Monday, February 24, 2020

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 175: August 1976

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Blitzkrieg 4

"The Tourists"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

"The Souvenir!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: German soldiers Bruno, Hugo, and Franz would like to be "The Tourists" and see the sights in occupied Paris, but attacks by French resistance fighters keep getting in the way. An S.S. officer is shot by a sniper and falls off of the Eiffel Tower. An older Frenchman is taken in for questioning and throws himself out of a window in Nazi headquarters. Even when the trio of soldiers sit at an outdoor cafe with some French girls, a cyclist with a gun shoots his own sister and another German soldier.

"The Tourists"
When the soldiers check out the Place des Vosges, a Jewish girl throws a booby-trapped loaf of bread at them. They chase her into the underground Metro but, when cornered, she throws herself in front of a train rather than be captured. There's even an explosion at the Arc de Triomphe! The German soldiers observe a French flag flying on the arch and realize that, to convince the French citizens to stop fighting back, they will first need to convince them they have been defeated.

If Ric Estrada's art were a little better, I'd give this story four stars! As it is, I like to see the events of WWII through the eyes of German soldiers and I appreciate Kanigher's unusual choice to have the same three keep returning from issue to issue. The Paris setting is well done and the repeated sacrifices of the French resistance fighters and average citizens are powerful.

In the North African desert, German soldiers battle Allied soldiers and Emil Wasser searches among the dead for souvenirs to send home to his wife, Hilda. A watch he removes from the arm of a dead man isn't special enough, so he keeps looking for just the right gift. Delighted by the irony of finding a framed picture of Winston Churchill in a bombed-out building, Emil realizes too late that it is a booby-trap, and the grenade taped to the back of the photo ends his life and his hunt for "The Souvenir!"

"The Souvenir!"
Five pages isn't enough space to tell much of a story, but Kanigher and Estrada manage to create an interesting character who scavenges among corpses for presents for his spouse back home. The end is not surprising but it is satisfying.

Peter: Though I think both stories in this issue are strong, much stronger than any of the back-ups in the other titles, I'm not sure what Big Bob was trying to say with "The Tourists." That the Nazis were sadistic pigs? We all knew that. That the French were a brave and proud society? Maybe, but history really hasn't been kind to them, has it? So the short vignettes of rebel activity and German attitudes about their dominance are stitched together into something powerful but unfocused. "The Souvenir!" retells a story we've read before (no, I can't find the exact story, but I'll bet you remember it) but maybe I'm just so jazzed about the adult nature of this title, I can excuse the self-plagiarism on Kanigher's part.

G.I. Combat 193

"The War That Had to Wait"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"The Naked Code"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Fred Carrillo

Peter: When a farmhouse fires on the Haunted Tank, the crew have no choice but to blow it to hell. When the dust settles, a lone farmer emerges from the wreckage and explains to the boys that his wife has been killed in the battle and his son is locked in the barn. As he lays dying, the farmer gets the crew to agree to adopt the boy and the farmer's livestock and see they get to safer ground. The journey begins and the Jeb Stuart crew discover that not only is the boy an orphan but he's also blind! The tin can has to avoid many obstacles but they finally deliver little farmer Eric and his Noah's ark to the Red Cross for handling.

"The War That Had to Wait"
Well, first gorillas, now a little kid, chickens, pigs, and cows as well. Have we reached the bottom? Like that earlier gorilla adventure, "The War That Had to Wait" is lazy and light, just the ticket if you're a five-year-old DC war fan, I guess. Hilarious that the dying farmer doesn't even think to add "Oh and, by the way, the kid's blind!" There's all kinds of silly nonsense going on in this sitcom--the kid wanders from the Tank into a mine field but, since he's blind, he's blessed with "an acute sense of touch." Big Bob doesn't mention how the kid figured out he was in a mine field in the first place! I want to see the follow-up, where Jeb and the gang are court-martialed for wandering all over Germany (ostensibly veering off the path they were ordered to take) with a tank full of poultry.

"The Naked Code"
In the second installment of "OSS," a female agent is sent undercover into a German concentration camp in order to discover where the Nazis are hiding their new killer jets. Her mission is to meet up with Emil, a freedom fighter also undercover in the camp, a man who knows just where the jets are stashed. But when she arrives, she makes contact with Emil but he turns her in as a spy to the commandant, who decides to make her that evening's "entertainment." He orders Emil to take the girl to his private quarters and, once they get there, he disrobes her. Later, while driving the commandant and the pretty spy, Emil hijacks the car and makes a getaway with his passengers still in tow. Emil and the Nazi are killed in a gunfight but the OSS agent escapes, making it back to base, where she discovers why Emil was so hot to get her clothes off. He tattooed a map of the jet location on her back.

