Monday, April 3, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 101: August/September 1968

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Our Army at War 196

"Stop the War--I Want to Get Off!"
Story and Art by Joe Kubert

"Indians Don't Fight By the Book!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Russ Heath

Jack: Sgt. Rock is on a night patrol probing enemy lines with four new recruits when they are fired on by an enemy tank. Rock thinks the other men have all been killed and so he rushes the tank and blows it up. "Stop the War--I Want to Get Off!" he thinks, tired of all the senseless killing, but a shadowy soldier appears and shows him scenes from times past of men banding together to fight a common enemy. Prehistoric cave men kill a bear, Romans fight Etruscans, Washington's troops survive winter at Valley Forge, and Hitler's mad rampage continues. The shadowy figure disappears and Rock finds that his four men are not dead, so he gives them a lecture about the necessity of fighting for freedom.

"Stop the War--I Want to Get Off!"
We are into one of the best periods in the history of DC comics now, as shown by Kubert's fabulous cover. He writes and draws this story and his art is superb--it opens with a full-page splash, followed by a two-page spread. The story itself is nothing much but it does reflect the changing times; published in June 1968 and probably written and drawn earlier that year, the tale shows how Americans (and presumably comic book readers) were starting to question the necessity of war in light of the events in Vietnam.

Peter: "Stop the War--" really wasn't as great as I was led to believe; it's built on a foundation we've seen before (the wars of the past related to WWII) and, doubtless, will see again. It's a very simple plot surrounded by great art.

Jack: Joe Swamp Fox is a Seminole Indian who is having trouble keeping up with the rules in WWII. Captured by a Nazi commander who loves American cowboy movies, Joe is sent out alone into the woods with a knife, bow and arrows to see if he can avoid being hunted down by a posse of Nazis. Fortunately, "Indians Don't Fight By the Book!" and his Native American skills allow him to defeat the three Nazis who are after him. Rather than leave the last one to die, Joe carries him for miles back to the American camp.

"Indians Don't Fight By the Book!"
Joe Swamp Fox shares a love for the Great Spirit with Johnny Cloud and I was surprised to find the target of so much prejudice calling Nazi soldiers "krauts." I guess it goes both ways. Russ Heath is not at his best here and at least one panel looks more like Irv Novick's work than Heath's.

Peter: I enjoyed "Indians" much more than the Rock story, despite the fact that we've seen this plot before as well. It very briefly riffs on The Most Dangerous Game but then goes in a different direction all together. Howard Liss may be back!

Kubert & Heath
 G.I. Combat 131

"The Devil for Dinner!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"A Promise to 3 Dead Buddies"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: After quite a bit of mud has been kicked up on their vehicle, the crew of the Haunted Tank give the old girl a nice washing and spit polish. While they're hard at work, the ghost of General Jeb Stuart arrives to give his descendant a typically abstract warning: the boys will be meeting "The Devil for Dinner!" Shaking his head in disbelief ("It would be nice if for once--the General wouldn't give me a riddle wrapped in a puzzle!"), Jeb has only enough time to turn back to his chores when a shell launched from a Nazi tank almost obliterates the entire crew. Slim manages to recover his wits and sends an armor-piercing shell right into the guts of the Nazi death-machine. The boys open the hatch, only to find an entire squadron of Germans descending on them.

Luckily, the kids of Unit 3 are there to deliver a message from Mlle. Marie; the junior G.I.s unload a barrage of machine-gun fire on the Ratzis and thee meneese ees fini. The message from Marie is an invitation for the boys to join her for dinner atop the Eiffel Tower. Quicker than you can say "Love-starved G.I.s," the boys have rolled up into Paris. When they get there, they discover several German tanks and snipers infesting the streets, so they make like the rat exterminators they are and lighten the city's burden a bit. Reaching the Eiffel, however, they discover Marie in the arms of a high-ranking Gestapo officer. No sweet whispering here, this Nazi promises that Marie will pay for all the embarrassment she has caused the Nazi party and heads up in the elevator with the sweet French damsel. Jeb follows and a brutal battle ensues, with Jeb delivering a final blow that sends the Nazi to his death. Marie swoons and plants one on her hero. Obviously, Big Bob had plans for these little French resisters, since now they're crossing over into other strips besides Sgt. Rock. Mlle. Marie is always welcome (just ask Jack--oui, oui!) but her appearance here is nothing more than a cameo and not integral to the plot other than to get the boys to that Satan-hosted meal. And why would Marie think it copacetic to invite the boys to war-torn Paris and a meal at the top of the tallest fire-trap in France? I do like the fact that Jeb finally starts questioning the bright side of having a ghostly guardian who spouts ambiguous warnings.

