Monday, October 14, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 166: November 1975

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

G.I. Combat 184

"Battlefield Bundle"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"The Shamed Survivor"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: While moving slowly through a French snow storm, the boys of the Jeb Stuart come across a Kraut tank blitzing a half-dozen G.I.s in a small cottage. A few well-placed Allied shells make quick work of the Ratzis and our heroes investigate the rubble of the farmhouse to see if there are any survivors. Sadly, the G.I.s are dead but one survivor, a pregnant woman, is lifted from the debris and placed gingerly in the Haunted Tank. Initial calls for medical advice are met with skepticism and so the boys must deliver the baby on their own, unaware a vengeful Nazi commandant is hot on their tail. In the end, the German tank is kaputzed and mama delivers a bouncing baby... German. The boys muse that the child will grow up to be a goose-stepping, soulless killing machine but Commander Jeb looks on the bright side and reminds his comrades that love conquers all.

"Battlefield Bundle"
Well, "Battlefield Bundle" isn't a smelly dead fish like the last several Tank adventures, but that doesn't mean I enjoyed it. Sam Glanzman's art seems to be getting worse and Kanigher's dialogue is approaching mid-'70s Kirby levels ("Let's hope there won't be any more wars, Jeb... for kids everywhere in the world!").  The sub-plot of the vicious German commander who's hell-bent on roasting the Jeb's metal flesh is built up and built up (the suspense was killin' me, I tells ya) and then Big Bob seems to tire of the story line (or runs out of space) and dispatches the Nazi without fanfare. The other problem I have (and avert your eyes if you've heard this one too many times) is that we have no continuity between issues. The events in this issue clearly take place some time after the events of last issue and a few months before the next. The weather tells me so. I'm playing Monday Morning Quarterback here, I realize, and the kids in 1975 probably couldn't care less about timelines, but it sure nags at me. I'm only going to get grumpier since editor Jack Harris informs us, on the letters page, that very soon the boys will ship out for China!

"The Shamed Survivor"
Kamikaze pilot Iyo Koremitzu and PT Ensign Johnny Benton are on a collision course with destiny. (Stop me if you've heard this one before.) Iyo and his squadron of bombers cripple an American carrier while Johnny's PT is the only one in the area not destroyed. Johnny lets loose a couple of tin fish on a Jap carrier and then turns his sights on Iyo's approaching plane. Iyo crashes in the water but is thrown from the flaming wreckage and Johnny rescues the kamikaze from the drink, carrying his enemy to safety on a nearby island. Benton dies from his wounds and Iyo muses (stop me if you've heard this one before) how the enemy is really "just... like me..." The kamikaze decides he's shamed his country and sits down on the beach, welcoming death.

This is three-quarters (maybe five-sixths) of recycled pap, a gimmick that Bob trots out about every six months (the average life cycle of a mid-'70s comic book reader, I'd guess); the separate but so similar soldiers preparing for battle, thinking the exact same thoughts is a trope that's been run into the ground hereabouts. The only redeeming factor to "The Shamed Survivor" is its final panels, with the pensive Iyo accepting his fate. Those four panels are deserving of a better build-up.

Jack: What a coincidence: an OB/GYN in a batallion aid station laments the lack of babies to deliver and, voila!, here comes the Haunted Tank with a woman in labor! There was some slight suspense with the German tank tracking the HT, but that's about it for this poorly-illustrated entry. "The Shamed Survivor" is yet another parallel story, though there's some unexpected empathy between enemy soldiers and an odd ending.

Our Army at War 286

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: In heavy fog, Easy is assigned the task of checking out the town of Bovais. On the way there, they are attacked by Nazi gunners and prevail in hand to hand combat before reaching an airfield, where they find planes from WWI. Louis Dupres, who had been a mechanic in the Great War, still maintains the planes and tells Rock of an air battle between French Captain Roland and the Enemy Ace, Hans von Hammer, in which the honorable German escorted the dying Frenchman safely home.

Captain Roland's dying wish was for Louis to remain with his plane, and Louis has kept that promise for 26 years. The French mechanic tells Sgt. Rock that Bovais is crammed with Nazis sitting atop a fuel and ammo dump. The fog makes it too dangerous for a conventional attack, so Louis agrees to fly the lovingly-maintained old plane over Bovais, quietly and at a low altitude, with Rock and Little Sure Shot standing on the wings. The plane makes it to Bovais and bombs are dropped, but Louis is fatally injured and barely makes it back to the hangar with his passengers. Their mission accomplished, the men of Easy head off to report that Bovais is clear.

"Firebird" is one of the better Rock tales of late, probably due to the assistance an uncredited Joe Kubert appears to have provided to artist Ruben Yandoc. The story is a mix of art styles, with Kubert drawing the men of Easy Co. and Yandoc drawing the other characters. It all works well, though, and it's great to get a cameo by the Enemy Ace, even if we only see his plane and hear about him in the story told by the loyal mechanic.

The letters column in this issue includes an interesting missive where an unnamed reader lays out Sgt. Rock's family tree, after having pored over back issues.

On a snow-covered mountain, American soldiers locate a Nazi replacement supply depot but an exploding mortar shell interrupts their attempt to radio the location back to base. Nazi soldiers on skis attack as a soldier tries to get the message through by radio and, while he seems to make a successful "Escape!," it turns out it was all in his head, since he lies dead in the snow.

