Monday, November 27, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 118: June/July 1971

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Our Army at War 233

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Dwite Schaffner"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

"The Sapper"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: The newest replacement in Easy Co. is Johnny Doe, who grew up unwanted in an orphanage and now lives to kill Nazis. He doesn't care if they're fighting or not--he'll shoot them in the back and assume they were faking surrender. The men of Easy Co. are taken by the new tiger, but Sgt. Rock isn't sure he approves of Doe's kill-crazy approach. Doe volunteers to be point man on every patrol and likes to increase his "Head-Count" of dead Nazis every chance he gets. When Easy Co. reaches a bombed-out town called Alimy, a woman yells out of a window that she and other women and children are being held hostage. Doe climbs on the building's roof and is about to drop a grenade down the chimney and kill everyone when Rock shoots him, making the grenade go off in his hand and sparing the lives of the innocent hostages. "Was Johnny Doe a murderer--or a hero?" It's left up to the reader to decide.

The end of Johnny Doe
The last panel of this (and every) story in this issue features a circle with the words, "Make War No More" inside it, suggesting that the creators of the Sgt. Rock series are concerned about being seen as glorifying war in the midst of a national crisis about the war in Vietnam. Kanigher and Kubert present a fairly powerful story in this issue, but I think the art is not Kubert's best work and the story is a bit heavy-handed.

"Dwite Schaffner" was a soldier in WWI who led his men through the Argonne Forest seeking a German machine gun nest. He thinks he's captured the enemy when they surrender, but hidden reinforcements open fire and Lt. Schaffner goes wild, killing Germans like a one-man army. He was awarded a medal of honor for his bravery, but Norman Maurer does not deserve any medals for this story, which is poorly told and badly illustrated.

Joe Jingles is "The Sapper," who uses a metal detector to sweep for hidden mines. Another G.I. finds out that, when Joe removes a mine, he plants a flower in its place. This story is brief but pleasant, with a "flower-power" ethos that fits the mood of 1971.

"Dwite Schaffner" goes wild!

"We are but a moment's sunlight,
Fading in the grass."
Peter: "Head Count" is the justifiably famous Rock story recognized by the New York Times in 1971 and reprinted in Michael Uslan's America at War. Though Joe Kubert deliberately left cause of the death of Johnny Doe nebulous, Big Bob asserted (in an interview in The Comics Journal #85, October 1983) that when the Sarge "couldn't stop Doe after warning him, he shot him," and that "Rock was in character when he was forced to kill Doe to save the hostages." It's a very powerful fictionalization of a dark event in American history and a reminder that, when he's on, Big Bob is unbeatable at creating tension in a DC War tale. "Dwite Schaffner" might tell an interesting story of a valiant man but the artwork does Dwite no favors. When the "one-man army" charges in to clobber the army, he's drawn like a crazy man learning how to fly. "The Sapper" is more like a dictionary entry than a portrait of a mine sweeper. I prefer Glanzman's USS Stevens entries.

G.I. Combat 148

"The Gold-Plated General!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Blind Bomber!"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #84, August 1959)

"Cry 'Wolf' Mission!"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #91, July 1960)

"Soften 'Em Up!"
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #57, October 1960)

"Battle Window!"
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #102, November 1963)

Peter: General Jeb Stuart manages to wake his descendant, tank commander Jeb Stuart, just before the crew of the Haunted Tank are blown to smithereens by an advancing Nazi Tiger. The Jeb is hit and catches fire but the boys manage to regain their cool and jump into the tin can, playing dead. When the Tiger advances, our heroes blow the Nazis right to hell! After the excitement, the boys speed on home to meet their new C.O. Along the way, they stop for lunch and a jeep pulls alongside. Exiting the vehicle is "The Gold-Plated General!," the infamous General Norton, sporting his gold-plated pistols and ass-kicker boots. The General wastes no time letting the men know they're a bunch of slobs and things will change under his command. The boys think Norton is all bluster until they witness him wade into battle when the General leads his tanks against a fleet of German Tigers. "The Gold-Plated General!" is an action-filled fourteen pages of fun, the best Haunted Tank in quite a while. Norton is obviously a Patton clone and Big Bob seems to up his game for the occasion. The scene where the crew sit in the burning tank stretches believability but it's exciting nonetheless. Heath's art, especially in the big battle scene that climaxes the story, is as dynamic as always. Russ can't seem to hit a wrong note.

Jack: Patton was released early in 1970 and Heath models Norton after how George C. Scott looked in that film. This is a very entertaining story and quite a contrast to the mopey, Vietnam-era doom and gloom of "Head-Count" in this month's issue of Our Army at War. I have to hand it to Bob Kanigher--he could write stories that appealed to both hawks and doves! One other interesting note on this story is that the ghost gets involved in the events when he wakes Jeb up just in time and later returns to banter with his namesake about General Norton. It's good to see the ghost get a little more use for once.

Our Fighting Forces 131

"Half a Man"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and John Severin

"The New Hand!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #64, November 1957)

Peter: After a particularly bad week, Captain Storm (he of the wooden leg) spends most of his time whining and feeling sorry for himself. Seems he feels as though he's "Half a Man" just because a French resistance fighter and a sweet little madame were killed in his presence. The other Losers try to remind him of all the good things he's done, but Storm is inconsolable and would rather sit and reminisce about the entire crew he lost than enjoy a bit of dancing during a rare 24-hour pass. Luckily for Storm (and the other members of the team who are, frankly, sick to death of listening to this guy's moans and groans), the Losers are assigned to kidnap traitor Knut Verborg, who's being held by the legendary Nazi Major Von Strasser. The mission is just what Storm needs to get his mojo back. Well, sure, he smashes his leg just after they secret Verborg from his castle retreat and he's essentially worthless to the rest of the team and, yes, he has to endure the beatings of Von Strasser and his German apes but, in the end, the skipper somehow finds a modicum of pride amidst all the detritus.

Storm injures his wood

Well, since I'm an optimist, I'll address the good element of "Half a Man" first: John Severin swoops in and, for the most part, rescues us from the misery that was Andru and Esposito. Oh, sure, some of Ross peeks through now and then but the visuals this issue are the best the Losers have ever seen. Severin's run will last until #150 (when Jack Kirby will take over), so at least half of the strip will be worth enduring. The finale's action is well-choreographed and it's easy to tell the characters apart. But then there's that script. Storm's unending litany of self-loathing and pity can't help but get on one's nerves; if I was Gunner, I'd have found Pooch and sicced him on the skipper. And can we call a moratorium on the wooden leg coincidences for at least a couple of issues? There's not much of a script to the reprint, "The New Hand!" A new fighter pilot syncs his watch with the other pilots in his squadron and then -tick tock- we just watch them as they fly and battle. Kubert's work is a little sketchy (and his main protagonist is a dead ringer for Johnny Cloud), but it's definitely the highlight.

"The New Hand!"

Jack: It was interesting to get some background on Capt. Storm since I've never read any of his solo stories. The heavy hand of John Severin on inks sure helps tamp down some of Andru's bad habits. "The New Hand!" is a pain in the neck due to the talking wristwatch, yet another of Kanigher's inanimate narrators. The highlight of the issue, for me, is the announcement in the letters column that Pooch will return soon! Another highlight is Kubert's nicely designed cover.

Star Spangled War Stories 157

"I Knew the Unknown Soldier!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #168, June 1966)

"Fokker Fury!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #155, June 1965)

Peter: I don't mind the reprints; in fact, sometimes we get some really good stories we would have never stumbled over in the first place. What I never liked was the deception publishers (and editors) perpetrated in order to convince the audience to plunk down their fifteen cents. The cover promises us Enemy Ace and a Unknown Soldier/Rock team-up. Not quite what we get, is it?

Jack: Not exactly, but these are two very good stories from Kanigher and Kubert. Joe draws a new splash page to introduce the Rock tale and adds a couple of panels at the beginning and end to try to tie it in with the current Unknown Soldier series. The Enemy Ace story is excellent. We also get a new two-page Battle Album by Sam Glanzman. All in all, a good investment!

Our Army at War 234

"Summer in Salerno!"
Story by Joe Kubert
Art by Russ Heath

"Mercy Brigade"
Story and Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: On September 9, 1943, Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. take part in the Allied Invasion of mainland Italy at Salerno. Attacked by three Nazi tanks, the soldiers take cover in a farmhouse where they are welcomed by an elderly Italian couple. The tanks target the farmhouse, so the Italians and the soldiers must hide in the cellar, but when one of the tanks drives right over the ruins of the home, the people hiding below fear the wooden structure will collapse and bring the tank down on top of them.

Rock goes above ground and destroys one tank with a grenade before leaping inside the same tank and using it to blow up a second tank. The third tank fires at Rock's tank and scores a direct hit, but the old Italian farmer fashions a bottle bomb and destroys the last enemy tank before it can do any more harm. Rock survives and he and Easy Co. march off to fight more battles with the Nazis as they make their way up through Italy, beginning a hot and dangerous "Summer in Salerno!"

The combination of Kubert and Heath makes for a thrilling story and Russ's art is sensational. The two-page spread that follows the first page of the story is a stunning depiction of the beach landing, and the tank battles that follow are exciting. I like that Kubert doesn't try to do too much here; the story is straightforward and simple without unnecessary twists and turns.

Ernie and Dos are a couple of teenagers who lie about their ages and sign up in WWI to be part of the ambulance corps supporting the soldiers fighting in Europe. They meet a third member of the corps named Lt. Fitzhugh and the trio see action when the Germans shell a hospital in Italy. Finally making it to the combat zone, Ernie kills a German soldier in self defense and has a brief moment of shock before he and the other two members of the "Mercy Brigade" take part in the retreat from Caporetto. Once they reach safety, Ernie vows to write about his experience and we discover that the three young men are Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Ric Estrada has never been one of my favorite artists, and his simplistic approach to this story takes away some of what might have been a bit of fun. Hemingway and Dos Passos did meet briefly in WWI but, as the final caption admits, this story is "highly fictionalized."

Peter: "Summer in Salerno" is a perfectly . . . average Rock story. It's not fabulous but it's not bad and it's got some dynamite Russ-art, especially the large panel of the Tiger blowin' on page 10. The scene on the cover never happens, by the way. "Mercy Brigade," the "highly-fictionalized account" of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Dos Passos, is rendered all but unreadable by Ric Estrada's amateurish art. It seems like every man who signed up for the Ambulance Corps. had a deep drive to become an author. Is that the highly-fictionalized bit?

Next Week . . .

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