Monday, October 28, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 167: December 1975 + The Best and Worst of 1975

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 43

Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Vic Geronimo

"The Year 700 After the Bomb!"
(Part 2)
Story by Sheldon Mayer
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"Voyage to Limbo"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Bill Draut

Peter: In Okinawa, brave Japanese soldier Corporal Okada is visited by the ghost of an ancient Shinto warrior. The spectre informs the corporal that he is invincible while fighting in the war as it has been decreed that Okada will die in his own bed. With this information in mind, Okada becomes a hero, racing out into battle to save his comrades. After he is wounded and sent home, he awaits a peaceful death in bed but is shocked when a bright light appears on the horizon and his world is vaporized. Okada lives in Hiroshima.

Surprise! ("Bulletproof")

Comic books are all about
suspension of disbelief, right?
I found "Bulletproof" to be one of the better short stories we've read in WWT lately. Okada meets an ironic, grim, and tragic (and unwarranted, I should add) end after risking his life to save his fellow soldier; the fact that writer Oleck avoided his usual cliched "just desserts" adds to my enjoyment of the tale.  Newcomer Vic Geronimo's art is not bad; it lacks style and excitement (according to the GCD, this is Geronimo's only DC contribution) but it illustrates the words well enough.

In Part 2 of "The Year 700 After the Bomb!," Barry of Bleeker Street continues telling his story to the manager of Lacy's department store how he managed to arrive from a post-apocalyptic future and the adventures he survived (including enlisting the aid of a boy who turns out not to be a boy!). I found the second part of this amiable yarn much more engaging than the first. I'm still clueless as to what exactly is going on but my attention has been grabbed. Alfredo's art is much better this time out as well. For some reason, I'm able to suspend my disbelief when it comes to our time-travelling Prince Valiant-lookalike, but how am I supposed to buy Jakki hiding those gorgeous breasts from the world while disguised as a young lad? And how about the scene where Jakki takes Barry to the ruins of Lacy's and pops open a can of beans for our hero to sup on. Beans that were canned 700 years before! Those are some beans!

"Voyage to Limbo"
A vicious Nazi submarine Kapitan orders a hospital ship to be sunk but then discovers, too late, the vessel is actually the infamous "Flying Dutchman." "Voyage to Limbo" is absolute rubbish, with the barest minimum of a script (3 pages... 8 pages... doesn't matter when we're dealing with George Kashdan, does it?) and cartoony art pulled straight from a Scooby-Doo broadcast.

Jack: I agree on all three stories, Peter. "Bulletproof" is not a bad little tale, showing the war from the perspective of a Japanese soldier for a change. "The Year 700" was interesting enough that I went back and read part one to make sure I followed what was going on; at 16 pages so far and with part three still to come, this could have filled an entire issue! That gender switch came out of nowhere, didn't it?  "Voyage to Limbo" is a waste of three pages.

G.I. Combat 185

"No Taps for a Tank"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"3 Dogtags to Glory"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: Attacked viciously by dirty rat bastard Nazi tanks, the boys watch in horror as Haunted Tank II (or III?) goes up in flames. Chased into a nearby burnt-out village, our heroes stumble upon... (no way!) the original Haunted Tank! A few skirmishes and the old rusty tin can is theirs again. I have to be honest and say that my mind wandered several times during this adventure but, to be fair, it might be due to the familiar nature of the plot and the fact that nothing really happens... but happens at a snail's pace. I'm just repeating myself (go ahead and look back at my commentaries for the last dozen or so issues and you'll see I merely cut and pasted over and over and...), but this series really is a drudge.

One very dead Nazi bastard!
How exciting is it to watch these guys go from Haunted Tank to Haunted Tank II and back again? In fact, I was surprised to see one of the Jeb crew (please don't ask me which one as Sam's "artwork" makes that request impossible to fulfill)  scold me in the final panel: "What kept you? Catch up on your sleep--while we kayoed the Germans?" Rather than becoming immune to Glanzman's scratchings, I find myself hating them more and more with each successive issue. I will say that the staff managed to catch the Comics Code sleeping with that panel on the final page that clearly shows a Nazi being blown to hell in pretty graphic fashion.