Jack: I'm always happy to see Mlle. Marie but the best thing about this story is Heath's art, and even that isn't as good as in some other issues. As we read our way toward the end of 1968, the DC War comics are changing in a few ways. First, the covers are better than ever. This month's cover is striking, with the scene played out on a black background and a rare collaboration between DC's two best War artists. Second, the lead stories now seem to follow the initial splash page with a two-page spread, something that allows the artists to expand their canvas but also cuts down on the amount of story. Finally, the letters columns have new logos and new titles: here, it's now "Let's Make Tracks . . ." while in Our Army at War it's become "Take Ten." All of these changes are surely the work of new editor Joe Kubert.

Portrait of Hitler as a pre-teen
Peter: Sgt. Crowe is wounded in a Nazi ambush but his three comrades are killed. He makes "A Promise to 3 Dead Buddies" that he'll get revenge for their murders. Crowe systematically hunts down and kills the Nazis responsible for the deaths of Parker, Bellows, and Smitty, and then breathes a sigh of relief that the burden has been lifted from his shoulders. The script is not too bad; it's filled with action and, with Howard Liss, you're never quite sure if the hero will finish his mission or even survive. He wipes out the enemy in a series of inventive kills (almost like a DC War version of Death Wish), including using a land mine to eliminate the senior officer responsible for the massacre. So, the script is good enough, but not so the art, which is Bad Abel. Jack falls back on his patented "Knuckles to the face" panels and heavy inking way too much for my tastes.

Jack: The GCD reports that editor Kubert fixed some mistakes in this story, and there is a panel at the bottom left of page six that is unmistakably Joe's work, but it's too little to repair the damage done by Jack Abel on every page. Abel has become the Jerry Grandenetti of the late '60s, an artist whose work I dread and whose art seems to fill the back half of every DC War comic. When will it end? Soon, I hope.

Just wait 'til Seabrook finds out!

 Our Fighting Forces 114

"No Loot for the Hellcats!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"No Medals for a Hero"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Jack Sparling

Jack: The Hellcats' weekly "Punch the Looie Day" is interrupted when a passing plane drops a satchel of cash. Unfortunately, there's "No Loot for the Hellcats!" because this money is earmarked for another purpose: Hunter's men must pay it as ransom to rescue French scientist Professor Charlot. Hunter tells his men to tear the bills in half to prevent any Nazi tricks. Sure enough, Nazis ambush the Hellcats, but the tough Americans get the upper hand, disguise themselves as soldiers in the Third Reich, and reach Nazi headquarters safely.

To their surprise, Prof. Charlot is a beautiful redhead! They give the Nazi brass the torn half of the ransom and a Nazi officer drives the Hellcats back to their hiding place in the forest to get the rest of the money. A tracking device hidden on the professor leads the Nazis right to where the Hellcats are supposed to be--but they have disappeared! Or have they? Hellcats rain down from the trees on unsuspecting Nazi soldiers, knocking them out and rescuing the professor. Even worse, bumbling Nazis with flamethrowers accidentally burn up the loot, so it won't benefit the enemy! Prof. Charlot plants a smooch on Lt. Hunter and skedaddles in a submarine, leaving the Hellcats to watch the moon rise and dream of next week's "Wallop the Looie Day."

Sauerkraut, snorklers???
("No Loot for the Hellcats!")
Russ Heath's art goes a long way toward making this story tolerable. Still, it's easily the weakest regular series still going in the DC War comics line. Editor Kubert does his best to pep things up with the cover and the two-page "Battle Album" that is now a regular feature in every DC War comic, but Hunter's Hellcats is on life support. The attempt to give each character an individual personality (see the cover) is working, sort of.

