For Your Consideration: DC Goes to War HC

Robert Greenberger

Robert Greenberger


by Robert Greenberger

DC Comics always offered a variety of genres in their earliest anthology releases. And as the super-hero craze began to wane immediately following the end of World War II, they slowly began shifting their focus beyond capes to include teen humor, funny animals, and westerns. As the Korean conflict grew in prominence, the funny animals largely made way for the military. Throughout the 1950s, some of DC’s best writing and artwork can be found in the growing line of war comics.

It’s little wonder then, that when Simon & Schuster’s Fireside Books wanted to add DC titles to their burgeoning line of collected editions, accompanying Marvel’s origins series, they started with a war book. As assembled by uber-producer Michael Uslan, America at War (1978), treated readers to the exploits of the heroes and heroines from World War I through Viet Nam.

DC Goes to War HC

DC Goes to War HC


Today, that collection has been freshened with additional content and is being released this spring as DC Goes to War, collecting Sgt. Rock Special #2, Enemy Ace: War in Heaven #1-2, Showcase #57, Our Army at War #67, #83, #233, and #235, Boy Commandos #1, Star Spangled War Stories #87 and #183, All-American Comics #48, Weird War Tales #3, G.I. Combat #87, Our Fighting Forces #49 and #102, The Losers Special #1, and Military Comics #1.

Military Comics #1

Military Comics #1


Quality Comics gave us the most enduring war hero, Blackhawk, debuting in Military Comics #1 (August 1941) with a Will Eisner cover, Eisner and Bob Powell script, and Chuck Cuidera artwork. Set in Poland, we meet the darkly handsome hero and his international assortment of pilots with eight appearing in this inaugural story: Baker, a Cockney Englishman; Andre, Hendrickson, Olaf, Stanislaus, Zeg, Chuck, and/or Boris.

DC didn’t shy away from patriotic stories during the Golden Age with the first such continuing feature being Jon L. Blummer’s Hop Harrigan. He appeared throughout the All-American line of comics in short stories and even text features. Teenage Hop and his crew grew popular enough to have his own radio show for six years and even a 15-chapter movie serial. He is represented in a story from All-American Comics #48 (March 1943).

By then, the Boy Commandos, the teen warriors created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby had debuted in the pages of Detective Comics. They proved popular enough to earn their own title and the first issue, cover dated Winter 1942-43 is here with four stories by the famed duo (with Kirby credited for writing two of them). The series also featured Liberty Belle, a creation of Don Cameron and Chuck Winter and I hope her debut is here, too.

Showcase #57

Showcase #57


Out of all the proud soldiers to fight for their country, one of the most unique has to be Hans Von Hammer, the Enemy Ace. This WW I hero fought proudly for Germany, killing when he had to and then returning to his villa where he brooded, communing with the lone wolf at the edge of the forest. In the hands of Writer/Editor Robert Kanigher and artist Joe Kubert, they crafted a sympathetic portrayal of a man normally considered the opponent. After running as a back-up in Star-Spangled War Stories, he got a solo issue of Showcase (July-August 1965), pitted against The Hunter, a Canadian ace, and while it didn’t lead to a series, it furthered his reputation.

In 2001, Garth Ennis, in some ways Kanigher’s spiritual successor, wrote Enemy Ace: War in Heaven, a two-parter with art by Christian Alamy and Chris Weston. Here, we leap ahead to World War II and the rise of Nazism, something the aging veteran pilot despises. His loyalty to his people sees him grudgingly agreeing to train the new Luftwaffe pilots, but his clashes with the upper echelon will not end well.

Most of the 1950s saw the war titles with one-off stories such as the quartet found in Our Army at War #67 (Feb. 1958): writer Ed Herron and artist John Severin; Kanigher with Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, Herron and Mort Drucker, Kanigher and Kubert.

