Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock volume 2


By Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, Bob Haney, Ross Andru & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1984-0

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 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 sergeant was an anonymous boxer who wasn’t particularly skilled but simply refused to be beaten, absorbing any and all the punishment dealt out to him.

When ‘The Rock!’ enlisted in the US Army, however, 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 story really began…

This second titanic tour of duty collects in stark and stunning monochrome the groundbreaking tales which made Sgt. Rock a comics legend. These grim and gritty, epically poetic war stories are taken from the then still-anthological Our Army at War #118-148, bracketing May 1962 to November 1964, a period when American comics were undergoing a renaissance in style, theme and quality.

Scripted throughout by Editor Kanigher, the terse episodes herein begin with ‘The Tank vs. the Tin Soldier!’ illustrated by the brilliant Russ Heath as movie idol Randy Booth mustered in to Easy Company and spent all his snobbish energy trying to get out again. By the time he learned how to be a real soldier, his moment in the limelight had turned from cinematic melodrama to Greek tragedy…

The artist most closely associated with Rock, Joe Kubert illustrated #119’s memorable fable ‘A Bazooka for Babyface!’ wherein a kid who’d lied about his age made it to the Front, but didn’t fool the indomitable topkick. Of course, by the time the fighting died down enough to send him back, the Babyface was a seasoned combat veteran…

Kubert superbly limned the majority of stories in this volume, such as #120’s ‘Battle Tags for Easy Co.!’, which used brief vignettes to illustrate how squad stalwarts Ice Cream Soldier, Wild Man and Bulldozer earned their nicknames, before showing the latest Green Apple recruit why the Sarge was called Rock, after which ‘New Boy in Easy!’ in #121 introduced a chess-obsessed replacement who took a lot of convincing that war was no hobby and men weren’t just pawns…

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.

OAAW #122 featured ‘Battle of the Pyjama Commandoes!’ comprising more portmanteau tales as a number of Easy Joes recuperated in a field hospital, until the Germans broke through and the wounded had to pick up their weapons again…

High-energy stylist Jerry Grandenetti illustrated ‘Battle Brass Ring!’ in #123 as a pushy new replacement antagonised the entire unit until he learned to his cost the value of teamwork and the price of command, after which Kubert returned for ‘Target – Sgt. Rock!’

When the indomitable warrior was captured and brainwashed by a Nazi tank commander into leading an attack on Easy, Bulldozer had to balance Rock’s life against his beloved sergeant’s unflinching standing orders…

More moral dilemmas punished the valiant warriors in #125 (illustrated by Heath) as the unit was cut off from the main Allied force and ordered to ‘Hold – At All Costs!’, whilst ‘The End of Easy Company!’ (#126 and illustrated by Kubert) pitted the unstoppable dogfaces against impassable fortifications and a veritable mountain of Germans who severely underestimated the sheer stubbornness of tired, angry Americans…

With Kubert settling in for the long haul as regular artist on the strip, issue #127 offered an epic 25-page blitz of stories-within-a-story as a quartet of combat-happy Joes related personal tales of their unbeatable boss in ‘4 Faces of Sgt. Rock’.

OAAW #128 featured ‘The Battle of the Sergeants!’ as Rock met his Nazi counterpart in the deserts of Africa, after which #129 revealed that ‘Heroes Need Cowards!’ by exploring Rock’s earliest days in the Army, and ‘No Hill for Easy!’ in #130 saw the battered band of brothers go above and beyond to placate a shell-shocked Major and finish the suicide mission of a deranged last man standing…

In #131 ‘One Pair of Dogtags … For Sale’ saw Easy meet a woman warrior every inch their equal who literally spilled her own blood to keep Rock alive, whilst in ‘Young Soldiers Never Cry!’ the sergeant became a combat babysitter after rescuing a toddler on the battlefield of Normandy.

‘Yesterday’s Hero!’ in #133 saw a decorated veteran join Easy to a rapturous welcome, but flounder, unable to escape the shocking circumstances that made him an unwilling example of both heroism and cowardice, whilst in ‘The T.N.T. Book’ another replacement insisted on playing the odds in war as he had on the track… until he learned the true stakes of battle…

Our Army at War #135 pitted Rock against a German non-com who was in almost every way his ‘Battlefield Double!’, whilst in #136 a desperately frightened new kid arrived begging the indomitable topkick to ‘Make Me a Hero!’, and #137 saw a cavalry holdover from WWI finally achieve his long-delayed charge to glory in ‘Too Many Sergeants!’

When a close skirmish separated Rock from his greenest new replacement in #138, the weary warrior went through combat hell to find ‘Easy’s Lost Sparrow!’, before the next mission resulted in capture for four of the unit’s best and a ‘A Firing Squad for Easy!’ at a German Submarine dock. Happily the team of Frogmen they’d been protecting returned the favour…

OAAW #140 was another full-length thriller – with cameos from fellow comicbook combatant Captain Johnny Cloud and French Resistance fighter Mademoiselle Marie – which revealed the wry story of how Rock kept winning deserved but wholly unwelcome battlefield promotions. His dilemma as a ‘Brass Sergeant!’ was only resolved after reuniting a misunderstood son with his “spit-and-polish” General father under exceptional circumstances…

An timid old school friend turned up in #141, still needing Rock’s protection until “Shaker” finally pulled the ‘Dead Man’s Trigger!’, whilst in the next issue Kanigher pushed the envelope with the tale of a boy who held the sergeant to ransom and became ‘Easy’s New Topkick!’ in order to finish his dead Maquis comrades’ last mission. This stirring saga inspired the creation of Unit 3 – a French Resistance squad of battle-hardened children who appeared sporadically in later issues.

