Monday, July 29, 2013

Star-Spangled DC War Stories Part 7: December 1959

By Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Russ Heath
Our Army at War 89 

"No Shot From Easy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Salute to a Buzzard!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Junk Pile Fighters!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

PE: Beginning with titles cover-dated December 1959, DC demoted four of its five war comics to bi-monthly status, leaving only Our Army at War as a monthly. Several factors may have led to the decision but, according to Robert Kanigher in Chris Pedrin's Big Five (Alton-Kelly, 1994) it certainly wasn't sales, since DC publisher Jack Leibowitz had proclaimed, "The war books are solid money-makers!" I'd guess that it may been Kanigher's work load; in addition to editing all five books, he wrote at least half of all the stories (and, let's not forget, he also wrote for the DC superhero titles as well!) and had been since 1952. How long can that go on before the inevitable burn out? In any event, Sgt. Rock had probably already risen to the rank of #1 War Character and to cut OAAW's yearly output in half would have been foolish. It would remain the only monthly war title in the line until February 1973 when GI Combat and Star-Spangled would briefly return to monthly status (Our Fighting Forces would be bumped to eight times a year in 1962).

JS: "No Shot From Easy!" is a tense story that suffers from sub-par art. Sgt. Rock must hold together his company as they take shelter in a foxhole under heavy shelling. To keep them from going batty he tells stories about other times Easy Company had been pinned down. The story is solid but the art by Grandenetti doesn't create the required mood.

A far cry from Kubert
PE: I've got the same complaint I had with the previous installment of Easy Company: it's not drawn by Joe Kubert. Rock is just another soldier who blends in with his comrades. Not so when Kubert handles the pencil. Grandenetti has been surprisingly effective in several of the strips we've seen so far but not this one. I would never accuse Kanigher of writing down to his artist but the thought must occur to anyone reading this weak effort. "No Shot From Easy!" covers ground we've been over several times already (in particular, the green recruit who becomes the savior) and then there's that awful art. Had I mentioned that?

JS: "Salute to a Buzzard!" isn't much better, with some of the most nondescript Ross Andru art we've seen.

"Salute to a Buzzard"
PE: The art on "Salute to a Buzzard" is a tad better than "No Shot" but it certainly isn't anything to get excited about. Bob Haney's script, about the thankless job of piloting a pathfinder ("a flying guide for the others who'll do all the bombing"), is educational and gripping. Not so the worst story of the issue, "Junk Pile Fighters!" One of those "two-screen" stories employed in the war titles quite a lot, "Junk Pile" concerns a lonely rifle accidentally discarded among junked rifle pieces. Its lonely cries go unheeded until an unarmed GI stumbles across the weapon while searching for defense against a Nazi breakthrough. The constant word balloons issuing from the barrel of the rifle ("Use me, soldier") make one wonder if Bob Haney were a/joking or b/lit up like a Christmas tree while writing that day. Perfect marriage of script and art, though. Jack Abel's illustrations are about as unimaginative as they come, with no excitement coming out of these panels at all. Altogether, a weak issue.

JS: I agree. By the end of "Junk Pile Fighters!" I was wishing the boy and his gun would get a room. It's odd that Our Army at War would be the only book to stay monthly with such a weak selection.

"Junk Pile Fighters"

Joe Kubert
Our Fighting Forces 52

"Biggest Target in the World!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Home Town Jet!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

"Non-Stop Patrol!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

PE: Just six months prior to launching "The War That Time Forgot" over in Star-Spangled, Robert Kanigher dishes up a nonsensical slice of fantasy and tries to meld it with a Gunner and Sarge story. The pair (minus pooch) are combing the shores for a sniper when out of the woods comes... a giant! This giant comes complete with uniform and rifle and kill-crazy instincts. Why is there a giant in the jungle? Who knows? At one point in "Biggest Target in the World!", Gunner is reading Jack and the Beanstalk so, when the big guy shows up, I naturally expected it to all be a dream in the end, the result of an errant bullet to the cranium or some such, but no explanation is forthcoming. The giant is dispatched when a fighter pilot comes to the aid of Gunner and Sarge and nothing more is spoken of the situation. If we were given some sort of reasoning behind the sudden appearance of this freakish soldier, the story might have been a bit easier going down, but it's just too goofy for my tastes.

That explains it!
JS: I was reminded of the David and Goliath story from the Bible when I read this oddity. Gunner does see a book in the middle of the story that states that human growth is based on the food we eat and the function of our pituitary gland. Another soldier, named "the Professor," tells him that "generation by generation, we've grown taller." What this has to do with the giant Japanese soldier, I don't know. Fortunately, they only seem to have had enough food to grow one giant! Like this month's lead story in Our Army At War, the Gunner and Sarge story in this issue is billed as a two-parter, though at 13 pages it is essentially the same length as every other lead story and becomes a two-parter by dint of a forced climax partway through.

Can anyone read that character?
PE: An American fighter pilot in Korea joins the Hometown Squadron in "Home Town Jet!"  The group is comprised of a band of pilots who have nicknamed their jets after the town they grew up in. Being an orphan, shuttled from shelter to shelter, our protagonist has no home town so doesn't really feel as if he belongs. That all changes when he defends a Korean village and becomes their hero, adopting their name for his plane. A nicely told, albeit predictable tale enhanced greatly by the art of... you guessed it!

