Monday, April 9, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 127: June 1972

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 5

"The Toy Jet!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #78, April 1960)

"Human Trigger!"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #18, February 1954)

"Face a Firing Squad!"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by Carmine Infantino
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #14, October 1953)

"Corporal Gerry Kisters"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

Story by Willi Franz
Art by Russ Heath

Could this be the best story of 1972? Stay tuned!
Peter: In ancient Africa, a slave watches as two hawks do battle overhead. It's said that the hawk who wins the duel achieves freedom and the loser becomes enslaved. The slave nurses the wounded hawk back to health, all the while imagining a world where he can be free. When a guard discovers the hawk in the slave's cell, a fight ensues and the hawk scratches at the guard's eyes. When all is said and done, the guard lies dead from the slave's blows. The slave is crucified but his fellow laborers remark that perhaps it is the dead man who is free while the guards are the enslaved. A powerful script and dynamic visuals combine to create one of the best war stories of 1972; with almost religious undertones, but lacking any preachiness. Sadly, this seems to have been Willi Franz's only contribution to DC war titles, but interested parties might want to seek out Franz's work over at Charlton. At that company, Franz co-created (with Sam Glanzman) the acclaimed series "The Lonely War of Willy Schultz" (which ran in Fightin' Army) as well as the short-lived Dirty Dozen knock-off, "The Devil's Brigade" (also from Fightin' Army). Based on Franz's script for "Slave," I'll be checking out the writer's other work.

Omigosh! You mean he was dead the whole time?
No way!
The reprints this time out are a dismal and decidedly un-Weird selection, furthering my argument that this title should be simply Reprint War Tales. "Human Trigger!" is simply a vignette about a soldier who gets trapped in a mine field after triggering an explosive while crawling along on his belly. (Insert snarky comments here on the work of Andru and Esposito.) "Face a Firing Squad!" at least musters a bit of excitement with its World War II espionage and last-second disaster avoidance. There are a lot of people out there who deride Carmine Infantino's artwork but I find it very adequate (as opposed to the amazing unadequateness of A+E) and, at times, pretty exciting and unique. "Corporal Gerry Kisters" explores the bravado and good deeds of the titular war hero. The framework (written by Bob Haney and drawn by Alex Toth) attempts to rewrite "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" for the umpteenth time and fools no one. Nice Toth art, though.

"Slave": a bright ray of sunshine among the drab reprints

Jack: It is nice to see new work by Alex Toth, but these framing stories are getting increasingly desperate in their attempts to come up with a reason for a character to tell a bunch of war stories. "The Toy Jet!" features nice work by Heath from 1960, while "Human Trigger!" is saddled with a predictable story and below average art from Andru and Esposito. I'm with you on the Infantino art, especially from 1953, as seen in "Face a Firing Squad!"--it's classic DC work, unlike the pages he'd later pump out for Marvel in Star Wars, which are hard to take. "Corporal Gerry Kisters" was quite a guy to take seven bullets and live to tell the tale! "Slave" is a decent story with more nice art from Heath, but I'm not ready to vote on my top ten for 1972 quite yet.

Our Army at War 246

"Naked Combat"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Frogman Carrier!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from  All-American Men of War #63, November 1958)

"The Yellow Ribbon"
Story by Harry Harrison
Art by Jerry Grandenetti
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #16, December 1953)

Jack: A new recruit nicknamed Soldier Boy brags about how great he will be when he faces "Naked Combat," but when Nazis dressed in American G.I. uniforms attack with machine guns, he freezes. Soldier Boy and Sgt. Rock are captured by the Nazis and told to strip down to their boxer shorts and march through the snow. Rock overpowers their two Nazi captors and he and Soldier Boy dress in the Germans' uniforms, but when they are challenged by other Nazi soldiers to give a password, Rock is shot and Soldier Boy runs away. Rock manages to survive (of course) and gets the best of another Nazi guard before returning to Easy Co., where he gives Soldier Boy a smack across the chops and then tells everyone to keep moving.

"Naked Combat" indeed!
I don't know what happened with Bob Kanigher around 1971-72, but his scripts have become much looser, allowing Russ Heath to tell the stories more pictorially. In this instance (as in others we've seen so far), it works very well. Half a page here, a page there, even two pages at one point feature no dialogue or captions, yet the action is easy to follow and more powerful for the silence.

A frogman has to get up close to his targets, unlike a machine gunner or an airplane pilot. This particular frogman has to get close enough to a pillbox on the beach to deliver a stick of dynamite. He then has to attach explosives to a sub while underwater and then fight off enemy frogmen. Finally, he has to attach explosives to an enemy ship and avoid a patrol boat. His jobs done, he is picked up by a rescue plane and ends up manning a machine gun to shoot down enemy fighters!

"Frogman Carrier!"
"Frogman Carrier!" is 13 pages of pure Kubert magic from the late '50s, with excitement at every turn. I did not appreciate Kubert when I was growing up but this blog has sure changed my mind.

Carlisle's horse bolts when the Sioux start firing, so he returns to the fort determined to demonstrate his courage. The next day, General Custer announces his plan to attack the Sioux. The march reaches the Little Big Horn River, where a huge war party of Sioux is encountered. Carlisle volunteers for the dangerous mission of riding off alone to deliver a message seeking reinforcements. He bravely delivers the message and returns to Little Big Horn, only to find all of the U.S. soldiers massacred and General Custer dying. With his dying breath, Custer commends Carlisle's courage and gives him "The Yellow Ribbon" to denote his bravery.