Much more lightweight and sillier than the previous installment pf "OSS," "The Naked Code" is a big disappointment; it has the vibe of one of those really bad Batgirl back-ups we covered in Detective Comics years ago (and Fred Carrillo's pedestrian art doubles that vibe). So much here is laughable: why wouldn't Emil let the girl know what he was doing rather than let her think he's a skeezy traitor out to get his jollies? And how long did this intricate tattoo take to draw on (I'm going to assume Emil didn't permanently etch the map on the girl) and why couldn't she tell what he was doing? And why does it seem like Hogan's Heroes got it right with these can't-shoot-straight-dopey-lovable Nazis?

Jack: Only four more issues. Only four more issues. Just keep repeating that to yourself. In answer to Peter's question from a prior post, Gus does remember seeing the ghost of Jeb Stuart, so that was a surprise. I wondered as I read "The War That Had to Wait" if Kanigher was thinking of Blitzkrieg when he depicted a German soldier sympathetically in this story. I thought the story was fairly good, despite Glanzman's art. "The Naked Code" has better art but the story is weak and that's some fast-healing tattoo work! I've never had one, but I think they scab over first, right?

Our Army at War 295

"The Devil in Paradise"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Redondo

"Sgt York"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

Jack: Easy Co. is sent in to mop up a town after it's been shelled by Allied artillery. After wiping out a group of German snipers on a rooftop, Rock needs some air and walks out of town, finding himself in a bucolic setting. His reverie is soon shattered by "The Devil in Paradise," a German sergeant who marches Rock at gunpoint deeper into the woods for interrogation. Rock turns the tables and soon the two battle until Rock kills his enemy counterpart. He heads back to town, discouraged by the conversion of the lovely woods into a place of death.

Kanigher's tale reminded me of three things. The first was the butterfly ending to All Quiet on the Western Front (watch a clip here), which is recalled when Rock catches a butterfly only to be hit by the butt of a German gun moments later. The second was the scene in The Bridge on the River Kwai when the Japanese commander throws the Geneva Convention book to the ground (clip here); this is recalled when Rock gives his name, rank, and serial number and refers to the Geneva Convention, only to have the German sergeant sneer at it. Finally, the third thing was the former practice in DC War Comics of ending the stories with a badge or banner reading, "Make War No More." If ever a story called out for it, this one does! However, by 1976, the Vietnam War was over and perhaps the DC War Comics editors felt the message was no longer necessary.

Make War No More!
("The Devil in Paradise")

"Sgt. York"
Sergeant Alvin York was a conscientious objector who overcame his objections and became a hero near the end of WWI when he almost single-handedly stopped a German attack and captured 132 enemy soldiers. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. I've never seen the Gary Cooper biopic but this story is so amazing it makes me want to watch it. A quick bit of internet research supports Maurer's telling of the tale, which is almost harder to believe than some of the Sgt. Rock stories we've read. York sure overcame his misgivings about war, since later in life he was in favor of dropping the atom bomb on Russia as a first strike!

Peter: Very good Rock drama this issue, with some stellar pencil work by Redondo. It's nice to see Big Bob didn't make the "new kid" the focus and, instead, made it about Rock's fight for survival. The back-up is a badly-illustrated history piece; if I were a kid, I'd have skipped this one.

Our Fighting Forces 168

"A Cold Day to Die"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by George Evans

"Death Knocks 5 Times"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by E.R. Cruz

Jack: Captured by Nazis, the four Losers are about to be hanged when they notice five nooses. Whose pretty neck is scheduled for the fifth noose? None other than the Losers' old friend, Ona! In the snowy landscape, it may be "A Cold Day to Die," but that doesn't stop cool customer Captain Storm from making a last request to smoke one of the cigarettes from his personal case. As he puffs away, he recalls how the Losers found themselves in this predicament.

