Showcase Presents the Haunted Tank volume 2


By Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath, Irv Novick, Joe Kubert, Sam Glanzman, Ross Andru, Doug Wildey & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0789-8

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy in his signature war comics. He also exceled in horror stories, westerns and superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Batman and many others too numerous to cover here.

Kanigher sold his first stories and poetry in 1932, wrote for the theatre, film and radio, and joined the Fox Features shop where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for Blue Beetle and the original Captain Marvel.

In 1945 he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He wrote Flash (Jay Garrick) and Hawkman, created Black Canary and Lady Cop, and so many memorable villainesses such as Harlequin and Rose and the Thorn. This last terrible temptress he redesigned during the relevancy era of the early 1970s into a schizophrenic crime-busting super-heroine who haunted the back of Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, which Kanigher also scripted.

When mystery-men faded out at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved into westerns and war stories, becoming in 1952 writer/editor of the company’s combat titles: All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Army at War.

He created Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his burgeoning portfolio after Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956, all the while working on Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Sea Devils, Viking Prince and a host of others.

In 1956 he scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’; the first story of the Silver Age which introduced Barry Allen as the new Flash to hero-hungry kids of the world.

Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and frequently used his uncanny but formulaic adventure arenas as a testing ground for future series concepts. Among the many epochal war features he created were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, The War that Time Forgot and The Losers as well as the irresistibly compelling “combat ghost stories” collected here in this second stupendously expansive war-journal.

This terrific monochrome tome re-presents more blockbusting exploits of boyhood friends Jeb Stuart Smith, Arch Asher, Slim Stryker and Rick Rawlins (from G.I. Combat #120-156, October/November 1966 to October/November 1972) from a period during which superheroes rose to astonishing global dominance before almost vanishing into comicbook Valhalla once more.

Apparently immune to such tenuous trendiness, the battle-hardened veterans of the M-3 Stuart Light Tank – named for the legendary Confederate Army General who was a genius of cavalry combat, and haunted by his restless spirit – soldiered on, battling threats mortal and frequently metaphysical on many fronts during World War II. The series became – after Sgt. Rock – DC’s most successful and long-lived combat feature.

The tales were generally narrated by Jeb as he manned the Commander’s spotter-position (head and torso sticking out of the top hatch and completely exposed to enemy fire whilst driver Slim, gunner Rick and loader Arch remained relatively safe inside), constantly conversing with his spectral namesake who offered philosophy, advice and prescient, if often obscurely veiled, warnings …

Throughout the early days Jeb’s comrades continually argued about what to do with him. Nobody believed in the ghost and they all doubted their commander’s sanity, but since he began seeing the General, Stuart Smith had become a tactical genius and his “gifts” were keeping them all alive against incredible odds…

This volume opens with G.I. Combat #120 ‘Pull a Tiger’s Tail!’ – illustrated by Irv Novick – detailing how, after accompanying both Sgt. Rock and Navajo fighter-pilot Johnny Cloud on sorties, Jeb defies orders to capture a giant Tiger tank his own way…

Another spiritually-sponsored warrior, Cloud regularly communed with a mounted Indian Brave dubbed Big-Brother-in-the Sky, galloping across the heavens during his own high-flying missions.

The inspirational Russ Heath illustrated #121’s ‘Battle of Two Wars!’ wherein, after rescuing a shell-shocked pigeon, the tankers are inexplicably drawn back to WWI to save Sgt Rock’s father. He then returns the favour once the Stuart returns to its proper time, whilst in ‘Who Dies Next?’ (#122, with art by Novick), the General issues a dire proclamation that one of their own will not last the day out – a forecast that comes true in a most shocking manner…

Heath returned to the art with #123’s ‘The Target of Terror!’ as guest star Mlle. Marie returned with news of a secret weapon to be destroyed at all costs. Sadly, the French Resistance leader has partial amnesia and doesn’t remember exactly what or where…

In follow-up ‘Scratch that Tank!’ the crew’s shiny new replacement vehicle is a cause of acute embarrassment until it finally gains a few praiseworthy combat scars…

G.I. Combat #125 decrees ‘Stay Alive… Until Dark!’ as Jeb’s sorely reduced battle-group attempts to hold too much ground with too few tanks, culminating in a Horatian last stand in the shattered, cloistered streets of a tiny French town, after which the crew endure deadly desert warfare in a desperate search for Panzers hidden by a cunning ‘Tank Umbrella!’

Novick illustrated the gritty ‘Mission – Sudden Death!!’ in #127 as Mlle. Marie leads the tank-jockeys far from their combat comfort zone on an infantry raid to rescue her captured father, after which Heath returned to limn ‘The Ghost of the Haunted Tank!’

This superbly evocative thriller reveals the crew finally cracking during a brutal massed Panzer assault and restraining their clearly delusional commander for his own good. However, when solid, no-nonsense Slim takes the observer’s spot he too starts seeing the spectral sentinel and is forced to act on the apparition’s strategic advice…

Issue #129 is pure Kanigher poesy as ‘Hold that Town for a Dead Man!’ depicts the tankers rolling past an American soldier expired at his post, and swearing to eradicate the foes who felled him…

When the blistering cat-and-mouse duel seems to go against the crew they are saved by an impossible burst of gunfire fired by a cold, stiff hand…

In the afterlife all great military commanders sponsor mortal combatants. General Stuart is stuck looking after a pack of “Damned Yankees”, but the other side also has phantom patrons. G.I. Combat #130 sees the return of savage shade Attila the Hun, who directly attacks his revenant rival in a deadly ‘Battle of the Generals!’ Jeb can only watch helplessly whilst trying to save his tank from mundane but just as murderous German panzer, artillery and air attacks, until…

Their next mission took the crew and a band of savage child-warriors into the heart of Paris to rescue Mlle. Marie from the Gestapo in #131’s ‘The Devil for Dinner!’ The short-lived and extremely controversial Kid Guerrillas of Unit 3 had debuted in the Sgt. Rock tale from Our Army at War #194, June 1968.

Mike Sekowsky & Joe Giella stepped in to illustrate the follow-up wherein the Belle of La Resistance leads Jeb and the boy-soldiers – bizarrely disguised as a circus troupe – against merciless SS leader ‘The Executioner!’

The artists stayed on for #133’s ‘Operation: Death Trap’ as the Haunted Tank and crew are parachuted into North Africa to liberate enslaved natives working in a German diamond mine, before – following a ‘Special Battle Pin-up’ of the tankers by Joe Kubert – Ross Andru & Mike Esposito signed up for a stint, beginning with ‘Desert Holocaust’ wherein the tankers deal out vengeance for the three MacBane brothers; sibling tank-commanders slaughtered by the Afrika Korps.

Continuity was never a big concern for Kanigher and stories would often occur in no logical or chronological order. In #135 the lads are suddenly back in France, battling paratroopers and air-lifted Panzers with only aged WWI survivors to aid them in ‘Death is the Joker’, whilst ‘Kill Now – Pay Later!’ pits Tank against U-Boat and Jeb against its driven doom-obsessed Kommander in an improbable duel, before Heath returned in #137 to illustrate the African adventure ‘We Can’t See!’ Here the Americans are all temporarily blinded but nevertheless succeed in destroying a poison gas cache thanks to aid of a little Arab boy.

Kanigher often used his stories as a testing ground for new series ideas. G.I. Combat #138 introduced one of his most successful in ‘The Losers!’, when the Armoured Cavalry unit encounter a sailor, two marines and old friend Johnny Cloud, all utterly demoralised after losing the men under their respective commands.

Inspired by Jeb and a desire for revenge, the crushed survivors regain a measure of respect and fighting spirit after surviving a certain suicide-mission and destroying a Nazi Radar tower…

The new team were formed by amalgamating three old war series together. Gunner and Sarge (latterly supplemented by Pooch, the Fighting Devil Dog) were Pacific-based Marines debuting in All-American Men of War #67, March 1959 and running for fifty issues in Our Fighting Forces (#45-94, May 1959-August 1965).

Captain Johnny Cloud was a native American fighter pilot who shot down his first bogie in All-American Men of War #82. The “Navaho Ace” flew solo until issue #115, (1966) whilst Captain Storm was a disabled PT Boat skipper who fought on despite having a wooden left leg in his own eponymous 18-issue series from 1964 to 1967. All three series were originally created by comics warlord Kanigher and The Losers swiftly returned as an elite unit of suicide-soldiers starring in Our Fighting Forces.

G.I. Combat #139 again saw the Haunted Tank parachuted into an Arabian nightmare when the crew interrupt a funeral and save the widow from being forced onto the pyre with her deceased husband. ‘Corner of Hell’ finds Jeb wedding and losing his bride to Nazi sympathizers and an ancient prophecy…

Issue #140 featured a reprint not included here – although the new Kubert introduction page is – before the graphic narratives resume with ‘Let me Live… Let me Die!’ wherein Kanigher & Heath confront the topics of race and discrimination in a powerful tale describing the plight of African-American soldiers who were used as porters, gravediggers and ammunition carriers, but forbidden from bearing or actually using arms.

When Jeb arrives at a recently decimated ammo dump, the sole survivor of the Segregated Negro unit demands to accompany the crew and be allowed to fight and die like a man. Rushing to reinforce Sgt. Rock’s Easy Company and despite the thinly veiled disdain of Slim, Arch and Rick, when Jeb is wounded the valiant tag-along finally gets his chance…

G.I. Combat #142 finds Jeb obsessed with the moment of his own death in ‘Checkpoint – Death!’ but when the General isn’t forthcoming soon forgets it as an unseasonal snowstorm turns the world into a frozen hell…

‘The Iron Horseman!’ sees a frustrated WWI tanker finally get a chance to be a hero when Panzers attack a convent and Jeb’s crew are ambushed. There follows an informational spread ‘Battle Album: General Stuart Light Tank M31A’ – by Kubert – before #144 reveals a retrofitted Heath-illustrated origin for the Haunted Tanker in ‘Every Man a Fort!’

Now with Jeb a Northern Yankee, the tale reveals how he has to win with his fists the respect of pure-bred Southerners Rick, Slim and Arch before they let him call himself Jeb Stuart, and cements that bond during their first foray under fire in North Africa…

The desert milieu continued in #145’s ‘Sun, Sand & Death!’ when a sandstorm forces the tank off-course and leads them to an abandoned B-25 bomber, giving the dying pilot a chance to redeem his lost honour, whilst #146 sees the M-3 and its crew endure debilitating hazards battling the Afrika Korps but still persevering when the General advises Jeb to ‘Move the World!’

For some Americans the wounds of the Civil War still festered, as Jeb discovers when he encounters the hostile commander of a ‘Rebel Tank’ in #147. Of course, the Germans are happy to remind the feudsters who is currently doing all the shooting, after which in #148 ‘The Gold-Plated General!’ (a thinly disguised analogue of George S. “Blood and Guts” Patton) demands a spit-and-polish war, but even under combat conditions leads by painful example…

American services discrimination was again confronted in G.I. Combat#149 when a Jewish soldier joins the division in ‘Leave the Fighting to Us!’ Many of the good guys have to eat their words when the tank group liberates a Nazi concentration camp…

A major visual change came in #150 with ‘The Death of the Haunted Tank!’ This saw the M-3 destroyed in combat and the crew jury-rigging a jigsaw replacement from the remnants of other scrapped and abandoned but, unsurprisingly, bigger, more powerful vehicles.

Proving again that men and not the machine are the heart of the partnership, the General sticks around and when the new Haunted Tankers passes through an alpine village they eerily relive a mediaeval battle against barbarian invaders in #151’s ‘A Strong Right Arm!’ before bringing a Nazi infiltrator aboard who turns their homemade rolling fortress into a deadly ‘Decoy Tank’ to lure Allied forces into an ambush…

Comics and animation legend Doug Wildey replaced Heath for #153 as sentimental fool Jeb adopts a lost piglet, orphan puppy and lame duckling before completing his tank’s transformation into ‘The Armored Ark!’ by packing in a homeless and displaced family. This all happens while tracking down and eradicating a hidden Nazi rocket silo, after which the series took on a far grittier and raw feel with the addition of a new regular artist.

With G.I. Combat #154 (June/July 1972), unsung master and battle-scarred veteran Sam Glanzman began his decades-long association with the feature, pencilling and inking the blistering improbable ‘Battle Prize!’ wherein Haunted Tank and crew are captured and paraded before Hitler in Berlin before busting loose and heading East.

Soon after being hijacked by Polish Resistance fighters, the Yanks are stranded in ice-bound, siege-locked Russia…

Shamefully, Sam Glanzman is one of the least highly-regarded creators in American comics, despite having one of the longest careers and certainly one of the most unique styles. His work, in genres from war to mystery, westerns, science fiction, sword & sorcery, horror, fantasy and even graphic autobiography is passionate, powerful, subtly engaging and irresistibly compelling.

With a solid, uniquely rough-hewn style he has worked since the 1940s on a variety of titles for many companies, mostly on anthology material for fantasy, mystery, war and adventure titles, but also on serial characters such Attu, Sgt. Rock, Jonah Hex, Hercules and Jungle Tales of Tarzan for Charlton, Kona and Voyage to the Deep for Dell/Gold Key: magnificent action sagas that fired the imagination and stirred the blood, selling copies and winning a legion of fans amongst his fellow artists if not from the small but over-vocal fan-press.

His most significant works are undoubtedly semi-autobiographical graphic novels A Sailor’s Story and Wind, Dreams and Dragons, although his Vietnam set ‘The Lonely War of Willie Schultz’ and the subtly beguiling U.S.S. Stevens are arguably as important and unmissable.

Glanzman, born in 1924, was still active today producing online strips until his death in July 2017.

G.I. Combat #155 undertook ‘The Long Journey’ as the Haunted Tank experienced the worst horrors of war whilst trekking across the embattled Eastern Front. Aided by Russian partisans, women, children and dotards, they fought off the fascists with every drop of their blood and sweat whilst making their way to a port and the normal war…

This second sterling tome ends with the crew back in Africa where the desert and the Wehrmacht vie for the privilege of destroying the beleaguered tankers as their frantic search for fuel and water drags them ‘Beyond Hell’

An added attraction for art fans and battle buffs are the breathtaking covers by Heath and Kubert…

These spectacular tales took the Haunted Tank through tumultuous times when America fervently questioned the very nature and necessity of war. Vietnam was progressively blighting the nation’s sensibilities, and in response DC’s war comics addressed the issue and also confronted the problems of race and gender roles in a most impressive and sensitive manner.

As always, they combine spooky chills with combat thrills and a fierce examination of both war and warriors but always offer a powerful human message that has never dated and may well rank this work amongst the very best war stories ever produced. Hopefully someday soon you’ll be able to experience them in respectable modern archival editions too.
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 2008, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Metamorpho, the Element Man


By Bob Haney, Gardner Fox, Ramona Fradon, Joe Orlando, Sal Trapani, Charles Paris & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0762-5

By the time Metamorpho, the Element Man was introduced to the costumed hero-obsessed world the first vestiges of a certifiable boom were just becoming apparent. As such the light-hearted, almost absurdist take struck a Right-time, Right-place chord, blending far out adventure with tongue-in-cheek comedy.

The bold, brash Man of a Thousand Elements debuted in The Brave and the Bold #57 (December 1964/January 1965) and, after a follow-up try-out in the next issue, catapulted right into his own title for an eclectic and oddly engaging 17-issue run. Sadly, this canny monochrome compendium – collecting all those eccentric adventures plus team-up tales from B&B #66 and 68 and Justice League of America #42) – is currently the only archival collection available. Until someone rectifies that situation, at least you can revel in some truly enchanting black-&-white illustration…

Unlike most of these splendid Showcase editions, the team-up stories here are not re-presented in original publication order but closeted together at the back, so if stringent continuity is important to you, the always informative old-school credit-pages will enable you to navigate the wonderment in the correct sequence…

Sans dreary preamble the action commences with ‘The Origin of Metamorpho’ written by Bob Haney (who created the character and wrote everything here except the JLA story). The captivating art is by Ramona Fradon & Charles Paris and introduces glamorous he-man Soldier of Fortune Rex Mason, currently working as a globe-trotting artefact procurer and agent for ruthlessly acquisitive scientific genius/business tycoon Simon Stagg.

