Monday, January 15, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 121: December 1971 + The Best of 1971

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 2

"Reef of No Return"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #43, March 1959)

"The Moon is the Murderer"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Thorne

"A Promise to Joe!"
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #97, January 1963)

"Monsieur Gravedigger"
Story by Jerry DeFuccio
Art by Reed Crandall

"The Face of a Fighter"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito (Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #25, September 1957)

Jack: A Navy frogman parachutes onto the "Reef of No Return" and manages to avoid enemy attack and blow up the reef. Mort Drucker's gorgeous art makes me wish he was still drawing serious stories for DC by 1971 and that we did not have to see his work only in reprints like this one from 1959.

"The Moon is the Murderer"
"The Moon is the Murderer" when an American soldier and a German soldier face off in No Man's Land during WWI trench warfare. Frank Thorne's work here is a bit sketchy for my taste but I applaud him and Bob Kanigher for telling a four-page story wordlessly.

Sergeant-Major Florimond-Loubet is known as "Monsieur Gravedigger" because he rides his troops so hard, but that tough training comes in handy when fighting Arabs in the desert. I have no idea what a Jerry DeFuccio/Reed Crandall collaboration is doing in a 1971 DC comic rather than a 1953 EC comic, but one thing I do know--I didn't follow this story at all. It jumps from base camp to desert to doctor's office and doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Crandall is not at his best but it's still good to see him at work.

"Reef of No Return"
A young American soldier in France in WWII develops "The Face of a Fighter" after he must battle his way back to base through enemy fire. There's not much of a story here and Andru and Esposito's art is particularly weak, even for them.

Rounding out the issue are a three-page introduction/frame story by Kubert that features a new host who has skin like an alligator and wears a hooded cloak. That makes two hosts in two issues. There's also a two-page "Behind the Cover" feature by Kubert that fleshes out the story hinted at on the cover, a two-page Glanzman feature about a particular type of rifle, and two final pages by Kubert to wrap up the intro with the hooded figure. Two issues in and Weird War Tales is a hodgepodge of reprints, filler, and linking material.

Reed Crandall's sole contribution
to WWT is a stunner!
Peter: "The Moon is the Murderer" is a word-free quickie devoid of anything resembling a "weird" angle and sporting a very crude Grandenetti-esque art job by newcomer Frank Thorne. With a rambling but intelligent script and striking art by Reed Crandall, "Monsieur Gravedigger" is the issue's standout. Though there's not much "weird" about it, it's certainly grim and dark with its implied mutilations and barbaric treatment of soldiers. Unfortunately, this is Crandall's only WWT work; with his EC and Warren history, he'd be a natural for this title.

Of the reprints, "Reef of No Return" is the best, a nail-biter concerning a frogman parachuting into a dangerous reef where the enemy seems to always be one step ahead of him. Drucker's art is fantastic and it's amazing that he's not more widely known for his war art (yes, I'm sure being a popular MAD artist may have something to do with that) despite the fact that he contributed art to over 60 stories in the DC war titles. By the way, interestingly enough, Weird War Tales includes one of those full-page prose stories that were so popular in the sixties. I assume that's because DC was trying to establish a second-class rate with the USPS for Weird War Tales and that was essential (at least in the early days) for gaining that privilege.

Our Fighting Forces 134

"The Real Losers!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by John Severin

"In Tsingtao"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

"Soldier's Grave"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Alex Toth

"Number One"
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #90, February 1965)

Peter: After being ambushed by Krauts for the 600th time that day, Gunner has had enough and informs his fellow Losers that he quits and heads down the dirt road to find an embarkment boat. Sarge heads off to change his partner's mind but Gunner seems pretty set in his ways, refusing even to fire his gun when attacked several times along the way. Once they get to the embarkment, the boys are surrounded by wounded G.I.s. Yet another German attack changes Gunner's mind and he sees his place is here with the Losers. Hand in hand, Gunner and Sarge walk back to where their comrades are waiting, probably wondering why they've been left out of so many stories lately. Last issue's story seemed to signal an upswing in quality for this doormat of a series but Big Bob seems to have decided his energies are better focused in other areas. "The Real Losers!" are the readers. The whole script is one long road to the inevitable change of heart and that 180-degree turn is just as dopey as we'd expect.

Has the Sarge become an old softy?
At one point in the journey, Gunner becomes aware of a sniper in the tree but refuses to pull his gun, leaving Sarge open to a machine-gun tattooing, insisting he's done caring about what happens. But, once he witnesses the "horrors of war" down at the embankment, Gunner does a complete turnabout. The tone is completely different from the old Gunner + Sarge series as well, as if Big Bob had forgotten the dynamic that "made the series tick" (I put that in quotes because that old series never ticked). When Gunner makes his startling proclamation, Sarge looks almost defeated and sighs, "I talked him into stayin' with me . . . for the duration! If it wasn't for me--he wouldn't even be here!" The old Sarge would have thrown a pineapple at Gunner and told him to grow up. And what's with the Gunner and Sarge solo stories? I thought this was supposed to be something unique; a quasi-Justice League of G.I.s. That's not what we're getting. Severin's art, however, is just what we wanted. His visuals are so much more dynamic than what Andru and Esposito were delivering; just three installments in and Severin has made this his series.

Alex Toth's art highlights "Soldier's Grave," which focuses on Mullah, a poor beggar who joins up with the Egyptian army in order to earn enough shekels to feed his family. Mullah single-handedly fights off a regiment of Persians and dies with a jewel-handled blade in his chest but his commander swears Mullah's family will be taken care of. I find that Toth's work is best suited to black and white but it's very effective here in color. The story is also engaging, giving us a protagonist we can root for and an unpredicted climax. I'm not a big fan of the "ancient war" stories that pop up here and there but this one's a keeper. Sam Glanzman contributes another installment of the USS Stevens series with "In Tsingtao." This one concerns a quartet of sailors who sneak off the Stevens and head into a port in China, recently deserted by the Japanese, for some R'n'R but get mowed down by a crazed Japanese soldier instead.

It's tough to fairly synopsize and critique these vignettes as they really don't tell much more than a fragment of the story but, at the same time, they're effective and by no means a waste of paper. One thing I don't get from the pieces is that a whole story is being told; that is, if I were to read the collected USS Stevens volume, I'd still get a sense that these are all little jigsaw puzzle pieces on a table and they don't fit nicely together. Glanzman's son, Tom, writes in to rebut a past letter hack's assertion that "The Losers" is an awful series.