A little help from
Carmine Infantino?
We have trashed Jerry Grandenetti in this blog for years, but I recall another early story of his (from the early '50s) that was pretty good. We can add this one to that short list. One panel really looks like the work of Carmine Infantino, so maybe Jerry had a little help, but this story is not bad at all.

Peter: Wow!!! What a great Rock story this time out. I'd love to get a gander at Big Bob's script for "Naked Combat" as it would be interesting to see how the panels with not one word of dialogue or captions were mapped out (insert the usual comments about jaw-dropping, iconic, mesmerizing artwork from Russ Heath). I'm really getting a good feeling about these DC war stories going forward after a few years of mostly sub-par action yarns. A couple of good reprints this time out (one of them featuring above-average art from our old whipping boy, Jerry Grandenetti!) and that makes this one of the best all-around issues of Our Army in quite a while.

Our Fighting Forces 137

"God of the Losers!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by John Severin and Joe Kubert

"Frogman Jinx!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #56, April 1958)

"A Fort Called Lucky!"
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #85, January 1961)

"3 Bullets"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, and Joe Kubert

"Battle Beat!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Mort Meskin
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #49, September 1956)

Jack: Johnny Cloud flies Gunner and Sarge to a Pacific island, but enemy fire forces them to crash-land in the ocean. The trio swims to the island and has to scale a sheer rock cliff to reach the village of Tehan. Cloud, dressed like an island villager in Bermuda shorts and magic necklace, thinks about how the old chief of the Tehana people sent his son on a mission to reach the Allies in order to ask for help for the village. As the young chief floated off on a wooden raft, he saw the Japanese take the island. He finally reached a British cruiser and was able to convey the message requesting help right before he died.

Just another tricky day for the Losers!

As the Losers scale the cliff (in the rain, of course), a Japanese fighter plane attacks them, but Johnny Cloud suddenly becomes convinced he is the young chief of the Tehana and that his magic necklace will protect the trio. Sure enough, the Zero crashes into the side of the mountain and the Losers finish their ascent and make their way to the Tehana village. The Tehana reveal their hidden weapons and they and the Losers attack the Japanese soldiers on the island. A bloody battle ensues and the Tehana are victorious; Cloud returns to his senses and the Losers paddle off in a canoe.

"Frogman Jinx!"
I had to read "God of the Losers!" a couple of times to get what was going on, since I couldn't figure out why Johnny Cloud wore Bermuda shorts to fly a plane and climb a cliff. I still can't. The business of him being possessed by the spirit of the dead young chief strikes me as silly and the victory of the villagers with spears over Japanese soldiers with guns isn't much more believable. This is one the lesser Losers tales since Severin took over. Kubert redrew some panels, too.

A man who always seems to run into bad luck faces the "Frogman Jinx!" when he joins the service and sees underwater action against the Nazis. Lucky for him, things that spell bad luck on land help him survive in the briny deep. Bill Finger's six-page story is a simple one and Russ Heath's nice, late-'50s art ensures that it's a quick and enjoyable read.

"3 Bullets"
During WWI, three soldiers ran from battle and now are told they must face death by firing squad. An officer gives them a pistol with "3 Bullets" and suggests they kill themselves to avoid the shame of being executed. Instead, the three men bravely face down the enemy in three separate attacks, and each one is killed in the fight. Joe Kubert heavily re-drew Andru and Esposito's art in this four-page quickie and it just goes to show you that DC's greatest war artist (sorry, Peter) can really spin gold from straw. By the end, this story is quite effective.

A soldier who was a cop back home now walks a "Battle Beat!" as an M.P. during WWII. However, the French town he patrols becomes the site of some hot action, and he proves his skills at fighting as he defeats Nazi tanks and snipers. The second reprint in this issue to be penned by Golden Age great Bill Finger, this six-pager has art by another Golden Age stalwart, Mort Meskin, but it's not his best work. The story is nothing special.

"Battle Beat!"
Peter: You (yes, you!) have no idea how refreshing it is to read a Losers story and not roll my eyes through each and every page. Sure, it's a goofy script (and belongs in the pages of Weird War Tales more than any story found in that title this month), but it's exciting and the Severin/Kubert art (yep, you can definitely see the Joe here and there) is picture-perfect. It's refreshing that Cloud's "possession" was not explained away in some silly final-panel expository but, rather, just left out there for the reader to ponder. Why do I feel like I should find "3 Bullets" much more rewarding? It's one of those "deep" Big Bob scripts that used to work so well but there's really nothing much to it; in fact, the most startling aspect of the tale is the art. It's signed by the A+E crew but it looks like Kubert takes over on page two with some assistance from Tom Sutton. The three reprints are nothing to get excited about but what is exciting is that, for the most part, we got three solid DC war issues this month. Mark your calendars.

Next Week . . .
We loved the first issue of Piracy but . . .
Are there enough good salty sea sagas to fill two issues?
Be here to find out the answer, ya bilge rats!


andydecker said...

"I did not appreciate Kubert when I was growing up but this blog has sure changed my mind."

I am 100% with you, Jack. Of course Kubert never did superheroes when I got into the books in the late 70s, and I never searched out titles like Flash or Tarzan. But now and then I stumbled upon his work and didn't like it.

But after reading about his work on the war books on your blog I tried him again and absolutly devoured his Enemy Ace. Wonderful, wonderful work which deserves a broader recognition. It is quite a shame that for all the deluge of digital and hsrdcover reprints his work seems scarce again as the Showcase line is out of print.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Andy. The only Kubert I really saw as a kid (and this was in reprints or collecting back issues) was his Hawkman work from the '60s. The Gentleman Ghost always rattled me.