JS: Heath sure can draw air battles well, and the ending, where the villagers paint a Chinese (?) character on the plane's nose, is impressive.

Nazis cleverly disguised as
Arab "camel jockeys"
PE: "Non-Stop Patrol" tells the story of the Tin Pot Patrol, a group of soldiers lost in the desert and constantly attacked by Nazis dressed as Arabs. It's a tense story, better than most Haney/Abel tag teams, marred only by the constant dirge of "If you stop on the desert, you're done" and an 11th panel rescue that defies logic (a rescue plane appears out of nowhere and drops supplies to the stranded men). Still, it beats "Junk Pile Fighters."

JS: I thought it was funny that the Arabs kept turning out to be Nazis in disguise! Never could trust a Nazi.

Joe Kubert
All-American Men of War 76

"Just One More Tank!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Ace Against Ace!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Russ Heath

"The Impossible Mission!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

PE: I'm not sure why "Just One More Tank!" is billed as a two-parter but I'm just as happy the second part never materialized as this one is awful with equally awful art (wasn't it just a couple months ago I was expressing delight at Andru and Esposito and now we've put up with two stinkers in a row). "Just One More Tank" follows the formula set forth in the first three installments of "Tank Killer": T.K. and his ever-suffering Boy Friday (known only as "The Kid") must seek out and destroy lots of tanks. The Kid does a lot of complaining because T.K. wants to get "just one more tank" before they're relieved by replacement soldiers but, before too long, "The Kid" is so thrilled by the sight of burning Nazis that he's the one refusing rest. There's seemingly no motivation behind the change in "The Kid" and, I guess, readers in 1959 didn't demand any. This was the last of the four "Tank Killer" stories. Good riddance, I says.

"Just One More Tank!"
JS: I thought this was a good story, one that could have been titled "The Kid Grows Up." The motivation for the change in attitude on the part of the kid seems to be the incident when he uses the bazooka to destroy the enemy ship and save his own and TK's life. I also thought he was surprised to feel affection for the job he always seemed to dislike. I know these Tank Killer stories followed a pattern, but I thought this was a good one. I also find myself wondering just how a bazooka works--if I write to Combat Corner (now called "Sgt. Rock's Combat Corner"), do you think they'll respond?

PE: "Ace Against Ace" utilizes the same split-screen gimmick as "Junk Pile Fighters" in Our Army #89 but that's the only similarity between the two stories, thank goodness. "Ace" benefits right off the bat from the usual stellar Russ Heath art. I swear in spots Heath's art almost looks rotoscoped, it's so clean and life-like. The story involves an American fighter pilot and his Korean counterpart locked in a battle to the death, first in the cockpit and, ultimately, hand-to-hand on the ground. It's a stark, violent climax and though we don't see a streak of blood, we do witness the aftermath of that violence. As writer Hank Chapman puts it in the final panel: "In the end, it is not science--not equipment--but the man--that counts..."

"The Impossible Mission"
JS: This was a fascinating story until the end. In alternating panels, we see parallel images of the US and Chinese fighters getting ready for their missions and boarding their planes. The approach is interesting because the Chinese pilot is not demonized; he is just like the American pilot. They battle with their jets, then shoot at each other as they fall through the sky with parachutes. Things get a little far-fetched at this point, as they trade blows while still falling. They then fight on the ground and the US soldier apparently kills the Chinese soldier. I would have preferred a more humanistic ending, something we might have seen in an EC comic, where they realize their similarity and no one is killed, but I guess that's asking too much of a DC war comic in 1959.

PE: I've been reading a few two many frogmen adventures lately and they all seem to run together in my brain. That may be because there hasn't been any straying off the path as yet. "The Impossible Mission" falls into that same trap but still manages to be readable and, unlike his job on the aforementioned "Junk Pile Fighters," Jack Abel brings his "A" game this time. A band of American frogmen, intent on planting explosives on a Japanese munitions ship, are continually sent packing by the enemy. Their job is labeled "The Impossible Mission" by their superiors but the men have no quit in them and the job eventually gets done. There's not a lot of peril since we know these guys are going to make it back but it's a fun read nonetheless.

JS: If you believe these comics, there were a heck of a lot of frogmen operating in "Big War Two," as this story calls it. When did World War Two start being called World War Two? Another question for Combat Corner! I think of the James Bond movie, Thunderball, whenever I see frogmen.


Coming Next Week!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Hitchcock Project: Henry Slesar Part Eight-"A Night With the Boys" [4.30]

by Jack Seabrook

Henry Slesar's contributions to season four of Alfred Hitchcock Presents came to an end in May 1959 with "A Night With the Boys," based on his short story "A Fist Full of Money." Slesar's short stories had been adapted four times in season three and four times in season four; he had not yet begun writing teleplays, something that would change with season five.

"A Fist Full of Money" by Henry Slesar and Jay Folb first appeared in the February 1959 issue of Playboy. The story concerns Irv Randall, a young married man who plays poker with his colleagues from work and loses his entire week's pay to Smalley, whose "easy smile" begins to irritate him. Walking home and wondering how to break the news to his wife, Frances, he tears his clothes and smears dirt on his face to make it look like he was mugged.

