paranoid cleansing spree, killing off his most trusted men (most of whom were still loyal to the nut) while searching for the traitor. The panel of the hanged "traitors" is pretty dark stuff. A variation of this story (sans the Unknown Soldier, of course), is the film, Valkyrie, with Tom Cruise. I am digging this series.

Jack: Me too! The story has a very good opening sequence, where US's contact is killed in a London bombing, and I love the bandaged-face look that Kubert has settled on now that the series is really underway. The story is only 11 pages long and seems to be wrapped up too abruptly but I enjoyed US's multiple disguises.

Our Army at War 232

"3 Men in a Tub!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Buck Taylor You Can't Fool Me!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Marching through southern Italy, Easy Co. is attacked by a jeep driven by what are surely Nazis. Yet when Rock and his men destroy the vehicle with a well-placed shot from a bazooka, they discover that the three riders are actually Italian soldiers who claim that they were forced to fight alongside the Nazis and now want to join up with the Americans.

The Italians turn out to have surprising talents. One is a former shoemaker and he fixes Bulldozer's shoe. Another is a chef and he makes a tasty meal for the troops. The third keeps insisting that they are all good soldiers, too, despite what everyone thinks. These "3 Men in a Tub!" help Rock sneak into Cortina Castle and seem to turn on him before switching sides once again and machine gunning every Nazi they see. As the foursome goes up in an elevator, they blow away Nazis on every level until they reach the castle's roof, where the entire pile blows sky high. Fortunately, Rock and the Italians are safe on a tower and the third man finally reveals his special talent, singing an aria into the night as the flames crackle around him.

"3 Men in a Tub!" shoot a lot of Nazis!

An above-average Easy Co. story with above-average art, this is a rare tale where the guest stars are not replacement soldiers or boyhood pals. The three Italians are something new and Kanigher's treatment of them is both sensitive and entertaining.

"Buck Taylor You Can't Fool Me!" is what the Doc on the U.S.S. Stevens says when the title sailor fashions himself a long knife and begins to assume the personality of Captain Bligh. After some hi jinks, he is discharged as a nut. Sam Glanzman is at his best here, and his art is better than usual, especially in the large face of Buck Taylor reproduced here.

Buck Taylor can't fool us either!
Peter: Both stories this issue have a humorous side to them. "3 Men in a Tub!" could be a Three Stooges skit if not for the deadly Nazi menace. Incredible that Big Bob resisted using the old Eye-Talian accent for his three dopes ("Im-a cook-a. I like-a de spicee meataballas!") but anyone could see the "surprise" ending coming. "Buck Taylor" is one of my favorite U.S.S. Stevens entries yet and I can't tell you why. Captain Bligh is a little crazier than Corporal Klinger and you have to wonder why they kept a possible powder keg aboard for so long.

And . . . it's that time of the year again when we present and discuss circulation figures, those fabulously fascinating numbers that spell doom for comic books. The news was no better for 1970 than it was for 1969 as all four titles showed significant drops (the worst being Star Spangled, which plummeted a whopping ten per cent in copies sold). Don't hold your breath hoping the trend is bucked when the figures are in for the new "Giant" packages.

                                                                   1970               1969     
G.I. COMBAT                                          178,363          186,264      
OUR ARMY AT WAR                             171,510          180,137
OUR FIGHTING FORCES                    139,770          133,154
STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES      136,204          149,170

Next Week . . .
More Family Fun
As the Golden Age of EC Begins to Wind Down

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