Monday, February 6, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 97: December 1967/January 1968 + The Best and Worst of 1967

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

 Our Army at War 187

"Shadow of a Sergeant!"
Story  by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"The Real Enemy in the Air!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: When a new recruit arrives, Sgt. Rock tells him to stick close to Rock and do what he does. In the hand to hand combat with Nazis that follows, the young man is like a "Shadow of a Sergeant!" who tries to mimic Rock's every move, so the combat-happy Joes nickname the young man "Shadow." Easy Co. marches on and is attacked by more Nazis. Rock finds that he has to protect not only himself but also Shadow, who sticks close to him and is thus in the same grave danger. After Easy Co. blows up a bridge, they wander through a dense fog in a forest and are suddenly beset by Nazi crossfire. Rock panics and makes a run for it, hoping not to be killed, but Shadow follows close behind and mistakes Rock's moment of fear for a clever maneuver to get behind the enemy. Rock and Shadow hold off the Nazis until the rest of Easy Co. comes along to mop things up. Rock admits to himself that Shadow was his conscience in his moment of need.

Solid art by Heath doesn't turn this series of skirmishes into much of a story, and Kanigher veers close to Hank Chapman territory when he has Rock refer to sticks of dynamite in a caption as "boom-boom sticks." A house ad in this issue promises that "New things are coming from DC," and I hope they'll affect this series, which is starting to get a bit tired.

"Shadow of a Sergeant!"

Lt. Larry Desmond arrives at an airfield in WWI France looking for his brother Nick. Just then, he witnesses Nick's plane being shot down by enemy ace the Blue Baron and he blames the flight leader, Captain Andrews. Larry requests to fly alongside Andrews, planning to do away with both him and the Blue Baron the next chance he gets, clearly confused about who is "The Real Enemy in the Air!" When the time comes, though, Andrews gives his life to save Larry and the new pilot learns a lesson about heroism.

A hint of Adams?
I recall reading that Neal Adams used to wander around the DC offices, touching up work by other artists, and I would bet my combat boots that he inked some of the panels in Abel's story, because they look much too fine to have been done by Abel alone. The story is also unusually good for a backup, perhaps because it's written by Kanigher.

Peter: Another month, another green Easy recruit. At least this one survived the story; it'll be interesting to see if "Shadow" remains a part of Easy or if he's forgotten quickly. These Easy guys are looking more and more like superheroes, ducking fighter plane detritus and picking up Nazis two at a time. Rock's momentary lapse of a backbone is a puzzler and completely out of character; one panel he's running like a scared rabbit and the next he's right back in the fight. Oh, and Joe Kubert makes the Sarge look like an old hunchback on the cover. Much better is the back-up, surprisingly built on a foundation that usually disappoints. I'd love to know how these pilots are communicating with each other; there are no devices visible so they seem to be just talking to each other over the wind and propeller noise! Jack Abel comes through with flying colors, especially on that splash and the big Blue Baron-Lt. Desmond dog fight.

Novick & Kubert
 Our Fighting Forces 110

"Mountains Full of Death!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

"Sarge Without Stripes!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by John Calnan

Jack: Italian General Bandini decides he wants to surrender to the Americans rather than the Nazis and sends his daughter Carla to summon American General Thomas, whom Bandini recalls saved his life before the war. Hunter's Hellcats are assigned to take General Thomas to the Alps to accept Bandini's surrender and, after a crash course in skiing, they head off toward their destination. After a machine gun battle on skis with Nazi troopers, the Hellcats spend the night in a village, where a traitorous local skis off to alert the Nazis of their arrival. After another fierce battle, Carla leads the Hellcats and the general through a blizzard to find her father. The Nazi general on their trail is killed in an avalanche and the Hellcats accomplish their mission.

"Mountains Full of Death!"

I have a soft spot for comics that take place in the snow, probably going back to when Batman battled Two Face in a 1973 comic (Brave and the Bold #106).  "Mountains Full of Death!" is straightforward but begs the question of why it requires the Hellcats. It seems like any DC War band of heroes could have accomplished this mission and it's not the usual type of Hellcats adventure where everyone says they're all going to die but none of them do.