Jack: "The Real Losers!" is one of the best DC War stories I've read recently, with a good mix of story and art and a powerful message as Gunner has a change of heart when he sees wounded soldiers fighting to the death. "In Tsingtao" is a strong vignette about a tragic, unauthorized trip to a liberated city in China. I love Toth's art on "Soldier's Grave" and am always happy to see a story set in Ancient Egypt. All in all, a surprisingly satisfying comic book!

Our Army at War 239

"The Soldier"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Capt. John Cromwell"
Story Uncredited
Art by Norman Maurer

"Charge on San Juan Hill!"
Story and Art by Ric Estrada

"Sergeants are Made--Not Born!"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #102, May 1962)

"The Unsinkable Wreck!"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #101, March 1962)

"The Soldier"
Jack: On patrol during a heavy rainstorm somewhere in Italy, Easy Co. comes face to face with a Nazi patrol. Sgt. Rock is shot in the shoulder and falls down a muddy slope; lying unconscious at the bottom until the rain awakens him, Rock makes his way to a convent, where Sister Angelina takes him in and a boy named Domenico wants to fight alongside him. When Nazis come knocking at the door, the sister disguises Rock as a monk and he avoids capture, but when he leaves the next morning the Nazis quickly intercept him. Only a distraction from Domenico prevents Rock from being killed, and the sergeant marches off with his Nazi prisoner as the nun and the boy wave goodbye.

Kanigher tells a straightforward, effective story here and Heath's art is decent though not spectacular. The image of tough-guy Rock in a monk's robe and hood is unusual and amusing, and the emphasis "The Soldier" places on advising the boy not to kill is admirable, especially in light of the ubiquitous "Make War No More" badge that now appears in the final panel of each story.

"Capt. John Cromwell"
"Capt. John Cromwell" knew secret plans when the sub he was on was attacked during WWII; heroically, he elected to go down with the ship rather than be captured and interrogated. Norman Maurer drew a series of these "Medal of Honor" short stories for the DC War comics in the early '70s; his art is competent but not much more than that. He was a long-time comic artist who did loads of work for Lev Gleason in the '40s and married the daughter of Moe Howard!

"Charge on San Juan Hill!"
The story of Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders is told in six breezy pages that climax with the "Charge on San Juan Hill!" Unfortunately, Ric Estrada's art seems so childish that it's hard to work up much interest in the story.

Peter: I didn't find much to salvage from this issue's offerings. The Rock story is gorgeously illustrated but heavy-handed and predictable, while the art passed off by Maurer and Estrada is barely tolerable. I did find the story of Captain John Cromwell engaging and, like the best of these little bios, it sent me straight to Wiki for more info.



Best Script: Robert Kanigher, "Head Count" (Our Army at War #233)
Best Art:  Joe Kubert, "Man of War" (Star Spangled War Stories #159)
Best All-Around Story: "Head Count"

Worst Script: Robert Kanigher, "I Kid You Not" (Our Army at War #238)
Worst Art: Ric Estrada, "The Invincible Armada" (Our Fighting Forces #132)
Worst All-Around Story: "I Kid You Not" 


  1 "Head Count"
  2 "Man of War"
  3 "I'll Never Die" (Star Spangled War Stories #154)
  4 "Death of the Haunted Tank" (GI Combat #150)
  5 "Monsieur Gravedigger" (Weird War Tales #2)


Best Script: Joe Kubert, "Summer in Salerno!" (Our Army at War 234)
Best Art: Joe Kubert, "Totentanz" (Star Spangled War Stories 158)
Best All-Around Story: "Totentanz"

Worst Script: "I Kid You Not!"
Worst Art: Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, "Ride the Nightmare" (Our Fighting Forces 129)
Worst All-Around Story: "Ironclad! Man Your Guns!" (Our Fighting Forces 129)


  1 "The Gold-Plated General!" (G.I. Combat 148)
  2 "Summer in Salerno!"
  3 "Leave the Fighting to Us!" (G.I. Combat 149)
  4 "Totentanz"
  5 "Face the Devil!" (Our Army at War 236)

Can Shock Regain Its Luster?
We'll Discuss Next Week . . .

Monday, January 8, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 48

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
  48: August 1954

Melvin DaVinci
MAD #14

"Manduck the Magician" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Will Elder

"Movie . . . Ads!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"The Countynental!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Plastic Sam!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Russ Heath and Bill Elder

Manduck the Magician, vigilante/peddler with the power to cloud men’s minds with “hypnotic gestures,” and his faithful assistant Loathar must continuously evade the wrath of the law and the pretty ladies he smooches every time he sets up shop, even going so far as to use his abilities to swap identities with a virtuous Boy Scout and his elderly charge while the real bystanders are pummeled with batons. Even when he tries to take the edge off by hypnotizing himself, obstacles still plague Manduck, namely when he’s summoned to the abode of Lamont Shadowskeedeeboomboom, “Shadow” for short, another superhero with the ability to cloud men’s minds who challenges the magician to a battle of mental suggestion that ends up getting everyone’s identities more mixed up than a barrel full of nuts.

A very special guest appearance.
("Manduck the Magician")
If “Manduck the Magician” is a low-tier Kurtzman/Elder collaboration—as some unnamed bloggers would have it—then it just goes to show that Mad’s first editor and star artist were still pretty damn funny even when they weren’t firing on all cylinders. Personally speaking, I think this newspaper strip parody can easily stand amongst the comedy duo’s other classics. With the exception of an unfortunate exaggeration of the size of Loathar’s lips, this story doesn’t have many false steps to fault it with. The thing that tickles me so much about Harvey Kurtzman’s brand of humor in general is that he was so eclectic in the variety of jokes that he employed: there are great traditional setups like when Manduck informs the crushed Loathar that he had no idea about the falling safe, unexpected cameos such as the ubiquitous comic book hunk Charles Atlas singing his praises, and the completely madcap climax that has the reader seeing doubles (and triples) of the characters in a final “mesmerizing” brawl.

Kurtzman pulls out his spades yet again to take a dig at the commercial machinations of Hollywood in “Movie… Ads!” Acting as a kind of inverse to “Book… Movie!” that showed how film adaptations generally neuter the scintillating material found in their source novels, this “story” demonstrates how the ad men of Tinsel Town copy and paste short, incidental scenes from a range of films including war epics, courtroom dramas, and romances to make them come across as X-rated wonderfests boasting the fleshy pleasures of actresses such as Vava Voom and Vava Vow, the “Pow” and “Wham” Girls respectively in their newspaper spreads. The first page of “Movie… Ads!” gets the point across just fine, but the pages that follow only succeed in taking a mildly funny joke and making us tired of it.

This is really all that we needed.