Mason is obnoxious and insolent but his biggest fault as far as his boss is concerned is that the mercenary dares to love and be loved by the millionaire’s only daughter Sapphire

Determined to rid himself of the impudent Mason, Stagg dispatches his potential son-in-law to retrieve a fantastic artefact dubbed the Orb of Ra from the lost pyramid of Ahk-Ton in Egypt. The tomb raider is accompanied only by Java, a previously fossilised Neanderthal corpse Rex had discovered in a swamp and which (whom?) Stagg had subsequently restored to full life. Mason plans to take his final fabulous fee and whisk Sapphire away from her controlling father forever, but fate and his companion have other ideas…

Utterly faithful to the scientific wizard who was his saviour, Java sabotages the mission and leaves Mason to die in the tomb, victim of an ancient, glowing meteor. The man-brute rushes back to his master, carrying the Orb and fully expecting Stagg to honour his promise and give him Sapphire in marriage…

Trapped, knowing his time has come; Mason swallows a suicide pill as the scorching rays of the star-stone burn through him…

Instead of death relieving his torment Rex is mutated into a ghastly chemical freak capable of shape-shifting and transforming into any of the elements or compounds that comprised the human body: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, calcium, iron, cobalt and so many others…

Hungry for vengeance, Mason follows and confronts his betrayers only to be overcome by the alien energies of the Orb of Ra. An uneasy détente is declared as Mason accepts Stagg’s desperate offer to cure him …“if possible”.

The plutocrat is further horrified when Rex reveals his condition to Sapphire and finds she still loves him. Totally unaware of Stagg’s true depths of duplicity, Mason starts working for the tycoon as metahuman problem-solver Metamorpho, the Element Man.

Brave and the Bold #58 (February-March 1965) reveals more of Stagg’s closeted skeletons when old partner Maxwell Tremayne kidnaps the Element Man and later abducts Sapphire to his ‘The Junkyard of Doom!’ Apparently, the deranged armaments manufacturer was once intimately acquainted with the girl’s mother and never quite got over it…

The try-out comics were an unqualified success and Metamorpho promptly debuted in his own title, cover-dated July-August 1965, just as the wildly tongue-in-cheek “High Camp” craze was catching on in all areas of popular culture; blending ironic vaudevillian kitsch with classic movie premises as theatrical mad scientists and scurrilous spies began to appear everywhere.

‘Attack of the Atomic Avenger’ sees nuclear nut-job Kurt Vornak trying to crush Stagg Industries, only to be turned into a deadly, planet-busting radioactive super-atom, after which ‘Terror from the Telstar’ pits the charismatic cast against Nicholas Balkan, a ruthless criminal boss set on sabotaging America’s Space Program.

Mad multi-millionaire T.T. Trumbull then uses his own daughter Zelda to get to Simon Stagg through his heart, accidentally proving to everyone who knew him that the old goat actually has one. This was part of the maniac’s attempt to seize control of America in ‘Who Stole the U.S.A.?’, but the ambitious would-be despot backed up the scheme with an incredible robot specifically designed to destroy Metamorpho.

Happily, Rex Mason’s guts and ingenuity proved more effective than the Element Man’s astonishing powers…

America saved, the dysfunctional family head South of the Border, becoming embroiled in ‘The Awesome Escapades of the Abominable Playboy’ as Stagg tries to marry Sapphire off to Latino Lothario Cha Cha Chavez. The wilful girl is simply trying to make Mason jealous and had no idea of her dad’s true plans; Stagg senior has no conception of Chavez’s real intentions or connections to the local tin-pot dictator…

With this issue the gloriously stylish Ramona Fradon left the series, to be replaced by two artists who strove to emulate her unique, gently madcap manner of drawing with varying degrees of success. Luckily veteran inker Charles Paris stayed on to smooth out the rough edges…

First up was E.C. veteran Joe Orlando whose 2-issue tenure began with outrageous doppelganger drama ‘Will the Real Metamorpho Please Stand Up?’ wherein eccentric architect Edifice K. Bulwark tries to convince Mason to lend his abilities to his chemical skyscraper project. When Metamorpho declines Bulwark and Stagg attempt to create their own Element Man… with predictably disastrous consequences.

‘Never Bet Against an Element Man!’ (#6 May-June 1966) took the team to the French Riviera as gambling grandee Achille Le Heele snookers Stagg and wins “ownership” of Metamorpho. The Creepy Conchon’s ultimate goal necessitated stealing the world’s seven greatest wonders (such as the Taj Mahal and Eiffel Tower) and, somehow, only the Element Man can make that happen…

Sal Trapani took over pencilling with #7’s ‘Terror from Fahrenheit 5,000!’ as the acronymic super-spy fad hits hard. Metamorpho is enlisted by the C.I.A. to stop suicidal maniac Otto Von Stuttgart destroying the entire planet by dropping a nuke into the Earth’s core, before costumed villain Doc Dread is countered by an undercover Metamorpho becoming ‘Element Man, Public Enemy!’ in a diabolical caper of doom and double-cross…

Metamorpho #9 shifted into the realm of classic fantasy when suave and sinister despot El Mantanzas maroons the cast in ‘The Valley That Time Forgot!’: battling cavemen and antediluvian alien automatons, after which a new catalysing element is added in ‘The Sinister Snares of Stingaree!’

This yarn introduces Urania Blackwell – a secret agent somehow transformed into an Element Girl and sharing all Metamorpho’s incredible abilities. Not only is she dedicated to eradicating evil such as criminal cabal Cyclops, but Urania is also the perfect paramour for Rex Mason…

He even cancels his wedding to Sapphire to go gang-busting with her…

With a new frisson of sexual chemistry sizzling beneath the surface, ‘They Came from Beyond?’ finds the conflicted Element Man confronting an apparent alien invasion whilst ‘The Trap of the Test-Tube Terrors!’ provides another attempt to cure Rex of his unwanted powers. This allows mad scientist Franz Zorb access to Stagg Industry labs long enough to build an army of chemical horrors…

The plot thickens with Zorb’s theft of a Nucleonic Moleculizer, prompting a continuation in #14 wherein Urania is abducted only to triumphantly experience ‘The Return from Limbo’

Events and stories grew increasingly outlandish and outrageous as the TV superhero craze intensified and ‘Enter the Thunderer!’ (#14, September/October 1967) depicted Rex pulled between Sapphire and Urania as marauding extraterrestrial Neutrog terrorises the planet in preparation for the awesome arrival of his mighty mutant master.

The next instalment heralded an ‘Hour of Armageddon!’ as the uniquely menacing Thunderer takes control of Earth until boy genius Billy Barton assists the Elemental defenders in defeating the mutant horror.

Trapani inked himself for Metamorpho #16; an homage to H. Rider Haggard’s She novels wherein ‘Jezeba, Queen of Fury!’ changes the Element Man’s life forever.

When Sapphire marries playboy Wally Bannister, the heartbroken Element Man undertakes a mission to find the lost city of Ma-Phoor. Here he encounters an undying beauty who wants to conquer the world and just happens to be Sapphire’s exact double.

Moreover, the immortal empress of a lost civilisation had once loved an Element Man of her own: a Roman soldier named Algon transformed into a chemical warrior two millennia previously.

Believing herself reunited with her lost love, Jezeba finally launches her long-delayed attack on the outside world with disastrous, tragic consequences…

The strangely appetising series came to a shuddering and unsatisfactory halt with the next issue as the superhero bubble burst and costumed comic characters suffered their second recession in fifteen years. Metamorpho was one of the first casualties, cancelled just as (or perhaps because) the series was emerging from its quirky comedic shell with the March-April 1968 issue.

Illustrated by Jack Sparling, ‘Last Mile for an Element Man!’ sees Mason tried and executed for the murder of Wally Bannister, resurrected by Urania Blackwell and set on the trail of true killer Algon. Along the way, Mason and Element Girl uncover a vast, incredible conspiracy and rededicate themselves to defending humanity at all costs.

The tale ends on a never-resolved cliffhanger: when Metamorpho was revived a few years later no mention was ever made of these last game-changing issues…

The elemental entertainment doesn’t end here though as this tome somewhat expiates the frustrating denouement with three terrific team-up tales beginning with The Brave and the Bold #66 (June/July 1966) and ‘Wreck the Renegade Robots’ where a mad scientist usurps control of the Metal Men just as their creator Will Magnus is preoccupied turning Metamorpho back into an ordinary mortal…

Two issues later (B& B #68 October/November 1966) the still Chemically Active Crime-buster battles Bat-Baddies Penguin, Joker and Riddler as well as a fearsomely mutated Caped Crusader in the thoroughly bizarre ‘Alias the Bat-Hulk!’ – both tales coming courtesy of Haney, Mike Sekowsky & Mike Esposito.

Sekowsky also drew the last story in this volume. Justice League of America #42 (February 1966) sees the hero joyfully join the World’s Greatest Superheroes to defeat a cosmic menace deemed The Unimaginable. The grateful champions instantly offer him membership but are astounded when – and why – ‘Metamorpho Says… No!’: a classic adventure written by Gardner Fox and inked by Bernard Sachs.

The wonderment finally concludes with a sterling pin-up of the Element Man and his core cast by Fradon & Paris.

Individually enticing, always exciting but oddly frustrating in total, this book will delight readers who aren’t too wedded to cloying continuity but simply seek a few moments of casual, fantastic escapism.
© 1965-1967, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents the Haunted Tank Volume 1


By Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath, Irv Novick, Jerry Grandenetti, Joe Kubert, Jack Abel & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0789-2

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy in his signature war comics, horror stories and superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Flash, Batman and others genres too numerous to mention here.

He also scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age introducing Barry Allen as the new Flash to the hero-hungry kids of the world in 1956.

Kanigher sold his first stories and poetry in 1932, wrote for the theatre, film and radio, and joined the Fox Features shop where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for Blue Beetle and the original Captain Marvel.

In 1945 he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. Whilst writing Flash and Hawkman, he created Black Canary and, decades later, debuted another memorable female lead in Lady Cop, as well as many memorable villainesses such as Harlequin and Rose and the Thorn.

This last torrid noir temptress he redesigned during the relevancy era of the early 1970s into a schizophrenic crime-busting super-heroine who haunted the back of Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, which Kanigher also scripted.

When mystery-men faded out at the end of the 1940s, the ever-resourceful writer/editor shifted over to westerns and war stories, becoming in 1952 writer/editor of the company’s combat titles: All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Army at War.

He created Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his burgeoning battle-portfolio when Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956, all the while providing scripts for Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Sea Devils, Viking Prince and a host of others.

Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and frequently used his uncanny but formulaic adventure arenas as a testing ground for future series concepts. Among the many epochal war features he created were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, The War that Time Forgot and The Losers as well as the irresistibly compelling “combat ghost stories” collected in this stunning and economical monochrome war-journal.

This terrific first monochrome tome re-presents the early blockbusting exploits of boyhood friends Jeb Stuart Smith, Arch Asher, Slim Stryker and Rick Rawlins as depicted in G.I. Combat #87-119 (April/May 1961- August/September 1966) and also includes guest-star missions from The Brave and the Bold #52 (February/March 1964) and Our Army at War #155 (June 1965).

The eerie action begins with ‘Introducing – the Haunted Tank’, illustrated by the sublime Russ Heath. In this introductory tale the now-adult pals are all assigned to the same M-3 Stuart Light Tank, named for the legendary Confederate Army General who was a strategic wizard of cavalry combat. During a patrol the underdog neophytes somehow destroy an enemy Panzer even though they are all knocked unconscious in the process…

Narrated by Jeb as he mans the Commander’s spotter-position (head and torso sticking out of the top hatch and completely exposed to enemy fire whilst driver Slim, gunner Rick and loader Arch remain inside) the tanker recounts how a ghostly voice seems to offer advice and prescient, if veiled, warnings. These statements and their midget war machine soon draw the jibes of fellow soldiers who drive bigger, tougher war machines…

Eventually the little tank proves its worth and Jeb wonders if he imagined it all due to shock and his injuries, but in #88 ‘Haunted Tank vs. the Ghost Tank’, Jeb is actually seeing and conversing with his phantom namesake as he and the boys solve the utterly rational mystery of an enemy battle-wagon which seems to disappear at will.

‘Tank with Wings’ in G.I. Combat #89 was illustrated by Irv Novick and describes how old General Stuart’s impossible prophecy comes chillingly true after the M-3 shoots down a fighter plane whilst hanging from a parachute, after which Heath returned to limn a brutal and staggering clash against German ‘Tank Raiders’ who steal the Americans’ haunted home on treads.

Throughout the early days Jeb’s comrades continually argued about what to do with him. Nobody believed in the ghost and they all doubted his sanity, but ever since he began to see the spirit soldier Stuart Smith had somehow become a tactical genius. His “gifts” were keeping them all alive against incredible, impossible odds.

In #91’s ‘The Tank and the Turtle’ a chance encounter with a plucky terrapin leads to brutal clashes with strafing aircraft, hidden anti-tank guns and a booby-trapped village whilst ‘The Tank of Doom’ (illustrated by Jerry Grandenetti) sees the snowbound tank-jockeys witnessing true heroism and learning that flesh, not steel, wins wars…

In #93 Heath depicted a ‘No-Return Mission’ which depleted American tank forces until the Ghostly General took a spectral hand to guide his mortal protégé through a veritable barrage of traps and ambushes, after which ‘The Haunted Tank vs. the Killer Tank’ seeks to widen the General’s role as the phantom protector agonises over intel he is forbidden to share with his Earthly namesake during a combined Allied push to locate a Nazi terror-weapon.

This time it’s the young sergeant who has to provide his own answers…

The rest of the crew are near breaking point and ready to hand Jeb over to the medics in #95’s ‘The Ghost of the Haunted Tank’, but when Slim assumes command he too begins to see and hear the General amidst the blistering heat of battle…

In ‘The Lonesome Tank’ Jeb is back in the hot-seat and scoffing at other tank commanders’ reliance on lucky talismans, until the General seemingly abandons him and he is pushed to the brink of desperation, after which G.I. Combat #97’s ‘The Decoy Tank’ proves that a brave man makes his own luck after a Nazi infiltrator takes the entire crew hostage.

‘Trap of Dragon’s Teeth’ allows the Ghostly Guardian to teach Jeb a useful lesson in trusting one’s own senses over weapons and machinery in combat, and issue #99 greets the legendary Joe Kubert who opens a stint on the series in the book-length thriller ‘Battle of the Thirsty Tanks’, with the Stuart labouring under desert conditions which reduce both German and American forces to thirsty wrecks as they struggled to capture a tantalising oasis.

The crew reveal that their fathers had all been tank jockeys in WWI who had disappeared in action when ‘Return of the Ghost Tank’ in #100 finds the lads back in Europe. Shock follows shock as they realise their sires had all been part of the same crew and credibility is further stretched when the M-3 begins to retrace and re-enact the last mission of their missing fathers…

Any doubts about whether the General is real or imagined are finally laid to rest in #101’s ‘The Haunted Tank vs. Attila’s Battle Tiger’ (illustrated by Jack Abel), as the evil spirit of the barbarian becomes patron to a German Panzer and opens a campaign to destroy both the living and dead Jeb Stuarts, after which Kubert returned for ‘Battle Window’; a moving tale of old soldiers wherein a broken-down nonagenarian French warrior is given one final chance to serve his country as the American tank blithely trundles into a perfect ambush…

A particularly arcane prognostication in #103 drives Jeb crazy until ‘Rabbit Punch for a Tiger’ shows him how improvisation can work like magic in a host of hostile situations, whilst ‘Blind Man’s Radar’ helps the crew complete a dead man’s mission after picking up the sightless sole survivor of an Allied attack…

In the mid-1960s before the Batman TV show led to rampant “Bat-mania”, The Brave and the Bold was a comicbook featuring team-ups of assorted DC stars.

Issue #52 (February/March 1964) grouped Tankman Stuart with Sgt. Rock and Lt. Cloud as the 3 Battle Stars in ‘Suicide Mission! Save Him or Kill Him!’ (Kanigher & Kubert). In this superb thriller the armoured cavalry, infantry and Air Force heroes join forces to escort and safeguard a vital Allied agent who had been sealed into a cruel and all-encompassing iron suit.

Fast-paced, action-packed and utterly outrageous, the perilous chase across occupied France produced one of the best battle blockbusters of the era.

Back in G.I. Combat #105 the ‘Time-Bomb Tank!’ starts seconds after the B&B yarn as the Haunted Tank receives intel that Sgt. Rock’s Easy Company are under attack. As they dash to the rescue, however, circumstances soon cause the M-3 to become a mobile Marie Celeste…

The ‘Two-Sided War’ finds Jeb promoted to Lieutenant and suffering apparent hallucinations where he and his crew are trapped in the Civil War, after which #107’s ‘The Ghost Pipers!’ details how the tankers aid the last survivor of a Scottish battalion in an attack that actually spans two wars, before the armoured cavalrymen again team up with Rock in ‘The Wounded Won’t Wait’. As Rick, Arch and Slim are injured, the Easy Co. topkick rides shotgun on the brutal return trip back to base…

Issue #109’s ‘Battle of the Tank Graveyard’ downplays the supernatural overtones in a more straightforward clash deep within a deadly mountain pass whilst ‘Choose Your War’ has the Confederate General chafing at his role assisting “Union” cavalry… until circumstances again seem to place the modern soldiers in a historical setting and the two Jeb Stuarts work out their differences.

