Monday, January 13, 2020

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 172: May 1976

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

G.I. Combat 190

"The Tiger and the Terrier"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"The Gentleman G.I."
Story by Murray Boltinoff
Art by E.R. Cruz

Peter: The crew of the Jeb Stuart are sent out to find a hidden radar tower that's been playing havoc with our flyboys. Only problem is that Commander Jeb is ordered not to engage in battle with  enemy tanks. Search and destroy the tower only! Of course, that rankles the hotheads who sit in the bowels of the Haunted Tank and they take their shots anyway when the time comes. Turns out for the best since the C.O. who gave the "No Engage" orders is sitting under the wreckage of his own tin can and could use some extra help. Tiger blasted to hell, the boys find the radar station and radio coordinates to the Allied aces. One super secret Nazi radar tower less to worry about.

"The Tiger and the Terrier"
"The Tiger and the Terrier" is not a bad Haunted Tank episode (especially considering how rotten the last batch have been) if you can squint and ignore Glanzman's doodling. And, yes, there are some real eye-rollers as in all of Big Bob's series scripts (yet again, we see the Haunted Tank "jump" onto another tank from a mountain top and survive), but I chose to turn my head a bit and ignore the howlers. Early in the story, Attila the Hun's ghost is introduced (battling the General in the sky), but nothing comes of it and Attila is dumped without fanfare. Another Kanigher trope that's flirted with is the "split screen" effect where the same occurrence is happening on both sides of the war. Luckily, that's dropped quickly as well and we can settle into a decent action thriller.

"The Gentleman G.I." is a funny change of pace about a soldier who insists on having his tailor send him a spiffy suit. His comrades make light of the sparkly duds but, in the end, it saves lives. Who would have thought Murray Boltinoff (under his pen name of Wesley Marsh) had such a genuinely delightful script stored up inside him? After reading way too many bad Boltinoff stories, I sure didn't.  E.R. Cruz's art is gorgeous, by the way.

"The Gentleman G.I."

Jack: "The Tiger and the Terrier" starts off with Kanigher's parallel structure but soon abandons the German point of view for an interesting look at Jeb obeying orders while resisting the temptation to engage the enemy. In the end, another outlandish battle somewhat spoils a promising story. Glanzman's art would be acceptable in a late '30s/early '40s primitive DC book but by 1976 it was well below average. "The Gentleman G.I.," on the other hand, features smooth art by E.R. Cruz and an unexpected and satisfying climax.

Our Army at War 292

"A Lesson in Blood"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Redondo

"Final Performance"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: In the southern Italian town of Reggio, a courageous young teacher stands up to the Nazis and refuses to tell her students that the invaders are their friends. For her trouble, she is marched out of town and shot dead in front of the children. Rock and the men of Easy Co. happen upon the aftermath of this scene and take a detour from their patrol to visit Reggio and give the Nazis "A Lesson in Blood."

"A Lesson in Blood"
Once in the town, most of Rock's men are wounded by shots from hidden Nazi snipers. It's up to Wild Man and 4-Eyes to keep the Nazis occupied with little acts of sabotage until reinforcements arrive. They manage to create such mayhem that the Nazis are driven from Reggio and Easy Co. can walk out of town unmolested, their mission of vengeance complete.

I quite liked this story, which has echoes of earlier and better Sgt. Rock stories but which chooses to focus on two underused characters for much of its length. I don't recall 4-Eyes being featured in a very long time, while Wild Man always seems to be hanging around the panels due to his distinctive red hair and mustache. I like that Rock and his men seem to be working their way up through Italy in recent issues; it gives the stories some continuity. Kubert's cover is great but it illustrates a scene not found in the story.

"Final Performance"
Jewish musicians at a Nazi concentration camp must play as new arrivals are marched to the gas chambers. When word of the Allied landing makes its way to the camp, the Jews are hopeful but that hope soon dims as they are slaughtered wholesale in a Nazi attempt to cover up crimes. Last to survive are the musicians, who are ordered to give a "Final Performance" as the Nazis vacate the camp. Knowing they will be killed at the end, the musicians rush at the Nazis and are shot dead, but their efforts keep the enemy on site long enough for Allied tanks to begin shelling and wipe out the monsters.

It must be the influence of Blitzkrieg, but Kanigher's stories are taking a very dark and powerful turn of late. This one is so strong and so horrible that Ric Estrada's art can't diminish the power of the storytelling. There is no last minute rescue and no letup in the darkness here; the situation is presented in a straightforward manner that is more adult than we're used to seeing. I think it's outstanding.

