Monday, January 15, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 121: December 1971 + The Best of 1971

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 2

"Reef of No Return"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #43, March 1959)

"The Moon is the Murderer"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Thorne

"A Promise to Joe!"
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #97, January 1963)

"Monsieur Gravedigger"
Story by Jerry DeFuccio
Art by Reed Crandall

"The Face of a Fighter"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito (Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #25, September 1957)

Jack: A Navy frogman parachutes onto the "Reef of No Return" and manages to avoid enemy attack and blow up the reef. Mort Drucker's gorgeous art makes me wish he was still drawing serious stories for DC by 1971 and that we did not have to see his work only in reprints like this one from 1959.

"The Moon is the Murderer"
"The Moon is the Murderer" when an American soldier and a German soldier face off in No Man's Land during WWI trench warfare. Frank Thorne's work here is a bit sketchy for my taste but I applaud him and Bob Kanigher for telling a four-page story wordlessly.

Sergeant-Major Florimond-Loubet is known as "Monsieur Gravedigger" because he rides his troops so hard, but that tough training comes in handy when fighting Arabs in the desert. I have no idea what a Jerry DeFuccio/Reed Crandall collaboration is doing in a 1971 DC comic rather than a 1953 EC comic, but one thing I do know--I didn't follow this story at all. It jumps from base camp to desert to doctor's office and doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Crandall is not at his best but it's still good to see him at work.

"Reef of No Return"
A young American soldier in France in WWII develops "The Face of a Fighter" after he must battle his way back to base through enemy fire. There's not much of a story here and Andru and Esposito's art is particularly weak, even for them.

Rounding out the issue are a three-page introduction/frame story by Kubert that features a new host who has skin like an alligator and wears a hooded cloak. That makes two hosts in two issues. There's also a two-page "Behind the Cover" feature by Kubert that fleshes out the story hinted at on the cover, a two-page Glanzman feature about a particular type of rifle, and two final pages by Kubert to wrap up the intro with the hooded figure. Two issues in and Weird War Tales is a hodgepodge of reprints, filler, and linking material.

Reed Crandall's sole contribution
to WWT is a stunner!
Peter: "The Moon is the Murderer" is a word-free quickie devoid of anything resembling a "weird" angle and sporting a very crude Grandenetti-esque art job by newcomer Frank Thorne. With a rambling but intelligent script and striking art by Reed Crandall, "Monsieur Gravedigger" is the issue's standout. Though there's not much "weird" about it, it's certainly grim and dark with its implied mutilations and barbaric treatment of soldiers. Unfortunately, this is Crandall's only WWT work; with his EC and Warren history, he'd be a natural for this title.

Of the reprints, "Reef of No Return" is the best, a nail-biter concerning a frogman parachuting into a dangerous reef where the enemy seems to always be one step ahead of him. Drucker's art is fantastic and it's amazing that he's not more widely known for his war art (yes, I'm sure being a popular MAD artist may have something to do with that) despite the fact that he contributed art to over 60 stories in the DC war titles. By the way, interestingly enough, Weird War Tales includes one of those full-page prose stories that were so popular in the sixties. I assume that's because DC was trying to establish a second-class rate with the USPS for Weird War Tales and that was essential (at least in the early days) for gaining that privilege.

Our Fighting Forces 134

"The Real Losers!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by John Severin

"In Tsingtao"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

"Soldier's Grave"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Alex Toth

"Number One"
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #90, February 1965)

Peter: After being ambushed by Krauts for the 600th time that day, Gunner has had enough and informs his fellow Losers that he quits and heads down the dirt road to find an embarkment boat. Sarge heads off to change his partner's mind but Gunner seems pretty set in his ways, refusing even to fire his gun when attacked several times along the way. Once they get to the embarkment, the boys are surrounded by wounded G.I.s. Yet another German attack changes Gunner's mind and he sees his place is here with the Losers. Hand in hand, Gunner and Sarge walk back to where their comrades are waiting, probably wondering why they've been left out of so many stories lately. Last issue's story seemed to signal an upswing in quality for this doormat of a series but Big Bob seems to have decided his energies are better focused in other areas. "The Real Losers!" are the readers. The whole script is one long road to the inevitable change of heart and that 180-degree turn is just as dopey as we'd expect.

Has the Sarge become an old softy?
At one point in the journey, Gunner becomes aware of a sniper in the tree but refuses to pull his gun, leaving Sarge open to a machine-gun tattooing, insisting he's done caring about what happens. But, once he witnesses the "horrors of war" down at the embankment, Gunner does a complete turnabout. The tone is completely different from the old Gunner + Sarge series as well, as if Big Bob had forgotten the dynamic that "made the series tick" (I put that in quotes because that old series never ticked). When Gunner makes his startling proclamation, Sarge looks almost defeated and sighs, "I talked him into stayin' with me . . . for the duration! If it wasn't for me--he wouldn't even be here!" The old Sarge would have thrown a pineapple at Gunner and told him to grow up. And what's with the Gunner and Sarge solo stories? I thought this was supposed to be something unique; a quasi-Justice League of G.I.s. That's not what we're getting. Severin's art, however, is just what we wanted. His visuals are so much more dynamic than what Andru and Esposito were delivering; just three installments in and Severin has made this his series.