For #111’s ‘Death Trap’ the uncanny crew again work with Easy Company – in the desert this time since continuity was never a big concern for Kanigher – but when the M-3 is captured by the enemy, Jeb and the boys endure a bloody taste of infantry fighting before taking it back.

‘No Stripes for Me’ is actually a Sgt. Rock adventure from Our Army at War #155 (June 1965) with the Haunted Tank in close support as a battle-hungry General’s son continually refuses the commendations and promotions his valiant actions deserve, no matter what the cost to men or morale around him…

Rock and Jeb stayed together for G.I. Combat #112’s struggle against the Luftwaffe ‘Ghost Ace!’ who is Attila the Hun’s latest mortal avatar: a blistering supernatural shocker that once more forces the Phantom General to take a spectral hand in the battle against evil, after which ‘Tank Fight in Death Town!’ sees the war following the M-3 crew back into a much-needed leave.

Luckily Rock and Easy Co. are around to provide vigorous fire-support…

After nearly four years in the saddle, scripter Kanigher decided to revamp the backstory of the crew and issue #114 (October/November 1965) featured the Russ Heath illustrated ‘Battle Origin of the Haunted Tank’ with the General revealing that he had been assigned to watch over the M-3’s boys by Alexander the Great.

In the afterlife all great military commanders sponsor mortal combatants but Stuart had refused to pick anybody and was stuck looking after “Damned Yankees”. Happily, the courage and mettle of the boys under fire had changed many of his opinions after watching their first battle in the deserts of North Africa…

Heath also drew the team-up in #115 wherein Jeb is reunited with Navajo fighter-pilot Johnny Cloud as ‘Medal for Mayhem’ pits both spiritually-sponsored warriors against overwhelming odds and forced to trade places in the air and on the ground. (Cloud regularly encountered a cirrus-mounted Indian Brave dubbed Big-Brother-in-the Sky galloping across the heavens during his fighter missions…)

Novick then illustrated a sequel when Cloud and Stuart help proud Greek soldier Leonidas fulfil his final mission in the stirring ‘Battle Cry of a Dead Man!’

‘Tank in the Icebox’ in #117 is another Heath martial masterpiece wherein a baffling mystery is solved and a weapon that turns the desert into a frozen hell is destroyed before Novick assumes the controls for the last two tales in this volume, beginning with ‘My Buddy… My Enemy’ wherein a bigoted Slim learns tragically too late that not all Japanese soldiers are monsters and #119 again asks difficult questions when Jeb and the crew must escort an American deserter to his execution, with German forces attempting to kill them all before they got there in ‘Target for a Firing Squad!’

An added attraction for art fans and battle buffs are the breathtaking covers by Heath, Kubert and Grandenetti, many of them further enhanced through the stunning tonal values added by DC’s brilliant chief of production Jack Adler.

These spectacular tales cover the Haunted Tank through the blazing gung-ho early years to a time when America began to question the very nature and necessity of war (Vietnam was just beginning to really hurt the home front in 1966) and combat comics started addressing the issues in a most impressive and sensitive manner.

The stories here combine spooky chills with combat thrills but always offer a powerful human message that has never dated and may well rank amongst the very best war stories ever produced. This is a series long overdue for a modern archival and digital renaissance.
© 1961-1966, 2006 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents The Witching Hour volume 1


By Alex Toth, Bob Haney, George Kashdan, Ed Herron, Jack Miller, Carl Wessler, Dennis O’Neil, Steve Skeates, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway, Jack Oleck, Mike Friedrich, Alan Riefe, Dave Kaler, Phil Seuling, Jack Phillips, Murray Boltinoff, Sergio Aragonés, Nick Cardy, Carmine Infantino, Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Mike Sekowsky, George Tuska, Wally Wood, Dick Giordano, Joe Orlando, Bob Brown, Gray Morrow, Murphy Anderson, Pat Boyette, Bill Draut, Howard Sherman, Howard Post, Jerry Grandenetti, John Celardo, Art Saaf, Jack Sparling, Michael Wm. Kaluta, José Delbo, Lee Elias, Sid Greene, Jeff Jones, Tony DeZuñiga, Bernie Wrightson, Jim Aparo, John Calnan & many & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-196-6

American comicbooks started slowly until the creation of superheroes unleashed a torrent of creative imitation and invented a new genre. Implacably vested in the Second World War, the Overman swept all before him (and the far too occasional her) until the troops came home and more traditional genres supplanted the Fights ‘n’ Tights crowd.

Although new kids kept up the buying, much of the previous generation also retained their four-colour habit but increasingly sought older themes in the reading matter. The war years altered the psychology of the world, and as a more world-weary, cynical young public came to see that all the fighting and dying hadn’t really changed anything, their chosen forms of entertainment (film and prose as well as comics) reflected this. As well as Western, War and Crime comics, madcap escapist comedy and anthropomorphic funny animal features were immediately resurgent, but gradually another periodic revival of spiritualism and interest in the supernatural led to a wave of increasingly impressive, evocative and even shocking horror comics.

There had been grisly, gory and supernatural stars before, including a pantheon of ghosts, monsters and wizards draped in mystery-man garb and trappings (The Spectre, Mr. Justice, Sgt. Spook, Frankenstein, The Heap, Dr. Fate and dozens of others), but these had been victims of circumstance: The Unknown acting as a power source for super-heroics. Now the focus shifted to ordinary mortals thrown into a world beyond their ken or control with the intention of unsettling, not vicariously empowering the reader.

Almost every publisher jumped on an increasingly popular bandwagon, with B & I (which became the magical one-man-band Richard E. Hughes’ American Comics Group) launching the first regularly published horror comic in the Autumn of 1948 – although Adventures Into the Unknown was technically pipped by Avon, who had released an impressive single issue entitled Eerie in January 1947 before launching a regular series in 1951.

By this time Classics Illustrated had already long-milked the literary end of the medium with adaptations of the Headless Horseman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (both 1943), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1944) and Frankenstein (1945) among others.

If we’re keeping score this was also the period in which Joe Simon & Jack Kirby identified another “mature market” gap and invented the Romance comic (Young Romance #1, September 1947), but they too saw the sales potential for spooky material, resulting in the seminal Black Magic (launched in 1950) and its boldly obscure psychological drama anthology companion Strange World of Your Dreams (1952).

The company that would become DC Comics eventually bowed to the inevitable, launching a comparatively straight-laced anthology that nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles with the December 1951/January 1952 launch of The House of Mystery.

When the hysterical censorship scandal which led to witch-hunting hearings (feel free to type Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, April-June 1954 into your search engine at any time… you can do that because it’s still notionally a free country at time of writing) was curtailed by the industry adopting a castrating straitjacket of self-regulatory rules.

HoM and its sister title House of Secrets were dialled back into rationalistic, fantasy adventure vehicles, which nevertheless dominated the market until the 1960s when super-heroes (which had started to creep back after Julius Schwartz began the Silver Age of comics by reintroducing The Flash in Showcase #4, 1956) finally overtook them.

Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Atom and a slew of other costumed cavorters generated a gaudy global bubble of masked mavens which even forced dedicated anthology suspense titles to transform into super-character split-books.

However, nothing combats censorship better than falling profits and at the end of the 1960s the Silver Age superhero boom stalled and crashed, leading to the surviving publishers of the field agreeing to loosen their self-imposed restraints against crime and horror comics. Nobody much cared about gangster titles at that time but as the liberalisation coincided with another bump in global interest in all aspects of the supernatural, the resurrection of scary stories was a foregone conclusion and obvious “no-brainer.”

Even ultra-wholesome Archie Comics re-entered the field with their rather tasty line of Red Circle Thrillers

With Tales of the Unexpected #105 and House of Mystery #174 National/DC switched to anthology horror material before creating an all-new title to further exploit the morbid fascination with all thingies fearsome and spooky (they even resurrected the cancelled House of Secrets in late 1969) for those heady days when it was okay – and profitable – to scare the heck out of little kids by making them laugh.

Edited until #14 by Dick Giordano, The Witching Hour first struck at the end of 1968 (with a February/March 1969 cover-date). From the outset it was an extremely experimental and intriguing beast and this amazingly economical Showcase Presents collection reprints the first 19 issues, completely covering the first three years as the fear fad grew to become the backbone of DC’s sales. It is perhaps the most talent-stuffed title of that entire period…

Hopefully, as DC continues its archival conversion of Silver Age classics into new full-colour and digital editions, this collection will be available too in all its gory hues and glory…

In this graphic grimoire the traditionally cool and creepy horror-hosts who introduce such spooky fare are three witches. Based as much on Macbeth as the ancient concept of Maiden, Mother and Crone this torrid trio constantly battled to outdo or out-gross each other in the telling of terror tales. Moreover, Cynthia, Mildred and Mordred – as well as shy monster man-servant Egor – were designed and usually delineated by master artist Alex Toth; making framing sequences between yarns as good as and sometimes better than the stories they brazenly bracket.

One minor quibble: records from the period are not complete and occasionally a creator is unknown, but this volume also sadly misattributes the artist too. I’ve attempted to correct the mistakes when I’m certain, but please be warned and beware – I’m not always right either…

Following a stunning Nick Cardy cover, Toth starts the ball rolling by introducing the sinister sisters and their ongoing contest before Dennis O’Neil & Pat Boyette relate the story of a time-travelling tap-dancer in ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’.

Toth then writes and illustrates a compelling period piece of peril in ‘Eternal Hour!’ and Jack Sparling relates the eerie fate of wave-obsessed Stanley’s search for ‘The Perfect Surf’.

Toth’s scary sisters then close out the premier issue (with, I suspect, additional inks from Neal Adams), but still find room for ‘Silk Gauze’, an informational page by persons unknown which first appeared in Tales Unexpected#126.

Although attributed to Toth, #2’s introductory episode is by his old Standard Comics stable-mate Mike Sekowsky (inked by Giordano) and leads into Sparling’s dream-chiller ‘Scream!’, after which young José Delbo delineates shocking period tale of slavery and vengeance ‘The Trip of Fools!’ before Sid Greene’s short ghost story ‘The Beat Goes On!’ and Sparling’s ‘Once Upon a Surprise Ending!’ end an issue regrettably short on writer credits.

Following another Sekowsky/Giordano intro, Toth & Vince Colletta illustrate Don Arneson’s medieval mood masterpiece ‘The Turn of the Wheel!’, whilst Alan Riefe & Sparling told a decidedly different ghost-story in ‘The Death Watch’, after which Steve Skeates & Bernie Wrightson reveal a very alterative fantasy hero in ‘…And in a Far-Off Land!’, followed by the first of a series of short prose vignettes: an anonymous fright-comedy entitled ‘Potion of Love’.

Toth illustrates the sisters’ ‘Witching Hour Welcome Wagon’ (a useful identifying rule of thumb for the uninitiated is that the master usually signed his work – and was allowed to…) after which new kid Gerard Conway spectrally scripted ‘A Matter of Conscience’ for art veterans Sparling & George Roussos. Another anonymous prose piece ‘If You Have Ghosts’ precedes a smashing yarn entitled ‘Disaster in a Jar’ by Riefe & Boyette and Conway scripts period witchfinder thriller ‘A Fistful of Fire’ for Delbo – a vastly underrated artist who was on the best form of his career at this time.

Toth’s Weird Sisters close out that issue and eerily, hilariously open #5 before Wrightson lavishly embellishes a nifty but uncredited (as is every script in this one) nautical nightmare ‘The Sole Survivor!’, followed by text-teaser ‘The Non-Believer!’ and Boyette’s stunning, clownish creep-feature ‘A Guy Can Die Laughing!’

Stanley Pitt & Giordano’s dating dilemma ‘The Computer Game’ was one of the first to explore that now-hoary plot., and after Toth signs off the witches, there’s an added one-page black-comedy bonus from Sid Greene with ‘My! How You’ve Grown!’

Sekowsky & Giordano limned Dave Kaler’s take on the sisters’ intro for The Witching Hour #6 after which a far darker horror debuts as ‘A Face in the Crowd!’ by Conway, Mike Roy & Mike Peppe, wherein Nazi war-criminal and concentration camp survivor meet in an American street; Marv Wolfman & Delbo described a tale of neighbourly intolerance in ‘The Doll Man!’ and ‘Treasure Hunt’ by Skeates, John Celardo & Giordano showed why greed isn’t always good. Also included were Conway’s prose tale ‘Train to Doom’, ‘Mad Menace’ – a half-page gag strip by John Costanza – and ‘Distortion!’; another Greene-limned one-pager.

Toth & Mike Friedrich were on spectacular form for #7’s intro and bridging sequences, whilst Bill Draut was compulsively effective in prison manhunt saga ‘The Big Break!’, whose scripter Steve Skeates also wrote modern-art murder-mystery ‘The Captive!’ for Roussos. Then Friedrich & Jack Abel advise a most individual baby to ‘Look Homeward, Angelo!’. Whilst text piece ‘Who Believes Ouija?’ and Jack Miller & Michael Wm. Kaluta’s gothically delicious ‘Trick or Treat’ round out the sinister sights in this issue.

Sergio Aragonés & Neal Adams provide the witch-bits for #8, bracketing their own satanically sardonic ‘Above and Beyond the Call of Duty!’, as well as ‘Three Day Home Trial!’ (Aragonés & Cardy) and staggeringly inventive ‘Computerr’ by that man again and Toth.

‘The Career Man’ is a witty but anonymous prose piece and the issue closes with a Twice Told Tale by Ron Whyte & Sparling, as an urban myth is revealed in ‘The Sign of the Hook!’

Toth & Draut began #9, after which Bob Brown & Murphy Anderson illustrate ghostly tale ‘The Long Road Home!’ and, after text story ‘The Dark Well’, peripatetic, post-apocalyptic, ironic occasional series ‘The Day after Doomsday’ (by Len Wein & Sparling) makes a welcome appearance.

Delbo delightfully delineates a terrifying tale of Old China in ‘The Last Straw’ and, after George Tuska takes over the Weird Sisters link-segments, a doomsday debacle closes the dramas with a ‘Trumpet Perilous!’ drawn by Sparling & Abel.

The witches opening issue #10 are once more by Toth & Draut, promptly followed by a magnificent illustration job by the great Gray Morrow on regrettably uncredited ‘A Warp in Time… Loses Everything!’ after which the all-word ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’ precedes Conway & Toth’s superb forbidden romance ‘Hold Softly, Hand of Death!’. Tuska handles the Sisters before Sparling’s faux-fact page ‘Realm of the Mystics’ ends this excursion into the outer dark.

Toth drew the intro and Jack Oleck’s ‘The Mark of the Witch’ (inked by Draut) in #11, whilst – following text-tale ‘Retired Undefeated!’ – Tuska inspirationally illustrates creepy chronal conundrum ‘The Sands of Time, the Snows of Death!’

The Witching Hour #12 is similarly blessed, as after a sinisterly sexy Skeates/Toth intro, the devilish duo then describe an horrific ‘Double Edge’ battle between witch-queens and valiant mortals, followed by a Machiavellian actor’s ‘Double Take’ (Skeates & Tuska) and a demonic duel and ‘Double Cross!’ by Skeates & Gil Kane. The ever-anonymous prose piece is the mordantly merry ‘The Dead Can’t Talk But…’

Giordano’s last issue as editor was #13, which opened in grand style as fellow comicbook hosts Cain, Abel and the Mad Mod Witch (from Houses of Mystery and Secrets and The Unexpected, respectively) attend ‘New Year’s Eve at the Witching Hour’ (illustrated by Neal Adams), followed by a marvellously experimental and effective psycho-thriller by Alan Gold & Gray Morrow entitled ‘The Maze’: a far more traditional but no less scary story ‘The Accursed Clay!’ (Miller, Sparling & Frank Giacoia) and the just plain strange tale of ‘The Rush-Hour Ride of Abner Pringle!’ by Wein & Delbo.

As an added treat the text token is ‘The Witching Hour Mistree’ by that shy but not retiring rogue Egor…

When veteran editor Murray Boltinoff assumed the reins with #14 (April-May 1971) an element of experimentalism was surrendered but the more conventional material was no less welcomed by the horror-hungry readership: more proof, if any were needed, that artistic endeavour and envelope-pushing aren’t to everybody’s taste.

George Tuska replaced Toth as regular illustrator of introductory and bridging sections, but otherwise most fright-seeking kids could hardly tell the difference.

The all-science fiction issue’s terror-tales open with a beautiful yet oddly-stilted yarn from Conway and Jeff Jones who explore the solitary burdens of ‘Fourteen Months’ in deep space, whilst ‘Which Witch is Which?’ (by Kaler and drawn by Stanley & Reg Pitt) depicts the comeuppance of an intergalactic Lothario.