He arrives home and his wife is concerned about his welfare, but he is surprised when she insists that they call the police. He makes the call and is again surprised when the police ask him to come to the station house right away. At Precinct 23, Irv is shown a young man, a suspect in the mugging. Irv reports that he lost ninety-six dollars and they give him ninety-two dollars that the boy was carrying. Irv's unspoken guilt about framing an innocent man is assuaged when the detective asks him not to press charges.

Next morning, at the office, Irv worries about having taken the young man's money. He is about to call the police and come clean when he discovers that Smalley had been mugged the night before and had not bothered to report the crime!

The story was adapted for television by Bernard C. Schoenfeld and broadcast under the title "A Night With the Boys" late in season four of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, on Sunday, May 10, 1959. As was often the case with Slesar's stories, the print source was quite camera-ready, and the televised version is not significantly different.

John Smith
The opening scene features the poker game, and it is expanded to make Smalley more unlikeable. Director John Brahm uses minimal camera movement, usually in order to reframe the scene when characters move. At the end of the game, as Irv prepares to leave, Smalley asks him to come to his home the next morning, setting up the show's final scene, which is set at Smalley's house rather than at the office.

The second scene is what makes this episode memorable: Irv walks home along a wonderfully shadowy Universal Studios city street, accompanied by ominous music on the soundtrack. He stops in front of a pawn shop and looks at his own ring and watch; a beat cop accosts him and warns him about the danger posed by hoodlums in the neighborhood. This provides the spark of the idea to fake his own mugging, and he hides in a vacant lot to tear his clothes, spread dirt on himself, and even cut his cheek with a sharp object he picks up.

Joyce Meadows
Brahm makes great use of high contrast lighting in this scene to heighten the noir effect. At home with Frances, Irv conveys his interior guilt over his lie, and the couple's need for money is heightened by the addition of the detail that Frances is pregnant. This section of the story is expanded as well; there is a call to the police, some discussion between Irv and Frances, and a return call from the police. At the police station, Whitey--the young man who is blamed for the theft--gets some lines, and he and Irv exchange meaningful looks, both understanding that they are caught up in a web of lies from which they cannot escape.

While Irv's self-doubt and lack of confidence continue after he returns home, he does not go so far as to nearly telephone the police to confess in the morning. Instead, he goes to Smalley's house and discovers the man beaten from an unreported mugging the night before.

Sam Buffington
"A Night With the Boys" is a competent adaptation of "A Fist Full of Money." The changes to the script are not significant, but the show rises above other, recent adaptations of Slesar's work due to strong performances by the leads and due to the shadowy scenes devised by John Brahm.

This was the first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be directed by Brahm; he also directed five episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, twelve episodes of The Twilight Zone, twelve episodes of Thriller, and two episodes of The Outer Limits. Brahm (1893-1982) is arguably the director responsible for the most atmospheric episodes of classic, black and white TV shows; other episodes in this series directed by him and previously discussed include "Final Performance," "Madame Mystery," and "The Cuckoo Clock," all three with either stories or teleplays by Robert Bloch.

Joe De Santis
Slesar wrote "A Fist Full of Money" with Jay Folb (1922-1997). Folb also co-wrote "Pen Pal" with Slesar (an episode adapted for season five) and is credited with having authored a handful of short stories in 1958-1959. He then resurfaced in the 1970s and 1980s as a scriptwriter for various episodic TV series.

Bernard C. Schoenfeld (1907-1980) wrote the script for "A Night With the Boys"; he also adapted Slesar's "The Right Price" for television.

Portraying Irv Randall is classically handsome John Smith (1931-1995), who was born Robert Errol Van Orden but changed his name to John Smith at the suggestion of his agent, joking that he would be the only one in the business with the otherwise common name. He was in movies from 1944 to 1972 and on TV from 1953 to 1978. He was a regular on Cimarron City (1958-1959) and Laramie (1959-1963). This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock series.

Buzz Martin
Joyce Meadows (no relation to Audrey or Jayne) was born in 1933 as Joyce Burger and is still performing today. She started in movies and on TV in 1956 and appeared four times on the Hitchcock series. She maintains her own website.

As the unlikeable Smalley, Sam Buffington (1931-1960) is reminiscent of the character actor Roger C. Carmel. Buffington had a brief career in movies and on TV starting in 1957. He appeared in Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) and appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times before taking his own life at age 28.

Finally, Joe DeSantis (1909-1989) is a recognizable character actor who plays the police lieutenant, and Buzz Martin (1939- ) plays Whitey, the young hood who may or may not be a mugger.

"A Night With the Boys" is available on DVD and may be viewed online here.


"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 July 2013.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 22 July 2013.
"A Night With the Boys." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 10 May 1959. Television.
Slesar, Henry. "A Fist Full of Money." Clean Crimes and Neat Murders: Alfred Hitchcock's Hand Picked Selection of Stories by Henry Slesar. New York: Avon, 1960. 15-21. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 22 July 2013.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Do You Dare Enter? Part Six: February-March 1970

The DC Mystery Line 1968-1976
by Jack Seabrook,
John Scoleri,
& Peter Enfantino

Neal Adams
House of Mystery 184 (February 1970)

"Turner's Treasure"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alex Toth

"The Eyes of the Basilisk"
Story by E. Nelson Bridwell
Art by Gil Kane and Wally Wood

Peter: Paul Turner, philosophy professor, becomes obsessed with finding a treasure buried in Egypt. He uproots himself and his wife and heads to Cairo, where he discovers the booty hidden exactly where it was supposed to be. Unknown to Paul, he's unearthing more than just millions in gold and jewelry. An evil spirit urges the professor to murder his wife and he takes the treasure back to the states. Paul sells a little bit here and there, with the demon cleaning up after him until, in the end, "Turner's Treasure" is his own undoing. Jack Oleck's writing is a bit on the pulpish side (what "haunted Egyptian treasure" story wouldn't be, though?) and the climax is too vague (so did the demon set up Turner's fall or was that all human error?), but Alex Toth's offbeat artwork more than makes up for any script shortcomings. That splash page is a knockout.