Alex Toth's art highlights "Soldier's Grave," which focuses on Mullah, a poor beggar who joins up with the Egyptian army in order to earn enough shekels to feed his family. Mullah single-handedly fights off a regiment of Persians and dies with a jewel-handled blade in his chest but his commander swears Mullah's family will be taken care of. I find that Toth's work is best suited to black and white but it's very effective here in color. The story is also engaging, giving us a protagonist we can root for and an unpredicted climax. I'm not a big fan of the "ancient war" stories that pop up here and there but this one's a keeper. Sam Glanzman contributes another installment of the USS Stevens series with "In Tsingtao." This one concerns a quartet of sailors who sneak off the Stevens and head into a port in China, recently deserted by the Japanese, for some R'n'R but get mowed down by a crazed Japanese soldier instead.

It's tough to fairly synopsize and critique these vignettes as they really don't tell much more than a fragment of the story but, at the same time, they're effective and by no means a waste of paper. One thing I don't get from the pieces is that a whole story is being told; that is, if I were to read the collected USS Stevens volume, I'd still get a sense that these are all little jigsaw puzzle pieces on a table and they don't fit nicely together. Glanzman's son, Tom, writes in to rebut a past letter hack's assertion that "The Losers" is an awful series.

Jack: "The Real Losers!" is one of the best DC War stories I've read recently, with a good mix of story and art and a powerful message as Gunner has a change of heart when he sees wounded soldiers fighting to the death. "In Tsingtao" is a strong vignette about a tragic, unauthorized trip to a liberated city in China. I love Toth's art on "Soldier's Grave" and am always happy to see a story set in Ancient Egypt. All in all, a surprisingly satisfying comic book!

Our Army at War 239

"The Soldier"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Capt. John Cromwell"
Story Uncredited
Art by Norman Maurer

"Charge on San Juan Hill!"
Story and Art by Ric Estrada

"Sergeants are Made--Not Born!"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #102, May 1962)

"The Unsinkable Wreck!"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #101, March 1962)

"The Soldier"
Jack: On patrol during a heavy rainstorm somewhere in Italy, Easy Co. comes face to face with a Nazi patrol. Sgt. Rock is shot in the shoulder and falls down a muddy slope; lying unconscious at the bottom until the rain awakens him, Rock makes his way to a convent, where Sister Angelina takes him in and a boy named Domenico wants to fight alongside him. When Nazis come knocking at the door, the sister disguises Rock as a monk and he avoids capture, but when he leaves the next morning the Nazis quickly intercept him. Only a distraction from Domenico prevents Rock from being killed, and the sergeant marches off with his Nazi prisoner as the nun and the boy wave goodbye.

Kanigher tells a straightforward, effective story here and Heath's art is decent though not spectacular. The image of tough-guy Rock in a monk's robe and hood is unusual and amusing, and the emphasis "The Soldier" places on advising the boy not to kill is admirable, especially in light of the ubiquitous "Make War No More" badge that now appears in the final panel of each story.

"Capt. John Cromwell"
"Capt. John Cromwell" knew secret plans when the sub he was on was attacked during WWII; heroically, he elected to go down with the ship rather than be captured and interrogated. Norman Maurer drew a series of these "Medal of Honor" short stories for the DC War comics in the early '70s; his art is competent but not much more than that. He was a long-time comic artist who did loads of work for Lev Gleason in the '40s and married the daughter of Moe Howard!

"Charge on San Juan Hill!"
The story of Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders is told in six breezy pages that climax with the "Charge on San Juan Hill!" Unfortunately, Ric Estrada's art seems so childish that it's hard to work up much interest in the story.

Peter: I didn't find much to salvage from this issue's offerings. The Rock story is gorgeously illustrated but heavy-handed and predictable, while the art passed off by Maurer and Estrada is barely tolerable. I did find the story of Captain John Cromwell engaging and, like the best of these little bios, it sent me straight to Wiki for more info.



Best Script: Robert Kanigher, "Head Count" (Our Army at War #233)
Best Art:  Joe Kubert, "Man of War" (Star Spangled War Stories #159)
Best All-Around Story: "Head Count"

Worst Script: Robert Kanigher, "I Kid You Not" (Our Army at War #238)
Worst Art: Ric Estrada, "The Invincible Armada" (Our Fighting Forces #132)
Worst All-Around Story: "I Kid You Not" 


  1 "Head Count"
  2 "Man of War"
  3 "I'll Never Die" (Star Spangled War Stories #154)
  4 "Death of the Haunted Tank" (GI Combat #150)
  5 "Monsieur Gravedigger" (Weird War Tales #2)


Best Script: Joe Kubert, "Summer in Salerno!" (Our Army at War 234)
Best Art: Joe Kubert, "Totentanz" (Star Spangled War Stories 158)
Best All-Around Story: "Totentanz"

Worst Script: "I Kid You Not!"
Worst Art: Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, "Ride the Nightmare" (Our Fighting Forces 129)
Worst All-Around Story: "Ironclad! Man Your Guns!" (Our Fighting Forces 129)


  1 "The Gold-Plated General!" (G.I. Combat 148)
  2 "Summer in Salerno!"
  3 "Leave the Fighting to Us!" (G.I. Combat 149)
  4 "Totentanz"
  5 "Face the Devil!" (Our Army at War 236)

Can Shock Regain Its Luster?
We'll Discuss Next Week . . .

No comments: