Monday, March 4, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories! Special 150th Issue! July 1974

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 27

"Survival of the Fittest!"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Frank Robbins

"The General"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"The Veteran"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Paul Kirchner & Tex Blaisdell

Peter: A blood-thirsty Nazi sea captain enjoys sailing the seas and blowing defenseless ships out of the water, but when he destroys the Althea on December 7, 1941, he sets a strange space/time continuum vortex into motion. He discovers he'll spend the rest of eternity torpedoing the Althea and being saved by her in a loop. While Frank Robbins's art for "Survival of the Fittest!" really doesn't bother me (say, as much as the tired plot does), his layouts make me want to retch. You can't tell, from panel to panel, what the hell is going on and, by the last couple pages, you'll have given up anyway.

Frank Robbins goulash

"The General"
In the distant future, war has destroyed all but a few bands of marauding humans, one of which is commanded by a mysterious man known only as "The General." The commander of a rival gang makes it his life's work to seek out and destroy the General, even if it means forfeiting the lives of all his men. After torturing a prisoner, the Commander discovers the hideout of the General and invades the village, but what he finds will be fatal. Another of those 1970s' "the computers will someday rule the Earth" stories that became old very fast. "The General" climaxes with the reveal that the titular being is actually a General Electric digital computer. What a surprise. A seven-page tale that seems to last seventy. This is not one of Alfredo's standout jobs but then he wasn't given much to work with, since most of the story is talking heads.

In 2060, rocket ship commander Col. Corbin has been told by his doctors he's getting too old for space flight, but "The Veteran" feels he's still got what it takes, so he takes his ship (which is as close to resembling the Enterprise as is legally possible) for one more ride. Unfortunately, Corbin has to turn the reins over to his second-in-command when the flight does indeed get too hairy for him. After landing, the morose rocketeer reflects on a glorious career and considers retirement at the ripe old age of fifteen. "The Veteran" isn't a great story (the climax is a bit of a surprise but then there's no context to the reveal) but it sure beats the first two stories and it's nice to have a protagonist who isn't as comically sadistic as the Captain or the Commander. The Kirchner/Blaisdell art is pretty amateurish; the pair had pumped out the Little Orphan Annie syndicated strip since 1968 and that type of comic seems more suited to the pair's strengths than a SF space-opera.

"The Veteran"
Jack: Didn't we read another story with the same plot, perhaps in an EC comic? I'm sure I remember another one where the space pilot was washed up and at the end turns out to be a teenager. In any case, this issue was awful! I knew it had to be only a matter of time before we were subjected to art by Frank Robbins, since he's been doing some writing for the DC War books for a while. I can't figure out what editors at DC and Marvel saw in him in the '70s. He ruined Captain America and The Invaders. Oleck's story is a mash up of a few Rod Serling scripts, including "The Time Element," "Judgment Night," and "Lone Survivor." "The General" is a pretty weak effort by Alcala, but I admit I got a chuckle out of the General Electric logo--I did not expect it, despite the title.

Frank Thorne
Our Fighting Forces 149

"A Bullet for a Traitor!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by John Severin

"Trial by Combat"
Story and Art by George Evans

Jack: Still wandering in the desert, the Losers spot Ona riding in a Nazi jeep, cozying up to an officer! Before they have time to consider what this means, they witness a Nazi tank destroy a British jeep that is part of a convoy. The Losers help the rest of the British troops blow up the tank and are taken under the wing of British Col. Harcourt Allison, accompanying his troops back to headquarters.

From a nearby hill, Ona sees the Losers marching with the British and recognizes them. Five days later, Allison tells the Losers that they have been attached to his command for a special assignment: attack the Nazi camp as a distraction while Allison's troops target an ammo dump 18 miles away. At the Nazi camp, an officer named Johann professes his love for Ona, whom he met in Norway before the war, but Ona is stringing him along while she cares for her real love, a blinded soldier named Lars.

"A Bullet for a Traitor!"
The Losers succeed in their attack on the camp, but during the fighting Gunner discovers Ona in a tent with Johann. Gunner wants to give Ona "A Bullet for a Traitor!" but his feelings for her get in the way and he runs off, back to the Losers, who remain unaware that their former female member was found.

What a contrast between this enjoyable, well-illustrated story and the dreck found in this month's issue of Weird War Tales! Kanigher's soap opera/battle story held my interest but Severin really sells it with his skill at just about every aspect of comics. Of course, his Ona is not quite as va-va-voom as Frank Thorne's Ona, whose bust strains against her khaki shirt on the cover.