The sensational splash for "Turner's Treasure"
Jack: Hooray! It's 1970! Perhaps the greatest year for Neal Adams at DC, and here we are treated to another children in peril cover. I love Ancient Egypt so I was excited to read this story. I too enjoyed Toth's art but found the conclusion a bit muddled.

Peter: In medieval times, "The Eyes of the Basilisk" spell death and destruction for a small kingdom until its ruler declares that the man who slays the giant snake will win his daughter's hand in marriage and one day rule as king. Many knights try and all fail. Then comes Ulfar the Afflicted, a handsome young man, who kills the monster and collects his prize. When asked what it was like to stare into the Basilisk's eyes, Ulfar answers that he has no idea since he was born blind. Yep, the "twist" is about as surprising as the winner for Best Picture at the Oscars but, golly gee, it's Kane and Wood! Very much in the spirit of "Comes the Warrior," the pair's previous collaboration for HOM #180, "Basilisk" is a fantasy yarn worth looking at. This was the third and final story written in the House by E. Nelson Bridwell, who went on to write DC's Super Friends comic book in 1976.

Jack: Loved the art, didn't love the story. I can't recall a Bridwell story that I ever liked. The art, though, is great, with real flashes of Wood in among the Kane layouts. It's the best of both worlds, artistically, even though the dialogue is stilted and the plot owes more than a little to the Medusa legend. As for Super Friends, that's the point where I could no longer enjoy Alex Toth's art.

Peter: I should mention that this issue's letters page ("Cain's Mailroom") actually has an intelligent correspondence from Allen Benner of Hanover, PA. Allen writes in to praise Neal Adams' work on "The Siren of Satan" back in #181. Sure, I know that it wasn't Adams but Wrightson who did the art for "Satan" but, all the same, the letter does contain more intelligent analysis than the usual "I love your pet dragon" and "Do you have the same titles like Lois Lane and all?" A far cry from the debate and critical commentary found over at Marvel, though. Hopefully, that will all change in time. Interestingly enough, this title stands out this month as the only one not to carry four shorter stories, opting for two longer scripts. The comments below will probably show that the longer length is essential to build suspense and develop characters.

Jack: In my memory, by the mid-70s, the letters columns in DC and Marvel comics were interchangeable.

Neal Adams
House of Secrets 84 (March 1970)

"If I Had But World Enough and Time"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Dick Dillin and Mike Peppe

"Double or Nothing!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sid Greene

"The Unbelievable! The Unexplained!"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Jack Sparling and Jack Abel

"If I Should Die Before I Wake..."
Story by Len Wein
Art by Jack Sparling

Peter: Marvin sits in front of his TV set, watching hours and hours of mindless programming, to the dismay of his long-suffering wife. One night, the set evidently transports Marv into some of the dreamscapes it airs (I say "evidently" because it's really not all that clear) and he finds himself a quick-draw in various time frames, all the while followed by a shadowy figure. "If I Had..." is a pretentious and pointless look at how TV sucks out our souls. I've read dozens of stories preaching exactly the same message and I'd venture a guess most of them did a better job than Len does here. The problem is that the story is confusing and jumps around too much, almost as though there were a few pages of art missing. I thought for sure the guy in the overcoat following the protagonist around was The Phantom Stranger. For a much better written dissertation on the downfalls of television addiction, see Don McGregor's "The Destructive Image" in Creepy #57 (November 1973).

Does this apply to reading
comics as well?
Jack: Your comment above regarding the problem with very short stories is an accurate reflection of this tale, though I was getting a little bit nervous about the result of my own TV watching.

Peter: Even worse is "Double or Nothing," about the evils of gambling and cheating, topped off with an incredibly silly ending. Let's just call this one "Nothing." Marv Wolfman's still edging towards that first great story but will it arrive before he jumps ship for Marvel? Stay tuned.

Jack: I enjoyed this one, from the stuttering nerd who turns out to be a sorcerer, to the ending, where the card cheat is encased in a pair of dice. Maybe sometimes my standards get a little low after reading too many comics.

