Monday, April 17, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 102: October/November 1968

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

 Our Army at War 198

"Plugged Nickel!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Killer-Man, Killer-Fish!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Chuck Cuidera

"The Sergeant is a Monkey"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #88, January 1960)

Jack: After some tough hand to hand combat, Easy takes a muddy mound from the Nazis in the pouring rain. They find a young P.F.C. named Kelly, who had been taken prisoner by the Nazis but who credits his rescue to a lucky plugged nickel he wears on a chain around his neck. When a Nazi tanks attacks, Kelly heroically charges it and cripples one of its treads with a potato masher, allowing Easy Co. to swarm over it and destroy it. Injured, Kelly gives Rock his "Plugged Nickel!" to wear and the sergeant complies, though his luck seems to turn bad when his helmet is creased by an enemy bullet during the next battle. The men of Easy Co. protect their sergeant and save the day, leading him to return the charm to Kelly. After all, he says, the Combat Happy Joes of Easy Co. provide all the luck he needs.

This logo appears at the top of the double page spread

A rather short entry, this, at only 12 pages, but Kubert rises to the occasion and continues the new trend of full pages and double-page spreads that look great but result in less narrative. There is a cool new logo that runs across the double page spread and Kubert once again draws a neat, themed frame on the first page of part two.

Kubert frames the opening
page of part two
Frogman Will Jones graduates from UDT school and learns that life during wartime is not as exciting as he thought it would be. Suddenly, a Japanese destroyer attacks his sub! The sub fights back but, when a torpedo gets stuck in its ejection tube, Will is sent down into the deep to yank it out and aim it at the destroyer. One, two, three, pull! Will yanks it loose and it sinks the destroyer, saving the sub. I'm not really sure why this story is called "Killer-Man, Killer-Fish," or even if that's the actual title, since the title page seems to say "Killer-Man Fish," but the last panel's caption tells us: "The Japanese commander will never learn the answer . . . that his fate was sealed by a killer man . . . killer fish!" Is the frogman both of those?

Peter: Though "Plugged Nickel!" relies on the plot line that seems to be the foundation of every third Rock tale, Kubert's fabulous art (dig that two-page spread that opens "Nickel") makes it almost worth wading through the cliches but, seriously, how many more sad-sack-teenage-weaklings-who-become heroes-through-resilience-and-a-sudden-uptick-in-their-aim stories do we have to endure on this journey? C'mon, at least let the kid smile once. Much better, at least in the excitement department, is "Killer-Man, Killer-Fish," which features an uncredited helping hand from editor Kubert (you really can differentiate between Kubert and newcomer Cuidera) and a good twist finale. Cuidera drew the first eleven stories featuring Blackhawk in Military Comics (Quality, 1941-42) and "The Blue Beetle" under the pseudonym of Charles Nicholas; curiously, this was Cuidera's only contribution to the DC war titles.

"Killer-Man, Killer-Fish" or is it "Killer-Man Fish"?

 G.I. Combat 132

"The Executioner!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Mike Sekowsky and Joe Giella

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

Peter: The crew of the Haunted Tank meets up with Mademoiselle Marie, who explains that a sadistic fiend nicknamed "The Executioner!" has the goods on all the underground guerrilla units and plans to execute the whole lot of them within the next couple of days. Time is of the essence and so Marie lays out her plan: her band of freedom fighters will dress like clowns and parade a disguised Jeb Stuart (the tank) as part of her circus through the streets near the Gestapo H.Q. where the important papers are held. Encasing the Jeb in a costume of wood, our heroes get right to the doorsteps of the target building but the Executioner recognizes Marie from all her Wanted: Dead or Alive posters and orders his men to open fire. But the Jeb is too much for the dirty, stinkin', music-lovin' Ratzis and the Executioner is captured and served up to the allies for war crimes.

