Monday, May 27, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 156: January 1975

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 33

"Pride of the Master Race"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jess Jodloman

"My Spirit... Your Executioner!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Jack Sparling

"The Great Brain Robbery!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Bernard Baily

Peter: Nazi Helmut Streicher fancies himself a German Superman until he's thrust to the front of the line, tucks tail, and runs. His CO, being a kind heart, refuses to report Streicher for cowardice (and a sure death by firing squad) and, instead, transfers him to grave-digging duty. Done with his digging duties, the ego-driven Nazi is once more transferred to the front where he, once more, shows his true colors and abandons his comrades for a conveniently-placed, abandoned abbey. There he meets an old monk who promises Streicher the glory and fame he wants so badly in exchange for his soul (hmmm... is this your average monk?). Exiting the abbey, Streicher enters the conflict again but, this time, with a glorious need to do battle. He races up a Russian-held hill to destroy a tank but is killed in the process. The monk accompanies Streicher's spirit to his funeral and promises all of Germany will know of his brave deed. But Satan always has his last laugh as Streicher's statue is unveiled, reading "Sacred to the memory of an unknown soldier of the Third Reich." Jack Oleck pitches a rare fastball at the end of "Pride of the Master Race," one I didn't see coming, but the rest of his script is the same old "Satan's Deal" nonsense. It's only eight pages but it feels thrice the length and we're never really sure what Streicher's motives are (he keeps making his way back to the front even though he's a coward--he shouldn't mind grave-digging detail). Jodloman's art is pretty creepy; Orlando should have had Jess on more Lovecraftian stories a la Tom Sutton.

"Pride of the Master Race"

"The Great Brain Robbery!"
"My Spirit... Your Executioner!" is even worse. At least we had some interesting visuals to gaze at in the opener, whereas here we're dealing with Jack Sparling's doodles. The story, such as it is, deals with a WWI G.I. who leaves his buddy to die and then meets up with the buddy's vengeful spirit years later during the Battle of the Bulge. It's by-the-numbers and surprise-free.

A G.I. POW is killed during a liberation effort, but scientists labor hard to salvage his brain... and then transplant it into the body of the dead concentration camp commandant! Why? So the Army can send the German/American hybrid deep undercover to learn all the Nazi secrets (think the Unknown Soldier taken to its next, most ridiculous level!). All goes great, our hero tips the Army off to a huge Nazi ambush, but then he runs into an old friend from the camp who, naturally, mistakes him for the commandant and shoots him in cold blood. "The Great Brain Robbery" is supremely dumb but it's undeniably entertaining and it's got a great kicker in the tail. Bernard Bailey's art is like a weird hybrid as well; almost a cross-breeding of 1950s' generic with 1970s' Spanish. It doesn't always work.

Jack: I gave Baily points because he was a Golden Age artist, but "The Great Brain Robbery!" is far-fetched and the art looks awkward. I also dislike Sparling's art for the most part, though the lines in "My Spirit... Your Executioner!" are cleaner than those of Jodloman in "Pride of the Master Race." The Oleck tale isn't bad, it's just a bit confusing and, while I find the art muddy, the scenes of carnage are fairly impressive.

Our Fighting Forces 152

"A Small Place in Hell!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby & D. Bruce Berry

Jack: The Losers mistakenly get dropped off in the wrong town, and instead of a town that has been cleared of enemy soldiers they find themselves smack dab in the middle of "A Small Place in Hell!" Nazis to the left of them, Nazis to the right of them, what are a group of misfits to do except hide in a bombed-out house until they're discovered, then try to shoot their way out. Finally, American firepower and troops arrive to save the day, led by General Patton himself, who tells our heroes that they're losers but they did a fine job.

I'll say one thing for '70s Kirby comics--they don't take long to read and there's not a lot of dialogue. What there is is a lot of gunfire. And I mean a lot. All of the characters look pretty much alike and there's very little plot but just about non-stop action. It's not the worst thing I've ever read, but it's far from good.

Those freewheelin' '70s!
("A Small Place in Hell!")
Peter: Just pure drivel. It might seem like I have a problem with anything Kirby did in the mid-1970s (and you would be right) but it's not just his presence here but what that presence means in the scheme of things. This was a massively entertaining, well-written series before the "King"'s arrival and now it's detritus. There's seemingly no path, no destination for these Losers (and some would argue that's the point with these characters), as Jack has jettisoned any traces of past story lines. That really pisses me off. And how about the "stunning" art on this strip? To a man, the Losers all look like a variation on Ben Grimm (well, except for Johnny Cloud, who Jack has seen fit to color RED since, after all, he's a Native American), so it's extremely hard to differentiate without reading those word balloons. And with Kirby scripting, you really think I'm going to read any of this goulash?

If you get a chance, read the "Mail Call" (reprinted far below) from this issue. Mailroom guy (or whatever they called the guy who would open mail and then respond to it on the letters page) introduces himself and then goes on quite a bit about how little he knows about... anything. It's by far the most entertaining writing in this comic book.

Our Army at War 276

"A Bullet for Rock!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by George Evans

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: Sgt. Rock has a recurring nightmare that he is killed by "A Bullet for Rock!" yet when awake, he goes out on patrol with a new recruit two nights in a row and they are killed. The third night he ventures out alone and is saved from death when Little Sure Shot shows up and pushes him out of the way of gunfire. Little Sure Shot is killed (or so Rock thinks) and the sergeant carries him to a first aid station, where he turns out to be alive.

"A Bullet for Rock!"
Compared to Kirby's story this month, Kanigher's tale is War and Peace, but that doesn't mean it's particularly good. When Rock thinks Little Sure Shot is dead, he carries him back to the men of Easy Co. but threatens to shoot anyone who stops him from taking the soldier to be buried. This seemed bizarre to me; wouldn't the men have stopped him to take a look? Would Rock really shoot his own men? Then he carries the body over hill and dale, shooting enemies left and right, and ends up at a first aid station, insisting that the soldier be given a proper burial. None of it makes much sense, and Evans's art isn't all that great, either. The most exciting sequence comes when a plane attacks, which is right in Evans's wheelhouse.

A German pilot blasts a town to "Rubble!" but when his plane is damaged he is forced to parachute down to the same town, where the angry residents kill him.

Kanigher's story is the best of all we read in this dreadful month of DC War Comics. I'd criticize Ric Estrada's art if it weren't for a two-page bio of the artist that tells about his fascinating life.

Peter: Didn't we just get one of these "Sgt. Rock must train a green recruit who will die before his very eyes" stories last month? And the month before? More than ever before, it feels as though Big Bob had lost his way with this series. The script is nothing more than a retread of past adventures; very little for the supporting cast to do. George Evans's art is adequate but George lacks the dynamics of Heath so the battle action comes off as stale and lifeless. As for Big Bob's Gallery of War this issue, I confess I didn't get the point of "Rubble!" Is it Kanigher attempting to cash in on the Night of the Living Dead craze? Maybe it's something deeper I'm just not smart enough to understand, but it comes off as nothing more than dopey to this here funny book fan.

Next Week...
More Colan Magic!

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