Ona's back!
("A Cold Day to Die")
Parachuting into Norway, they were immediately attacked by Nazis on skis, but it didn't take long to wipe out the enemy. Suddenly, who should appear but their contact from the Norwegian Underground: Ona! Driving a sleigh pulled by two reindeer, she comforts Gunner, who was shot in the shoulder during the parachute drop, and snuggles up with him in the sleigh so he doesn't go into shock. The Losers reach their target, which is a Nazi plant where they are conducting heavy water experiments. They sneak in and hide charges to blow the place up but are caught and about to be hanged when Captain Storm pretends to scratch his wooden leg and pushes a button to set off the charges. In the ensuing chaos, the Losers and Ona leap off of a cliff and land safely in a river, where they will float downstream and be picked up by members of the Underground so that they can be flown safely back to England.

Well, that was fun! I had just about given up hope of ever seeing Ona again, but here she is right smack in the middle of the action! I hope she sticks around for the last couple of issues we plan to review. I enjoy Evans's artwork but the cover is even sharper, despite the fact that it hides Ona's identity and does not exactly match up with the gallows scene in the interior story.

Johnny Cloud meets a pilot named Ben, who expires just as he lands his plane. A German fighter plane attacks and Johnny leaps into action, joining Ben's corpse in the cockpit and taking to the skies, guns blazing. Cloud shoots down the enemy plane but is surprised to see another German fighter bearing down on him. This time, the German gets the upper hand and shoots down the plane that Cloud is in; the Navajo Ace parachutes out, only to find the German plane's guns targeting his silk. As if taking vengeance from beyond the grave, Ben's dead hand clutches his plane's stick and it crashes into the second German plane, allowing Cloud to float safely to Earth while wreckage falls all around him.

"Ex-Lieut. Bart Regan" (Bob Kanigher) writes a quick and dirty short story with "Death Knocks 5 Times" that is basically a series of air battles. E.R. Cruz's art is some of the smoothest we're seeing in the 1976 DC War Comics, probably only second to that of Gerry Talaoc over in Star Spangled War Stories.

Peter: The Losers' latest is outlandish but distracting James Bond-esque fun, but Big Bob missed the boat with his rushed explanation of Ona's return. I need more details on where this girl has been (unless he's got something else up his sleeve for the future) and why the boys had no idea she was still alive. The back-up is just goofy; is Kanigher putting a supernatural bent on a Johnny Cloud strip? And what exactly does "You can only kill the dead--once!" mean? I think I'd be easier on this one if RK hadn't used the "dead men can fly" hook so many times before.

Weird War Tales 47

"Bloodbath of the Toy Soldiers"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"The Day After Doomsday"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Paul Kirchner & Tex Blaisdell

"The Warrior"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ricardo Villamonte

Peter: In a future world ravaged by atomic war, a self-appointed "General" discovers that his son has the power to predict how battles will be won by playing with his toy soldiers. The General's right-hand men decide this is a good time to overthrow the tyrant. After the men rearrange the boy's soldiers and the real-life battle goes against him, the General takes the defeat out on his boy, tossing his own little General statue in the fire. Bad decision. "Bloodbath of the Toy Soldiers" is a really wild and weird ride, veering off its main road a couple times and emerging a better story for the detours. I've read literally dozens of stories concerning killer toy soldiers but writer Kashdan shares a different angle to the cliche. Ruben Yandoc's art is fantastic; though it's set in the future it almost looks as though it takes place in the past.

"Bloodbath of the Toy Soldiers"

"The Warrior"
The two-page "The Day After Doomsday" is just as inane and page-wasting as its predecessors. This one concerns a guy who hears a woman's voice buried under rubble so he digs "her" out only to discover it's a tape recording. He gets so angry he beats the recorder to bits against a wall, which falls on him and buries him. There's a message in this somewhere but all I can draw forth is that batteries in the future last a heck of a long time.

The fade-out, "The Warrior," sees cowardly Eric the Viking (son of Brave Ottar) seeking a backbone and finding it through the shield given to him by wise Holgar, a shield once owned by Thor himself! Well, not really, we come to find out when Eric dies in battle and ol' Holgar lets on that the shield was more of a placebo to give the kid some nerve. I get the skewed message (it's better to die bravely in battle than to be a sissy, I think) but what about this story besides that moral is weird?

Jack: Yandoc's art improves Kashdan's story in "Toy Soldiers" and the depiction of the melting general at the end is great. Who thought "The Day After Doomsday" was a series that should continue? I think it's been going on for five or six years, intermittently. Time to stop! There were no surprises in "The Warrior" but it's a unique tale set in viking times.

Next Week...
Warren is growing up!

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