Men, lock up your wives and daughters: “The Countynental” is on (the prowl)! Yes, that’s right. That famed predator of feminine virtue is broadcasting live from the studio set doubling as his plush hotel room, eager to sway his intended victims with dry martinis and a foreign accent. Try as he might, the Countynental can’t seem to land himself a date, as the vagaries of 1950s television, such as fine tuning and vertical holds, take their toll on him, not to mention the boots and fists that come flying through the screen from righteous husbands at home. Finally able to retire from his program to spend an evening with his true love, the Countynental saunters off “arm in tripod” with the television camera of his affections.

What lovely furniture you have!
("The Countynental")
If you’re a six-year-old whippersnapper like me, you might only be familiar with the overall thrust of this parody from Christopher Walken’s bit on Saturday Night Live wherein he played the amorous wooer tempting the studio audience to bed down for the night. I found out from John Benson’s The Sincerest Form of Parody, as Jack might have, that the original televisual oddity being parodied here inspired a surprising amount of lampoons in the funny books. It’s also surprising seeing Jack Davis in this slightly more subdued, domesticated (but no less cartoony) mode, but I for one dig his handling of the material.

Life isn’t easy when you’re a superhero; just look at the crap that “Superduperman,” “Batboy and Rubin,” and “Woman Wonder” had to put up with. It’s no different for that rubbery rouge Plastic Sam either. If he isn’t putting up with the travails that come with having a malleable body, such as his pants slipping off for a crowd of a hundred ogling onlookers to see, then it’s the weary trials that come with having to put up with the reheated and rehashed plots that his partner and scriptwriter Wheezy Wunks cooks up for him. This episode finds Sam wiggling his way through a favorite chestnut, that of a low-down hood masquerading as the superhero during a bank robbery and Sam being persecuted by the law. But the hood proves to be even smarter than he looks (erm…) when he demonstrates how having an elastic body is just about the worst superpower one could ask for by tying knots and tearing holes into poor Sam’s anatomy like a tortured balloon. Thankfully Joe Friday and Ed Saturday from Dragnet arrive to sort out the kerfuffle, finally deciding to throw Sam in prison because, as they reason, “anything plastic is an imitation of the real thing!”

You know your life sucks when you *are*
the rotten tomato that people throw.
("Plastic Sam")
Though I wasn’t exactly blown away by Russ Heath’s artwork on this assignment—it felt a little more like “funny animal” than “zany satire” to me—“Plastic Sam” is yet another great send-up of the DC hero universe, filled with great bits that don’t reach the chicken fat levels of Bill Elder but that still deliver solidly and consistently throughout the story. I loved the sick and twisted humor involved in detailing all the nasty side effects of Sam’s elasticity, and the panel where the prison guards mistake the gooey, teeth-littered remains of Wheezy for Sam in disguise is a riot. I’m not sure if Harvey brought in Elder’s Dragnet caricatures to ease newcomer Heath into the Mad mold and give readers a point of identification, but I think that Russ could have seen the story through to its end all on his own. --Jose

Peter: It was only natural, after the classic laugh-fest we received last issue, that this one would be a bit of a letdown. It's got its share of smiles and giggles but no guffaws, unfortunately. "Manduck the Magician," the latest Elder/Kurtzman team-up, is the weakest parody the boys have knocked out yet. Manduck's unchanging facial expressions are a funny dig at Lee Falk and the final panels (especially the one where Manduck and Narda are crowded out of the panel by their own word balloons) are the funniest moments this issue but, overall, it's a bit of a chore.  Maybe I'm becoming an elitist Kurtzelder snob but "Plastic Sam!" did not make me laugh once and if you were to quiz me as to the identity of the artist, I'd guess anyone but Russ Heath. Don't get me wrong . . . it's good art . . . I just don't recognize it as Russ (and that may be due to the assist from Elder). "Movie . . . Ads!" has some interesting black-and-white art from Woody but, again, the script is weak. "The Countynental!" shows that Jack Davis can experiment (something we don't see much from Jack) but the strip is just not funny at all. If it didn't have the MAD logo across the cover, I'd swear this was an issue of Panic.

Jack: It isn't as bad as all that! "Manduck" is more a series of hilarious panel jokes than a story, but it's still extremely funny. I like seeing the return of the Shadow and I think there's a nod to Syd Hoff in the first panel where a man on the beach walks by a woman in a bikini and imagines she's wearing clothes. Wood is the perfect person to illustrate "Movie . . . Ads!" because his women are stunning; I thought the piece was a funny look at how movies are promoted. "The Countynental!" is another TV parody whose subject is lost to history; the TV show it satirizes did not last as long as the series of lampoons that followed. I just read Art Spiegelman's book on Jack Cole and was prepared for "Plastic Sam!," which features the strange spectacle of Russ Heath trying to draw in the MAD style. It's good to see the duo from Dragnet return briefly, but this story was doomed to failure partly because the thing it satirizes was wildly funny to begin with.

Feeling hemmed in?
("Manduck the Magician")

The Haunt of Fear #26

"Marriage Vow" 
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Graham Ingels

"The Shadow Knows" ★ 1/2
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Reed Crandall

"Spoiled" ★ 1/2
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Jack Kamen

"Comes the Dawn!" ★ 1/2
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Jack Davis

Try as he may to get out for a breath of fresh air, Martin Saunders can't escape his wife Eva, who used to be beautiful, rich, and randy, but who now is ugly, poor, but still randy. They wed seven years ago and Martin was happy to have her money, but when he tired of her company he murdered her by rigging an iron balcony to collapse under her weight and let her fall to be impaled on a spiked fence below the balcony. Unfortunately, Eva interpreted their "Marriage Vow" strictly as requiring them both to die before they may be parted, so she came back from the dead and now insists on marital relations even though she's rotting away.

An unusual panel design for Ghastly in "Marriage Vow."

More a situation than a story, Binder's tale sets up a problem and then spends eight long pages explaining what's going on. Ghastly is going through the motions once again and the disgusting point of the narrative, which is that Eva still insists on having sex with Martin even though she's a corpse, is one that can't really be fully explored in a comic book, thank goodness.

Eric Cooper's job means he has to spend a lot of time on the road, away from his lonely wife Mabel. He has an affair with Jondra and when she starts asking about marriage he decides to murder Mabel and marry his rich girlfriend. Eric gets away with staging Mabel's suicide, but soon her shadow begins to stalk him, which leads Jondra to think he is cheating on her. A policeman sees what appears to be the shadows of Eric murdering a woman on the street, but when Eric insists that it was only shadow play, the cop finds Jondra's dead body and Eric is arrested, tried, and executed. Finally, Mabel's shadow can rest.

Reed Crandall does his best in "The Shadow Knows."

"The Shadow Knows" is a poorly thought out piece of writing with Reed Crandall trying to bring some life to the proceedings. It's not clear who murders Jondra in the end but the story is so weak that it doesn't bear investigation.