Private George Wilson reports for duty and immediately turns hero, destroying an enemy tank. A field promotion to sergeant follows, but subsequent battles cause each of his three new stripes to get torn from his shoulder, making him a "Sergeant Without Stripes!" Further heroic acts help to restore his confidence so that he knows the promotion will hold.

"Sergeant Without Stripes!"

We haven't seen much of Hank Chapman lately, and stories like this show why that's a blessing. Samples:

I never expected to open my baby-blues again, but when I did flip my lids . . .

I'm going to red-cap this TNT satchel to the swastika depot!

When I had the Tiger's belly button framed in my battered bazooka's sights--I tickled the trigger . . .

Just awful!

Peter: Not a bad little action-thriller, though chock full of the same silliness that pervades every Hunter's Hellcats installment. The battle between the Cats and the Krauts, both sides trying to avoid making any sound amidst avalanche danger, is a hoot! Ten years later, no comic magazine with a CCA-seal on the cover would be able to get away with dialogue like "Take a deep snort o' the white stuff! Good for your insides!" "Sarge Without Stripes!" is immensely predictable but it does contain the best John Calnan art I've ever encountered. The narrative is so vague we never find out whether it's a bigger deal that this guy lost his stripes or his men.

 G.I. Combat 127

"Mission--Sudden Death!!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"The Last Chance for Hobie!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Jeb Stuart (the tank commander) watches in horror as his skipper has his tank blasted by a Panzer. The Jeb (the tank) gets its sweet revenge on the Nazi scum and the boys dig the dying skipper out of his tank. Before he joins Gen Jeb Stuart (the ghost who "bodyguards" the "Haunted Tank"), the skipper (who has no name other than "skipper") passes along his mission to the boys: they must aid Mlle. Marie, who is rescuing a French scientist the following night, and get them back safely to the Allies. The skipper passes on just as Jeb Stuart (the ghost) passes on a message to his distant relative: the Jeb Stuart's men will be forced to fight on a different battlefield than the usual one. Jeb (the young guy) has no idea what the specter is talking about and when he presses him for a clearer warning, the haunt bids farewell. Shortly afterward, the men must save an Allied plane being strafed by a Nazi and the only survivor among the parachuters is the lovely Mlle. Marie, sexy but deadly freedom fighter of the underground (who explains that the man they are to rescue in the small village of Crecy is not only a famous scientist but also her father)! The crew arrive at Crecy after a couple of obstacles are cleared away (tank and Nazi dog patrol) and rescue Mlle. Marie's papa just as he's being grilled by Nazi swine. Without Russ Heath artwork, "Mission--Sudden Death!!" becomes just another weak series entry (and I doubt we'd see sound effects marring a gorgeous Heath job). Marie adds a little pep to the proceedings (my colleague will argue quite a bit of pep) but there's nothing we haven't seen before. Marie's father, never mentioned before, will probably never figure into a story again. And the old guy from the Civil War delivers another cryptic message but this time there's not a shred of sense to it: in what way does the Haunted Tank "fight on a different battlefield . . .?"

Why not slap sound effects on a Novick job?

Jack: I was hoping that you would understand the ghost's warning, since I could not make heads nor tails of it. I'm always happy to see zat French macaroon, Mlle. Marie, but this story looks like it was a bit of a rush job by Novick and our favorite cookie is not at her best. The story could have featured any DC war hero and the "haunted" aspect was just tossed in to justify including it in this series.

"The Last Chance for Hobie!"
Peter: Poor Hobie Harris can't hit the side of a barn and that's not very good when you're a bombardier. The first batch of missions go completely haywire but this latest one turns out to be "The Last Chance for Hobie!" His plane ditched, Hobie parachutes and is discovered by a band of underground freedom fighters (sorry, Jack--no Mlle. Marie!) who bring him to an abandoned Nazi Stuka and explain that a German ammo plant is nearby and they're itching to bomb it. Hobie jumps aboard the Stuka, unloads his TNT candy right on the money, and blasts those Nazi bastards to hell! Hobie arrives back at the base and smiles as his C.O. tells him he's an ace. I don't have time to check back through my notes but this story has already been delivered to us at least a couple of times--poor SOB can't get anything right but delivers the payload when it's needed most. And the poor slob has to remind us constantly he's a dud at this war stuff. But all's well that ends well when the guy suddenly finds his mojo. If DC pilots had flown in WWII, the war would have been over by 1943.