As “Al Case”, Editor Boltinoff provides text feature ‘Dead Letter Office’ before the issue ends on a classic visual high note with ‘The Haunted House in Space!’ illustrated by the dream team of Al Williamson & Carlos Garzon.

After the usual grisly graphic girl-talk TWH #15 starts with a murder masterpiece from George Kashdan & Wally Wood revealing ‘Freddy is Another Name For Fear!’, after which Al Case scripts ‘End of a World’ before Phil Seuling & Gray Morrow steal the show with the fearsome fable of the ‘Bayou Witch’ and Case & Art Saaf ring down the curtain with ‘I Married a Witch!’

Issue #16 saw House of Mystery expand from 32 to 52 pages – as did all DC titles for the next couple of years – opening the doors for a superb period of new material and the best of the company’s prodigious archives to an appreciative, impressionable audience.

The mysterious magic began after Tuska’s punchy prelude with cautionary ‘Never Kill a Witch!’ by Carl Wessler, John Calnan & Bernie Case, after which Boltinoff – as Bill Dennehy – provides a slick, edgy reinterpretation of a classic fairytale for Morrow to lavishly limn in ‘The Spell of Sinner Ella!’, before switching back to his Case persona for the Tony DeZuñiga illustrated duelling drama ‘You Can’t Hide From Death’.

The classic reprints began with ‘The Wondrous Witch’s Cauldron’ (drawn by the legendary Lee Elias from House of Secrets #58), followed by a Joe Orlando illustrated, Charles King scripted text piece ‘Last Meal’ and Howie Post and Draut’s ghoulish period parable ‘The Curse of the Cat’ which both came originally from House of Mystery #177.

Kashdan & Heck open #17 with a modern magic myth in ‘This Little Witch Went to College’ after which a classic 1950’s fear-feature from Sensation Mystery Comics #109 saw Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella devastatingly depict the ‘Fingers of Fear!’ whilst from House of Secrets #46, Howard Sherman delineated ‘The Second Life of Simon Steele’. Dennehy, Calnan & Colletta provide a new yarn with an old moral in ‘The Corpse Who Carried Cash!’ before Wessler & mood-master Jerry Grandenetti fantastically finish the fear-fest with ‘The Man in the Cellar’.

The same team open #18 with ‘The Worm that Turned to Terror’, a schizophrenic slice of domestic hell followed by ‘The Diggers!’: a nasty, vengeful yarn from Bobs Haney and Brown with Giacoia inks that encompasses half a century of French war and regret.

Tales of the Unexpected #13 was the original source of both the Ed Herron/Jack Kirby conundrum ‘The Face Behind the Mask’ and the Herron/Cardy creepy-crime caper ‘I Was a Prisoner of the Supernatural’, after which modernity resumes with Jim Aparo’s ‘Hypnotic Eye’ and Kashdan, Calnan & Colletta’s cautionary tale ‘When Satan Comes Calling!’

The final issue in this superbly spooky compendium is The Witching Hour #19 which – after the customary Tuska drawn kaffeeklatsch with Mordred, Mildred and Cynthia – commences in a stylish, sparkling Jack Phillips & Grandenetti chiller ‘A Tomb for the Winning!’, swiftly followed by ‘The Four Threads of Doom’ (by anonymous & Cardy from Tales of the Unexpected #12) after which a different anonymous and Tuska provide a fresh new thriller in ‘Stop Beating, Heart! You’re Killing Me!’.

One final Cardy reprint ‘The Lamp That Changed People!’ (House of Mystery #20) follows before this wonderful debut volume of witchly wonderment concludes with Kashdan/Elias shocker ‘What Evil Haunts This House?’

These terror-tales captivated reading public and critics alike when they first appeared and it’s indisputable that the supernatural sector saved DC during one of the toughest downturns in comics publishing history. Now their blend of garish mordant mirth, classic horror scenarios and suspense set-pieces can most familiarly be seen in such shows and series as Dimension 404, Goosebumps, Horrible Histories, and their many imitators.

If you crave beautifully realised, tastefully gore-free sagas of tension and imagination, not to mention a huge supply of bad-taste, kid-friendly cartoon chaos, stay up past The Witching Hour as long and as often as you possibly can…
© 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Bat Lash


By Sergio Aragonés, Denny O’Neil, Nick Cardy & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2295-6

By 1968 the glory-days of comicbooks as a cheap mass-market entertainment were over. Spiralling costs, “free” alternatives like television and an increasing inability to connect with the mainstream markets were leaving the industry at the mercy of dedicated fan-groups with specialised, even limited, interests and worse yet, gradually becoming dependent on genre-trends to maintain sales.

Editorial Director Carmine Infantino, a thirty-year veteran, looked for ways to bolster DC business (already suffering a concerted attack by the seemingly unstoppable rise of Marvel Comics) and clearly remembered the old publisher’s maxim “do something old, and make it look new”.

Although traditional cowboy yarns (which had dominated both TV and cinema screens since the 1950s) were also in decline, novel spins such as Wild, Wild West and Italian “Spaghetti Westerns” were popular, and would be a lot easier to transform into comics material than the burgeoning Supernatural craze that would soon come to dominate the next half-decade – but only after the repressive and self-inflicted Comics Code was finally re-written.

Thus Spanish/Mexican cartoonist (and occasional actor) Sergio Aragonés Domenech was asked by Infantino and Editor Joe Orlando to add some unique contemporary twists to a cowboy hero they had concocted with the aid of the legendary Sheldon Mayer. Although many hands had already stirred the plot, the irrepressible Aragonés – with dialogue-provider Denny O’Neil – rendered and remade the world-weary, lonely saddle-tramp archetype into a something completely fresh and original – at least in comicbook terms…

The result was a seemingly amoral wanderer with an aesthete’s sensibilities, a pacifist’s good intentions, and the hair-trigger capabilities of a top gun-for-hire. …and played for sardonic, tongue-in-cheek laughs…

Roguish, sexually promiscuous and always getting into trouble because his heart was bigger than his charlatan’s façade, Bat Lash caroused, cavorted and killed his way across the West – including Mexico – in one Showcase try-out (#76, August 1968) and seven bi-monthly issues spanning October/November 1968 through October/November 1969 before mediocre sales and a turbulent marketplace finally brought him low.

A lost masterpiece of the era and a splendid variation on the traditional western genre, Bat Lash’s exploits are criminally uncelebrated and – as far as I know – only available in this slim (a mere 240 pages) monochrome tome gathering all those ahead-of-their-times adventures plus later well-meaning revivals from DC Special Series #16 and a short run from the back of rival and fellow controversial cowboy Jonah Hex.

The greatest strength of Bat Lash stories was that they took well-worn plots and added a sardonic spin and breakneck pace to keep them rapidly rattling along. It also didn’t hurt that the majority of the art was produced by unsung genius Nick Cardy, whose light touch and unparalleled ability to draw beautiful women kept young male readers (those who bothered to try the comic) glued to the pages.

The drama begins with eponymous Showcase introduction ‘Bat Lash’ in which the flower-loving nomad wanders into the town of Welcome in search of a fancy feed only to find a gang of thugs and a mystery poisoner in the process of driving out the entire populace…

No “Suthun Gen’leman” – no matter how far he might have fallen – could allow such a situation to proceed…

Mere months later – which leads me to conclude that the Editorial Powers-That-Be were a mite overconfident with their western wonder – Bat Lash #1 hit the stands, carrying on the episodic hi-jinks in ‘Bat Lash… We’re A-comin’ Ta Get You’ as the laconic Lothario narrowly escapes a lynching only to stumble into the murder of a monk carrying part of a treasure map. Is it his finer instincts seeking retribution for the holy man, the monk’s stunning niece or the glittering temptation of Spanish gold that prompts the rootin’ tootin’ action that follows?

In #2 ‘Melinda’s Doll’ opens with a shotgun wedding, expands as the drifter becomes unwilling guardian to a little girl orphaned by gun-runners and brilliantly climaxes with unexpected poignancy and calamitous gunplay…

A radical departure – even for this offbeat series – occurs in ‘Samantha and the Judge’ when the easy Epicurean – whilst reluctantly trying out the temporary role of Deputy Sheriff – encounters a hanging judge who believes he is a Roman Emperor, after which ‘Bat Lash in Mexico!’ sees the mild-mannered wanderer cross the border and stumble into a revolutionary crisis in issue #4.

Soon embroiled in an assassination plot; Bat needs all his wits and a big bunch of luck and guile in a tale as much gritty as witty which truly displays the hidden emotional depths of the rambling man…

Still in Mexico for #5, the impish creative team pit the dashing rogue against his near-equal in raffish charm and gunplay when he meets a deadly bandito in ‘Wanted: Sergio Aragonés!’ Of course, they are both outmatched and overwhelmed by the delightfully deadly Senorita Maribel

Mike Sekowsky pencilled most of issue #6 for Cardy to ink: a dark, tragic origin tale of ‘Revenge!’ which reveals the anger and tears behind the laughter, before Bat Lash #7 and final foray ‘Brothers’ sets our far-from-heroic protagonist on the trail of a younger sibling he had believed dead for a decade…

And that’s where it was left until 1978 when giant sized anthology comic DC Special Series (#16) produced a Western-themed issue for which O’Neil and artist George Moliterni crafted a slick, sly murder-mystery set in San Francisco. Here an older Bat Lash is getting by as a professional gambler until the idyllic life disappears, enveloped in a deadly war between Irish gangs and Chinese immigrant workers.

This compelling, enjoyable yarn eventually led to a four-issue run as back-up in Jonah Hex #49-52 (encompassing June-September 1981) wherein the charming chancer wins a New Orleans bordello in a river-boat card game and, despite numerous attempts to kill him, eventually takes full possession of the Bourbon Street Social Club

Is he that hungry for lazy luxury and female companionship, or is it perhaps that he knows a million dollars in Confederate gold was hidden there in the dying days of the Civil War and never found…?

Scripter Len Wein and the incomparable Dan Spiegle continued and concluded this utterly under-appreciated character’s solo exploits in fine style; which only leaves it to you to hunt down this brash and bedazzling book or – if you are a truly passionate fan/humanitarian – bombard DC’s editors with (polite) requests and enquiries until they are convinced to give the foppishly reluctant gunslinger the comprehensive compilation – even digitally – that he so deserves…

Enchanting, exciting, wry and wonderful, this is a book for all readers of fun fiction and a superb example of comics’ outreach potential.
© 1968, 1969, 1978, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Batman volume 6


By Dennis O’Neil, Frank Robbins, Robert Kanigher, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Neal Adams, Irv Novick, Bob Brown, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5153-6

After three seasons the overwhelmingly successful Batman TV show ended in March, 1968. It had clocked up 120 episodes plus a theatrical-release movie since its premiere on January 12, 1966; triggering a global furore of “Batmania” and causing hysteria for all things costumed, zany and mystery-mannish.

Once the series foundered and crashed, humanity’s fascination with “camp” superheroes burst as quickly as it had boomed, and the Caped Crusader was left to a hard core of dedicated fans and followers who hoped they might now have “their” hero back.

For comicbook editor Julius Schwartz – who had tried to keep the most ludicrous excesses of the show out whilst still cashing in on his global popularity – the solution was simple: ditch the tired shtick, gimmicks and gaudy paraphernalia and get Batman back to basics; solving baffling mysteries and facing life-threatening perils.

That also meant phasing out the boy sidekick…

Although the college freshman Teen Wonder would still pop back for the occasional guest-shot yarn, this sixth astoundingly economical monochrome monument to comics ingenuity and narrative brilliance features him only sporadically. Robin had finally spread his wings and flown the nest for a solo back-up slot in Detective Comics, alternating with caped newcomer Batgirl.

Chronologically collecting Batman’s cases from February 1971 to September 1972 – issues #229-244 of his own title as well as the front halves of Detective Comics #408-426 – the 33 tales gathered here (some Batman issues were giant reprint editions, so only their covers are reproduced within these pages) were written and illustrated by forward-thinking creators determined make the masked manhunter relevant and interesting on his own terms once more.

One huge factor aiding the transition was the fact that the publishers now acknowledged that a large proportion of their faithful readership were discerning teens or even adults, not just kids looking for a quick, disposable entertainment fix. Working through other contemporary tropes – most notably a renewed global fascination in all things supernatural and gothic – the creative staff deftly reshaped Batman into a hero capable of actually working within the new “big things” in comics: realism, organised crime, social issues, suspense and even horror…

During this period the long road to our modern obsessive, scarily dark Knight gradually revealed a harder-edged, grimly serious caped crusader, whilst carefully expanding the milieu and scope of Batman’s universe – especially his fearsome foes, who all ceased to be harmless buffoons and inexorably metamorphosed back into the macabre Grand Guignol murder-fiends which typified the villains of the early 1940s.

This mini-renaissance also resulted in a groundbreaking experiment now lauded as one of the first great extended Batman epics…

The moody mayhem begins with ‘Asylum of the Futurians’ by Robert Kanigher, Irv Novick & Frank Giacoia from Batman #229, which pitted the astounded hero against a sect of self-proclaimed mutants who might simply have been the craziest, most self-deluding killers he had ever faced.

Detective Comics #408 offered a short sharp shocker by neophyte scripters Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. Limned by Neal Adams & Dick Giordano, ‘The House That Haunted Batman’ showcased spectral apparitions, the apparent death of Robin and a devilish mystery perpetrated by one of the Gotham Guardian’s most sinister enemies. Frank Robbins, Novick & Giordano then addressed an ongoing social revolution as our hero stopped a juvenile delinquent gang-war. When the now-united kids’ occupied a palatial new building the ‘Take-Over of Paradise’ (Batman #230) led to a vicious murder. Luckily the Caped Crimebuster was on hand to solve the case before a renewed bloodbath began…

Detective Comics #409 pitted Batman against a disfigured lunatic slashing portraits and killing their subjects in ‘Man in the Eternal Mask’ (Robbins, Bob Brown & Giacoia) whilst the next issue proved to be another chilling and memorable murder-mystery from the most celebrated creative team of the decade. ‘A Vow from the Grave!’ by Denny O’Neil, Adams & Giordano at their visually spectacular best, featured an exhausted Batman hunting one ruthless killer and inadvertently stumbling into another murder in an enclave of retired circus freaks…

Multi-talented Dick Giordano was the inker of choice for the Darknight Detective at this time; his slick, lush line and brushwork lending a veneer of continuity to every penciller. Unless I say otherwise, please assume it’s him on every cited story from now on…

The Dark Knight was lured to Vietnam to save an airliner full of hostages in Batman #231 (Robbins, with Novick pencils), barely surviving a vicious vengeance scheme triggered by the ‘Blind Rage of the Ten-Eyed Man’.

Then the first subtle plot-strands were woven in a breathtakingly ambitious saga unlike anything seen in comics before. Detective Comics #411 found Batman still in the East, undercover and hunting Dr. Darrk; leader of the lethally clandestine League of Assassins so casually introduced in #405. The pursuit led ‘Into the Den of the Death-Dealers’ (O’Neil, Brown) where a climactic struggle resulted in the monster’s death and freedom for an exotic hostage he was holding. Her name was Talia

We learned more of her in Batman #232 where O’Neil & Adams introduced her father – immortal eco-terrorist Râ’s Al Ghūl – in a whirlwind adventure which became one of the signature high-points of the entire Batman canon.

‘Daughter of the Demon’ is a timeless globe-girdling mystery yarn that draws the increasingly dark detective from Gotham’s concrete canyons to the Himalayas in search of hostages Robin and Talia, purportedly captured by forces inimical to both Batman and the mysterious figure who claims to working in secret to save the world…

Ra’s was a contemporary, more acceptable visual embodiment of the classic inscrutable ultimate foreign devil (as typified in a less forgiving age as the “Yellow Peril” or Dr. Fu Manchu). This kind of alien archetype permeates popular fiction and is still an astonishingly powerful villain-symbol, although the character’s Arabic origins – neutral at the time – seem to uncomfortably embody a different kind of ethnic bogeyman in today’s post 9/11 world.

The concept of a villain who has the best interests of the planet at heart is not a new one, but Ra’s Al Ghul, whose avowed intent is to reduce teeming humanity to viable levels and save the world from our poison, hit a chord in the 1970s – a period where ecological issues first came to the attention of the young. It was a rare kid who didn’t find a note of sense in what “the Demon’s Head” planned.

The spectacular tale ended with a shocking pronouncement of what Ra’s intended for Batman…

A return to relative normality came in ‘Legacy of Hate!’ (Detective Comics #412 by Robbins, Brown) as Bruce Wayne headed to Northern England for a convocation of kin gathered to settle the ownership and disposition of ancient Waynemoor Castle. Sadly, even Batman could not separate the spate of attempted murders which followed into purely human perpetrators and the manor’s vengeful ghost knight…

Issue #413 blended the spooky tone of the times with a healthy dose of social inclusion as ‘Freak-Out at Phantom Hollow!’ (Robbins, Brown) found Batman saving two abused hippie kids being picked on in a rural hamlet, only to become embroiled in a witch’s curse and mad bomber’s plot. Batman #233 was an all-reprint edition after which #234 featured the stellar return of one of the hero’s most tragic foes.