Who knew Big Bob had a hip sense of humor?
Three G.I.s hoof it up a Japanese-held mountain on a Pacific island, determined to make it to the top and plant the American flag. "3 Dogtags to Glory" should be one of those Kanigher shorts that leaves me feeling manipulated rather than emotionally spent but, for some reason, this one manages to avoid the maudlin and climaxes with a genuinely sad image.

Jack: Both of these stories would be more enjoyable with better artists. I've lost track of which Haunted Tank is which but, on this issue's letters page, artist Walt Simonson contributes a photo of a Haunted Tank he cobbled together from a few model kits. The idea that such a fine comic artist was home making a model tank makes me smile. The backup story is grittier than the lead story and I'm happy to see the African-American soldier emerge a hero, despite losing his life.

Our Army at War 287

"The 5th Bridge"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Doug Wildey

"Last Call!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: On 9/17/44, Sgt. Rock and the men of Easy Co. are part of a huge force being transported into Germany to try to establish a bridgehead over the Rhine. Easy Co. is in a glider being towed by a plane, but when the lead plane is shot down Rock has to land the glider himself. Near "The Fifth Bridge," Rock and his men engage in hand to hand combat with German soldiers and encounter a nurse leading a group of patients through the woods. In the end, the plan to capture the bridges is a failure, but Rock and his men survive and head off with the hospital patients and the nurse.

I'm in the middle of reading Ike by Michael Korda, a biography of Eisenhower, so the factual details in this story fascinated me. It's not so much a Sgt. Rock story as it is a report on a particular battle that actually happened and, as such, I really enjoyed it. Wildey's art seems middle of the road--he's no Kubert but then he's no Glanzman, either.

"The Fifth Bridge"

"Last Call!"
A little boy grows up wanting to be a bugler so he can play "Taps," but when WWII comes along and he's in the service, he gets stuck playing his piano instead of blowing a horn. An enemy attack kills so many real soldiers that the musicians are pressed into service; Jerry takes over a machine gun and does his best but is soon killed, still clutching his horn. A German soldier finds his body, takes the horn, and plays something ("Taps"?) before replacing it on the corpse.

"Last Call" is the second Kanigher story in this issue that is better than the art that illustrates it. Estrada is not as bad here as he is in "3 Dogtags to Glory" in this month's G.I. Combat, but both stories would be so much better with Joe Kubert at the drawing board.

Peter: If not the oddest Sgt. Rock episode, "The 5th Brigade" is easily the ugliest. Wildey's art is uncomfortable to be around; it makes me itchy. Rock is assigned supporting actor status this time with several different viewpoints interrupting the actions of the title's star. This sure doesn't feel like a Big Bob script, does it? "Last Call" shows that Kanigher's once-glorious Gallery of War has descended to "Just Another Maudlin/Ironic Back-Up" in a very short amount of time.

Our Fighting Forces 162

Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and D. Bruce Berry

Jack: In the French town of Arranville, Gunner trains four war orphans to be Marines while Johnny Cloud and Captain Storm grill a Nazi prisoner, trying to find out if the Nazis plan a breakthrough attack at this spot. Suddenly, the Nazis attack! A brutal battle ensues and things are looking grim until Gunner leads his new batch of Marines against the enemy forces and defeats them. It turns out that this was not the big Nazi attack, so the Losers head off to fight somewhere else.

Jack Kirby's last Losers tale is not much different from the prior batch, with below-average art and cliches that were tired by 1945, but at least it lacks anything particularly offensive or ridiculous. The storytelling is straightforward and, though the first attempt of the war orphans to act like Marines had a sad echo of the Boy Commandos, I've seen worse from the King.

Not quite the Boy Commandos.

Peter: I'm not sure how Kirby's replacement, Jack Lehti, will fare but it's gotta be better than the "King"'s run on the Losers (if there was ever a spot-on title...). Thankfully this is Jack's final issue as he ran back to Marvel for what was assumed to be a Second Coming (how Jack ruined Captain America was detailed with quite a bit of pain over at Marvel University) and left The Losers in a state of disarray. This final episode is just as frenetic and inane as its predecessors but with even worse art than we've become accustomed to. Perhaps The King was in such a hurry to sign that big contract with the company that previously "stabbed him in the back," that he forgot to finish what he was working on.