This is the first of five consecutive fill-in issues by artists not named Heath or Kubert and the quality is what you'd expect. Sekowsky and Giella provide art you probably wouldn't mind on DC titles like Girls' Romances or Jimmy Olsen but their cartoony style is as welcome on the Haunted Tank strip as Jerry Grandenetti or Jack Sparling, after the gritty realism we've come to love from Russ Heath. Sure, the story is every bit as disposable as most of the other installments but at least we had those visuals! Sad to say, Sekowsky's work got even worse as time went on but DC continued to hand over assignments; witness "Target: Planet of the Two-Legged Men!" (from Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion #12, September 1973), which nabbed Mike my coveted Worst Art of the Year award. The elaborate ploy of disguising the tank works for about an eighth of a second thanks to the brilliant camouflage of Mlle. Marie. I mean, why would a top-rank Nazi bad guy recognize the number one French pain in the German ass, right? Long story short: minus Heath, Haunted Tank is not worth the paper it's printed on.

Jack: Early in the story, we see Jeb gazing lovingly at a photo of Mlle. Marie. Hey, Jeb--don't get hooked on this French macaroon--she kisses all the DC War Heroes! Mike Sekowsky drew the first 63 issues of Justice League of America and, since I love that comic book, I try so hard to like his artwork, but it's a struggle. The faces of his characters all seem to look alike. I seem to recall he was known for his speed and his ability to draw anything, but this Haunted Tank entry is sub par.

A Sekowsky Powsky

Peter: Pvt. Sam Warden has had claustrophobia since he was locked in a closet at a very young age and such a malady can prove fatal when a boy grows up to be a G.I. Warden tries to deal with his problem but it takes a gorgeous country girl, a plethora of Nazis, and an abandoned tank to cure his affliction. Somewhere, buried deep under the rubbish of Howard Liss's script for "The Walls of Death!," is an interesting concept: how would a G.I. deal with claustrophobia when his entire day depends upon confined spaces? Sadly, this one degenerates into just another silly actioner with a ridiculous climax. At least Jack Abel makes it through nine pages without one of his trademark "knuckled face to the reader" panels but tell me what's going on in that panel to the right. Does Warden have his leg poised above and behind him or is his CO somehow lower than him?

Jack: At this point, I can barely pay attention to a story drawn by Jack Abel. My favorite part of this one was the last panel, which has a vibe reminiscent of The Spy Who Loved Me as the formerly claustrophobic G.I. is discovered snuggled up inside the tank with a pretty girl, just like James Bond. I guess sex cures all ills.

 Star Spangled War Stories 141

"The Bull"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

Peter: As Hans von Hammer returns from his stay at the estate of the Hangman, he spies a funeral ceremony being held at his Jagdstaffel. Hans lands and demands to know what is going on. Ernst approaches and explains that the service is for his own younger brother, Karl, a green pilot who had gone out on a mission and been shot down a few days before. But there is more to the story: Karl had been on patrol with a wing man, a man nicknamed "The Bull!," when they spotted a French Nieuport and Karl engaged, sending the plane to the ground. Not content with a simple kill, the Bull pulled away from Karl, leaving him vulnerable to attack, and continued to spray the burning Nieuport as it lay in pieces on the ground. At this time, Karl's Fokker became the target of several Spads. Without his wing man, Karl was quickly defeated. Bravely, the dying pilot aimed his burning Fokker at the enemy, taking a few Frenchmen with him to Hell. The Bull flew his Albatross back to the Jagdstaffel and, without a word, headed for town for a victory celebration. Hearing this last bit, the Hammer disgustedly turns away, hops into his private car, and heads for the inn.

What he finds is a defiant Bull, who tells the Hammer he'll not follow any rules and will do what he likes. After a vicious battle of fists, the Enemy Ace takes the unconscious Bull back to the base, where he once again informs him of the code of the sky. For his part, the Bull repeats his vow to follow no moral conduct code and strikes his C.O. across the face in plain view of the Hammer's pilots. The Bull challenges the Hammer to a dawn duel and the Ace accepts. When the morning arrives, Ernst pleads with Hans to allow him to duel with the big ape since it was Ernst's brother who was killed. The Bull exclaims that first he will kill Ernst and then the Hammer. Before the 10-count is finished, the Bull turns and fires a fatal shot into Ernst; von Hammer, enraged, lands several blows on the Bull, forcing him back into the whirling propeller of the Enemy Ace's idling Fokker!