As comics became increasingly more anodyne in the 1950s, psychologically warped actualised schizophrenic Two-Face was dropped from Batman’s roster of rogues, but with ‘Half an Evil’ (O’Neil, Adams & Giordano) he resurfaced at the forefront of grimmer, grittier stories.

When a string of bizarre and brutal robberies afflicting Gotham, the baffled Batman has to use all his ingenuity to discern the reasoning and discover the identity of a ruthless hidden mastermind in time to thwart a diabolical scheme…

An aura of Film Noir redemption colours O’Neil & Novick’s ‘Legend of the Key Hook Lighthouse!’ from Detective Comics #414, as Batman tracks gunrunners to a haunted coastal bastion in Florida. However, only a supernatural intervention enables him to save bystanders who, whilst not exactly innocent, certainly don’t deserve the fate psychotic banana republic despot General Ruizo planned for them…

In Batman #235’s ‘Swamp Sinister!’ (O’Neil, Novick) some early insights into the true character of Talia and her ruthless sire manifest as the Dark Knight races to recover a stolen bio-weapon whilst over in Detective Comics #415 Robbins & Brown’s ‘Challenge of the Consumer Crusader’ sees the Gotham Gangbuster uncover an extortion ring inside the nation’s most respected product-testing organisation.

Detective Comics #400 had introduced a dark counterpoint to the Gotham Gangbuster wherein driven scientist Kirk Langstrom created a serum to make him superior to Batman and paid a heavy price. Over two further exploits Langstrom and his fiancée Francine had endured his monstrous transformations until Batman found a cure. Now that trilogy was expanded in #416 as Frank Robbins pencilled and inked his own script ‘Man-Bat Madness!’ wherein Kirk seemingly slipped back into his transformative madness. Luckily, Batman had the faith to look beyond appearances and discern a hidden factor in the scientist’s inexplicable recidivism…

‘Wail of the Ghost-Bride!’ (Batman #236, Robbins, Novick) blends mysticism with an solid murder-plot, cover-up and blistering action after which a journalist tries to become ‘Batman for a Night’ (Detective Comics #417, Robbins, Brown & Giordano) but only succeeds after experiencing a similar crime-created loss…

‘Night of the Reaper!’ – by O’Neil, Adams & Giordano from Batman #237 – is one of the most revered tales of the era: a harrowing Halloween epic which finds Robin working with his old mentor to solve a string of barbarous killings only to uncover a pitifully deranged perpetrator as much sinned-against as sinner…

Following the cover of reprint giant Batman #238, Detective Comics #418 writes a temporary finish to the short-lived career of The Creeper as ‘…And Be a Villain!’ (O’Neil, Novick) pits the Gotham Guardian against a former hero being simultaneously killed and driven crazy by his own powers. At the heart of the problem is the criminal scientist forcing Creeper to steal in return for a promised cure, but that’s no help as Batman battles a foe faster, stronger, more agile and far scarier than he…

A corpse weighed down with Batman figurines leads the hero into an underworld imbroglio packed with shameful family freaks, a ruthless master smuggler and the pitiful ‘Secret of the Slaying Statues!’ (Detective #419 from O’Neil & Novick) whilst Christmas classic ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night!’ (O’Neil & Novick in Batman #239) sees the masked manhunter striving to save a desperate, poverty-struck single-parent from making the worst decision of his life – with a little seasonal help from a higher power…

Robbins again solos for Detective Comics #420’s ‘Forecast for Tonight… Murder!’ as a radioactive dead man stalks one of Gotham’s greatest philanthropists; easily outwitting Batman’s every preventative measure. It only gets tougher when the hero discovers he might be safeguarding the wrong injured party…

The long-brewing war between Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul went to Def Con 3 in Batman #240 when O’Neil, Novick & Giordano set the scene for the groundbreaking “series-within-a-series” soon to follow. When Batman uncovers one of his opponent’s less worthy and far more grisly projects he is forced to compromise his principles and deliver ‘Vengeance for a Dead Man!’ The end-result will be open war between Batman and the Demon’s Head…

Batman had to break a blackmailer who knew all Gotham’s dirty secrets out of prison during a full-scale riot in ‘Blind Justice… Blind Fear!’ (an all-Robbins affair from DC #421) whilst in the following issue O’Neil, Brown & Giordano had the Dark Knight expose a cunning hijacking ring using radical methodology for corporate reasons in ‘Highway to Nowhere!’

Another sociopathic killer debuted in Batman #241 as the hero hunts for freelance spy Colonel Sulphur whose extortion scheme revolved around his threat to kill a Pentagon officer’s wife. ‘At Dawn Dies Mary McGuffin!’ by O’Neil & Novick sees Batman scouring Gotham in a tense race against the clock in direct counterpoint to Detective #423’s ‘The Most Dangerous Twenty Miles in Gotham City’ (Robbins, Brown) wherein the masked manhunter’s cognitive skills are tested trying to slip a Russian agent past a gang of ultra-patriots. The killers don’t care that he’s being exchanged for a captive American, they just want to kill a commie and send a message…

Batman #242-244 (and the epilogue from #245 not included in this volume) formed a single extended saga taken out of normal DC continuity. It promised to relate the final confrontation between two opposing ideals. O’Neil, Novick & Giordano opened the campaign in Batman #242 with ‘Bruce Wayne – Rest in Peace!’ With his civilian identity taken off the board, Batman gathers a small team of specialist allies – comprising criminal alternate-identity Matches Malone, scientific advisor Dr. Harris Blaine and Ra’s’ top assassin Ling – to destroy the Demon forever.

Meanwhile it was business as usual in Detective #424 where ‘Double-Cross-Fire!’by Robbins & Brown – played out an astoundingly cunning murder plot with Batman challenging Commissioner Gordon (and us readers) to spot the telltale clue which gave the game away. O’Neil & Novick then get all Shakespearean in #425 where ‘The Stage is Set… for Murder!’ with Batman carefully seeking to glean which thespian was plotting a big, bloody finish before the curtain comes down forever…

O’Neil, Adams & Giordano returned with the second chapter of their landmark epic as Batman #243 sees the team – plus latecomer Molly Post – bombastically invade Ra’s’ Swiss citadel moments after their intended target passes away…

Nobody suspected the ageless villain’s resources included ‘The Lazarus Pit’ which could revive the dead…

In Detective Comics #426, a spate of inexplicable suicides amongst the wealthy leads Batman to suave gambler Conway Treach: a man who just can’t lose. Soon however, the huckster learns that his grim opponent has his own system for winning ‘Killer’s Roulette!’; another suspenseful Robbins masterpiece which leads chronologically and conclusively to Batman #244 and the fateful finale wherein ‘The Demon Lives Again!’ Sadly, despite all his supernal gifts and forces, Ra’s cannot escape the climactic vengeance of his implacable foe in dream-team O’Neil, Adams & Giordano’s compulsive climax.

With the game-changing classics in this volume, Batman finally returned to the commercial and critical top flight he had enjoyed in the 1940s reviving and expanding upon his original conception as a remorseless, relentless avenger of injustice. The next few years would see the hero rise to unparalleled heights of quality so stay tuned: the very best is just around the corner… that dark, dark corner…
© 1971, 1972, 2015 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock volume 3


By Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, Russ Heath & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2771-5

In America after the demise of EC Comics in the mid-1950’s and prior to the game-changing Blazing Combat, the only certain place to find controversial, challenging and entertaining American war comics was DC.

In fact, even whilst Archie Goodwin’s stunning but tragically mis-marketed quartet of classics were waking up a generation, the home of Flash, Green Arrow and the Justice League of America was a veritable cornucopia of gritty, intriguing and beautifully illustrated battle tales presenting combat on a variety of fronts and from many differing points of view.

Whilst the Vietnam War escalated, 1960s America increasingly endured a Homefront death-struggle pitting deeply-ingrained Establishment social attitudes against a youth-oriented generation with a radical new sensibility. In response DC’s (or rather National Periodical Publishing, as it then was) military-themed comicbooks became even more bold and innovative…

Sgt. Rock and the “combat-happy Joes” of Easy Company are one of the great and enduring creations of the American comic-book industry. The gritty meta-realism of Robert Kanigher’s ordinary guys in a constant welter of life-or-death situations captured the imaginations of generations of readers, young and old.

So pervasive is this icon of comicbook combat that’s it’s hard to grasp that Rock is not an immortal industry prototype like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman – with us since the earliest moments of the industry – but is in fact a late addition to and child of the Silver Age of Comics: debuting as just another tale in war anthology G.I. Combat (#68, January 1959, by Kanigher & Joe Kubert).

The archetypal and ideal sergeant was an anonymous boxer who wasn’t particularly skilled but simply refused to be beaten, absorbing any and all punishment dealt out to him. When ‘The Rock!’ enlisted, that same Horatian quality attained mythic proportions as he held back an overwhelming Nazi attack by sheer grit and determination, remaining bloody but unbowed on a field littered with dead and broken men. The tale inspired an instant sequel or two before, in Our Army at War #83 (June 1959), the legend really began…

This third monumental military milestone collects in chronological publishing order and stark, stunning monochrome more of the groundbreaking classics which made Rock a comics legend. These grim and gritty, epically poetic war stories are taken from the still-anthological Our Army at War #149-180 (bracketing December 1964 to May 1967), a period when American comics were undergoing a spectacular renaissance in style, theme and quality even as the Vietnam war took over the nation’s consciousness and conscience.

Scripted throughout by Writer/Editor Kanigher and illustrated primarily by Joe Kubert, the terse episodes herein begin with ‘Surrender Ticket!’ as the German High Command randomly pick an American Company to endure unrelenting pressure until they crack, thereby proving Nazi superiority. They really should have picked again after selecting Easy Company…

In ‘Flytrap Hill!’, Rock is forced to request a retreat before instead leading his brutalised men to unlikely victory after they all find fresh inspiration through the example of a messenger who gave his life to reach them whilst ‘War Party!’ sees the Sarge undertaking a trial organised by Little Sure Shot to become an honorary Apache Indian, with the always-advancing Germans inadvertently spoiling his chances at every turn.

OAAW #152 is a full-length yarn in which a shipment of green replacements find themselves frozen under fire until Rock recounts the tales of Ziggy and Hopeless who found courage with their last breaths in ‘Last Man – Last Shot!’ This narrative device of incorporating brief past-action episodes into a baptism of fire scenario played over and over again in Sgt. Rock and never got old.

‘Easy’s Last Stand!’ saw the stony serviceman battling alone in the mistaken belief he was the only one left alive whilst ‘Boobytrap Mascot’ found Easy accompanying boy soldier Andre Lune in search of hidden artillery emplacements as the lad tried to live up to – and die for – the pressure of generations of warrior ancestors who gave their lives for France…

‘No Stripes for Me!’ saw the non-com in the middle of a family feud as a valiant GI continually refuses well-earned battlefield promotions his father – the General – keeps foisting upon him, after which a bumbling medic deemed unfit for combat fatally proves his worth saving Easy as ‘The Human Tank Trap!’

The shell-shocked last survivor of an eradicated relief company goes through hell at Rock’s side as the topkick strives to prove that ‘Nothin’s Ever Lost in War!’ before OAAW #158 introduces some insight into the pre-war world of civilian Frank Rock as well as an antithesis and arch-enemy for Easy’s front man in ‘Iron Major – Rock Sergeant!’

With the non-com captured, tortured and used as bait in a blizzard by a steel-handed master strategist, it takes sheer guts and unflinching to save Easy from a deadly ambush…

Wounded in combat, hunted by a German kill-team and guided by the sister of a nurse he feels responsible for killing, Rock becomes ‘The Blind Gun!’ before recovering his sight and finding a measure of solace in groundbreaking epic ‘What’s the Colour of Your Blood?’

Here black soldier (it’s a comicbook making a point: please ignore the appalling and sordid truth about US Army segregation during WWII) and former boxer Jackie Johnson is forced to bare-knuckle battle the racist Aryan prize-fighter he trounced in the years before the war. Of course if he raises his hands to defend himself in this impromptu rematch, Storm Trooper Uhlan’s comrades will shoot Jackie’s Easy Co. comrades… until the right word from Rock changes all the odds…

An over-eager replacement almost dies to prove he’s not a coward like his court-martialled brother in ‘Dead End for a Dog Face!’ before ‘The Prince and the Sergeant!’ revives an old DC star for a truly bizarre team-up.

When superheroes were in decline during the 1950s, comicbook companies sought different types of action hero. In 1955 Kanigher devised traditional adventure comic The Brave and the Bold which featured historical strips and stalwarts such as Golden Gladiator, Robin Hood and Silent Knight. Already-legendary, Joe Kubert drew the fantastic exploits of a dynamic Norseman dubbed the Viking Prince.

This last feature appeared in nearly every issue, eventually monopolising Brave and the Bold entirely, until the resurgent superhero boom saw the comic retooled as a try-out title with the 25th issue. Before that, however, those fanciful Scandi-sagas were among some of the finest adventure comics of all time (and they’re still too long overdue for a definitive collection of their own).

In Our Army at War #162 Easy Company were sent to Norway on a proverbial suicide mission but subsequently separated under fire. Taking cover in a cave, Rock discovered a warrior frozen in ice moments before an explosion shattered the frigid tomb. Soon the revived Prince Jon was slicing his way through the modern Huns, determined to sell his life dearly.

Before his entombment he had fallen in love with a Valkyrie and had to die gloriously in battle to reunite with her in Valhalla. Of course, offended Odin had stacked the odds and decreed no mortal weapon could now harm him…

Despite his best efforts Jon and Rock kept winning and so the saga continued in the next issue as the doughty comrades completed the suicide mission with the Viking crying ‘Kill Me – Kill Me!’… until a seeming martial miracle occurred…

Our Army at War #164 was an 80-page Giant reprint issue (not included here) and #165 heralded the ‘Return of the Iron Major!’ with the Nazi Superman back from the dead and seeking revenge, only to find Rock kissing his former fiancée Contessa Helga von Hohenschlag-Lowenburg

That resulted in another brutal death-duel after which ‘Half a Sergeant!’ saw the indomitable human force-of-nature suffer a crack-up until an inconsolable loss on the battlefield shocked him back to normal, whilst ‘Kill One – Save One!’ continued the psycho-dramas as Rock shoots a sniper and discovers he’s killed a child. The guilt cripples him so completely he can’t raise a hand against the boy’s even younger comrade who takes the topkick prisoner…

An element of supernatural mystery flavoured ‘I Knew the Unknown Soldier!’ in Our Army at War #168, as Rock proudly recalls an enigmatic GI who repeatedly saved and inspired Easy to overcome impossible odds. This short yarn would be the genesis of future combat superstar The Unknown Soldier

Again blinded in battle, Rock unwittingly trekked across the African desert towards German lines with an American-educated ‘Nazi on My Back!’ in #169 but was back in Europe for ‘No One Comes Down Alive from – Buzzard Bait Hill!’: dealing with a shell-shocked veteran who had been reliving the war since the last time Germans invaded France.

War’s insanity was a recurring theme and in ‘The Sergeant Must Die!’ Easy had to steal a relic of huge symbolic importance from a mediaeval castle defended by a deranged Nazi who believed himself the reincarnation of legendary Hun Barbarosa. A perilous stalemate was only broken by vicious single combat; a situation echoed in ‘A Slug for a Sergeant!’ as Russ Heath slowly began to take over illuminating Rock’s sorties.

German Sgt. Schlum was every inch Rock’s equal and when the hostage American chose to duel his counterpart rather than betray Easy into ambush, the outcome was anything but certain…

Our Army at War #173 was another reprint – also omitted here – and Kubert returned in #174 as ‘One Kill Too Many!’ sees the Sarge suffer another breakdown after reliving the moment he shot that child-sniper and freezing under fire. His inaction leads to Easy’s medic being killed and the broken soldier giving up fighting to take his place… until the wounded men he treats show Rock where he truly belongs…

Heath was back in #175 to deliver the ‘T.N.T. Letter!’ from Rock’s stateside sweetheart Mary which left him broken and suicidal until he met a battlefield gamin who restored his perspective, and Kubert limned the strange saga of Crusher Cole, a beefy replacement who wanted the sergeant’s job and kept crying ‘Give Me Your Stripes!’