Peter: Sometimes these stories can be so mentally frustrating. I can picture these writers just throwing out ideas without the necessary tools in which to develop those ideas. Such is the case with Steve Skeates' "The Unbelievable! The Unexplained!" Ruth has loved her uncle's castle since the days she stayed there as a little girl. Now a middle-aged woman, Ruth is elated to learn her uncle is near comatose (after a bad fright) and she commits him to a nursing home. Shortly after, the man dies and Ruth inherits everything, including a strange key to a house in the mists. Once she opens the door to the house she encounters... Who knows? We don't. Skeates never lets us see (or even get an inkling of) this terror behind the door. All we know is that it sends Ruth into the same trance her uncle fell into. These kinds of stories are like pillows without stuffing, nothing to hold onto. I know Steve got better with seasoning, though. His "The Hero Within" (Creepy #60, February 1974) was one of the best stories Warren ran in its storied history. DC seems to have been fertile ground for writers who got better once they worked for Warren. The art here and in the finale, "If I Should Die Before I Wake..." (both by Jack Sparling), is awful, but at least in "The Unbelievable..." Jack Abel seems to be able to rein in Sparling's chaos. Not so with "If I Should..," where Sparling's doodlings look like watercolors mixed with mud. What the heck has happened to Jack since his brief burst of brilliance with "The House of Gargoyles"? "If I Should..." has a man chased by a ghoulish figure through his dreams for no apparent reason so he sees a psychiatrist. Since the doctor (Basil Cranius!) is always held back in the shadows, we know from the get-go who he really is and Len Wein does nothing to surprise us.

"The Unstomachable!"

Jack: I think Wein must have watched the Twilight Zone episode "Perchance to Dream" right before he penned "If I Should Die"--the premises are identical. Sometimes the best thing about these comics is the ads (often the house ads!), but the best thing about this issue is the framing sequence, in which Abel wanders around commenting on the stories and eventually meets a friendly old woman with whom he shares a soda. To our surprise, after they part, the old woman is revealed to be one of the three witches from The Witching Hour! It's unfortunate that the stories are so forgettable, but at least I got a kick out of the latest escapades of Abel.

"If I Should Die..."

Peter: After four issues, editor Joe Orlando finally decides to clue us in as to who Goldie is in a short aside: "Goldie is Abel's constant friend and companion. Unfortunately, no one can see or hear Goldie...except Abel!" This issue sees the advent of a letters page. As with House of Mystery, a lot of the correspondence isn't actually worth the paper it's printed on.

Jim Aparo
The Witching Hour 7 (March 1970)

"The Big Break!"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Bill Draut

"The Captive!"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by George Roussos

"Look Homeward, Angelo!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Jack Abel and Alex Toth

"Trick or Treat"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by Michael W. Kaluta

Peter: After his "Big Break," escaped convict John Cobern trudges through the swamp and eventually into yet another variation (and not too varied, I might add) on Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." Cobern trips over a root, hits the ground, gets up, finds a mysterious mansion equipped with an eerie voice. The spectre informs John that he grew up in the house and if he leaves, he'll die. Cobern's tired of being told what to do so he heads out the door and we find out that (surprise!) his initial fall killed him. He's been dead the whole time! One of the old witches asks us if it was all a dream within the skull of a dying man or if it all happened and I, sadly, have to tell her I have no idea. Bill Draut's art resembles that of the 1960s DC sf titles, not necessarily a bad thing in this case.

"The Big Break!"
Jack: Not just a ripoff of the Bierce story, "The Big Break!" also features a house and family haunted by the curse of an ancestor. I liked the coloring in this story very much--the outdoor scenes at night use black, white and blue to give some of the panels an eerie look. Or perhaps the colorist just missed some parts of the pages! By the way, the GCD is puzzled about the cover artist, but I'm certain it's Aparo--the head of the convict is unmistakably his work.

Peter: Steve Skeates makes up for his unfortunate pilfering of a classic by giving us a nice little story with a genuinely pleasing twist in "The Captive." An artist is approached by a retired mafia don who wants his portrait painted to give to all "his old friends." The artist not only scoffs but insults the gangster, who assaults him and flees. Later that night, the don is awakened by a living statue of the artist. Our climax shows the artist, rousing himself from the floor and remarking he'd best grab a hunk of the highway and not worry how he got to be here. He passes a statue of the don on the way out the door. Didn't see that one coming and, after reading thousands of these horror stories over the years, that's a big plus. George Roussos's art is not spectacular but it's miles above the Jack Sparling bilge we had to slog through over in Secrets.

"The Captive!"
Jack: This story had me until the final statue switch, which made no sense. As the witch telling the story comments (and don't ask me her name--Cynthia the blonde is the only one I can remember), "As for HOW our friends happened to switch places--even I don't know that!" She's not the only one.

Peter: A poor angelic orphan is constantly berated by his adoptive parents. When furniture begins moving of its own accord, the pair decide to march little Angelo back to the orphanage, where they discover his true origin. "Look Homeward, Angelo" could very well be the worst written story we've come across so far (I also hope it's the worst I have to read in these DC horror comics but I'm sure something else will come along to ascend the throne) but I don't have the time to review my old notes.  Suffice to say, it's a Mike Friedrich script and Friedrich is very much in the discussion over at Marvel University, where his run at Marvel is being discussed, dissected, and then summarily forgotten.

Jack: Once again, we disagree. I liked this story, and I was surprised by the revelation that Angelo's parents were angels, especially when we first see them dressed (in disguise) as hippies. I know I'm the more sensitive one here -I like Christmas stories and dogs- but I thought it was interesting how Cynthia told this story about a misunderstood child to Egor in order to help him feel better about having to pose for a family picture with the three witches. Once again (as in this month's House of Secrets), the frame nearly overwhelms the individual stories. The Witching Hour is developing as a book that is more about the frame than anything else, and I'm enjoying it. The stories the witches tell don't always matter that much and I'm anxious to get back to their escapades. The Alex Toth art on the frame sequences doesn't hurt.