Janet Grover was lonely and bored because her husband, surgeon Abel Grover, left her home alone night after night. She began to go out and, soon enough, an affair with Leon Payne began. When Abel found out about it, he exacted an unusual revenge by anesthetizing the lovers and sewing their heads on each other's bodies. Thus, their mutual attraction was "Spoiled."

All that's missing from the last panel
of "Spoiled!" is an angora sweater!

Does it get much worse than this? Like "Marriage Vow," Binder sets up a situation on page one and then uses flashback techniques to show the events leading up to it before revealing the nature of the problem on the last page. Kamen is not the one to breathe life into this tired script, though the final panel is almost Ed Woodian in its awfulness.

Jack Bolton flew to Alaska with two partners to prospect for Uranium but found a vampire's coffin frozen in the ice. He freed the vampire and let it kill his partners, thinking that he was safe in his cabin until dawn, when he could escape. There's just one problem: dawn will not rise in that part of the world for another week and he's out of food!

Jack Davis presents a spooky picture of the Alaskan
vampire peering through the space between the logs
of the cabin wall in "Comes the Dawn!"

"Comes the Dawn!" is, by default, the best story in a poor issue of Haunt of Fear. Jack Davis can draw desperate men, a vampire, and a cold and snowy landscape quite effectively, and the idea of the frozen vampire is a neat one; however, Binder once again relies on the twist of having a character not pay attention to the calendar (last time it was the time change between time zones), so the ending is not terribly satisfying.--Jack

Stiff punishment.
("Marriage Vow")
Peter: While still plundering Al's old scripts, at least Otto Binder seems to be getting the hang of a Haunt of Fear story. "Marriage Vow" is about as sick and vile as they come (it's almost as though, even while the castle crumbles around him, Bill Gaines holds his middle finger up at Wertham and dares him to make something of it), which is just fine with me, thank you. The most nauseating aspect, amidst lots of nauseating stuff, is that Martin Saunders will be spending every night, for the rest of his life, screwing a corpse ("It's time for bed, Martin!"). What were the kiddies thinking when they read the words . . . Every night, the ritual? Seriously, is it any wonder the heat came down on the EC empire? "The Shadow Knows" is silly nonsense (if Mabel's shadow can actually do harm then why not kill Eric rather than Jondra?) but Reed Crandall's art makes the ride scenic (Mabel's death throes are exceptionally brutal) and it's certainly better than the Kamen entry this issue. "Spoiled" almost feels like an in-joke; Binder is winking at his reader, whispering "Switching heads on a Jack Kamen character! Get it?" The "shock" is certainly not worth the long, slow build-up. And, unfortunately, anytime you use the words "Vampire" and Alaska" together, any hoped-for surprises are pretty much thrown out the window. I liked Jack's art in "Comes the Dawn!," though his bloodsucker looks more like a werewolf.

Jose: “Marriage Vow” is one sick puppy, and it knows it. Revels in it, in fact. Otto Binder, much like the horny zombie wife of his story, seems to take delight in rubbing our noses in the putrescent conceit of the narrative, subjecting Martin and audience alike to every last taboo-shattering innuendo. While historians and fans tend to point to “Foul Play” as being the “point of no return” in the annals of EC horror, I think the case can be effectively made that “Marriage Vow” is the real anarchist here, flipping everyone off and being disgusting just for the sake of creating some chaos. One is tempted to call it a bad story, indicative of the company’s downward slide into the maw of public backlash, but its brazen ballsiness earns my perverted respect. The rest of the issue’s contents, all penned by Binder, are nowhere near as memorable. Reading dried-mouth tripe like “The Shadow Knows” and “Spoiled”, stuff that was passé even before the Old Witch lit her first cauldron, makes me wonder if Bill and Al played a more direct hand in pumping up the salaciousness of “Marriage Vow.” The three other stories read more like what we’ve seen of the author in the past, for badder and worse. “Comes the Dawn” at least has the draw of a fairly intriguing concept and setting that enhances the survivalist suspense and action, and the small peeks that Jack Davis provides of the bestial bloodsucker give it an air of mystery and increased menace.

Next Week . . .
Rock finds himself trapped in a vicious circle
He hates killing but . . .
No killing, no funny book!

From Haunt of Fear #26

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Francis and Marian Cockrell Part Ten: The Hands of Mr. Ottermole [2.32]

by Jack Seabrook

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927) is considered the first true Hitchcock film and tells the story of a murderer similar to Jack the Ripper. In a similar vein is the classic Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole," which aired on CBS on Sunday, May 5, 1957. The script by Francis Cockrell was adapted from the short story of the same name first published in the February 1929 issue of a British fiction magazine called The Story-Teller.

In London's East End, a man named Whybrow and his wife are murdered, the first victims of London's Strangling Horrors. The murderer leaves no trace and seems to have no discernible motive. Soon, another murder occurs, and this time the victim is a child named Nellie Vrinoff. Her death is followed by that of a police constable. Eventually, a journalist reasons that, if no one but the police are ever in the vicinity of the crimes, then the murderer must be a policeman. The reporter tests out his theory on Sergeant Ottermole, who confirms that it is correct and makes the journalist his next victim.

"The Hands of Mr. Ottermole" is a classic story of a serial killer whose lack of motive makes him hard to catch. The horror of the situation is that the authority figure trusted to protect the public is also the guilty party. Ottermole's final confession is chilling, as he claims that his own members are seized with an inexplicable compulsion:

A sample issue of
The Story-Teller
"Couldn't it be that parts of our bodies aren't really us, and couldn't ideas come into those parts all of a sudden, like ideas come into--into"--he shot his arms out, showing the great white-gloved hands and hairy wrists; shot them out so swiftly to the journalist's throat that his eyes never saw them--"into my hands."

Two unusual names stand out in the story. The first is Whybrow, the initial murder victim, who is followed through the foggy streets of London and who, once he seems safe at home, opens his door to his killer. Perhaps Burke was rhyming "Whybrow" with "highbrow" in order to suggest that this will be no "highbrow" or scholarly tale, since the character with a similar name is killed in the first section of the story. The second name of interest is that of the killer, Ottermole. The name jumps out at the reader as unusual in the title but is then conspicuously absent until the final confrontation between reporter and sergeant, when the sergeant is identified by name for the first time: " 'Now, as man to man, tell me, Sergeant Ottermole, just why did you kill those inoffensive people?' " In addition to the clever way that Burke holds back this name until the climax, the name itself contains two animals: the otter, a creature that can exist just as easily in land or in water, and the mole, which has strong "arms" for digging and is comfortable living underground and in darkness. A mole is also a term for a spy, so Sergeant "Ottermole" embodies characteristics of both animals, able to be both policeman and killer, to live among normal men while pursuing an underground life as a murderer, and to operate with strong hands while seeing through the dense London fog that hides his actions.