Following another 80-Page Giant in #177, ‘Only One Medal for Easy’ (Heath, #178) returned to the series’ picaresque, portmanteau traditions as Rock is given one gong and a Pass to dispense to Easy’s most outstanding combatant. Of course, the medal is passed around the entire company as every time the enemy attacks, a different hero saves the day…

Kubert was back reprising that landmark tale of bigotry and tolerance in OAAW #179 as white supremacist Sharkey joined Easy and made things tough for the unit’s only black soldier. Even Rock couldn’t change his attitudes but the trials of war and the patience of a truly noble man finally change the racist views of the soldier who wouldn’t give ‘A Penny for Jackie Johnson!’

Russ Heath ends this cataclysmic comics campaign with another stunning moral quandary as Rock captures a German officer and has to endure unbearable provocation as he escorts his prisoner to base; coming within an inch of breaking all the rules as the cunning monster brags ‘You Can’t Kill a General!’

Robert Kanigher at his worst was a declarative, heavy-handed and formulaic writer, but when writing his best stuff – as here – his work was imaginative, evocative, iconoclastic and heart-rending. He was a unique reporter and observer of the warrior’s way and the unchanging condition of the dedicated and so very human ordinary foot-slogging G.I. He was also a strident and early advocate of equality and integration.

With superb combat covers from Kubert fronting each episode, this battle-book is a visually vital compendium and a certain delight for any jaded comics fan looking for something more than flash and dazzle.

A perfect example of true Shock and Awe; these are stories every comics fan and combat collector should see.
© 1964-1967, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Weird War Tales volume 1


By Robert Kanigher, Bob Haney, Bill Finger, Sheldon Mayer, Jack Oleck, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino, Dennis O’Neil, Russ Heath, Mort Drucker, Frank Thorne, Alex Toth, Reed Crandall, Sam Glanzman, John Severin, Howard Chaykin, Ed Davis, Frank Robbins, Nestor Redondo, George Evans, Alex Niño, Russ Heath, Neal Adams & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3694-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Inventive, Intense and Intoxicating… 9/10

American comicbooks just idled along rather slowly until the invention of Superman provided a flamboyant new genre of heroes and subsequently unleashed a torrent of creative imitation and imaginative generation for a suddenly thriving and voracious new entertainment model.

Implacably vested in World War II, these gaudily-attired mystery men swept all before them until the troops came home, but as the decade closed more traditional themes and heroes began to resurface and eventually supplant the Fights ‘n’ Tights crowd.

Even as a new generation of kids began buying and collecting, many of the first fans who had retained their four-colour habit increasingly sought more mature themes in their pictorial reading matter. The war years and post-war paranoia had irrevocably altered the psychological landscape of the readership and as a more world-weary, cynical young public came to see that all the fighting and dying hadn’t really changed anything, their chosen forms of entertainment (film, theatre and prose as well as comics) increasingly reflected this.

To balance the return of Western, War and Crime and imminent Atomic Armageddon-fuelled Science Fiction comics, celebrity tie-ins, madcap escapist or teen-oriented comedy and anthropomorphic funny animal features sprang up, but gradually another of the cyclical revivals of spiritualism and a public fascination with the arcane led to a wave of impressive, evocative and shockingly addictive horror comics.

There had been grisly, gory and supernatural stars before, including a pantheon of ghosts, monsters and wizards draped in superhero trappings but these had been victims of circumstance: The Unknown as a power source for super-heroics. Now focus shifted to ordinary mortals thrown into a world beyond their ken with the intention of unsettling, not vicariously empowering the reader.

Almost every publisher jumped on an increasingly popular bandwagon, with B & I (which became the magical one-man-band Richard E. Hughes’ American Comics Group) launching the first regularly published horror comic in the Autumn of 1948, although their Adventures Into the Unknown was technically pipped by Avon. The book and comics publisher had released an impressive single issue entitled Eerie in January 1947 but didn’t follow-up with a regular series until 1951.

Classics Illustrated had already secured the literary end of the medium with child-friendly comics adaptations of The Headless Horseman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (both 1943), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1944) and Frankenstein (1945) among others.

If we’re keeping score this was also the period in which Joe Simon & Jack Kirby identified another “mature market” gap and invented Romance comics (Young Romance #1, September 1947) but they too saw the sales potential for spooky material, resulting in the seminal Black Magic (launched in 1950) and boldly obscure psychological drama anthology Strange World of Your Dreams (1952).

The company which would become DC Comics bowed to the inevitable and launched a comparatively straight-laced anthology that nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles with the December 1951/January 1952 launch of The House of Mystery.

After the hysterical censorship debate which led to witch-hunting Senate hearings in the early 1950s was curtailed by the industry adopting a castrating straitjacket of self-regulation, titles produced under the aegis of the Comics Code Authority were sanitised, anodyne affairs in terms of Shock and Gore, but the audience’s appetite for suspense was still high and in 1956 National introduced sister titles Tales of the Unexpected and House of Secrets.

Stories were dialled back from uncanny spooky yarns to always marvellously illustrated, rationalistic fantasy-adventure vehicles and, eventually, straight monster-busting Sci Fi tales which dominated the market into the 1960s. That’s when super-heroes – which had gradually enjoyed their own visionary revival after Julius Schwartz reintroduced the Flash in Showcase #4 – finally overtook them.

Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Atom and a growing coterie of costumed cavorters generated a gaudy global bubble of masked mavens which forced previously staunchly uncompromising anthology suspense titles to transform into super-character books. Even ACG slipped tights and masks onto its spooky stars.

When the caped crusader craziness peaked and popped, superheroes began dropping like Kryptonite-gassed flies. However nothing combats censorship better than falling profits and, at the end of the 1960s with the cape-and-cowl boom over and some of the industry’s most prestigious series circling the drain, the surviving publishers of the field agreed to revise the Comics Code, loosening their self-imposed restraints against crime and horror comics.

Nobody much cared about gangster titles but, as the liberalisation coincided with yet another bump in public interest concerning supernatural themes, the resurrection of scary stories was a foregone conclusion and obvious “no-brainer.”

Even ultra-wholesome Archie Comics re-entered the field with their rather tasty line of Red Circle Chillers…

Thus, with absolutely no fanfare at all horror comics came back and quickly dominated the American funnybook market for more the next half decade. DC led the pack: converting House of Mystery and Tales of the Unexpected into supernatural suspense anthologies in 1968 and resurrecting House of Secrets a year later.

Such was not the case with war comics. Tales of ordinary guys in combat began with the industry itself and although mostly sidelined during the capes-&-cowls war years, quickly began to assert themselves again once the actual fighting stopped.

National/DC were one of the last publishers to get in on the combat act, converting superhero/fantasy adventure anthology Star Spangled Comics into Star Spangled War Stories the same month it launched and Our Army at War (both cover-dated August 1952) and promptly repurposing All-American Comics into All-American Men of War a month later as the “police action” in Korea escalated.

They grew the division slowly but steadily, adding Our Fighting Forces #1 (November 1954) – just as EC’s groundbreaking combat comics were vanishing – and in 1957 added GI Combat to their portfolio when Quality Comics got out of the funnybook business.

As the 1950s closed however the two-fisted anthologies all began to incorporate recurring characters such as Gunner and Sarge – and latterly Pooch – from Our Fighting Forces #45 on, (May 1959), Sgt Rock (Our Army at War #83 (June 1959) and The Haunted Tank (G.I. Combat #87, April/May 1961) and soon all DC war titles had a lead star or feature to hold the fickle readers’ attention. The drive to produce superior material never wavered however, hugely aided by the diligent and meticulous ministrations of writer/editor Robert Kanigher.

In America after the demise of EC Comics in the mid-1950’s and prior to the game-changing Blazing Combat, the only certain place to find controversial, challenging and entertaining American war comics was DC. In fact, even whilst Archie Goodwin’s stunning but tragically mis-marketed quartet of classics were waking up a new generation of readers in the 1960s, the home of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman was a veritable cornucopia of gritty, intriguing and beautifully illustrated battle tales presenting warfare on a variety of fronts and from many differing points of view.

Whilst the Vietnam War escalated, 1960s America increasingly endured a Homefront death-struggle pitting deeply-ingrained Establishment social attitudes against a youth-oriented generation with a radical new sensibility. In response the military-themed comicbooks from National Periodical Publishing, as it then was, became even more bold and innovative…

However the sudden downturn in superheroes at the end of the 1960s led to some serious rethinking here and although the war titles maintained and even built sales they beefed up the anthological elements.

Thus in 1971 a title combining supernatural horror stories with bombastic battle yarns in an anthological setting seemed a forgone conclusion and sure thing to both publishers and readers alike and this economically epic monochrome tome collects the contents of Weird War Stories #1-21 (cover-dated September/October 1971 to January 1974), offering a broad blend of genre mash-ups for readers with a taste for the dark and uncanny to relish.

The series launched in a 52-page format combining new material with adapted reprints featuring a veritable Who’s Who of top flight creative talent – both seasoned veterans and stars in waiting – and #1 saw Editor Joe Kubert writing and illustrating an eerie linking story entitled ‘Let Me Tell You of the Things I’ve Seen’ as a lost GI stumbles into the personification of Death (the title’s long-term narrator in various blood-stained uniforms) who tells him a few stories…

The reaper began with ‘Fort Which Did Not Return!’ by Robert Kanigher & Russ Heath as originally seen in GI Combat #86, detailing how a bomber continued its mission even after the crew bailed out and followed up with all-new ‘The Story behind the Cover’ wherein Kubert revealed how a shunned German soldier carried on his duties after death…

From Star Spangled War Stories #71 (July 1958) Bob Haney & Kubert revealed ‘The End of the Sea Wolf!’ as a sadistic U-Boat captain was sunk by one of his own earlier victims whilst SSWS #116 (August/September 1964) originally saw France Herron & Irv Novick’s ‘Baker’s Dozen’ with a fresh-faced replacement to a super-superstitious platoon battling to prove he’s not their unlucky thirteenth man…

The issue ends with that lost GI realising just who has been telling tales in Kubert’s ‘You Must Go!’

The reprints included in these early issues were all taken from a time when supernatural themes were proscribed by the Comics Code Authority, but even so they all held fast to eerie aura of sinister uncertainty – the merest hint of the strange and uncanny to leaven the usual blood and thunder of battle books…

In Weird War Tales #2 Kubert reprised his bridging vehicle as ‘Look… and Listen…’ saw a crashed Stuka pilot meeting a ghastly stranger at a battle-torn desert oasis before ‘Reef of No Return’ (by Haney & Mort Drucker from Our Fighting Forces #43, March 1959) detailed a determined frogman’s most dangerous mission and Kanigher & Frank Thorne’s new WWI silent saga ‘The Moon is the Murderer’ proved that overwhelming firepower isn’t everything…

Kubert’s ‘Behind the Cover’ featured a prophetic dream and terrifying telegram after which ‘A Promise to Joe!’ (Kanigher & Novick, G.I. Combat #97 (December 1962-January 1963) sees a dead gunner seemingly save his friend from beyond the grave and the superb ‘Monsieur Gravedigger’ – by Jerry DeFuccio & the legendary Reed Crandall – follows the follies of a sadistic Foreign Legionnaire who pushed his comrades too far…

Cartoonist John Costanza delivers some gag-filled ‘Military Madness’ and Kubert & Sam Glanzman offer a fact-packed ‘Sgt. Rock’s Battle Stations’ about ‘The Grenadier’ before Bill Finger, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito examine a young recruit’s rite of passage and development of ‘The Face of a Fighter’ (Our Fighting Forces #25, September 1957) after which ‘Oasis’ concludes the sorry saga of that downed Aryan airman…

American Naval Aviators ditching at sea were the unwilling audience for Death’s stories as WWT #3 opens with Kubert’s ‘Listen…’

The itinerary starts with ‘Been Here Before!’ (Finger, Andru & Esposito, G.I. Combat #44 January 1957) as a soldier under fire turns his mind back to boyhood games to save the day after which we see an aerial battle and parachute drop from the perspective of ‘The Cloud That Went to War!’ (Our Fighting Forces #17, January 1957 by Dave Wood, Andru & Esposito).

More Costanza comedy from ‘The Kreepy Korps!’ precedes an early tale by relative newcomers Len Wein & Marv Wolfman, ably illustrated by Russ Heath as both cave tribes and modern soldiers battle to possess ‘The Pool’, before the artists earlier collaboration with Bob Haney reveals how ‘Combat Size!’ is all a matter of mental attitude in a tale first seen in Our Army at War #66 (January 1958).

Glanzman’s ‘Battle Album’ explains ‘Flying Guns’ after which a finny friend helps a US submarine sink an aircraft carrier in Finger & Drucker’s ‘Pilot for a Sub!’ (Our Army at War #68, March 1958) before the issue ends as Kubert sends a ‘Lifeboat’ for those tragic aviators…

The fourth issue opens with Kubert’s final linking tale as a ‘Gypsy Girl’ and her family find wounded soldier Tony after his buddy runs off to get a medic. They kindly offer to pass time with him sharing stories such as ‘Ghost Ship of Two Wars’ (Kanigher & Novick from All-American Men of War #81, September 1960) wherein an obsessed WWI pilot seemingly slips into 1944 while pursuing of his unbeatable arch-enemy the Black Ace.

‘Time Warp’ by Kanigher and Gene Colan originally appeared as ‘The Dinosaur who Ate Torpedoes!’’ in Star Spangled War Stories #123 (October/November 1965 and part of the uniquely bizarre War That Time Forgot series), pitting US frogmen against colossal sea-going saurians, after which ‘The Unknown Sentinel’ (by author unknown & Mort Meskin from House of Mystery #55, October 1956) saves the lives of two soldiers lost on manoeuvres on America’s most famous battlefield.

Glanzman then offers one of his magnificently engaging autobiographical USS Stevens vignettes with the all-new elegiac ‘Prelude’ before Kubert wraps up his chilling drama as ‘I Know Them to be True’ sees medics arriving to find Tony a much changed man, leaving Costanza to close things down with a laugh and some ‘Military Madness’

Weird War Tales #5 opens with Haney & Alex Toth providing the book-end tale of ‘The Prisoner’ held by Nazis in Italy. Seeking a way out he recalls tales of escape such as ‘The Toy Jet!’ (Haney & Heath from All-American Men of War #78, March/April 1960), a chilling psychological thriller about an interned pilot in North Korea, and ‘Human Trigger’ (Herron, Andru & Esposito, Star Spangled War Stories #18, February 1954) which shows how a soldier lying on a mine deftly saves his own life…

Herron & Carmine Infantino then reveal how an American spy is forced to ‘Face a Firing Squad!’ (SSWS #14, November 1953) and Norman Maurer instructs with the history of ‘Medal of Honour: Corporal Gerry Kisters’ and Willi Franz & Heath detail the victory of a ‘Slave’ in Roman times before Haney & Toth offer a final release in ‘This Is It!’

Issue #6 saw Weird War drop to a standard 36 page package and take a step into tomorrow with Haney & Toth’s battlefield test of ‘Robots’. Wolfman & Thorne expanded the theme in ‘Pawns’ as humans and mechanoids finally decided who worked for whom whilst ‘Goliath of the Western Front!’ (Herron, Andru & Esposito from SSWS #93 (October/November 1960) featured a giant mechanical Nazi and an American David who finally did for him, before Haney & Toth settled all debate with the conclusive ‘Robot Fightin’ Men’

Wolfman & Kubert combined to provide thematic bookends for issue #7, beginning with ‘Out of Action’ with wounded GIs awaiting the worst and trading tales like William Woolfolk, Jerry Grandenetti & Joe Giella’s ‘Flying Blind’ (Our Army at War #12 July 1953) as a wounded pilot was forced to trust someone else for the first time in his life if he wanted to land his burning jet, whilst Kanigher & Kubert’s ‘The 50-50 War!’ (All-American Men of War #41, January 1957) finds sporting rivals forced to help each other after both suffer injuries on an alpine mission, with Costanza adding more much-needed levity through his ‘Military Hall of Fame’

‘The Three GIs’ (Finger & Heath, SSWS #62, October 1957) riffs smartly on those monkeys who respectively can’t see, hear and speak and the Purple Heart yarns end with Wolfman & Kubert’s chilling ‘I Can’t See’

From #8 editorial control switched to the mystery division under the control of Joe Orlando and with it the reprints were shelved in favour of all-original material as publication frequency graduated from six times a year to monthly.

This all German-focused issue begins with a gruesome ‘Guide to No-Man’s Land’ (probably written by assistant editor E. Nelson Bridwell and illustrated by Tony DeZuniga) before moving on to ‘The Avenging Grave’ by Kanigher & DeZuniga with SS officers learning too late the folly of desecrating the dead of WWI, whilst anonymously scripted ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill!’ – with art by Steve Harper & Neal Adams – sees more gloating Nazis facing a vengeful golem…

Kanigher & DeZuniga then return to reveal the fate of an arrogant 1916 air ace in the skies over No-Man’s Land in ‘Duel of the Dead’ before the artist’s ‘Epilogue’ wraps things up…

Weird War Tales #9 invites us to ‘Enter the Portals of War’ in an introduction drawn by Howard Chaykin, swiftly followed by a trio of Kanigher yarns illustrated by the cream of DC’s Filipino artists.