Angels in disguise as hippies
Peter: The two pages of Mike Kaluta art that make up the piffle known as "Trick or Treat" threaten to steal the entire show this issue. Thankfully, we'll be seeing more of Kaluta's art along the way. Toss him in the shopping cart with Wrightson, Jones, Alcala, and Neal Adams as the true stars of the 1970s DC horror titles.

Jack: The GCD says this is one of Kaluta's very first professional credits, and it's a beauty! The story is a throwaway, as so often happens with the really good pieces of art in these mags.

Early Kaluta

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 117 (March 1970)

"Midnight Summons the Executioner!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Sid Greene

"Hands of Death!"
Story by Al Case (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"The House That Hate Built!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by George Tuska

"Death of the Man Who Never Lived"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Bruno Premiani

Peter: DC throws us a curve ball as they bring back their series character, Johnny Peril, for one last appearance before putting him on a shelf  (until he magically reappeared in #200, July 1980). Since series characters fall out of our scope, we'll just pretend it never happened, Mr. Orlando.

Jack: "Midnight Summons the Executioner!" is a pretty good story, though. It really doesn't matter that the lead character is Johnny Peril--it could be anyone! Peril, alone in the world, is summoned to England to be reunited with his family. He discovers that it's a trick played by the elderly head of a clan who must sacrifice a relative to a ghost every 25 years. When his little grandson volunteers to give up his life, the old man does what he and the patriarchs before him should have done long before.

A family member bites the dust.
Peter: If the caliber of stories in this issue is any indication, then Unexpected is where Joe Orlando dumped all the weak horror stories (Warren did that for years with Eerie) that his writers would bring his way. All three are godawful but "Hands of Death" is the one I'll single out. The other two are merely inoffensive, boring, and just plain dumb.  "Look Homeward, Angelo!" didn't have to wait long before it was knocked out of first place for Worst DC Horror Story. "Hands of Death," written pseudonymously by Murray Boltinoff (later a DC editor), is easily the stupidest four pages I've read since ingesting the complete adventures of Ant-Man over at Marvel University. Susan just can't get over the fact that her boyfriend, Noah, is an undertaker. The very thought of him touching her makes her squeal like a pig and the fact that Noah drives around in a hearse doesn't help, either. When shallow skank Susan falls asleep while smoking, Noah makes the ultimate sacrifice to save her. It's been a long time since a comic story actually offended me (maybe not since Jack Sparling was assigned to draw an issue of Captain America) but the final panel pushes my "you're shittin' me" button in the worst way. This title is on notice, boys and girls.

Jerry Grandenetti's art had gone
downhill since the war comics of 1959!
Jack: What, you were offended that he lost his hand in the fire and she put a ring on his prosthetic replacement? Peter, I thought you were made of sterner stuff. In "The House That Hate Built!" we are treated to George Tuska's art as it portrays the story of Clem Atwill, a greedy man whose million dollars is sunk in a swamp when he thinks he's taking over a town that is really a mirage. "Death of the Man Who Never Lived" looks like a leftover from the '50s or early '60s. A crook learns to his dismay that a kindly old inventor is really a robot. Yawn. By the way, there's no sign of the Mad, Mod Witch this issue, making The Unexpected the only DC horror title without a host or a framing story. It could have used one!

A little something to offend our readers!

Coming Next Week!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Star-Spangled DC War Stories Part 6: November 1959

By Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Jerry Grandenetti
Star-Spangled War Stories 87

"T.N.T. Spotlight!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Mort Drucker

"School for a Frogman!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Get One for Smitty!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert

PE: Mademoiselle Marie plays yet another game of wits with the Nazis. Given the task of creating a diversion so that a band of rangers can land unmolested, Marie accepts a dare from Commandant Von Ekt, a mission that could find her blown to smithereens. Though I haven't been a fan of this series based on previous chapters, I enjoyed this installment very much. Sure, Marie can still jump from a speeding train with nary a curl out of place, but the escalating series of Von Ekt-created hoops Marie has to jump through ees verry exciting! Mort Drucker's art is fabulous, with Von Ekt resembling director/actor Otto Preminger to a T. Von Ekt is such a great villain, it almost seems a shame that he goes up in smoke with his exploding train. I do call foul on the scene where Marie and her merry men, floating downstream in a rowboat, are ambushed by an enemy patrol. The Nazis hurl potato mashers at the boat but the quick reflexes and trigger finger of M. Marie prove worthy and the explosives are deflected back at their tossers! Hilarious! Author (and future executive producer of the Dark Knight film trilogy) Michael Uslan selected this story as an example of Mademoiselle Marie's escapades for his America at War: The Best of DC War Comics (Fireside, 1979).

"But... I Nevah... Meese!"
JS: While I think the cover is very sharp, I was not as enamored of this story or Drucker's art, which I have a hard time taking seriously. I have read all of the Mlle. Marie stories to date, yet has she ever been referred to as the "Maqui Leader" before? I looked Maqui up online and it refers to the resistance fighters in the Spanish Civil War. As for her "ruthless enemy" Commandant Von Ekt, have we seen him prior to this story? They set it up here as if he's a recurring villain, so I'll bet my tinpot he did not die in the train explosion. By the way, why do the French speak in the absurd "ze" and "zat" lingo while the Nazis either speak perfect English or toss around simple German words like "Ja"?

