Monday, January 21, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 147: March 1974

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Our Army at War 266

"The Evacuees!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by George Evans

"The Sorcerer's Apprentice"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Sgt. Rock, Little Sure Shot, and Bulldozer manage to survive a harrowing ride in an ambulance, only to arrive at an airfield where the Med Evac plane is destroyed by an enemy attack! Rock talks another medical evacuee into flying him and his men out in the only plane available, a two-seater where Rock straps his men to the wings and hops into the rear cockpit. Rock thwarts an in-flight attack by blowing an enemy plane out of the sky and then putting out a fire in the cockpit with his hand wrapped in a cloth. The pilot freaks out and Rock has to take the controls for a time, but eventually Rock's mental strength allows the frightened pilot to land "The Evacuees" safely.

"The Evacuees!"
Joe Kubert's terrific cover is the most exciting thing about this story, which features more mediocre illustrations by George Evans. I can't figure out where this story came from, since Blockbuster was fine at the end of last issue. Perhaps editor Kubert thought a story with lots of planes would allow Evans to shine, but the result is below average for Kanigher, Rock, and this title. I can't imagine it would be a good idea to strap wounded soldiers to the wings of a plane and then fly into enemy fire, but I was never a soldier, so who knows?

Captain Patty Scone is an experienced gunner on the U.S.S. Stevens, and Jerry De Bitt, who passes him the shells, idolizes him. When Scone is killed in a kamikaze attack, De Bitt becomes "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and takes his place in the heat of battle.

"The Sorcerer's Apprentice"
Glanzman sticks to what he does best in this four-pager, focusing on action and emotion and avoiding too many human faces. Still, an average to above-average entry in this series does not save this issue from being a disappointment.

Peter: The one word I'd use to describe this issue's contents is "predictable." Alas, that's the same word I'd use to describe the last several Rock tales. There's this guy who's got a debilitating phobia but, by golly, we just know, with help from the Rock, he's going to overcome this illness and save the day. Sure enough. Usually, we've got Russ Heath to help rough out the foreseeable outcome, but George Evans did not have the power to elevate sub-par storytelling by this time in his career. The USS Stevens installment is okay but the revelation is no surprise at all. You know one of these main characters is going to buy the farm and the other will fill his shoes to save the day. Predictable.

G.I. Combat 170

"Chain of Vengeance!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Every Battle... Y'Die a Little!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Jack Sparling

Peter: Ever since the death of his almost-girlfriend, Rachele (back in #168), Jeb Stuart (the tank commander) has been on a mission to seek out and destroy her killer, Nazi Colonel Wessel. On the other side of the war lines, Wessel has been seeking revenge on the tank crew that cost him his left arm. Take a guess which tank crew that was? Immovable object meets unstoppable force when Jeb meets up with Wessel in a bombed-out village. The question is: will revenge satisfy Jeb Stuart in the end?

Again, we're told that, somehow, the Haunted Tank has acquired mythic proportions throughout WWII. Wessel comments that the tank crew he's searching for rides around in a tin can marked "The Haunted Tank." Really? Where was I when that name was etched on steel? Archie isn't very subtle when he slams home the fact that both commanders have legitimate reasons to see the other one dead but then, thanks to Glanzman's art, there's nothing subtle about this installment. I find it ironic that a crew fighting for freedom would have no problem flying the Southern Cross from their turret. Archie shoulda known better.

In the second feature, "Every Battle... Y'Die a Little!," Frank Robbins continues to prove he's not bad at the writin' gig. Here, he tells us a quick story about an old grunt ("a vet at 29") who tries to avoid contact with others, since it usually means death. A young recruit sidles up to our GI, asking if he could tag along, with the expected results. Jack Sparling's art isn't horrible, so this makes "Every Battle..." a double-surprise, even if the surprise isn't included in the script.

"Every Battle... Y'Die a Little!"
Jack: Goodwin's script for "Chain of Vengeance" is bad, but not as bad as Glanzman's art. When I read comics from the late 1930s or early 1940s, there can be amateurish art that is charming because it shows the beginnings of the industry. By 1974, there has been so much great comic art that what Sam Glanzman puts on the page is unacceptable in a comic book published by a major publisher. The subsequent 45 years have not been kind to the use of the Confederate flag, either. In contrast to the main story, "Every Battle" looks pretty good, even though Jack Sparling's art is never what I'd call great. The snowy setting helps create an interesting mood. The best thing in this issue is the letters page, where readers and Goodwin discuss increasing signs of maturity in comics. Too bad G.I. Combat is not living up to Goodwin's theories.