Though "The Bull!" is not as powerful an entry in the Enemy Ace saga as the last few installments, there's no denying this is a great story, with lots of action and melodrama. I'm wondering if Bob and Joe had the Ace meeting up with colorful protagonists with monikers like the Bull and the Hangman in order to inject an almost superhero vibe into the strip. A powerful character like the Ace can't meet up with just any counterpart. Nice touches include the fact that the Bull and the Hammer are actually on the same side and that ten-count cheat that sends von Hammer into a rage.

Jack: One of the weaker stories, true, but still stunning art. I love how the full-length format allows Kubert to stretch and use two-page spreads, full pages, and larger than usual panels to tell his story with thrilling visual flair. One thing bothered me: how did the Bull ever get into von Hammer's squadron in the first place if he's such an uncontrollable jerk? Are we supposed to think he was fine until the events of this story and just snapped? He's called "a new man," so he's new to the squadron, but I can't believe he had a complete personality change. He also looks a little bulky to fit into one of those planes. Oh yes, and von Hammer demonstrates his cool Judo moves in the bar fight!

 Our Fighting Forces 115

"Death in the Desert"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Thorme

(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #77, July 1963)

"Tank in Town!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jerry Grandenetti
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #58, June 1957)

Jack: Rommel and his Afrika Korps need a reliable source of water to help them reach the Suez Canal. Sheik Habim controls a strategic oasis. Guess who parachutes into Nazi-held territory in the desert to keep Rommel from convincing Habim to let him use the water? That's right--Hunter's Hellcats! They face "Death in the Desert" but quickly eliminate the Nazis on guard and reach the sheik's tent.

A crafty Arab, the skeik tells Hunter that he and Von Veld, the Nazi leader, must fight a duel to the death with swords to decide which side will gain access to the precious water. The combatants are buried up to their chests in sand and must dig their way out, grab swords placed nearby, and duel. Before you can say "Arena," the fight is on. Hunter gains an advantage and Von Veld's men attack, but the Hellcats defeat them and Rommel's progress is stalled, at least for the moment.

This story includes fewer of the usual Hellcats nonsense, such as Brute's almost unreadable dialogue and the obligatory fight between Brute and Hunter, and instead concentrates on the mission, which is made more interesting by the enjoyable Thorne art. He doesn't take things too seriously, as seen in the panel reproduced here, and he manages to shoehorn in a few harem girls which--when Frank Thorne is involved--is never a bad thing.

"Death in the Desert"

Peter: The Nazis, being the rat-bastards they are, don't think of just mowing down the sheik and his men for the water rather than bargaining? When did the Germans ever bargain? And why would the sheik want to give up his precious water to anyone? In the end, these questions matter not a whit since the whole enchilada boils down to just another bar fight between the Hellcats and the Ratzis. "Death in the Desert" features the first DC War work by Frank Thorne, a guy who starts out a little scratchy (picture the love child of Novick and Sparling) but manages to rein things in and hone his style enough to make a splash a decade later with Marvel's Red Sonja.

Jack: When Fox Company enters the town of Balduc, it looks like the Nazis have cleared out, so a lone soldier is left to wait for replacements while the rest of the company moves on. To his surprise, the soldier is attacked by first one and then another Nazi with a machine gun. He kills them both and realizes that there is a "Tank in Town!" Shells fired from the tank cause a brick wall to collapse around it and, when the men inside start to emerge, a well-thrown grenade ends their lives. When the replacements arrive, they are surprised to see the lone G.I. standing in front of a demolished enemy tank.

I could not have been more surprised when I found myself enjoying a story drawn by Grandenetti. Devoid of most of the bad habits he would later develop, this is an exciting and engaging tale that manages to build suspense in only six pages.