Jack: Liss and Abel take an old story and make it more interesting than the Haunted Tank tale that opens this issue. Once Hobie parachutes into the French countryside, the action really gets going, and the final bombing run is exciting. In an unusual move, we see one of the French resistance fighters being shot to death in the background as Hobie and another member of the underground get away safely. I just have one question: did the Nazis build ammo plants in occupied France? If not, what are French resistance fighters doing in Germany?

 Star Spangled War Stories 136

"The Hot Rod of Death!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

"The G.I. Who Cried 'Tank'!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Sgt. Rick Terry can't believe it! He's aboard a flying fort when he recognizes the pilot as the guy responsible for the death of Rick's father years before. Pilot Joe Weldon was driving "The Hot Rod of Death!" and forced Rick and his pop off the road and into a fatal collision with a tree. When Joe is not arrested, Rick craves revenge but, before he can make heads or tails of this amazing coincidence, the plane is attacked by pterodactyl-creatures from the stone-age prehistoric era and the fort is forced down onto an island below. Once there, Joe Weldon's true colors come out once again as he runs from danger and leaves innocents to die, squished under the feet of ten-ton monsters. Rick has to save a gorgeous nurse from the web of a giant spider and then the couple run across Weldon piecing together a raft to escape. Rick puts his past to one side in order to assist Weldon with the construction of the getaway vehicle but Weldon conks Rick on the noggin, grabs the babe, and heads off on the raft. They don't get far before a gigantic crab monster reaches out and carries Weldon to his watery doom. Rick manages to swim out and save the damsel in distress and propel them past the reef of monsters. As the couple await rescue, Rick muses that his six-year nightmare is over.

When you read "The Hot Rod of Death!" it becomes painfully obvious that Howard Liss merely skimmed through some of Big Bob's old scripts and aped the recurring themes. Usually, we have Russ Heath's gorgeous visuals to look at while we ignore the silly words, but here we have only Jack Abel--and bad Jack Abel to boot. Abel's art is nearly unrecognizable; as with one of Jack's contributions a couple months prior, this art almost looks like that of Jerry Grandenetti (witness the sloppy faces and large eyes). Hard to believe this is the same Jack Abel responsible for such high-quality work as "Ace of the Death Cloud" back in SSWS #134. The only highlight is the first appearance, if I'm not mistaken, of a giant spider in the War That Time Forgot. Grab onto the little things and hold them tight, I says.

Jack: It's not fair to put a Joe Kubert cover on an all-Abel issue, is it? When we see Rick and Joe in flashback near the start of this story, Joe looks about eight years old and Rick about twelve, yet Rick was driving a hot rod and six years later Joe is in the service. Nurse Robbie turns out to be pretty handy with a machine gun and Abel's dino drawings aren't half bad, so this story was at least average for the WTTF, if not slightly above average, and certainly better than another one by Andru and Esposito.

Peter: All the boys in the platoon are sick and tired of "The G.I. Who Cried 'Tank'!" but sure as his name is Mulvaney, this private will sniff out a tank if it's the last thing he does. Fortunately, he's aided in his search by (Jack Seabrook's old friend) Sgt. Mule, a donkey with special training and a sense of humor to boot. Together, the Pvt. and the Sgt. make jackasses out of the entire German army. The third and final Jack-Ass Team-Up story between Pvt. Mulvaney and Sgt. Mule, this "long-awaited" conclusion to the epic has about as much to recommend it as the previous two. It's only January but we'll (hopefully) be hard-pressed to find a worse story than this one in 1968.

Jack: Not Sgt. Mule again, "kicking away with TNT hooves"! The height of lunacy comes when Sgt. Mule grabs a grenade in his teeth and gallops over to a tank to drop it in the gun barrel. I can't believe you talked me into reading this stuff!

That's some mighty speedy rowing!

Our Army at War 188

"Death Comes for Easy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert and Jack Abel

"Live Wire for Easy"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #57, February 1958)

Jack: The latest new recruit to join Easy Co. is a laconic gent with an earring and a pack of Tarot cards, so Ice Cream Soldier gives him the nickname of Gypsy. The only problem with the new guy is that he keeps dealing out his cards and when they land on death, the soldier to whom they were dealt promptly gets killed. When Gypsy deals himself the fatal card, he's sure his time is up, but Rock knows that he must protect the soldier so that his men don't believe the superstition. Gypsy is nearly killed, but Rock drags him back to base and provides a blood transfusion that saves his life. The gypsy/tarot card angle makes this story more interesting than the typical new recruit tale, but Abel's inks do no favor to Kubert's pencils or layouts. Compare the panels reproduced here to the stunning cover to see how Kubert inking himself really looks great.