In the wake of the Silver Age super-hero revival, the war and western titles adapted by introducing recurring characters and features. And while Bob Haney wrote a story featuring a character nicknamed the Rock, the true Sgt. Rock arrived in Our Army at War #83 (June 1959),“The Rock and the Wall” from the team of Kanigher and Kubert. Frank Rock, sergeant of Easy Company, became the face of DC’s war line.

Our Army at War #233

Our Army at War #233


When The New York Times Sunday Magazine did a piece in 1971 about current evens finding their way into the comics (we called it the Relevance Era), OAAW #233’s cover was used on the mag’s cover. By then, Kubert had replaced Kanigher as the war line’s editor and he increasingly told tales that questioned the morality of war.

Second to Kubert in visual productivity was probably Russ Heath, who stepped in to spell Kubert on the Rock story from issue #235, which is in here. The backup was an installment in Sam Glanzman’s U.S.S. Stevens, about a Navy vessel and its crew.

Readers of G.I. Combat #87 (April/May 1961) were introduced to a tank crew comprised of Jeb Stuart, Arch Asher, Rick Rawlins, and Slim Stryker. Joining them on their missions was the ghost of General J.E.B. Stuart hence the series name The Haunted Tank. From Kanigher and Heath, these characters were warmly accepted and they endured through the years, becoming one of the last war features to be retired.

Representing the grunts were Gunner and Sarge, as handled by Kanigher and Jerry Grandenetti in the pages of Our Fighting Forces. Their everyday adventures were enhanced by addition of the canine recruit Pooch and the story from issue #49 (September 1959) is emblematic of the era.

Star Spangled War Stories #87

Star Spangled War Stories #87


To give the women their due, DC added Mlle. Marie, the attractive, resourceful French resistance fighter who held the cover berth in Star-Spangled War Stories. From issue #87 (November 1959), Kanigher and Mort Drucker handled most of her exploits including this one where a brutal Nazi named Von Ekt is out to capture her.

And her slot wound up being given over to a new character, the Unknown Soldier. Under Kanigher and Kubert and then others, it was a popular enough feature, but when the feature was given to new editor Joe Orlando, he brought a fresh eye and new storytellers to take on the master of disguise. Under David Michelinie and Gerry Talaoc, a new level of angst was added with SSWS #183 (November/December 1974) which proved popular with fans and the sales rose, so much so, the title was finally changed to Unknown Solider a few years later.

Our Fighting Forces #102

Our Fighting Forces #102


Interestingly, DC was known for avoiding controversial issues and there was an interesting series in Our Fighting Forces as we met Capt. Philip Hunter and his troops in Viet Nam. The tale from #102 (August 1966) tried for more modern issues and conflicts courtesy of Kanigher and Jack Abel.

While the war titles faded by the Bronze Age, the macabre was in so DC offered up Weird War Tales #3, an anthology of stories that gave many a creator a chance to cut his teeth. One such tale, “The Pool…” is from newcomers Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, expertly illustrated by the veteran Heath.

By the 1980s, DC was down to Rock and the Haunted Tank but not without occasional gasps to honor the past. One such example is Sgt. Rock Special #2. Under a Dan Brereton cover painting, all the heroes were revisited by writer Chuck Dixon including Sgt. Rock (Eduardo Barreto), Mlle. Marie (Howard Chaykin), Johnny Cloud (Graham Nolan), and Haunted Tank (Russ Heath).

The Losers Special #1

The Losers Special #1


Ever the team player, editor Murray Boltinoff was prepared to join the Crisis on Infinite Earths bandwagon, and accepted the mission to kill off the Losers (a team comprised of Capt. Storm, Johnny Cloud, and Gunner & Sarge) in a way that was true to a war title. Under a Kubert cover, The Losers Special #1 was by Kanigher who worked with artists Judith Hunt, Sam Glanzman, and Mike Esposito to present one final mission.

This is a must-read collection displaying some of the finest characters and greatest craftsmen to work in the field.

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  1. Rev. David Grate Says:

    I always loved those comics; they were written by folks who had seen what real war was, and they were able to depict it without glorifying it.