Despite shaky art by Estrada and one particularly bad panel with Korny Kanigher dialogue ("'That's one .. hard-boiled egg ... they didn't expect!'"), there are enough interesting things in this six-page Gallery of War entry to make it interesting: the snowy setting, the soldiers on skis, and the usual, heightened level of violence and despair that are a hallmark of this series.

Peter: "Firebird" is a solid, entertaining adventure despite its outlandish concept (no, I didn't fly in WWII but I'm quite sure you can't hang onto the wing of a plane and operate a machine gun at the same time); it's like one of the better Big Bob stories of the late 1960s. I can find no data to back me up but I have to believe an uncredited Kubert did a boatload of the artwork. I see flashes of Yandoc here and there but much more Kubert. I'm not sure an artist can ape another's style quite that well. Am I wrong?

I like "Escape!" It's another of Big Bob's darker "Gallery of War" entries and it works, aside from its stale "Owl Creek Bridge" variation twist and the cartoony art by Estrada, because it puts the kibosh on our expectations and desires. We desperately want the good guy to win. One can only wonder what Kubert or Heath could have done with these heavier scripts.

Our Fighting Forces 161

"The Major's Dream"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby & D. Bruce Berry

Jack: British Major Geoffrey Soames has a recurring nightmare that ends with him being crushed by a many-armed monster. Despite his obvious PTSD, he is assigned to guide the Losers as they seek to establish an observation post to meet a Japanese offensive. A native named Sim shows up as the real guide, and the Losers soon come across the Japanese main force on the march.

Sim leads them on foot to a ruined temple, which happens to be the same place that Soames's prior force was wiped out. The Losers, Sim, and Major Soames take cover in an underground tunnel, but Soames goes batty when he hears Japanese soldiers marching above; his reckless gunfire gives away the Losers' position and Japanese soldiers fill the tunnel. Grenade blasts cause a cave-in and suddenly Soames thinks he's back in his bad dream; he is killed when a giant statue of the many-armed goddess Kali falls on him. The Losers and Sim manage to make their escape.

I wish we could make our escape from any more episodes of Kirby's Losers. I just can't believe that DC reissued this junk in a collection and that people seem to like it. Reading through it issue by issue is sheer torture. The best thing about this issue is Kubert's top-notch cover, though he seems to have forgotten that Captain Storm has a wooden leg.

Peter: An intriguing set-up degenerates into the usual Kirby claptrap where soldiers spout gibberish like "My dogs are barkin' in high 'C'" and Asians are yellow and men have noses longer than their face. In the end, I'm not really sure why The Losers were involved in the first place.

Star Spangled War Stories 193

"Save the Children!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"There Are No Guns on a Showboat"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Frank Redondo

Peter: The Unknown Soldier is given his latest impossible mission: board and destroy a train carrying several high-ranking Nazi officers before they get to Berlin. Killing and taking the place of Colonel Ernest Heidak, US boards the train, only to discover Heidak was traveling with wife and children and that the ultimate destination is a pow-wow with Der F├╝hrer himself! Unable to kill innocents, the Soldier modifies his plans and decides to eliminate the Nazis once they've reached Berlin. The Soldier makes sure his "wife and children" are safe in a local hotel and then heads for the meet-and-greet but, as usual, plans go awry when the ten officers travel in ten separate cars in order to avoid mass assassination. In a fiery climax, the US detonates a bomb, killing most of the officers, but later discovers that Heidak's family has been taken to a concentration camp as punishment for his "betrayal."

Gerry Conway steps in for one issue, ably filling David Michelinie's very large and detailed shoes, with "Save the Children!," a scorching action saga filled with unexpected twists and a Michelinie-esque downbeat climax. It's ironic that the US risks the entire mission to save three innocents but, in the end, he watches helplessly as the family is marched off to inevitable death. Gerry throws in all sorts of inconsequential, but welcome, distractions to the main plot such as the opening exchange between the Soldier and his arrogant CO, who reminds our hero that he "has no special privileges, no particular prerogatives. You are a soldier and I am your commanding officer. You follow my orders--and no questions!"; a tirade designed, it seems, for no reason other than to stroke the CO's own ego. I wonder if it's this character that brings out the best in writers. Thank goodness DC didn't attempt to test my theory by bringing in Kirby for a stretch.

Drafted comedian Charlie Vines is considered by his CO to be a "showboat" lacking nerve but (of course) in a time of need, Charlie stands up (pun attempted there) and shows the boss he's made of sterner stuff. "There Are No Guns on a Showboat!" is a disastrously predictable short-short by the equally predictable pulp writer Arnold Drake. Redondo's art isn't bad but getting through all the inevitable cliches and the awful one-liners (this guy is a comedian?) is a daunting task.

"Save the Children!"

Jack: One thing I found interesting about "Save the Children" was the decision to have the Unknown Soldier spend most of the story without his bandages; as a result, we get many views of his hideously deformed face. Conway's story is good and Talaoc's art is stellar, as usual, but the end was a bit too "Conway depressing" for my taste. The Vines character in the backup story is drawn to resemble Bob Hope, who had his own DC comic for many years. Drake's story is poor and the twist ending is unconvincing. At least Redondo's art is competent. Kudos again this month to Joe Kubert for four beautifully drawn covers.

("There Are No Guns on a Showboat")

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