Peter: For once, the intentional humor in the Hunter's Hellcats strip worked; I also found the plot to be intriguing (if a bit short--almost as though a couple pages had been snipped) and, of course, Heath's visuals (Russ's first, and last, contribution to HH) lift anything a few notches. Of the nine Hellcats stories we've had to endure, this is easily the best. Not that the bar is very high.

What Peter refers to as "art"
(No Medals for a Hero")
Jack: Pine is about to receive a medal for bravery but he can't remember what he did to deserve it. It wasn't the time he took a Nazi prisoner from a seemingly dead tank. How about the time he pulled an unexploded mortar shell out of the ground and dropped it off the side of a cliff? Maybe it was his success in shooting down an enemy plane with his rifle. Or perhaps it was his action at an underwater Nazi bridge. His memory returns and he sees that he's getting not one but two medals--one for the bridge and another for the plane! So much for his buddies' telling him that there will be "No Medals for a Hero."

Jack Sparling's art is not my favorite, but at least it's a break from Jack Abel. I peeked on the GCD and saw that Abel is about done with his time on the DC War comics line. He had been inking the Green Berets newspaper strip and was just being assigned as the regular inker on the Superman books. Apparently, inking was his real strength.

Peter: "No Medals for a Hero!" is another one of those unbelievable pseudo-comedies about a soldier who'll do anything for a medal (didn't we just have one of these recently?--I should take better notes) and gets one in the end. It never ceases to amaze how such a selfish guy is rewarded in the end. And, oh, that Jack Sparling "art!"

 Star Spangled War Stories 140

"The Face of the Hangman"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

Peter: At the climax of last issue's pulse-pounding war saga, we saw Baron Hans von Hammer diving his crimson Fokker towards a British dirigible, thinking it a target too easy to pass up. Remarkably, the Enemy Ace is caught unawares by the new style of weaponry the British have decked out on their blimp: gunners have been placed all around the balloon in strategic spots. The machine guns begin to take their toll on von Hammer and he begins to flee. The thrill of the kill drives him right back into the fray and he decimates the helium-filled ship, reducing it to flames and pieces on the ground. Just as he's watching the fiery descent, von Hammer is attacked by . . . the Hangman! A storm causes the two aces to collide and crash into the choppy waves below, the German fast sinking into the water. The Hangman reaches into the cockpit and lifts his sworn enemy to safety; the two then drift to a French beach, where Von Hammer is taken to a hospital to see to his injured hands.

The Hangman introduces himself properly to his prisoner, informing Hans that he is Count Andre De Sevigne, and then takes the Hammer to the estate where he lives with his sister. The Countess is frosty toward their new guest and the Baron soon finds out why when the enraged girl unmasks her brother for all to see. His face is a fire-scarred ruin, the outcome of a dogfight gone bad. Though the Baron is his enemy, the Count does all he can to make the man feel comfortable at the estate but tells him that soon he will be taken to a POW camp. Once the Baron's wounded hands have healed, the three head out for a horseback ride. A snake startles the Countess's horse but Hans is there to rescue her. While the Count is seeing to his startled sister, von Hammer uses the distraction to escape, commandeering a Spad at the Count's airstrip. After shooting down several Spads, the Enemy Ace escapes the guns of the Hangman and heads back to his Jagdstaffel. As he comes in for a landing, he witnesses a somber affair: a funeral in front of a broken propeller. "But who," the Enemy Ace, asks himself "is the ceremony for?"

As if I didn't already have so much to like about this series, Bob and Joe add another asset (one that began last issue): the cliffhanger. We're not often treated to continued stories, never mind a story that continues moments after the last chapter. Most of the DC War titles suffer from what I call "the sixties sitcom syndrome," a malady diagnosed by a lack of continuity and consequences. You wouldn't have batted an eye if Jed Clampett had destroyed all of Beverley Hills by digging into a gas main while cleaning the cement pond because, sure enough, the damage would right itself by the following week. Not so with the Enemy Ace. Last issue's ogling of the blimp leads right into this issue's double-splash attack and, I suspect, this issue's final panel will be explained next issue. The Hangman's a great foe (though the necktie is a little silly, don't you think?), one who gets a bit of backstory this issue, and the dichotomy between the two men in the air and in the dining room is, as the Countess points out, extremely bizarre. But it is very much in keeping with what we've come to learn about this layered, fascinating character in just a half-dozen glimpses. We're running out of superlatives for Kubert's art so let me just say . . . "Wow!" Highlights among many are the Hangman's rescue of the Baron and the Spad-napping finale.