After its initial magazine publication in early 1929, Burke's short story was collected in his 1931 book, The Pleasantries of Old Quong, which was published in the United States under the alternate title, A Tea-Shop in Limehouse. Burke recognized the story's quality and selected it as his entry for inclusion in a multi-author collection that same year called My Best Detective Story. The story was reprinted a decade later in the September 1942 issue of the British magazine Argosy, and began to appear in radio adaptations when it was broadcast on Molle Mystery Theatre near the end of World War II, on February 6, 1945. This broadcast is now lost, but a second adaptation for the same series was aired on June 21, 1946; this version survives and may be heard online here.

Theodore Bikel as Sergeant Ottermole
Comparing the existing versions of "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole" to Burke's story is interesting and allows one to determine with some accuracy what Francis Cockrell contributed to the evolution of the story when he later adapted it for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Each of the four existing versions of the story (three on radio and one on television) preserves the essential structure of Burke's story while making certain changes. The 1946 radio version is set in London in 1890, near the end of Britain's Victorian era, and a narrator describes the events leading up to and including the Whybrow murder in a long opening sequence. Perhaps thinking that the murder of a child was too shocking for 1946 radio listeners, the second murder victim becomes an adult woman, while the third remains a policeman. In a major change to Burke's story, the character of the reporter becomes much more central and is introduced early in the proceedings. He appears after each murder and eventually becomes a suspect due to his proximity to each crime. In the final confrontation, the reporter has a gun and shoots Ottermole as the policeman strangles the reporter. Ironically, both men die, and the mayor later awards a posthumous medal to Sergeant Ottermole for killing the reporter, who is thought to have been the strangler! This version of the story was written by L.K. Hoffman.

Two and a half years later, "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole" was again adapted for radio, this time for Suspense, where it was broadcast on December 2, 1948. The script was by Ken Crossen and the story is narrated by Sergeant Ottermole himself, played by Claude Rains, whose marvelous voice is used to great effect as he tells the story to the reporter, played by Vincent Price. This time, the murder of Whybrow is followed by the murder of the policeman, skipping the girl's murder altogether. Having Ottermole narrate the story makes it even more shocking when he is revealed as the killer and, as in the story and the 1946 radio version, the sergeant succeeds in killing the reporter. This time, however, the reporter had sent a letter to the newspaper identifying the killer and Sergeant Ottermole is later sentenced to death and hanged. The Suspense adaptation of Burke's story is widely available and may be heard here.

Rhys Williams as Summers, the reporter
The third and final radio adaptation of the story was aired on May 2, 1949, just five months later, on NBC's Radio City Playhouse. This time, the setting was moved from London to New York City, where the borough of Brooklyn is terrorized by the Greenpoint Strangler. This version is the only one to feature the murder of the little girl, as in the original short story, and once again the reporter has a gun and shoots Sergeant Ottermole, killing the strangler but surviving the encounter. Ironically, a $10,000 reward is posted for the killer of the sergeant, so the reporter cannot write the story and admit killing the murderer. Instead, he writes a false story and claims that Ottermole was the strangler's next victim. George Lefferts wrote the script for this version, which may be heard here.

In addition to being the subject of four radio adaptations in the years from 1945 to 1949, "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole" was also the subject of some critical acclaim in the immediate post-war years. Ellery Queen included it in the 1946 collection, 101 Years' Entertainment: The Great Detective Stories 1841-1941, and it was selected by Anthony Boucher for inclusion in the 1947 volume, Murder By Experts. In both books, it was referred to as one of the all-time great mystery stories.

Less than two months after the story was adapted for Radio City Playhouse, it made its TV debut on Suspense, in an adaptation credited to Frank Gabrielson and directed by Robert Stevens. This version was aired live on June 28, 1949, and has been lost. The story was aired live for a second time on Suspense on November 28, 1950; this version is also lost and the writer of the teleplay is unknown, so it is not clear if the 1949 script was re-used. This version starred Robert Emhardt, who would later appear on six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Summers and Ottermole in the London fog
The last adaptation of "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole" was filmed for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and has become the definitive version due to its availability and the quality of the production. The teleplay is by Francis Cockrell and the show is directed by Robert Stevens, who also directed the two prior television adaptations for Suspense. The time and place are set by means of a title superimposed on the opening establishing shot; "London 1919," the title reads, and behind it is a foggy scene of the Thames with Big Ben in the background. There is a dissolve to an "Underground" sign and the mobile camera then follows Mr. Whybrow through the foggy East End streets.

Cockrell's first notable addition to the story is the killer's habit of whistling "Greensleeves" just before each murder; the old English tune is haunting and tips the viewer off to imminent danger. Whybrow's walk home and subsequent murder are depicted as in the story and in prior adaptations; director Stevens uses his camera to show the scene from the killer's point of view, as he follows Whybrow home and strangles him when the man opens his front door.

Cockrell introduces a new character in Whybrow's nephew, who is summoned to the house of the murdered couple and questioned. Sergeant Ottermole is in charge of the investigation; Theodore Bikel plays the character with a Scottish accent, marking him as the "other" even amidst his fellow policemen. In the scenes that follow, Cockrell's script follows the prior radio adaptations by bringing the reporter into the story as a character much earlier and having him pester Sergeant Ottermole about the lack of progress in the police investigation.

Stevens stages the second murder evocatively; Cockrell eschews the death of a child and instead has the killer strangle an old woman selling flowers. We know a murder is coming because we hear Ottermole whistling "Greensleeves" again and we see the use of the subjective camera that both provides the killer's point of view and masks his identity. As the flower lady is being strangled, the camera pans up and over to a store window beside her and the word "Palmistry" is written in large letters on the window. Inside the window display, a large model of a hand rotates, reminding the viewer of the hand motif that runs throughout the story.

Cockrell uses dialogue in the scenes that follow to delve into the killer's motive or lack thereof, as the reporter visits the police station and converses with Ottermole and a police constable. The constable suggests that the killer is a foreigner and, while he surely means a Chinaman--London's East End was filled with immigrants from the Far East at that time--the actual killer is a Scotsman, a foreigner who is able to blend in among the British. On another foggy night, the same constable discovers the dead body of a policeman and then the reporter, here named Summers, figures out the identity of the killer and makes the fateful decision to approach Sergeant Ottermole on a foggy night street.

