Monday, April 6, 2020

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 178: November 1976

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Our Army at War 298

"Return to Chartres"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Redondo

"Not Granted!"
Story & Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Easy Co. survives a beach landing on the French coast and an immediate climb up a sheer rock face, despite being under fire by Nazis. Resting at the top of the cliff, a new redheaded kid in Rock's company pulls out pictures of French landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower and Chartres Cathedral, and remarks that his father fought in WWI and now he wants to see the places he heard about from his Dad.

Easy Co. clears a Nazi ambush from some hedgerows and marches toward Paris, but when they are re-routed to the southwest, the new soldier is disappointed until they see the spires of Chartres Cathedral in the rainy mist. A Nazi tank appears out of nowhere and ambushes Easy Co.; the tank is defeated but the young soldier is killed saving Rock from a shell. Rock carries his dead body into the cathedral, where the newly-emerged sun shines through the stained-glass windows the soldier had so wanted to see.

"Return to Chartres"
I was surprisingly moved by "Return to Chartres," in which Kanigher uses his old standby trope of the new recruit who gets killed to create a story that, in the end, creates some real pathos. Frank Redondo's art has never been better on this strip, and the last page is especially good, with Rock carrying the young man through the rain and ending up inside the beautiful church.

Ships and planes battle fiercely at Okinawa during WWII. On board an American ship, a seaman wonders what tomorrow will bring. When his ship is sent to Okinawa, he learns only too well that the one thing for which he wishes most is tomorrow!

Sam Glanzman manages to wrest a poignant ending out of yet another dull, four-page story; it's not clear whether the ship involved is the U.S.S. Stevens, but the sentiment is universal. There are some particularly bad panels where the opposing forces are represented by giant snakes fighting each other in a confined space.

"Not Granted!"

Peter: Well, I knew the "green kid who wins Rock's heart and then gets killed" story was coming up sooner or later. Here it is, complete with maudlin finale. I had to wonder what made the kid sense there was going to be a shell dropped right where Rock was standing but then I remembered Rock had that eerie sixth sense earlier in the story when he fired into that hedge full of Nazis. Never mind, these G.I.s just know there's something up. Sam Glanzman reminds us once again, with "Not Granted!" that he couldn't draw worth a darn but, now and then, he could churn out a poignant thriller.

G.I. Combat 196

"Dead Man Patrol"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Operation Slaughterhouse"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Fred Carrillo

Peter: With no rest since their super-secret mission to Iwo Jima (via the island that time forgot--seen last issue), the crew of the Jeb Stuart are tasked with protecting the fuel dump that Patton's tank corps is racing to even as we speak. First off, they're involved in a horrendous battle wherein the entire Blue Patrol tank squad is destroyed. With no time to bury the dead, Jeb has the men lash the corpses to the tanks and they roll off. Of course, the Ratzis are running low on fuel, so they'd like to get their strudel-contaminated mitts on that fuel as well. Hoping the dead G.I.s will fool the enemy into thinking the good guys outnumber the bad, Jeb gets the Haunted Tank to the fuel site just as Panzer leader Ernst Baumer (he of the nasty eye patch) arrives. That means only the Haunted Tank Mach IV stands between Baumer and his complete domination over General Patton. Sensing that Patton won't make it up the hill in time, Jeb has the boys roll the fuel drums down the hill to the General. Refueled, Patton reigns fire down upon the enemy.

"Dead Men Patrol"
Another month, another exhilarating adventure starring the most overworked tank crew in the army. The plot device of using the dead as subterfuge is a grim but effective one and almost, just almost, saves "Dead Man Patrol" from being creaky and boring. The continuing Zelig-esque portrayal of the Haunted Tank and its crew is laughable. Somehow, at some point in this series, you just know it'll be revealed ("the true secret unleashed at last!") that Jeb and Rick and Gus and Slim were in that underground bunker with Adolf. Oh, and I've been meaning to ask: why does Big Bob all of a sudden, after all these years, decide 1976 was the time to have the Germans speak in their own dialect and run translation captions at the bottom of each panel? An example runs below.

A frogman must rely on a friendly dolphin to help him place a high explosive on a German battleship hiding in a Norway fjord. "Operation Slaughterhouse," this issue's "OSS" episode, seems to indicate a trend in Big Bob's writing formula, alternating between dark and fluffy. "Slaughterhouse" isn't bad, Flipper notwithstanding; it's reminiscent of the 1950s' DC war strips Bob Haney was pumping out for the likes of Mort Drucker and Russ Heath.

("Dead Man Patrol")

Jack: Seeing the Haunted Tank fly the Confederate Battle Flag certainly has different reverberations in 2020 than it did in 1976! I don't know why Jeb bothered to lash the dead bodies to the tanks to try to fool the Germans; the Nazi commander wasn't fooled for a second. At least Kanigher and Glanzman have some slight success this time around distinguishing one member of the Haunted Tank from another, though not for a moment did I think Rick was in danger of dying. The backup also reminded me of the backups from days of yore, and it's nice to see a frogman tale--we haven't had one of those in quite some time.

Sparling & Colletta
Star Spangled War Stories 202

"The Cure"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

Peter: The Unknown Soldier's latest mission is a doozy: Allied and Enemy alike are dying at the front from a vicious new strain of Typhus and the only serum to counteract the virus was in a plane that crashed behind enemy lines. The Soldier must impersonate a Nazi soldier to infiltrate the German hospital where the serum has likely landed. But do the Germans actually have the vial that holds "The Cure?"

Our last look at the Unknown Soldier on this long journey is in a well-told and (as usual) amazingly-penciled tale with several satisfying twists and turns. I like that the Soldier displays human qualities that remind us he's no superhero; he's a bit arrogant and egotistical when dealing with a doctor who questions why one lone soldier is heading into this important retrieval mission rather than a whole squadron.

That was the chief magic David Michelinie and Gerry Talaoc brought to the Unknown Soldier during their all-too-brief run on the title (the following issue would be the team's finale), taking a character that was going, literally, nowhere, and elevating the title into the "essential" ranks. For the most part, the plotting was tight, the dialogue crisp and real, and the revelations along the way seemed to mold the person behind the makeup.

As noted, this was the final Michelinie/Talaoc issue, with Joe Orlando handing over the duties to Bob Haney and Dick Ayers (with Talaoc inking) with #204. Star Spangled War Stories ended existence with #204 and was re-titled The Unknown Soldier. But for a handful of fill-in issues, the Haney/Ayers/Talaoc run lasted until the final issue, #268, in October 1982.

Jack: A fitting conclusion to our review of a great series, "The Cure" is a full-length story that has all of the strengths we've come to appreciate about these stories. The doctor is named "Keno Rosa," which is surely a nod to the then-popular fan artist (Keno) Don Rosa, who later became a pro artist on the Disney Duck series. There's a nice bit where the Unknown Soldier throws a scalpel at a skeleton and hits it in the eye socket; this is followed up later on when US throws a poker and appears to hit a Nazi soldier in the eye, though the result is hidden in shadow. US later breaks a Nazi soldier's neck with a crutch. This ended up being the best series of the '70s and I'll miss it.

Next Week...
Is The Dark Age over?

And in two weeks...
After seven years
the curtain closes!

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