Commandant Von Ekt himself!

"School for a Frogman!"
PE: An American frogman is captured by the Germans and used as fodder for grueling underwater training classes for fledgling Nazis. "School for a Frogman" is a tense, exciting short with one glaring flub. At one point our hero mentions he only has 15 minutes of oxygen left in his tank but, once he escapes from his torturers, he goes on quite an adventure, culminating in the destruction of a huge German boat (known as a "raider"). Where'd he get that extra air?

JS: There's one other glaring flub. How do you write with chalk on a chalkboard underwater? I don't think that even the Nazis could have pulled that off!

PE: Dazzling Kubert art highlights "Get One for Smitty," in which a tail-gunner named Smitty is determined to prove his worth to his comrades but gets into trouble immediately. They have to pull his fat out of the fire and the chant  "Got One for Smitty" reverberates throughout the bomber. Smitty ends up getting his one--the most important one it turns out--for himself and he saves the day. Only Kubert can pull off that hangdog look on a G.I. Though Haney uses that tired device of latching onto a phrase and repeating it, here it works for the good of the story.

JS: Thank goodness Smitty finally got his act together. I was getting sick of hearing it!

Russ Heath
Our Fighting Forces 51

"Underwater Gunner!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Frogman Trap!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Combat Check!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

PE: For some strange reason, Jerry Grandenetti and Joe Kubert switch series this month and next with Kubert here handling the disposable Gunner and Sarge series and Grandenetti mishandling the Sgt. Rock chores over at Our Army at War. Not a bright idea. Whereas Grandenetti can do a decent job on a humorous series such as Gunner, you don't want him anywhere near Sgt. Rock. As for "Underwater Gunner," Robert Kanigher must have decided that Kubert means serious business. Gone is the Keystone Kops Komedy of past issues and we're blissfully free (save one throwaway panel) of canine mascot Pooch. In fact, this is easily the best of the Gunner and Sarge stories yet presented, with Joe's scenes of battling frogmen the standout sequence. Kubert's Sarge here looks just like his more famous Sgt. over at Our Army.

Nope, it ain't Rock!
JS: Maybe this was Rock's side job--pushing Gunner around. I read the whole story wondering where Pooch was and I was relieved to find he had not been chopped up to make K Rations. I learned another new slang term for a grenade--an egg. Throw in some potato mashers and war starts to sound like Kitchen Nightmares!

PE: Our second underwater adventure of the issue, "Frogman Trap," finds an explosives expert first destroying a Nazi sub and then ordered to go back to the wreckage and retrieve secret documents stored in its safe. When the diver gets to the sunken sub, he finds it already being pilfered by the enemy. Though he makes quick work of the two German divers and is able to open the safe, a fresh wave of Germans is knocking at his door in minutes. The bad guys get the documents and trap our hero in the sunken sub. Only training and a streak of good luck allow the American frogman to survive the ordeal and land on top, secret documents and all. Writer Hank Chapman and artists Andru and Esposito serve up some genuine moments of claustrophobia and a nice surprise climax when the documents are read and we find out the Nazi sub's first target was meant to be the ship the frogman is assigned to.

"Combat Check!"
JS: Ross Andru's trademark wide open eyes made it easy to peg the artist in this one. I liked the way the floating log made the Nazi seaplane flip over in the water, but then having the box the frogman was looking for just fall out of the plane and into his hands was a little much.

PE: "Combat Check" is a less involving short about a G.I. given the unenviable duty of checking out small areas to make sure they're free of the enemy. Our protagonist simultaneously has the worst and best luck in the world: he keeps stumbling onto Nazis despite the fact that his assignment areas get smaller but the Nazis (including a sniper who has a clear shot at our American G.I.) can't hit the side of a barn door so he keeps escaping by the hair on his chin.

JS: It was pretty cool when the ruined one-room building turned out to be a camouflaged Nazi tank! I did not see that coming.

"Frogman Trap!"

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 88

"The Hard Way!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Frogman Anchor Jockey!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"A Sarge is 10 Feet Tall!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

And who's this disguised as Rock?
PE: "The Hard Way," we come to find out, is having to leave a wounded man behind when the enemy is near. Sgt. Rock relates his tale of "The Hard Way" to a new recruit who wonders aloud what the worst thing in war is. Coincidentally, shortly after the story has ended, the new recruit is wounded and becomes the second chapter of "The Hard Way." This recruit, however, manages to fight his way to a happy ending and saves Easy Company from an oncoming tank. Heresy! A Sgt. Rock story not illustrated by Joe Kubert becomes just another war story, unfortunately. Sure, the script has some highlights (the original soldier doesn't make it back home and there's a high body count) but it's dragged down by the weak Grandenetti pencils. You'd not be able to pick Rock out of a G.I. lineup, resembling William Holden in some panels. Not a good thing.

JS: We've been conditioned to such excellence from Kubert in this series that nothing could match up. I continue to wonder if we'll ever get recurring characters (other than Rock) in Easy Co. The supporting players seem interchangeable--but maybe that's the point. In Easy Co., soldiers die and are replaced by new ones. I don't think many regular members of Sgt. Fury's company ever died.