The one constant with all of the adaptations of "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole" is the writers' determination to tinker with the ending. In the version filmed for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Summers confronts Ottermole and the sergeant begins to strangle the reporter, but this time the constable grabs Ottermole from behind and subdues him before he can kill the reporter. Ottermole is handcuffed and led away and Summers is troubled by the sergeant's comments about ideas coming into his hands. The show ends here, with both Ottermole and the reporter surviving the final conflict and without any confusion about the killer's identity.

Torin Thatcher as Constable Johnson
Francis Cockrell's script for "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole" differs from those used for radio adaptations in that it relies heavily on dialogue rather than narration to advance the story. He inserts the flower lady in early scenes so the viewer is familiar with her by the time she is killed, and he gives the killer the habit of whistling "Greensleeves" before each murder. Robert Stevens does an outstanding job of direction, creating a foggy London atmosphere that fits the mood of the story perfectly and using subjective camera work to hide the murderer's identity and force the viewer to identify with him by showing the first two killings from his point of view. In short, this episode is a classic example of what the Hitchcock show does best: creating suspense and entertaining the viewer, even when telling a familiar story.

Robert Stevens (1920-1989) worked mostly as a TV director from 1948 to 1987, directing 105 episodes of Suspense from 1949 to 1952 and 49 episodes of the Hitchcock show. He won an Emmy for "The Glass Eye."

Thomas Burke (1886-1945), who wrote the story, was born in London and wrote both novels and short stories, often set in the Limehouse District of London's East End. Three of his stories were adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "John Brown's Body."

A.E. Gould-Porter as Whybrow
Sergeant Ottermole is played by Theodore Bikel (1924-2015), who was born in Austria and whose family fled to Palestine in 1938. He began acting on stage in his teens, moved to London in 1945, and finally settled in the U.S. in 1954. He was on screen from 1947 to 2003 and also had a busy career as a folk singer and musician. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show, though he also played a memorable role on one episode of The Twilight Zone titled "Four O'Clock."

In the role of Summers, the reporter, is Rhys Williams (1897-1969), an actor who was born in Wales and who made his screen debut in John Ford's How Green Was My Valley (1941). He was on screen until 1970 but this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

The police constable who prevents Ottermole from killing Summers is played by the familiar character actor Torin Thatcher (1905-1981), who was born in India to British parents and who was on screen from 1927 to 1976. In addition to three appearances on the Hitchcock show (including "Bed of Roses"), he was seen on Thriller and Night Gallery and played important parts in Great Expectations (1946) and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958).

Charles Davis
A second reporter is played by Charles Davis (1925-2009), who was born in Ireland and who worked mostly on TV from 1951 to 1987. He was seen on seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "I Killed the Count," where he plays the long-suffering junior to John Williams's inspector.

In small roles, A.E. Gould-Porter (1905-1987) plays the ill-fated Mr. Whybrow; he was in 10 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Glass Eye." His wife, who is heard but not seen, is played by Hilda Plowright (1890-1973), who was also in "Banquo's Chair" as the ghost.

"The Hands of Mr. Ottermole" is available on DVD here or may be viewed online here.

Athanason, Arthur Nicholas. “Thomas Burke.” Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers, Springer, 2015, pp. 227–230,
Burke, Thomas. “The Hands of Mr. Ottermole.” 65 Great Murder Mysteries, edited by Mary Danby, Octopus, 1983, pp. 91–105.
The FictionMags Index, 29 Dec. 2017,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
“The Hands of Mr. Ottermole.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 32, CBS, 5 May 1957.
“The Hands of Mr. Ottermole.” Molle Mystery Theatre, 21 June 1946.
“The Hands of Mr. Ottermole.” Radio City Playhouse, 2 May 1949.
“The Hands of Mr. Ottermole.” Suspense, 2 Dec. 1948.
IMDb,, 29 Dec. 2017,
Nyhagen, Dennis. “Molle' Mystery Theatre [Mystery Theatre] Radio Programs.” The Definitive Molle Mystery Theatre Radio Logs with Geoffrey Barnes, Bernard Lenrow, and Dan Seymour, 30 Dec. 2017,
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. “Galactic Central.” Galactic Central,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Dec. 2017,

In two weeks: "The West Warlock Time Capsule," starring Henry Jones!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 120: October/November 1971

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 1

"Fort Which Did Not Return!"
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #86, March 1961)

"The End of the Sea Wolf!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #71, July 1958)

"Baker's Dozen!"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #116, September 1964)

Peter: Wounded by a tank shell, a G.I. wanders through a forest until he comes upon a mysterious house. Waiting for him on the porch is a bearded old man who beckons him and tends to the soldier's wounds. The G.I. insists he must leave to inform his guys that the Nazis are out there, waiting, but the old man tells him to lay back and listen to his stories. And that's the prologue Joe whips up for this, the first new DC war anthology title introduced since G.I. Combat was acquired from Quality in 1957. So, does the new title get a big push? Not quite since, except for the intro and linking material (including a silly "Story Behind the Cover" that features some striking Joe K. visuals), #1 is made up of nothing but reprints. And those reprints are the proverbial mixed bag: "Fort Which Did Not Return!" (but did manage to return sans part of its original title of "The Secret of the Fort Which Did Not Return!") landed at #3 on my list of the Ten Best Stories of 1961, while "Baker's Dozen!" was one of the dumbest strips of that year. The lone story new to us, "The End of the Sea Wolf!," is a fabulous adventure story about a U-Boat commander salvaging Allied boats he'd sunk during the war. Haney wisely avoids using the Spoiler-Filled title of the story until its final panel. Had we covered the titles pre-1959, this would surely have been high on my year-end list. It's an interesting gamble, introducing what is essentially a DC mystery title stocked with quasi-supernatural war reprints, but let's hope the title doesn't rely on reprints for long.

Jack: Kubert's new work was the highlight of this 25-center for me, from the striking cover to the nine new pages scattered throughout the interior. The old man has tiny skulls in his eyes and insists that the best thing for the wounded soldier is to spend the night having story time. This conceit pops up time and time again in the DC anthologies and often seems like an awkward way to set up a series of short tales. Here, the old man pops up at the start of the subsequent stories as a small, talking head to provide quick introductions, but the end of the comic makes me wonder if he'll be back to host the series or if this was just a one-time thing.

Our Army at War 237

"Nobody Cares!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Assault on the Hermit Kingdom"
Story Uncredited
Art by Norman Maurer

"Battle Sun!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #61, August 1957)

"The Wall Around the War!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #24, August 1957)

"The Bloody Star!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Fred Ray

Jack: The men of Easy Co. are hauling a stretcher with a wounded soldier through the snow when Nazi soldiers in white camouflage open fire, killing the medic who was helping carry the stretcher. The man on the stretcher is one of two new replacements who had joined Easy Co. just as winter fighting broke out. When one of the new men was killed almost immediately, the other had reason to lament that "Nobody Cares!" because they had not even told Rock their names yet. More fighting ensued and the second new man was injured; Rock and his men quickly proved just how much they cared by wiping out the enemy troops and marching on with determination to get the wounded new recruit to safety.