Abel draws an awkward arm angle on Rock

Jackie's face is pure Abel

In "Live Wire for Easy," a new recruit blabs on and on about how the men on the ground have more mobility than those in tanks or planes, much to the annoyance of the seasoned soldiers around him. After a few close scrapes, he is a bit less cheerful and looks askance at a newer recruit who sings the song he once sang. Oddly enough, Andru and Esposito's art isn't as stylized in this reprint from 1958 and, as a result, it's more enjoyable.

"Live Wire for Easy"

Peter: I thought it really funny when Rock says of the new recruit: "Easy had never seen the likes of this replacement before . . ." This, just one issue after "Shadow" made the exact same entrance as "Gypsy!" "Death Comes for Easy!" is a bit of offbeat fun, despite the Kanigher-isms that attempt to derail the story. Even while Rock is keeping "Gypsy" out of the sniper's sight or kicking away the occasional potato masher, he's repeating the mantra, "I gotta keep this guy alive so the boys won't become superstitious," rather than "I gotta keep this guy alive because it's the right thing to do." The art is odd, with Jack Abel muting the Kubert magic here and there but Joe shining right through in other spots. It's immediately noticeable in the backgrounds as if Joe supplied the breakdowns and Jack finished. I'm not sure I understand the message of "Live Wire for Easy" (a rare look at life before Sgt. Rock?) but, hey, as long as this is Andru and Esposito before they portrayed everyone with saucer eyes, I'm okay with it.



Best Script: "Finish It Upstairs," Howard Liss (G.I. Combat 122, March)
Best Art: "The Big House of Monsters!," Russ Heath (Star Spangled 132)
Best All-Around Story: "Stay Alive--Until Dark," Kanigher/Heath (G.I. Combat 125)
Best CoverRuss Heath, G.I. Combat 126 ->

Worst Script: Howard Liss, "Raid of the Hellcats"
(Our Fighting Forces 107)
Worst Art: Jack Abel, "Raid of the Hellcats"
Worst All-Around Story: "Raid of the Hellcats"


  1 "Stay Alive--Until Dark"
  2 "Tank Umbrella" (G.I. Combat 126)
  3 "Finish It Upstairs" 
  4 "The Last Booby Trap" (Star Spangled 131)
  5 "The Desert Rats of Easy!" (Our Army at War 181)
  6 "The Big House of Monsters!"
  7 "The Target of Terror!" (G.I. Combat 123)
  8 "You Can't Kill a General!" (Our Army at War 180)
  9 "Ace of the Death Cloud" (Star Spangled 134)
10 "A Penny for Jackie Johnson!" (Our Army at War 179)


Best Script: "You Can't Kill a General!" by Robert Kanigher
Best Art: "A Penny for Jackie Johnson!" by Joe Kubert
Best All-Around Story: "A Penny for Jackie Johnson!"
Best Cover: Joe Kubert, Our Army at War 185->

Worst Script: Hank Chapman, "Sarge Without Stripes!" (Our Fighting Forces 110)
Worst Art: Joe Certa, "Stakeout on Red Beach!" (Star Spangled War Stories 130)
Worst All-Around Story: "Sarge Without Stripes!"


  1 "T.N.T. Letter!" (Our Army at War 175)
  2 "Revenge of the Big Birds!" (Star Spangled War Stories 131)
  3 "A Penny for Jackie Johnson!"
  4 "The Target of Terror!"
  5 "You Can't Kill a General!"
  6 "The Big House of Monsters!"
  7 "The Desert Rats of Easy!"
  8 "Invisible Sniper!" (Our Army at War 183)
  9 "Candidate for a Firing Squad!" (Our Army at War 184)
10 "Save My Life and Kill Me!" (Star Spangled War Stories 135)

Next Week!
Zorgo and Elicia get married and
have a baby. The toddler grows up to be . . .
Ah, but that would be spoiling the surprise!
Join us here for the answer!

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