PE: "Frogman Anchor Jockey" reads like one of the "true war action" tales that populated the men's magazines of the 1950s and 60s. There's not much to it other than a terrifying scenario: imagine being chained to the anchor of a Nazi battleship in your own harbor? This frogman makes the best of the surrounding coral and makes his escape. When he sets the charge on the explosive (which happens to be buried nearby!) and adheres it to the hull, he wonders if he'll have time to clear himself. We never find out. Jack Abel contributes Kubert-esque art (the best art we've seen from Abel so far), with his panel of our hero chained to the anchor conveying the terror of the situation nicely.

JS: Holy Davy Jones locker! This six-pager was like a Batman TV cliffhanger, and the frogman's escape was just as believable! I enjoyed it but it did not have the vibe of the usual war tale.

PE: The best comes last this issue as we learn that "A Sarge is 10 Feet Tall." A new recruit comes to idolize his sergeant as the man seems to do no wrong. When the sarge is wounded just as his men are attacked by Japanese soldiers, the youngster must pick up the baton and become a man. Really good stuff here, with Haney's script nicely overcoming the restrictions of a five and a half page slot. Russ Heath is fast becoming my favorite war artist (yes, even throwing Joe Kubert into the mix!) and here he's noting short of perfection. His use of inks for shadow gives the strip an almost noir-ish vibe. Viva La Heath!

"A Sarge is Ten Feet Tall"

Joe Kubert and Jack Adler
G.I. Combat 78

"Who Cares About the Infantry?"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Get the Whirlybirds"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker

"High Water Mark!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

PE: Russ Heath's dazzling art is the highlight of "Who Cares About the Infantry?", wherein a grizzled veteran G.I. becomes convinced that the only soldier fighting the war is a foot soldier. As he passes idle tanks or is buzzed by soaring jets, his bile grows as each new battle rages on. In the end, though, his men are aided by both the tank and the jet and his anger washes away, replaced by tears for the men who gave their lives to help the infantry. The story's so well told you can almost ignore the constant title refrain.

"Who Cares About the Infantry?"
JS: At first, this seems like another one of those stories where the main character whines on and on about how he has it worse than everyone else. Yet a few well-placed, heroic deaths make it more meaningful. Have you noticed that pillboxes seem like sitting ducks in these stories? I would think they would be more dangerous than they appear to be. I learned more slang: when an "egg" blows up, it "hatches"!

PE: The North Koreans have had it up to here with those helicopter pilots and orders have come down to "Get the Whirlybirds!" Bill, the copter pilot finds himself facing several traps set by the enemy on his rescue missions and the final one involves his brother, Eddie. A pure adventure short, almost pulpish in style and delivery, that delivers on all fronts, especially in the art department. Drucker's very detailed aircraft are a wonder to behold.

"Get the Whirlybirds!"

JS: As little as I liked Drucker's art this month on the Mlle. Marie story in Star-Spangled, I agree with you that it's very impressive here. He excels at specific, detailed drawings of machines and there is some impressive use of forced perspective.

PE: "High Water Mark" is just about the weakest story we've encountered on this journey, in both story and art. An uninspiring and monotonous dirge on setting new "high water marks" in battle. This is the new "low water mark" in the DC war titles.

JS: No argument here!

"High Water Mark"

Joe Kubert
All-American Men at War 75

"Sink That Flat Top!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"No Replacement For Me!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Fighting Star!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath

PE: "Sink That Flattop!" is a particularly moving look at three service men who give their lives in order to get their job done. Sometimes, in these Code-enforced tales, death is relegated to the background or "off-screen" or merely hinted at. Ludicrous if you think about it. How can death not be examined in a war story? Well, when it's aimed at youngsters, naturally the violence has to be toned down. Though nothing here is overly sensationalistic, we know that each one of these men has given the "ultimate sacrifice." How can a reader not choke up at Kanigher's captions: "From his doomed plane... Hank keeps on firing his guns... Because that's what he's there for..." One of the best Kanigher scripts we've seen yet and Andru and Esposito continue to grow as artists on these war titles.

JS: This story was moving and well-told, yes, but it was also very exciting! The progression from the air battle to the sea battle to the land battle kept me on the edge of my seat, and that's not always the case with DC war stories.

"No Replacement for Me!"
PE: A hard-to-kill G.I. continues to cry out his mantra "No Replacement For Me" over and over. We get it by the second page but for some reason he feels the need to drone on for four more pages. The sub-par art of Jack Abel doesn't help.

JS: This story could have been replaced and we would not have missed it!

PE: Bob Haney redeems himself nicely though with "Fighting Star," a two-part story focusing on how the North Star can help even when fighters have all the "modern electronic devices" to aid them in their journeys. The first part spotlights the sole survivor of a sunken submarine who is using the Star to navigate himself towards home when up pops the Japanese sub that sunk his own ship. Able to commandeer an unexploded torpedo, he avenges his fallen comrades. In act two, an American fighter pilot engages a Nazi bomber and its fighter escort. In the battle, the American pilot has his instrument panel damaged and must use the North Star to navigate back to England. Unbeknownst to our hero, the Germans are heading back on the same path, using the Star as their guide. Cliche though it may be, I think I could read the phone book if illustrated by Russ Heath. His aerial battles are breathtaking and his submarines are equally realistic. Give me more!

JS: This is a pretty nice story for only six pages. Heath is probably second to Kubert at this point in illustrating the war books.

The awe-inspiring art of Russ Heath

Commanded by James T. Kirk?

Coming Next Week!