"Nobody Cares!"

After a stunning Kubert cover that makes great use of white space, Heath takes over for the 12-page interior story starring Sgt. Rock and does sharp work with snow and dialogue-free panels. This is a violent, action-packed story with minimal plot where the art shines brightly even though nothing much new happens and it seems to come to an end quickly.

In 1866, a ship called the U.S.S. General Sherman is destroyed and its crew massacred when Korean natives unexpectedly react violently to a peaceful trade mission. An "Assault on the Hermit Kingdom" follows and ship's carpenter Cyrus Hayden finally sees battle action, fighting like a tiger and planting the U.S. flag atop the enemy citadel, an act for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

"Assault on the Hermit Kingdom"

In four thrilling pages, Norman Maurer provides a lesson about a forgotten battle from U.S. history and links it to a similar conflict in the Korean War. I love surprises like this story, where I learn a little something new!

"Battle Sun!"
The "Battle Sun!" rises on fighting in WWI and plays a key role in skirmishes in a dense jungle, a baking desert, a snowy mountain, and a patch of sky. Each time, the sun glints on something or blinds someone and allows an American soldier to win out. Russ Heath's art is above average and helps make this series of brief vignettes add up to six breezy pages.

In preparation for the D-Day assault on Normandy Beach, a soldier is told he will have to get over "The Wall Around the War!" Thinking it is a real wall, he fights his way past obstacle after obstacle until he finally discovers that the wall was a metaphor and not a real structure. Kubert's superb art blends reality with imagination and makes this rather obvious story enjoyable.

"The Wall Around the War!"

During the Civil War, U.S. Grant was known as "the Butcher" because so many of his men were killed in action. Yet in the privacy of his tent, he allowed a tear to fall in memory of the dead. Fred Ray's unpleasant art mars "The Bloody Star!" and does not sit well after the fine new and reprint work in this issue by Heath and Kubert.

By the way, does anyone know why DC started running little strips of art along the top of the page in the reprint stories in these 25-cent books? An example is below. Were the reprint pages smaller than the new pages all of a sudden?

Peter: "Nobody Cares." Nobody cares. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it . . . nobody cares until . . . someone cares! Thank goodness we've got Heath to get us through the recycled plots. "Assault on the Hermit Kingdom" did nothing for me in the script department and even less so art-wise. I had a similar problem with "The Bloody Star!," the art of which is so amateurish it's tough to slog your way through. "Battle Sun!" looks fresh enough to be a new story, an interesting set of vignettes with more dynamite art from Master Heath, but "The Wall Around the War!" wears you down with its over-reliance on its catch-phrase.

G.I. Combat 150

"The Death of the Haunted Tank!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"The Two-Legged Mine!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #66, February 1959)

"Hip Shot"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

"Ice Cream Soldier!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #85, August 1959)

Peter: General Jeb Stuart informs his descendant, the amazing tank commander Jeb Stuart, that he'll no longer be riding shotgun in the Haunted Tank. From now on, the earth-bound Stuart is on his own. Jeb nervously mutters that the tank can't go on without the spook but, through a series of adventures, the boys manage to find their way to victory. During one vicious battle, the tank is pretty much destroyed and the crew has to build it back up from salvaged parts. Once the enemy has been defeated, the General appears, insisting to Jeb that it's not the ghost's body guarding that gets the job done but the "fighting hearts" of the men who pilot the Haunted Tank. "The Death of the Haunted Tank!" really isn't a misleading title since the original Jeb Stuart is now pretty much reduced to ashes and a new cyborg-like model has taken its place. This latest entry is one of the best in years, filled with snappy dialogue and well-visualized action (though it sure looks like Russ had a helping hand again . . . JK?). At what point was "The Haunted Tank" stenciled on the Jeb and doesn't that mean Jeb Stuart (the commander) must have had a sit-down with his crew to discuss Jeb Stuart (the ghost)? Actually, it seems as though the entire army knows about the ghost since several G.I.s poke fun at Jeb as he passes through a salvage yard. Where was I when World War II was alerted to the presence of the spectre? And how do you explain to your CO the new moniker?

Is that John Wayne guest-starring in this month's Haunted Tank?

"The Two-Legged Mine!" is an exciting but totally outlandish adventure about a frogman who must attach a mine to the hull of a Nazi battleship equipped with an anti-magnetic device that repels any sort of explosive. Our hero must guide the mine to the ship and then get away before the explosion blasts him to bits. That last part is the whopper . . . how this fish-man gets away with his fins attached is anyone's guess. Nice retro Heath art. "Hip Shot" is the latest in the USS Stevens saga, one that reads like one-half Wikipedia entry and one-half exciting drama (which is par for the series). The description of the death of the "bossman" (the guy in the ship's "house" who sighted for enemy ships and spun the torpedoes around) is particularly well-written: A shell exploded on the Stevens' port 40 mm . . . flinging the 40's splinter shield through the air! Like a huge knife, it lopped off the top of the "house" . . . Ralph Woods would envision no more glorious victories!

Jack: We know all along that ghostly Jeb won't abandon his namesake and the crew, so there's no real suspense in the Haunted Tank story. I think the tank has been replaced at least once before, no? The frogman story is short but enjoyable, while the U.S.S. Stevens four-pager seemed like a weak entry in the series to me, since I found the progression of events confusing.

Our Fighting Forces 133

"Heads or Tails"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by John Severin

"The Anthill!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #76, November 1958)

"No Place for a PT Boat!"
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #76, May 1963)

"The Firing Squad Can Wait!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: Three Japanese generals plan to cut off access to the Far East by destroying the integrity of the Burma Road. The last men who tried to stop them had their heads sent home in baskets. Now the Losers are sent into the jungle with Amsara, a Sikh boy, as their guide; locating the enemy headquarters, they breach the surrounding stone wall with the help of an elephant that also manages to trample the Japanese trio of generals. Amsara guides the elephant and is injured, leading the Losers to a surprising discovery--Amsara is a girl who was determined to follow in the footsteps of other warriors in her family. The Losers honor her with medals as she recuperates in bed.

"Heads or Tails"

As we read through the EC Comics line of the 1950s and the DC War Comics line of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, we rarely see the same artists, but John Severin is an exception. A little Severin seems to go a long way at EC, but after the weak art and poor storytelling that marked the first batch of entries in the Losers series, "Heads or Tails" is a breath of fresh air and Severin's art is a pleasure to look at. The Losers themselves are interchangeable in this story, but hopefully good writing and strong art will take the place of the contrived characterization we've seen to date.