Peter: "Double-Cross!" was a story both Jack and I included on our Best Stories of 1963 list but, you may recall, the original presentation was in black-and-white. Only one panel was presented with color and the effect was startling. Perhaps Joe thought the audience of 1968 wouldn't accept the B & W format or maybe, five years before, the staff had received too many complaints. Though the story is still a stunner, I preferred the original to this colorization. I really liked the second reprint, "Tank in Town!," an exciting little tale which benefits from a palpable sense of claustrophobia.

Our Army at War 199

"Nazi Ghost-Wolf!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Think Like a Nazi Soldier!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Frank Thorne

"Shadow Targets"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #42, January 1956)

Jack: Easy Co. stands at the foot of the Italian-Austrian Alps, looking up through the nighttime gloom at a hilltop castle they have been ordered to take. A "Nazi Ghost-Wolf!" howls at the moon and suddenly Rock and his men are shelled from above. When the bombardment ends, Rock sends Little Sure-Shot out to scout the area leading to the castle. When he does not return, Bulldozer is sent after him. Neither man returns, so Rock and Easy Co. start hiking up through the fog, the wolf howling all the while. They come upon a frightening scarecrow with a warning not to go any further, but they keep going, surviving another shelling and reaching the castle.

They blow the doors and overwhelm the Nazi force hiding inside. Little Sure Shot and Bulldozer are freed from the dungeon and display a stuffed wolf and electronic megaphone that must have been the source of the eerie howling. Yet when they leave the castle, they see a trail of wolf paw prints, "startin' from noplace and goin' nowhere."

"Nazi Ghost-Wolf!"
A simple story is made more interesting by Kubert's great illustrations, making me wish he had contributed more to the atmospheric horror comics that had just been revived at DC around this time. Peter will surely be happy that there is no new recruit around whom the story is focused, though I did have to wince when the first round of shelling kills exactly one member of Easy Co., referred to as "new man" and shown only from the calves down.

It's 1943, and Axis Sally broadcasts her radio message to the U.S troops, telling them that they cannot hope to win because they do not "Think Like a Nazi Soldier!" An American soldier named Billy is hit and his friend Willie goes for help but comes upon some Nazis and captures them. He treats them civilly, despite their attempt to escape, demonstrating that the American way of mercy is superior to the callous way of the Germans.

"Think Like a
Nazi Soldier"
It's nice to see another story drawn by Frank Thorne, who would make all of our teenaged hearts beat a little faster in the '70s with his drawings of Red Sonja. Here, Axis Sally looks a bit like Black Canary.

When Jimmy was a kid, he couldn't see the parade because of all the tall grown ups. Now he's fighting in WWII, and the enemy is still a series of "Shadow Targets," from the man hidden behind a rock who shoots at him, to the soldiers firing from behind hedgerows, to the man holding a machine gun around the corner in town fighting. At last he gets to see what's what when he returns home and marches in a parade.

This reprint from 1956 features some decent art by Ross and Mike, before their style became a caricature of itself.

Peter: In January 1971, Batman would visit the House of Mystery in a Brave and the Bold cross-over and I was hoping "Nazi Ghost-Wolf!" would be a similar experiment but, alas, by the climax we discover it's more of a nod to Scooby-Doo. I love the alternate title supplied by the cover; "The Curse of the Nazi Ghost-Wolf" sounds deliciously like one of those old Shudder Pulp stories. Someone please enlighten me: for what possible reason would the Nazis spend a lot of time and energy dressing up their new castle with Halloween decorations? Don't they consider themselves scary enough? Sadly, a whole lot of great art (in particular, that stunning two-page spread) is wasted on a very silly story. The back-ups are just as blah. "Think Like a Nazi Soldier," in particular, is inane, with its one soldier taking on the entire German army and coming out the other end unscathed.

In the 30th Issue of
It's An Entertaining Comic!
Peter and Jose can only watch in horror
as Jack delivers punishment to Mlle. Marie

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