Peter: After a stirring opening, "A Lesson in Blood" descends into the usual Rock fare. A handful of guys against half the Nazi army but we know the good guys always come out on top. "Final Performance" is much better, which pleases me to no end since Kanigher's "Gallery of War" stories of late had been weak. I'm warming to Ric Estrada's art as well. He's not my cup of tea (see E.R. Cruz or Gerry Talaoc for my brand), but I'm getting used to his cartoony style.

Star Spangled War Stories 199

"The Crime of Sgt. Schepke"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Killing Machine"
Story by David Michelinie and Steve Skeates
Art by Tenny Henson

Peter: The Unknown Soldier is trying to clear his good name after the incidents last issue have Washington convinced he's gone rogue and now fights for Germany. But who can the Army brass send after their number one spy and assassin? None other than the gorgeous Mademoiselle Marie and her French freedom fighters! Marie uses her ultra-cute nose to sniff our hero out of a crowd and tries to gun him down. The Soldier talks Marie into accompanying him to the residence of Sgt. Schepke, the only man on Earth who can prove US is an innocent man. Unfortunately, the crew get to Schepke's precisely ten seconds too late. After hearing he's to be given a dishonorable discharge for his part in the Soldier's deception (again, last issue), Schepke put a bullet in his own brain.

"The Crime of Sgt. Schepke"

There's no denying that "The Crime of Sgt. Schepke" is wall-to-wall action and excitement but I have to say that, like last issue's opening chapter, the script is simply too contrived to be believable. You get used to this silliness in the Kanigher strips starring Johnny Cloud and Gunner and Sarge but David Michelinie's Unknown Soldier has been blissfully free, for the most part, of manufactured suspense up to now. How could the brass be convinced US has turned on a dime when he's risked his life so many times? Never mind that; you'd think the Army would at least want him captured alive to prove he's a traitor. They've got a hell of a lot of time and money invested in this weapon. Let's see if David can rescue this arc next issue. I'll give him a chance to clear his name.

"The Crime of Sgt. Schepke"

"Killing Machine"
Bernson and Mitchell have created the TDM, the perfect "Killing Machine," but the craft needs a human brain to run it. The Army asks the two men to sacrifice their bodies and become the machines. Bernson and Mitchell agree and the X-11 (Bernson) and X-12 (Mitchell) are launched. The weapons do a great job until the "other side" devises something akin to the TDM and the enemies wipe each other out, leaving Bernson's machine alone in the world. As he moves across the scorched earth, another machine rolls into view and fires on Bernson. Defending himself, X-11 blasts the other machine to bits, not knowing it was the X-12.

Rarely is the back-up story better than the lead (especially when you're talking about the Unknown Soldier), but "Killing Machine" is a nice short with an ironic twist and not much in the way of preaching. I would have preferred if editor Joe Orlando had assigned a professional artist rather than a guy who's probably used to drawing Hostess Twinkie ads.

"Killing Machine"

Jack: And just like that, Mlle. Marie is back, just as if she never left, well aware of the Unknown Soldier and his mission. She does manage to identify the Unknown Soldier in his mask right away, whereas Nazi after Nazi never noticed that he was the only guy on the scene not breaking a sweat. A quick look at the GCD suggests that we have not seen our favorite French cupcake since 1968, so I say: Welcome Back! Not so welcome is the tedious science fiction of "Killing Machine."


Here's how our favorite war titles did in 1975 We're suckers for lots of trivial data, so we've included the sales reports for the three previous years as well. Based on the figures, Jack Kirby's stint on Our Fighting Forces could be labeled a disaster and the Haunted Tank clearly is not winning over new fans. In fact, the only title holding its own is Star Spangled, perhaps because it's such a well-written book. At least we like to assume that.

                                                        1975        1974        1973         1972                     
G.I. Combat                                    135,000   168,042   161,702    170,557       
Our Army at War                            152,000   178,134   163,221    165,021 
Our Fighting Forces                       112,000    161,417    147,968    156,524   
Star Spangled War Stories             145,000    144,765    144,292    154,716 
Weird War Tales                             136,000       -                 -                -

Amazing Spider-Man                     273,773    288,232   273,204     288,379 
Batman                                           154,000    193,223   200,574     185,283   
Superman                                       296,000    285,634    240,558     252,317     

Next Week...
We'll find out if
three witches are
better than one!

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