Star Spangled War Stories 194

"The Survival Syndrome"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"The Siege of Zanzibar"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Frank Redondo

Peter: The Unknown Soldier is given his latest mission impossible: travel to the small Nazi-held French village of Beaulieux and jam the German communication center hidden there. US savagely ambushes Korporal Vorst as the Nazi is riding out of town and takes his identity. Heading back into Beaulieux, our faceless hero is astonished when he is quickly arrested as... a deserter. Bad planning. Luckily, US is contacted by a gorgeous freedom fighter by the name of Yvette, who manages to free the American super-spy from his cell. Unfortunately, Yvette's father is the Nazi boot-licking mayor of Beaulieux and the nasty piece of work reports his daughter's activities to his best buds. US escapes but Yvette is executed before he can save her. With a vengeance, the Unknown Soldier jams the German communications as ordered and frames the act on the soulless mayor.

Wow! "The Survival Syndrome" may be the best Unknown Soldier adventure yet (and that's saying quite a bit), full of genuine pathos and wall-to-wall action. Michelinie's version of the lead character seems to be growing more and more bloodthirsty with each passing chapter while, at the same time, growing weary of his higher-ups and their seemingly worry-free jobs. Vorst's murder is particularly nasty (death by electrocution), bringing to mind the vibe of Michael Fleisher's comic book work, and Yvette's execution is poignant, despite the character's short running time. I can't stress enough just how good this series is. "The Siege of Zanzibar" is an appropriately short two-pager about the "shortest war in recorded history," lasting a mere 38 minutes.

Jack: From start to finish, this is a terrific comic! There is a great example of the pictures telling a different story than the words early in the tale, when US solves a ring puzzle silently while an officer jabbers on about his latest mission. This is but one demonstration of how well Michelinie and Talaoc work together although, as the editor points out on the letters page, they were 6000 miles apart. The opening sequence is beautifully rendered, with US's naked skull shown in shadows, and even the lettering on the story's title is evocative. I always enjoy wordless sequences when they're well done, and there's a great one here late in the story when US kills a guard and we see the girl executed. It's interesting that Kubert's cover suggests that US will save her, but there's no helpful grenade or rescue in the actual story. Top marks all around.

"The Siege of Zanzibar" also features beautiful art by Frank Redondo, and Michelinie delivers an interesting history lesson in two pages--it seems just the right length.



Best Script: David Michelinie, "Sense of Obligation" (Star Spangled 184)
Best Art: Gerry Talaoc, "Sense of Obligation"
Best All-Around Story: "Sense of Obligation"

Worst Script: Arnold Drake, "Common Enemy" (Weird War Tales 34)
Worst Art: Bill Draut, "The Kangaroo Court-Martial" (Weird War Tales 39)
Worst All-Around Story: Kashdan/Draut, "The Kangaroo Court-Martial"


1 "Sense of Obligation"
2 "The Survival Syndrome" (Star Spangled War Stories 194)
"Regiment Six" (Weird War Tales 41)
4 "Save the Children" (Star Spangled 193)
"The Hero" (Star Spangled 185)


Best Script: David Michelinie, "The Survival Syndrome"
Best Art: Gerry Talaoc, "The Survival Syndrome"
Best All-Around Story: "The Survival Syndrome"

Worst Script: "Panama Fattie!" (Our Fighting Forces 157)
Worst Art: tie--any Losers story by Kirby
Worst All-Around Story: "Panama Fattie!"


1 "The Hero"
2 "Man of God--Man of War" (Star Spangled 186)
3 "Dead Man's Eyes" (Our Army at War 281)
4 "Encounter" (Star Spangled 188)
5 "The Survival Syndrome"

Special awards:
  • To Jack Kirby, for consistently bad work and for keeping Sam Glanzman off the year's worst list.
  • To Joe Kubert, for consistent excellence on cover after cover, keeping the DC War Comics line selling.

Next week...

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