Star Spangled War Stories 179

"A Town Called Hate!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Jack Sparling

"This Much Madness is Too Much Sorrow!"
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: The Unknown Soldier finds himself smack dab in the middle of a race war when a squad of men trapped in a bombed-out village start hurling racial insults and bullets at one another. Just in time, US discovers the unrest was initiated by the Ratzis to divide and conquer. "A Town Called Hate!" is one of the worst preachies I've had the unfortunate task to sit through. A multitude of the "new wave" of 1970s funny book writers took it upon themselves to edjacate their moron audience to the evils of racism (we had to wade through dozens of stories like this over at Marvel University), but chose to use sledgehammers rather than typewriters to drive the lessons home. I'd have expected more from a vet like Frank Robbins, since he hadn't just graduated from college, but I suppose Frank felt like he had to fit in to sell stories. Robbins ticks all the requisite boxes: bigoted colonels, hep, street-wise dialogue, and a "Can't we all just get along" speech in the final panels.

"A Town Called Hate!"
Even at thirteen, I'd have thought this was heavy-handed but I'd probably have been more outraged by the lousy art. Oh, and why did Frank bother to inject a little bit of tantalizing mystery at the end of last issue's yarn ("Is it the Unknown Soldier rising from the muck of the river or his German counterpart? Tune in next issue to find out the answer!") when he blows cover in the first few panels? An early contender for Worst Story of the Year. By the way, at least one time each issue, some supporting character says "The Unknown Soldier? Oh yeah, I've heard of that guy!" How can a guy be unknown when everybody knows who he is?

The back-up, "This Much Madness..." is another preachy, but at least this one isn't offensive. A shell-shocked WWI soldier is brought to a hospital to mend, but is forced to rejoin the war effort when the Germans advance. The GI's malady is deemed cured when his doctor stages an elaborate ruse (dressed like a Jerry soldier) to convince the patient that he's forgiven for his war sins. The message is a bit muddled (and Estrada's art is even more muddled), but it's an interesting diversion.

"This Much Madness..."
Jack: I thought this was a pretty good issue, but then I have always had a soft spot for the DC social commentary comics of the early '70s. The ghetto lingo of the black soldiers seems anachronistic and the whole thing seems much more '70s than '40s, but I kind of liked it, and Sparling's art was not at its worst. The backup story could almost fit in an issue of Weird War Tales, what with the doctor playing a ghost, but Estrada's art is hard to take. Still, he's better than Sam Glanzman. On the letters page, the editor writes that SSWS is back to bi-monthly due to the recent paper shortage. I consulted with Wikipedia and yes, there was a paper shortage in 1973-74. At age 10, I don't think I was aware of that at the time. Once again, Kubert's cover is easily the artistic highlight of this issue.

Weird War Tales 23

"The Bird of Death!"
Story by John Albano
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"Day After Doomsday!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Rich Buckler

"Corporal Kelly's Private War!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alex NiƱo

Peter: GI Bezko is convinced he sees "The Bird of Death!" just before someone buys the farm. He watches in horror, with no defense, as many of his comrades die around him. When he and two of his fellow GIs are captured by the Krauts, Bezko sees the telltale pigeon and tricks the Nazis into an early grave. Though I'm usually tickled pink by any story accompanied by Alcala visuals, "The Bird of Death!" is not much fun, hanging its hat on the slimmest of plot hooks (in fact, the bird is hardly seen at all and disappears from the narrative until the final page). Like many of these rush jobs, we're never even given an explanation as to why Bezko is charmed/cursed with foresight; what we're left with is a jumbo-sized Ripley's Believe It or Not! reject.

"The Giant Claw of Death!"

"Day After Doomsday!"
Another chapter of the unfortunate "Day After Doomsday!" series follows and it's just as eye-rolling and space-wasting as the previous chapters. In this one, "the last man on Earth" (declared as such by writer Len Wein, despite the fact that we've seen other protagonists in previous chapters) is starving when he happens upon a candy vending machine. Alas, the poor guy's out of change and hammering on the glass offers nothing but a refund of lots of dimes. Curiously, the dope comments that there's no food in the machine but he beats on the damn thing anyway. This was a series of stories that went nowhere but editor Joe Orlando either took a fancy to Len Wein's brainstorm or thought it was a good way to fill a couple pages here and there. Unfortunately, there will be more to come.