‘The Promise’ was limned by Alfredo P. Alcala, telling a tale in two eras as both Teutonic knights in 1242 and German tankers seven centuries later fail to cross frozen Lake Chud, whilst Gerry Talaoc renders the disastrous end of deathly, determined ‘Blood Brothers!’ during the American Civil War and the incomparable Alex Niño details ‘The Last Battle’ between East and West before Chaykin pops back to declare ‘Death, the Ultimate Winner’.

Sheldon Mayer & Toth open WWT #10 with a deliciously whimsical ghostly love story in ‘Who is Haunting the Haunted Chateau?’ before Raymond Marais & Quico Redondo change the tone as a Death-Camp commandant returns after the war to salvage his ill-gotten gains from ‘The Room that Remembered’ whilst Wein & Walter Simonson – on the artist’s pro comics debut – reveal how invading Nazis shouldn’t have abused the town idiot and incurred the wrath of ‘Cyrano’s Army’

Always experimental, the creative team of Mayer, DeZuniga, Alcala, Talaoc & Niño tried their hand at a time-twisting complete adventure for issue #11. Occurring on ‘October 30’ over 99 years beginning in 1918, the tale compares the progress of an ambitious German General granted a wish for glory by a treacherous spirit of war with three ghostly Americans determined to fix a long-standing mistake whatever the cost…

DeZuniga draws the introduction to #12, featuring tales of ‘Egypt’ starting with Kanigher & Talaoc’s tale of an ancient warlord who learned to regret spitting on the ‘God of Vengeance’, whilst ‘Hand of Hell’ (Kanigher & DeZuniga) saw Anubis similarly deal with one of Rommel’s least reputable and most sadistic deputies, after which Arnold Drake & Don Perlin switch locales to Roman Britain where a centurion takes an accidental time-trip and ultimately overthrows the Druids in ‘The Warrior and the Witch-Doctors!’

Weird War Tales #13 opens with ‘The Die-Hards’ by Jack Oleck & Nestor Redondo, with Nazis realising there are even worse killers than they haunting their latest conquered village before Drake & Niño determine that ‘Old Samurai Never Die’ when a would-be shogun offends the patron spirit of Bushido and ‘Loser’s Luck’ by Michael J. Pellowski, George Kashdan & DeZuniga details the harsh choices facing the unfortunate winners of the next, last war…

Mayer, DeZuniga & Alcala unite in #14 to tell an eerie tale of doomed love and military injustice from the days before Pearl Harbor which begins with a ‘Dream of Disaster’, incorporates a deadly flight with a ‘Phantom for a Co-Pilot’ and marines who arrive ‘Too Late for the Death March!’ before finally meeting ‘The Ghost of McBride’s Woman’ and vindicating an unsung hero…

A little boy enamoured of war’s glory learns a lesson in WWT # 15 when his dead grandfather takes him back to WWI to see how ‘“Ace” King Just Flew in from Hell’ (Drake & Perlin) after which Oleck & Talaoc reveal the doom of ‘The Survivor’ of a Viking raid which offends a sorceress, and Oleck & Alcala detail the shocking fate of a fanatical crusader who succumbs to ‘The Ultimate Weapon’ of a Saracen wise man…

Drake & Alcala describe transplant science gone mad in #16’s ‘More Dead than Alive!’, whilst the first of a Niño double bill sees him delineate ‘The Conquerors’ (scripted by Oleck) who eradicate humanity – but not the things that predate on them – before Drake’s ‘Evil Eye’ sees a little boy inflict hell’s wrath on both Allies and Axis alike.

In #17 Kanigher & George Evans disclose how a dishonourable French Air Ace is punished by ‘Dead Man’s Hands’ before Pellowski, E. Nelson Bridwell & Ernie Chan show how a murdered soldier is avenged by ‘A Gun Named Marie!

WWT #18 has Drake & DeZuniga sketch the brief career of ‘Captain Dracula!’ as he marauds through (mostly) German forces in Sicily before Mayer & Talaoc reunite for the cautionary tale of a greedy German sergeant in France whose greed makes him easy prey for the ‘Whim of a Phantom!’

Drake & Talaoc started #19 with the full-length story of the agent who infiltrated the Nazi terror weapon known as ‘The Platoon That Wouldn’t Die!’ whilst #20 reverted to short stories with Oleck & Perlin’s ‘Death Watch’ of a doomed coward who should have waited one more day before deserting, Drake & Alcala’s period saga of a witchcraft vendetta in ‘Operation: Voodoo!’ followed by their Battle of Britain chiller wherein a burned out fighter pilot learns ‘Death is a Green Man’

This blockbusting blend of military mayhem, magical melee and martial madness concludes with Weird War Tales #21 and ‘One Hour to Kill!’ by Drake & Frank Robbins wherein an American soldier is ordered to go back in time to assassinate Leonardo Da Vinci and prevent the invention of automatic weapons before Mayer & Bernard Baily show just how a foul-up GI became an unstoppable hero ‘When Death Took a Hand’

Classily chilling, emotionally intense, superbly illustrated, insanely addictive and Just Plain Fun, this is a deliciously guilty pleasure that will astound and delight any lover of fantasy fiction and comics that work on plot invention rather than character compulsion.
© 1971, 1972, 1973, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents the Unknown Soldier volume 2


By David Michelinie, Bob Haney, Robert Kanigher Gerry Conway, Gerry Talaoc, Dick Ayers, Joe Kubert, Romeo Tanghal & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4081-3

In America after the demise of EC Comics in the mid-1950’s and prior to the game-changing Blazing Combat, the only certain place to find controversial, challenging and entertaining American war comics was DC.

In fact, even whilst Archie Goodwin’s stunning but tragically mis-marketed quartet of classics were waking up a generation, the home of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman was a veritable cornucopia of gritty, intriguing and beautifully illustrated battle tales presenting combat on a variety of fronts and from many differing points of view.

Whilst the Vietnam War escalated, 1960s America increasingly endured a homefront death-struggle pitting deeply-ingrained Establishment social attitudes against a youth-oriented generation with a radical new sensibility. In response DC’s (or rather National Periodical Publishing, as it then was) military-themed comicbooks became even more bold and innovative…

That stellar and challenging creative period came to an end as all strip trends do, but a few of the more impressive and popular features (Sgt. Rock, Haunted Tank, The Losers) survived well into the second superhero revival. One of the most engaging wartime wonders was a notional espionage thriller starring a faceless, nameless hero perpetually in the right place at the right time, ready, willing and so very able to turn the tide one battle at a time…

This second moody monochrome compendium collects the lead feature from issues #189-204 (July 1975-March 1977) of the truly venerable Star-Spangled War Stories anthology and thereafter #205-226 (May 1977-April 1979) of the abruptly re-titled Unknown Soldier from when the “Immortal G.I.” finally took over the book in name as well as fact.

One of the very best concepts ever devised for a war comic, The Unknown Soldier was actually a spin-off – having first appeared as a walk-on in a Sgt Rock story from Our Army at War #168 (June 1966, by Robert Kanigher & Joe Kubert).

By 1970 the illustrator had become editor of DC’s war titles and was looking for a new cover/lead character to follow the critically acclaimed Enemy Ace who had been summarily bounced to the back of the book after issue #150.

The series featured a faceless super-spy and master-of-disguise whose forebears had proudly fought and died in every American conflict since the birth of the nation…

The strip grew to be one of DC’s most popular and long-lived: Star-Spangled became Unknown Soldier in 1977 with #205 and the comic only folded in 1982 with issue #268 when sales of traditional comicbooks were in harsh decline.

Since then the character has resurfaced a number of times (12 issue miniseries in 1988-9, a 4-part Vertigo tale in 1997 followed by a rebooted ongoing series in 2009), each iteration moving further and further way from the originating concept.

One intriguing factor of the original tales is that there is very little internal chronology: for most of the run individual adventures take place anytime and anywhere between the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the surrenders of Germany and later Japan. This picaresque approach adds a powerful sense of both timelessness and infallible, unflinching continuity. The Unknown Soldier has always and will always be where he is needed most…

As seen in the previous Showcase volume, his full origin was revealed in Star-Spangled War Stories #154’s ‘I’ll Never Die!’ recounting how two inseparable brothers joined up in the days before America was attacked and were posted together to the Philippines just as the Japanese began their seemingly unstoppable Pacific Campaign.

Overwhelmed by a tidal wave of enemy soldiers one night the brothers held their jungle posts to the last and when relief came only one had survived, his face a tattered mess of raw flesh and bone…

As US forces retreated from the islands the indomitable survivor was evacuated to a state-side hospital. Refusing medals, honours or retirement, the recuperating warrior dedicated his remaining years to his lost brother Harry and determinedly retrained as a one man-army intelligence unit.

His unsalvageable face swathed in bandages, the nameless fighter learned the arts of make-up, disguise and mimicry, perfected a broad arsenal of fighting skills and offered himself to the State Department as an expendable resource who could go anywhere and do anything…

After a long run of spectacular stories by numerous stellar creators, shifting fashions eventually provoked a shift in emphasis. Relative neophytes David Michelinie & Gerry Talaoc came aboard with Star-Spangled War Stories #183, resulting in an evocative change of direction.

The horror boom in comics was at its peak in 1974 and new editor Joe Orlando capitalised on that fascination with a few startling modifications – the most controversial being to reveal the Soldier’s grotesque, scar-ravaged face – presumably to draw in monster-hungry fear fans…

The military/macabre mood resumes here with Michelinie & Talaoc on fine form and well dug-in as the Unknown Soldier is despatched to discover the secret of the ‘The Cadaver Gap Massacres’ (SSWS #189).

What he finds as Nazi officer Major Wollheim is a death camp where prisoners are mere guinea pigs for making monsters and experimental atrocity weapons, and before long he falls foul of a repentant, guilt-riddled scientist whose loyalties ultimately are only to money. The ghastly discoveries of ‘Project: Omega’ lead to a cataclysmic clash with uncontrollable beast-men and the salvation of the only true innocent in the entire death-camp…

Issue #191 offered a ‘Decision at Volstadt’ as the fleeing superspy encounters rabid resistance fighters, merciless Hitler Youth zealots and fanatical Lt. Strada, who has already lost far too much to the Immortal G.I. Captured by his Italian nemesis, the rival soldiers’ ‘Vendetta’ ends the only way it could in SSWS #192…

Gerry Conway scripted ‘Save the Children!’ in #193, detailing how a mission to blow up a train carrying generals directing the war on the Eastern Front goes horribly wrong after the phantom fighter finds his targets’ families have come along for the ride, after which Michelinie returns to explore ‘The Survival Syndrome’ wherein the penetration of a high-tech Nazi communications complex hidden in a French village shows the wary warrior the true cost of a having a quisling in the family…

Star-Spangled War Stories #195 introduced ‘The Deathmasters’ as the Unknown Soldier infiltrates a Nazi assassination school and find himself assigned to murder one of the Allies’ greatest assets in war-torn Odessa in #196’s ‘Target Red’.

Conning everyone into thinking he’s succeeded, he then returns to Germany to scotch a scheme to replace key Allied personnel with Nazi doppelgangers: all it costs to quash the project is the life of an innocent girl and a little bit more of his soul…

The war in North Africa is almost over in #197 but the master of disguise is nevertheless dispatched to destroy German anti-tank airplane prototypes in ‘The Henschel Gambit’. Typically however he is intercepted by Arab raiders led by a US Senator’s maverick daughter and again forced to choose between his mission and innocent lives…

Thereafter, thanks to Nazi counter-intelligence manoeuvrings, the Immortal G.I. is tricked into killing the Allies’ top strategist in ‘Traitor!’ Court Martialled and sentenced to death, he is forced to escape and retrace his steps, seeking a witness to his innocence in #199’s ‘The Crime of Sgt. Schepke’.

En route he encounters Maquis legend Mlle Marie but events spiral completely out of control and he has no choice but to sacrifice her entire resistance unit to destroy a new super-weapon in the concluding ‘Deathride’

Although Marie honours her promise and clears his name, she also swears to kill him for expending her comrades like pawns…

The scene switches to New York City in SSWS #201 as the Soldier engages in ‘The Back-Alley War’ by infiltrating a gang of German-American anti-war isolationists in search of saboteurs and spies and to Italy in #202 where an outbreak of typhus is holding up the war.

His task is to find a downed US plane carrying an experimental counter serum but his penetration of a Nazi hospital seems to indicate that neither side has found ‘The Cure’

Issue #203 finds the master-spy reduced to teaching arrogant, unstable English aristocrat (with royal connections) Richard Ebbington all the tricks of his deadly craft, only to be subsequently ordered by the top brass to stop him fulfilling his first murder mission.

Somebody up top forgot to tell somebody in the middle that Ebbington’s target is a German general planning to assassinate Hitler, so the Unknown Soldier is forced to stop his protégé’s ‘Curtain Call’

After 36 years of varied publication Star-Spangled War Stories ended with #204 as prior scripter Bob Haney and veteran war artist Dick Ayers joined Talaoc for ‘The Unknown Soldier Must Die!’ wherein old ally Chat Noir (an African-American sergeant who got fed up of institutionalised racism and deserted the US Army to join the French Resistance) is captured by the Nazis and brainwashed into becoming their secret weapon to kill the Immortal G.I.…

Cover-dated May 1977 the first Unknown Soldier (#205) places history’s lynchpin at the Battle of the Bulge in winter 1944. Whilst expanding on his origins ‘Legends Never Die!’ also proves once more that the right man in the right place at the right time can change the course of destiny…

‘Glory Gambit!’ begins an extended campaign as Adolf Hitler himself unleashes the Wehrmacht’s answer to the Unknown Soldier. Black Knight is Count Klaus von Stauffen, the chess-obsessed SS officer who captured and conditioned Chat Noir and is now making his way into the heart of England with but one mission…

The hunt for the merciless master of disguise and doom continues throughout London in #207’s ‘Kill the King!’, before the scene again shifts, dumping the Soldier in North Africa in 1942 to rehabilitate a trio of deserters in ‘Coward, Take my Hand!’

US #209 takes us to the Pacific in 1945 and a personal duel with a Japanese prison camp torturer whose attempts to break the scarred superspy result in defeat, death and ‘Tattered Glory!’ on blood-drenched rock called Iwo Jima…

In #210 the Man of Many Faces invades a Nazi fortress impersonating a specialist interrogator to rescue or kill America’s most important agent in ‘Sparrows Can’t Sing!’ after which issue #211 reprints a classic Haney & Kubert tale from Star-Spangled War Stories #159 where George S. Patton became the thinly-veiled basis for ‘Man of War’ with the Unknown Soldier dispatched to investigate a charismatic general who had pushed his own troops to the brink of mutiny…

An experimental surgical operation traps the G.I. behind the wrong face on the wrong side of the German lines in #212, where he encounters Hitler’s fanatical schoolboy “Werewolf” killer-elite and becomes in turn ‘The Traitor in Wolf’s Clothing!’

The shocking theme was further explored in #213 as Unknown Soldier has to extract from the Fatherland the son of a scientist vital to the war effort. Sadly ‘The Ten-Year-Old Secret Weapon!’ has embraced every facet of life in the Hitler Youth and fights his would-be rescuer every step of the way…

Kanigher wrote and Romeo Tanghal inked the Ayers illustrated ‘Deadly Reunion!’ in #214 as of the Soldier – in the guise of an elderly Jew – allows himself to be taken to a death camp to spring Mlle. Marie. She isn’t at all grateful…

Haney, Ayers &Talaoc reunited in #215 as the faceless fury replaced a sailor in the merchant marine to expose a traitor selling out convoy freighters to U-boats haunting ‘The Savage Sea!’ after which ‘Taps at Arlington!’ (art by Ayers & Tanghal) sees Chat Noir confront American racism whilst the Soldier exposes a spy painting a bullseye on the backs of troops in Italy…

In #217 the Man Without a Face becomes Hermann Goering’s chief supplier of stolen paintings in ‘Dictators Never Sleep!’ The plan is to give the infamous art lover a Rembrandt primed to explode when Hitler is in front of it… and it would have worked if Klaus von Stauffen hadn’t been present…

With the Black Knight hot on his heels the frustrated phantom is harried across Europe in ‘The Unknown Soldier Must Die!’, only stopping briefly to destroy a V2 base and have another shot at the Fuehrer before experiencing ‘Slaughter in Hell!’ (inked by Tanghal) when von Stauffen turns the tables by impersonating his arch enemy in a bid to murder Winston Churchill and General Eisenhower.