"The Anthill!"
How will two American G.I.s take "The Anthill!"? Planes, artillery, and tanks have little effect, so foot soldiers must mount a brave frontal attack on the hilltop fortress before becoming kings of the hill themselves. Mort Drucker's gritty art is always welcome, since he succeeds in conveying the look and feel of what it was like to be on the ground in WWII.

When a German pilot is about to be executed for abandoning his fellow pilots in battle, American pilot Lt. Steve Savage flies in and explains what really happened in the air. The count is freed but refuses to be gracious to Savage, instead challenging him to a fight to the death in the skies. Savage wins the battle and the count ends up dying, just not by firing squad.

"The Firing Squad Can Wait!" marks the unfortunate return of the Balloon Buster, who should've stayed forgotten. Ric Estrada's pop art style is not welcome in the DC War Comics and pages are wasted retelling Savage's origin story.

"The Firing Squad Can Wait!"
Peter: Either I'm going soft in the brain on really bad Losers strips or John Severin is actually making a difference in quality here. Wisely, Big Bob seems to be shifting the Losers from just another dopey, third-tier DC war series to something akin to espionage. Severin's art is effective and, I believe, this is the first time I made it through a Losers strip without snorting or rolling my eyes. Let's hope this trend continues. The long-awaited return of Steve Savage, Balloon Buster, is mediocre at best thanks to Estrada's amateurish art but mention must be made of Big Bob's laborious script as well. I seem to recall Steve Savage's adventures as pretty exciting but not this time out. Talky, too talky. "The Anthill!" would be much more effective if we knew exactly why the Allies needed to grab hold of such a tiny hill (and are you going to tell me that anything could be left alive on top of that mole hill after the barrage of ammunition leveled at it?), but Mort Drucker's visuals are always a positive. A few interesting tidbits are dropped on the "Mail Call" page this time out: Joe lets loose an editorial tall tale (at least so far) when he says that "(T)he increase in pages of our magazines will afford the opportunity for longer strips. As you'll note on the cover, these publications will be 'Bigger and Better!' And that's the truth!" Well, not so far. In fact, in some of the titles, the main feature has seen a decrease in page count. Being an optimist, I'll keep an open mind. Joe also addresses the new button that runs in all the DC war titles: "The idea of ending our stories with 'Make War No More' was mine. Since the War Mags clearly show the futility and utter waste of lives and property caused by war, this "tag" sums up the opinions of those who produce these magazines."

Star Spangled War Stories 159

"Man of War"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Hunters--and the Hunted!"
(Reprinted from Showcase #58, October 1965)

Peter: The Unknown Soldier is given orders to infiltrate a tank outfit belonging to "Bloody" Barton, a respected Colonel who's losing the respect of his men. What the US finds is a tyrant lording over a band of exhausted G.I.s who need a break. Disobeying a direct order, the Unknown Soldier provides that break in the form of a night out with some nearby Arabian girls. Barton gets wind but doesn't have time to unleash his fire upon the men when they are called into battle. Barton's true stripes (and war savvy) show during a fierce tank battle that leaves the "Man of War" dead and his men mourning their loss.

The series is young but the Unknown Soldier is shaping up to be the rightful heir to the "Best Series" throne vacated recently by Enemy Ace. "Man of War" reads like an intricate espionage novel; Bob Haney lays down track that seems to be leading to double-agent territory but then veers off in another direction, one more satisfying. "Bloody" Barton may be a real son-of-a-bitch but he's also a good soldier and knows (for the most part) how to groom his men for the task at hand. I am really enjoying this series. There's some real dynamite monkeying with panels here by Joe; very nice presentation.

Jack: I agree that Kubert's art is good, though not his best work; I like the cover better than the interior art. The first page features a drawing of the Unknown Soldier over black and white war photos, which results in an impressive collage effect. But the issue is a real stretch for a quarter book, with the new story only 11 pages long and a 28-page (!) reprint of an early Enemy Ace story from Showcase that I liked better than Peter did when we first read it. We know these 25-cent books will be a colossal failure for DC, but looking back it seems that the scant amount of new material may have doomed them almost as much as the inflated cover price.

Our Army at War 238

"I Kid You Not!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

"Big War . . . Little War!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"The Battle of the Sunken Village"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #90, May 1960)

Jack: One hot summer day in France, Sgt. Rock and the men of Easy Co. are joined by their newest member, morbidly obese Horace "Heavy" Smith, whose size comes in handy when they need a float to get across a river while under enemy fire. Teased all his life for his weight, Heavy also comes in handy when he is able to push over a dead tree and smash the roof of a house where Nazis are hiding. Easy Co. enters the house and Heavy falls through the floor, killing a Nazi radio operator and allowing Ice Cream Soldier to use his fluency in the German language to summon tanks stationed nearby. Heavy dresses in a Nazi uniform and summons the tanks into a river, where they sink in the mud while he floats above them. Sgt. Rock praises Heavy for the help he's provided and Heavy is grateful to be accepted for once, repeating his favorite catch phrase: "I Kid You Not."

Like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Heavy is teased until the physical feature that made him the object of scorn becomes useful to those around him. Comic books, and American popular culture in general, no longer made fun of African-Americans by 1971, but obese people were still fair game. We've seen all sorts of new recruits over the years join Easy Co., but never one like this! I do not expect Heavy will reappear in future stories.

Early in WWII, the U.S.S. Stevens was used to test out whether a destroyer could carry a plane known as "XDD479" that would be used for reconnaissance. The experiment was deemed a failure and the equipment was removed. The last batch of U.S.S. Stevens stories have not been of much interest; I wonder if the series is petering out.

Luke Lassiter was happy riding around the wide open spaces at his ranch in Texas, but when war came and he was made a submarine commander, he had to learn how men fight and die in confined spaces. "Big War . . . Little War!" looks like a file story that was so weak that it sat in Bob Kanigher's drawer for several years. Andru and Esposito contribute the usual mediocre art and the plot moves back and forth between the sub and the open range to little effect.

Peter: "I Kid You Not" is just about the stupidest and most offensive script we've had the displeasure of reading during this journey. How did editor/artist Kubert ever thumb-up this nonsense? Just as badly written but nearly as offensive is "Big War . . . Little War," one of those really bad "fish out of water" western/war stories Big Bob never seemed to tire of. Bonus negative points awarded for the return of our pals, Ross and Mike. This here is one issue of Our War best left sealed in that Mylar.

Next Week . . .
The boys discuss whether the Kurtzelder team
has done it again!