In the late spring of 1914, Baron von Eisen visits Craigh Loche in Scotland, intent on buying it and certain that Germany will soon conquer all of Europe. Pat and Angus, the feisty Scots who live in the castle, vow that not a single grain of earth there will be taken by force. Soon, war is raging and von Eisen becomes a zeppelin commander while Jock, who brought von Eisen to Craigh Loche, becomes a biplane pilot. In a terrible storm, the zeppelin sets out to bomb Scottish targets and Jock takes to the skies to defend his homeland. Jock manages to destroy the zeppelin and von Eisen's body falls to Earth on the grounds of Craigh Loche, where Pat and Angus refuse the dying man's command to bury his body on their land and instead throw him off the edge of a cliff into the sea below.

"Trial By Combat"
Whew! Nice to see George Evans still had it in 1974! This is a terrific story that rewards careful, close reading. His art is the best I've seen in some time and the plotting is perfect, putting the dying German in the hands of the vengeful Scots for a final act of rebellion. "Trial By Combat" is a candidate for my list of best stories of the year!

Peter: Ona's bumping into all sorts of men she knew before the war; makes you realize just what a small war it was. This was a bit of a 'tweeter to me, as if Big Bob were spinning his wheels a bit to s-t-r-e-t-c-h this saga out a couple more issues. Gunner finds Ona but he won't let the other Losers know, so ... what?, he's going to lead them on a wild goose chase trying to find her? Doesn't make much sense to me. "Trial by Combat" was a few pages too long for my tastes but at least it spotlights better art by George, who'd been slipping the last several months. His art here very much resembles that of John Severin. Archie doles out the good news on the letters page that he and Alex Toth (with whom he'd teamed up on the triumphant "Burma Sky" a few months before in OFF #146) have a story coming up set at Midway. Can't wait for that!

Our Army at War 270

"Spawn of the Devil"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by George Evans

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: From out of a dense fog comes the latest member of Easy Co.: a soldier named Havok, who feels no remorse when a grenade he throws kills an innocent farmer and child. Nazi soldiers attack and Havok is killed by a grenade blast--or is he? Though he was left for dead, he catches up with Easy Co. a few minutes later, seemingly in good health. Another skirmish ensues and, once again, Havok is killed, this time by a bullet through his helmet. Not long after that, Havok is back, appearing unscathed. Havok is pinned under a beam when a farmhouse is destroyed in battle. He begs Rock to finish him off, but when the farmhouse is engulfed in flames, the men of Easy Co. see a demonic figure rush into the sky holding Havok. Rock tells everyone to forget what they just saw.

"Spawn of the Devil"
At least, I think that's what happened! I guess Weird War Tales must have been selling well enough, despite its uneven quality, to influence Our Army at War. It's hard to understand how George Evans's art can be so uneven in two books released around the same time. The art for "Spawn of the Devil" is certainly below average, though better than what we got from Frank Robbins this month. Were there uncredited inkers helping out? It's hard to believe the folks behind the Grand Comics Database would not have uncovered them, if so.

A spaceman from Earth is exploring the universe, looking for signs of life. He lands on a planet that appears to be "Lifeless!" He encounters an alien spaceman and the duo shoot and kill each other with their ray guns, leaving the home base for both the Earthman and the alien unaware that there is life anywhere but on their own planets.

Ric Estrada will never be the solution to an issue with bad art, since his pages are simplistic and tend toward the Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic. This is an unusually poor entry in Kanigher's Gallery of War series, which could be so much better if drawn by someone like Heath, Severin, or Kubert.

Peter: Trying to slip one of those supernatural sagas into our regular diet of new recruits, Big Bob instead serves up a half-baked pan of gobbledygook that had me scratching my head repeatedly throughout its interminable twelve-page life. What's Kanigher's point? Is there a deep underlying message here I'm not getting? What is the purpose of Havok (subtle!) gunning down innocents? To remind us that war is hell? "Spawn of the Devil" is one dumb Rock tale. "Lifeless!" is an apt title for Big Bob's latest Gallery of War story, a pointless SF saga that proves Kanigher should have kept his excellent series stocked with down-to-Earth war stories rather than jumping on the latest fad. Not a good issue of Our Army.

Next Week...
In the 3rd Issue of the Warren Report...
EC-style battle tales!


Anonymous said...

Jack: “The Veteran” is the same story as “The Has-Been” in EC’s Incredible Science Fiction 31, credited to a much younger Oleck. He stole from himself, but didn’t have Wood’s art to help him this time.


Jack Seabrook said...

I knew I'd read that story before! I just couldn't shake it loose. Thanks!