He would have succeeded if not for the Immortal G.I.’s strategic cunning…

Issue #220 by Haney, Ayers &Talaoc saw the Soldier organise a band of maverick warriors from many Nazi-conquered countries into a daring-but-doomed foreign legion dubbed ‘The Rubber Band Heroes’ after which ‘Sunset for a Samurai!’ finds him on a suicide mission to the heart of Japan to save an undercover agent crucial to the American forces…

Unknown Soldier #222 promised ‘No Exit from Stalag 19!’ when the unsung hero was ordered to rescue a military boffin from the heart of Fortress Europa (in a wry and trenchant riff on the plot of The Bridge on the River Kwai) whilst in #223, ‘Mission: Incredible!’ (Ayers &Tanghal) details the convoluted course of a plan to destroy a Heavy Water plant in the snow-capped mountains of Norway.

The Soldier and Chat Noir reunited in #224 to investigate a dead zone where Allied bombers simply vanish without trace, only to find barbaric military madness running wild in ‘Welcome to Valhalla!’ after which the Immortal G.I. is forced to arrest a charismatic general for treason in ‘Four Stars to Armageddon!’ (Ayers &Talaoc) before uncovering the astounding truth behind his supposed betrayals.

The military madness lurches to a bloody halt with #226 as Chat Noir and his faceless comrade do what entire flotillas of Navy vessels could not: using guile and subterfuge to board the Nazi’s unbeatable dreadnaught and ‘Sink the Kronhorst!’

Dark, powerful, moving and overwhelmingly ingenious, The Unknown Soldier is a magnificent addition to the ranks of extraordinary mortal warriors in an industry far too heavy with implausible and incredible heroes. These tales will appeal to not just comics readers but all fans of adventure fiction.
© 1975-1979, 2014 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents the Legion of Super-Heroes volume 5


By Cary Bates, Jim Shooter, Paul Levitz, Dave Cockrum, Mike Grell & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4297-8

Once upon a time, a thousand years from now, a band of super-powered kids from a multitude of worlds took inspiration from the greatest legend of all time and formed a club of heroes. One day those Children of Tomorrow came back in time and invited their inspiration to join them…

Thus began the vast and epic saga of the Legion of Super-Heroes, as first envisioned by writer Otto Binder & artist Al Plastino when the many-handed mob of juvenile universe-savers debuted in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958), just as the revived superhero genre was gathering an inexorable head of steam in America.

Since that time the fortunes and popularity of the Legion have perpetually waxed and waned, with their future history tweaked and overwritten, retconned and rebooted over and over again to comply with editorial diktat and popular fashion.

This sturdy, cosmically-captivating fifth massive monochrome compendium gathers a chronological parade of futuristic delights from Superboy #193, 195, and Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes #197-220, covering February 1973 to October 1976, as well as the debut issue of opportunistic spin-off Karate Kid #1 (March 1976) at a time when the superhero genre had again waned but which was slowly recovering to gain its current, seemingly unassailable ascendancy.

That plunge in costumed character popularity had seen the team lose their long-held lead spot in Adventure Comics, be relegated to a back-up in Action Comics and even vanish completely for a time. Legion fans however are the most passionate of an already fanatical breed…

No sooner had the LSH faded than agitation to revive them began. After a few tentative forays as an alternating back-up feature in Superboy, the game-changing artwork of Dave Cockrum inspired a fresh influx of fans and the back-up soon took over the book – exactly as they had done in the 1960s when the Tomorrow Teens took Adventure from Superboy and made it uniquely their  own…

The resurgent dramas begin here with the back-up by Cary Bates & Cockrum from Superboy #193 wherein a select team consisting of Chameleon Boy, Duo Damsel, Chemical King and Karate Kid went undercover on a distant world to prevent atomic Armageddon in ‘War Between the Nights and the Days!’

That’s followed by #195’s ‘The One-Shot Hero!’ which told the story of ERG-1 – a human converted to sentient energy in an antimatter accident. The character had been mentioned in a 1960’s tale of the Adult Legion but here Bates & Cockrum at last fleshed out his only mission and heroic sacrifice with passion and overwhelming style…

The really big change came with the July issue as the long-lived title (it had premiered in 1949 just as the Golden Age was coming to an end) became Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes with #197.

The relaunch offered a full-length extravaganza, ‘Timber Wolf: Dead Hero, Live Executioner!’ which saw the Boy of Steel summoned to the future to be greeted by a hero he believed long dead in the line of duty.

Somehow Timber Wolf has escaped the grave and triumphantly greets his old comrade, but astute Legion leader Mon-El fears some kind of trick and is proved right when the miraculous survivor goes berserk at an awards ceremony, attempting to assassinate the President of Earth.

Wolf is restrained before any harm can be done and a thorough deprogramming soon gives him a clean bill of mental health. Unfortunately that’s exactly what the team’s hidden enemy had planned and when a deeper layer of brainwashing kicks in the helpless mind-slave turns off the security systems allowing militaristic alien warlord Tyr to invade Legion HQ.

Thankfully telepathic Saturn Girl is on hand to free the mental vassal and scupper the assault, but in the scuffle Tyr’s computerised gun hand escapes, swearing vengeance…

The organisation’s greatest foes resurface with a seemingly infallible plan in #198’s ‘The Fatal Five Who Twisted Time!’ – travelling back to 1950s Smallville to plant a device which will edit the next thousand years to prevent the LSH from forming.

As second chapter ‘Prisoners of the Time Lock’ reveals, however, a squad comprising Brainiac 5, Element Lad, Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, Chameleon Boy and Mon-El has already escaped to the relative safety of the time stream, determined to restore history or die with the resultant clash concluding in a ‘Countdown to Catastrophe’

With an entire issue to play with and short stories clearly popular, the format settled on alternating epics with a double-dose of vignettes. Thus issue #199 opened with ‘The Gun That Mastered Men!’ as Tyr’s computerised wonder weapon returned to liberate its creator, only to rebel at the last moment and try to take over Superboy’s body instead. With that threat comprehensively crushed, Bouncing Boy then took centre stage to relate his solo battle against Orion the Hunter in ‘The Impossible Target’

It was mere prelude to the anniversary issue #200 wherein he lost his power to hyper-inflate and had to resign. However it did allow the Bounding Bravo to propose to girlfriend Duo Damsel, unaware that she had been targeted to become ‘The Legionnaire Bride of Starfinger’

The marriage was an event tinged with grandeur and tragedy as the super-villain kidnapped her in ‘This Wife is Condemned’, attempting to emulate her powers and make an army of doppelgangers but ‘The Secret of the Starfinger Split!’ was never revealed after Superboy enacted a cunning counter-ploy…

Issue #201 featured the resurrection of ERG-1 as the energy-being reconstituted himself to save the Legion from treachery in ‘The Betrayer From Beyond’ whilst ‘The Silent Death’ saw precognitive Dream Girl infallibly predict a comrade’s imminent demise even though no hero anywhere appeared to be endangered…

Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes #202 was a 100-Page Giant but only two tales were new. They were also Cockrum’s final forays in the 30th century and saw the debut of his equally impressive successor Mike Grell as inker on ‘Lost a Million Miles from Home!’

Here Colossal Boy and Shrinking Violet face a perplexing mystery in deep space: an inexplicable loss of ship’s power which compels them to abandon ship in the worst possible place imaginable…

‘Wrath of the Devil-Fish’ by Bates & Cockrum was the artist’s swan song, featuring the debut of the re-designated ERG-1 as Wildfire and an eerie amphibian creature who attacked a pollution-cleansing automated Sea-Station. Of course the monster was not what he seemed and the Legion thought they might have found a unique new recruit…

Having utterly transformed the look, feel and fortunes of the Legion, Cockrum moved to Marvel where he would perform the same service for another defunct and almost forgotten series entitled X-Men

With Grell now handling the full art, our youthful Club of Champions were still on the meteoric rise, depicted as a dedicated, driven, grittily realistic combat force in constant, galaxy-threatening peril. However the super-science stalwarts still struggled against a global resurgence in spiritual soul-searching and supernatural dramas, with most of the comics industry churning out a myriad of monster and magic tales.

Thus the genre even invaded the bastions of graphic futurism in #203’s ‘Massacre by Remote Control’ (Bates & Grell) when increasing indifference and neglect caused veteran legionnaire Invisible Kid to lose his life saving his comrades.

The sadness was tinged with joy, however, as this was a twist on gothic ghost stories and the fallen hero was united with a lover from the other side of the Veil of Tears…

It was back to sensibly rational ground for SsLSH #204 and ‘The Legionnaire Nobody Remembered’, wherein the heroes explored the secrets of time traveller Anti-Lad whose accidental meddling altered history, demanding a most hands-on response to fix everything. Bates & Grell then exposed ‘Brainiac 5’s Secret Weakness!’ by reigniting his millennium-spanning romance with Supergirl

Issue #205 was another mostly-reprint 100-Page Giant but included one novel-length saga which saw 20th century Lana Lang save the assembled heroes from becoming ‘The Legion of Super-Executioners’ after the entire team was overwhelmed by a psionic immortal who patiently planned to abduct them all and breed a super-army of conquest…

‘The Legionnaires who Haunted Superboy’ led in #206 and saw Superboy visited by dead friends Invisible Kid and Ferro Lad. This time however the underlying theme was nascent cloning science not eldritch unrest and the outcome was mostly upbeat, after which ‘Welcome Home Daughter… Now Die!’ highlighted Princess Projectra’s dilemma as both modern hero with a commoner boyfriend and untouchable heir to a primitive feudal kingdom after a dutiful family visit resulted in an attack by a marauding monster…

SsLSH #207 opened with ‘The Rookie who Betrayed the Legion!’ as Science Police liaison Dvron seemingly colluded with mesmeric villain Universo whilst ‘Lightning Lad’s Day of Dread!’ saw the hero unite with his wicked brother Mekt to share a moment of personal grief.

It was but a prelude to the next issue (another 100-Page Giant) with a two pronged plan marooning Mon-El and Superboy in the 1950s whilst their comrades suffered the ‘Vengeance of the Super-Villains’ in the 30th Century. However the cunning murder-plot of Lightning Lord’s Legion of Super-Villains was not clever enough to fool Brainiac 5 of wily LSH espionage chief Chameleon Boy…

During the 1960’s the main architect of the Legion’s transformation from semi-comedic adventure feature to gritty super-battalion was teenaged sensation Jim Shooter, whose scripts and layouts (generally finished and pencilled by the astoundingly talented Curt Swan) made the series irresistible to a generation of fans growing up with their heads in the Future and tension-drenched drama on their minds.

Now, after time away getting a college education and working in advertising, Shooter returned in Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes #209 with ‘Who Can Save the Princess?’ tersely detailing how Projectra succumbing to the lethal Pain Plague led her lover Karate Kid to make an ultimate sacrifice.

Bates & Grell then wrapped up the issue with a heart-warming mystery as young fan Flynt Brojj became a ‘Hero for a Day’; saving the Legion from an insidious assassination attempt…

Issue #210 was an all Shooter/Grell affair, opening with far darker fare as ‘Soljer’s Private War’ revealed how a tragic victim of World War VI was transformed by horrific circumstances and resurrected to rampage unstoppably through 30th century Metropolis after which ‘The Lair of the Black Dragon’ revealed the incredible origin of Karate Kid.

When a pack of martial artists attack the hero, their defeat leads to a further attack on the aged Sensei who trained Val Armorr from birth, and painful revelations that the Legionnaire’s birth-father was Japan’s greatest villain…

In issue #211 ‘The Ultimate Revenge’ (Shooter) saw Element Lad risk his career and honour to exact vengeance from space pirate Roxxas who exterminated the hero’s entire race whilst Bates detailed how the Legion of Substitute Heroes took possession of ‘The Legion’s Lost Home’ incidentally solving one of the most infamous cold cases in the history of theft…

Shooter was now main writer on the series and SsLSH #212 began with ‘Last Fight for a Legionnaire’ wherein a sextet of ambitious and disgruntled teens challenged Matter-Eater Lad, Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, Phantom Girl, Shrinking Violet and Chameleon Boy for their positions on the team – resulting in the replacement of one of veteran heroes – whilst ‘A Death Stroke at Dawn’ found ineffectual-seeming Substitute Legionnaire Night Girl rediscovering her confidence by triumphantly saving boyfriend Cosmic Boy and herself from murderous ambushers…

In #213 Ultra Boy only realised he was afflicted with a crippling psychological handicap when the hunt for infallible super-thief Benn Pares took the team into ‘The Jaws of Fear’ after which Timber Wolf overcame a far more physical threat with his rarely exercised wits when attacked by mega-thug Black Mace in ‘Trapped to Live – Free to Die!’ by Shooter, Grell and inker Bill Draut.

In #214 the heroes found ‘No Price Too High’ to save a trillionaire’s obnoxious son from himself and the deranged, disaffected employee who had taken over one of his dad’s automated manufacturing worlds before Bates, Grell & Draut revealed the deep-seated trauma which took away Shrinking Violet’s powers in ‘Stay Small – Or Die!’

Luckily for Brainiac 5, his drastic plan to shock her back to normal worked in time for her to save him from the fallout of his own callous actions…

Bates & Grell also observed ‘The Final Eclipse of Sun Boy’ in SsLSH #215, as an intangible assassin stalked Phantom Girl to Earth and was in turn followed by an unlikely and unsuspected ally, before Shooter, Grell & Draut revealed Cosmic Boy as ‘The Hero Who Wouldn’t Fight’: honouring a sacred day of penance and super-power abstinence even at the cost of his life…

Despite the comics world being in the grip of martial arts madness since 1973, DC were a little slow in making an obvious move and giving one of the oldest comicbook Kung Fu fighters his own solo title.

Karate Kid #1 launched with a March-April 1976 cover-date and plunged valiant Val Armorr back a thousand years to contemporary New York City in ‘My World Begins in Yesterday’ by Paul Levitz, Ric Estrada & Joe Staton.

The self-made warrior had crashed the time barrier to recapture arch enemy Nemesis Kid, and, after rejecting friendly advice and stern orders to return to Tomorrow, tracked and trashed his enemy with the astounded assistance of schoolteacher Iris Jacobs.

Finding the primitive milieu far more amenable than his origin era, Karate Kid unexpectedly then elected to stick around in the 20th century…

That same month SsLSH #216 saw Bates & Grell tackle a thorny issue in ‘The Hero who Hated the Legion’ as the team tried to recruit its first black member. The isolationist Tyroc and his entire long-sequestered race carried a big grudge and it took determined diplomacy and a crisis which threatened the entire island of Marzal to challenge the prejudice of centuries…

The same creative team then took a peek into ‘The Private Lives of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel’ revealing how even retired Legionnaires still had to fight for their lives on occasion.

Shooter & Grell monopolised issue #217 beginning with ‘The Charge of the Doomed Legionnaires’ wherein rapacious Khund warlord Field Marshal Lorca pitted his strategic genius against Brainiac 5 but underestimated the sheer guts of his despised foes, whilst ‘Future Shock for Superboy’ found the Teen of Steel beguiled by 30th century girl Laurel Kent, blithely unaware that he was interested in his own descendant…

Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes #218 revealed how Tyroc’s induction into the team was shanghaied by Zoraz, ‘The Secret Villain the World Never Knew’ (Bates & Grell) although the neophyte soon turned the tables on the interloper, after which Shooter (with story inspiration from Ken Klaczac) disclosed ‘The Plunder Ploy of the Fatal Five’ in #219.

Here the terrifying Fatal Five went on an implausible spree of cosmic crimes, gathering items which could only be used for the creation of an all-conquering army, but when the Legion capably counterattacked they realised they’d jumped to woefully wrong conclusions…

This cavalcade of chronal capers concludes with #220 as inker Bob Wiacek joined Shooter & Grell for one final brace of bombastic blockbusters, beginning with ‘The Super Soldiers of the Slave-Maker’ wherein the Legion attempted to liberate conquered planet Murgador.

With most resistance coming from the terrified inhabitants, the astounded heroes learned that a huge bomb at the world’s core made them all helpless hostages to their alien overlord, forcing an application of subterfuge and misdirection to rectify the impossible situation…

Everything wraps up here with ‘Dream Girl’s Living Nightmare’ as Chameleon Boy tried to cheat fate and save a cosmic benefactor from death despite the infallible prediction of his precognitive comrade…

The Legion is unquestionably one of the most beloved and bewildering creations in funnybook history and largely responsible for the growth of the groundswell movement that became American Comics Fandom. Moreover, these scintillating and seductively addictive stories – as much as Julie Schwartz’s Justice League or Marvel’s Fantastic Four– fuelled the interest and imaginations of generations of readers and created the industry we all know today.

If you love comics and haven’t read this stuff, you are the poorer for it and need to feed your future dreams as soon as possible.

© 1973-1976, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.