"Corporal Kelly's Private War!"
Corporal Kelly has been stationed all alone in some godforsaken place, with nothing to do and no war to fight, when he's zapped into another dimension by a batch of creepy-looking aliens who've been trawling Earth, looking for a secret weapon to help win an intergalactic war. Seems the aliens in this dimension can't stand sound and have perfected war without noise. Fortunately, Corporal Kelly had been listening to Yoko Ono's debut album ruminating over his C-rations when he'd been beamed up and he uses the pressurized can to help win the war for the good guys (well, we hope they were the good guys). Bad news is that when he's returned to Earth, his CO informs him that he's been derelict at his radar screen and the Japs just bombed Pearl Harbor. A bit of a light touch (at least until the downer of a climax) helps "Corporal Kelly's Private War!" become just about the best thing WWT has published in quite a while. Like Alfredo, Alex Nino is an artist who helps just about anything along if he has even a nugget of story to work with.

Jack: It was nice to see Nino rescue the issue with his usual freak-out panels and zany page designs. The Alcala story has sub-par art, except for a handful of panels where things (or people) are getting shot or blown up. The Wein/Buckler file story is not that bad, but early, raw Buckler is nothing special. This is shaping up to be another down month for the DC War line; I hope things pick up soon!

Our Fighting Forces 147

"The Glory Road!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by John Severin

Story by Steve Mitchell
Art by Ken Barr

Jack: While Gunner has nightmares that involve his inability to save the recently-departed Ona, Johnny Cloud and Captain Storm spot a Nazi patrol across the North African desert. The Losers investigate and observe the Nazis ambush a small group of British soldiers. The Losers wipe out the Nazis and rescue the only British survivor, a major who also happens to be a movie star named Oliver Cavendish. He outranks the Losers and seems to have a bit of trouble distinguishing reality from the war movie in which he starred.

A Severin/Adams panel?
Leading the Losers down what he thinks of as "The Glory Road!," Cavendish encounters more Nazis, and soon enough he and the Losers have been taken prisoner. They are conveyed to a German encampment and forced to watch Cavendish's movie, but the experience of seeing his daring exploits on screen leads the British major to stage a revolt, and before you know it the whole place is on fire. Cavendish is killed in the fighting but the Losers prevail and march on toward their next adventure.

Any comic that starts with a Neal Adams cover is okay by me, and I love the forced perspective he uses to show the Nazi hand and gun menacing the Losers. John Severin does his usual fine work on the inside art, and I've reproduced a panel here that really looks like Adams stopped by and helped out with the inks, though I don't see any sign of Adams in the rest of the story.

An effective Barr page
In June 1943, Allied fliers are given the assignment of bombing a munitions factor in Dusseldorf. The men cheer when they hear that the planes will include Stirlings, because they fly low and take much of the damage from the big guns on the ground. On his first mission, Corporal Alan Bryant thinks it odd that his fellow men cheer for the certain death of others on their side, as he heads off into what is known as the "Arena" above Western Europe. Bryant is shaken by the horror he witnesses during the air battle and survives the mission, having learned to his dismay why men cheer when they hear that other planes may be more likely to be shot down.

Steve Mitchell writes a harrowing tale, easily the best we've read this month. Barr's illustrations are effective in conveying the terrible goings-on, though I would have liked a little more clarity when one pilot is essentially sliced in half during battle.

Peter: An immensely predictable stray off the path from the "Finding Ona" saga feels more like a Rock adventure than one of our favorite misfits. You know the major is doomed the second he's introduced and the hammy death scene is almost too maudlin for words. At least John Severin showed up to work that day. Steve Mitchell's "Arena" falls into the "more mature" category of tale we usually see under the "Gallery of War" logo. Perhaps the WAR IS HELL message is slammed home a bit too much but I liked Mitchell's dialogue and Barr's exciting artwork which, at times, reminded me of mid-'70s Herb Trimpe.

Next Week...


Anonymous said...

The thing that got me about "The Glory Road!" after I got out of the Army, was the idea that a major (pretending now he was a major) while he did outrank Captain Johnny Cloud, he wouldn't have outranked Capt. Storm on account in the Navy, Captain is the same rank as a Colonel in the branches of the armed forces.

Sorry about the run on sentence.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for the explanation of ranks across the services! I had no idea.