Jack: Wow, indeed. Kanigher and Kubert are each at their best with this series, though the sight of the Hangman going everywhere with a noose around his neck and a long rope dangling from it is strange. Wouldn't that trailing rope get slightly dangerous around, oh, propellers? When the Hangman's sister Denise answered the door, I thought she'd fall for von Hammer in a few pages, but Big Bob managed to resist the temptation of having them embrace, something we've seen too many times in this post (see Mlle. Marie kissing Jeb Stuart and Prof. Charlot kissing Hunter--yecch!). The unmasking of the Hangman, where we only see his head from behind, reminds me of something from another comic, but I can't put my finger on it (Doctor Doom maybe?-Pesky Pete).

Boy, 1968 was a great year for comics, with Marvel surging and DC being reinvigorated due to the competition! Carmine Infantino was put in charge and Neal Adams was drawing Deadman and numerous covers. Kubert was editing the war books and drawing many covers as well, and Nick Cardy was doing some of his best work. Did I mention the revival of horror comics? And Steve Ditko at DC?

Our Army at War 197

"Last Exit for Easy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"No Foxhole for Baby"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: No sooner has the mayor of Dunkirk presented Sgt. Rock and the men of Easy Company with medals of valor than a Nazi tank mounts an attack on the town! The men of Easy and the lads of Unit 3 fight off the tank and kill the Nazis who emerge from it, but the mayor dies in the battle. Staying to hold the village, Rock sees a long line of British and French soldiers approaching, but they are not replacements. Instead, they are tired soldiers who have been ordered to mass on the beaches at Dunkirk to await boats to take them across the Channel to England. Easy Co and Unit 3 are joined by local kids as they hold off enemy fire long enough to complete the evacuation.

"Last Exit for Easy!"
Hoo boy, having Rock and Easy Co. heavily involved in the Battle of Dunkirk really stretches the imagination, doesn't it? The battle and evacuation depicted in "Last Exit for Easy!" took place in the late spring of 1940 and we know from previous stories that Rock went to North Africa along with the rest of the U.S. troops and then moved into Europe. If Kanigher and Kubert want Rock and Easy Co. to start popping up like Zelig at Great Moments in History, that's fine, but it takes away from any attempt at realism in these stories. Still, Heath's art is impressive, especially the full page reproduced here.

Peter: The Rock story is not one of his better adventures but it's tolerable. There's a nice, poignant climax but the action itself seems recycled. So far, as an editor, Joe Kubert seems to be okaying the exact same scripts R.K. was running. But, hey, stay tuned for a major controversy in the letter pages: "U.S. Army involved in Dunkirk a year before we became involved in World War II!"

Jack: Able Co. is urged to take a French town held by Nazis when a pregnant woman and her husband appear and say that the woman insists on having her baby at home. There may be "No Foxhole for Baby," but the intrepid soldiers do a street by street cleanup of Nazis until the French woman is able to give birth in her own bed.

"No Foxhole for Baby"
The men of Able Co. may succeed, but Jack Abel's art seems to be settling into a tired pattern of fists and feet coming at the reader in a weak attempt at 3-D. Like his stories in the Hunter's Hellcats series, this one is a chore to read. And this is by the same Howard Liss who wrote last issue's good second story. It seems the artist makes a big difference.

Peter: The idea that an entire platoon would risk their own lives (as well as that of the mother and unborn child), infiltrating a Nazi-run French town, just so a woman can have a baby in a comfortable environment, stretches the boundaries of ludicrosity. "No Foxhole" is dopey beyond belief. Um, I may have been a tad premature when I exclaimed, at the top of the page, that Liss was back!

In Our 29th Skin-Sucking Issue...
What just emerged from
Jose's high school gym locker?

Someone really should do an in-depth look at this

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