In #143 the US soldiers were back in the desert where embattled dogfaces honoured fallen comrade Farmer Boy by planting ‘Easy’s T.N.T. Crop!’ and harvested a victory built on sand, after which ‘The Sparrow and the Tiger!’ saw Rock at last succumb to battle fatigue and the constant loss of his “kids” until a scared replacement showed him the true value of persistence and grace under fire…

Our Army at War #145 offered the back-story on the squad’s Native American rifleman in ‘A Feather for Little Sure-Shot!’, whilst in #146 imagination ran wild as ‘The Fighting Guns of Easy!’ compared stories about the men who fired them.

This second savage selection of combat actions concludes with a rare 2-part yarn, beginning in #147 as ‘Generals Don’t Die! Book One’ found the hands-on topkick the envy of all his commanding officers. However, after helping desk-jockey General Bentley die in glorious battle, Rock was saddled with fulfilling a promise to a dying man and forced to impersonate Bentley.

Things got even trickier when the impostor had to lead the troops in breaking a stalled advance, a classic conundrum spectacularly resolved in the blockbuster conclusion ‘Generals Don’t Die! Book Two: Generals are Sergeants with Stars!’ as Rock kept the dead man’s secret and maintained Bentley family honour until he could pass on those unearned Brass Stars to the next Bentley generation…

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.

With superb combat covers from Kubert, Grandenetti, and Heath fronting each episode, this battle-book is a visually perfect 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.
© 1963, 1964, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Essential Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, George Roussos, Frank Giacoia, Steve Ditko & Chic Stone (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6395-4

Grizzled super-spy Nick Fury debuted in Fantastic Four #21 (December 1963): a grizzled and cunning CIA Colonel at the periphery of big adventures, craftily manipulating the First Family of Marvel superheroes just as the 1960s espionage vogue was taking off, inspired by the James Bond films and TV shows like Danger Man.

What was odd about that? Well, the gruffly capable everyman was already the star of the little company’s only war comic, set twenty years earlier in (depending on whether you were American or European…) the middle or beginning of World War II.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, an improbable, decidedly over-the-top and raucous combat comics series, similar in tone to later movies such as The Magnificent Seven, Wild Bunch or The Dirty Dozen, had launched in May of that year and although Fury’s later self became a big-name star when espionage stories went global in the wake of TV shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the elder iteration was given a second series beginning in Strange Tales #135 (August 1965).

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. combined Cold War tensions with sinister schemes of World Conquest by subversive all-encompassing hidden, enemy-organisation Hydra: all with captivating Kirby-designed super-science gadgetry and, later, iconic imagineering from Jim Steranko whose visually groundbreaking graphic narratives took the art form to a whole new level.

For all that time, however, the wartime version soldiered on (sorry: puns are my weapon of choice) combining a uniquely flamboyant house-bravado style and often ludicrous, implausible, historically inaccurate, all-action bombast with moments of genuine heartbreak, unbridled passion and seething emotion.

Sgt. Fury seems to be a pure Jack Kirby creation. As with all his various combat comics, The King made everything look harsh and real and appalling: the people and places all grimy, tired, battered but indomitable.

The artist had served in some of the worst battles of the war and never forgot the horrific and heroic things he saw – and more graphically expressed in his efforts during the 1950s genre boom at a number of different companies – but even at kid-friendly, Comics Code-sanitised Marvel, those experiences perpetually leaked through onto his powerfully gripping pages.

This first massive monochrome compendium features the contents of Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1-23 (from May 1963 to 1965) plus the new material from the largely reprint Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos King Size Annual #1 from 1965, opening as you’d expect with the blistering premier issue introducing ‘Sgt. Fury, and his Howling Commandoes’ (that’s how they speled it in the stoary-title – but knot ennyware else) by Lee, Kirby & inker Dick Ayers. Bursting with full page panels the tale was interrupted by ‘Meet the Howling Commandos’ – a double-page starring the seven members of First Attack Squad; Able Company, namely Fury himself, former circus strongman/Corporal “Dum-Dum” Dugan and Privates Robert “Rebel” Ralston (a jockey), young student Jonathan “Junior” Juniper, jazz trumpeter Gabriel Jones, mechanic Izzy Cohen and glamorous movie star Dino Manelli.

Controversially – even in the 1960s – this combat Rat Pack was an integrated unit with Jewish and Negro members as well as Catholics, Southern Baptists andNew Yorkwhite guys all merrily serving together. The Howling Commandos pushed envelopes and busted taboos from the very start…

The first mission was a non-stop action romp putting the squad through their various paces as the ragged band of indomitable warriors put paid to hordes of square-necked Nazis as they saved D-Day by rescuing a French resistance fighter carrying vital plans of the invasion, and they even brought back a high-ranking “kraut” prisoner. The epic issue even included a Kirby fact-page comparing six different side-arms of the period in ‘Weapons of War’

Issue #2 found the‘7 Doomed Men!’ up to their torn shirts in Germans as they first  infiltrated a French coastal town to blow up a U-Boat base and got back to England just in time to be sent on a suicide mission. This time it was to destroy a secret facility at Heinemund in the heart of the Fatherland where Nazi scientists were doing something nefarious with “hard water”…

These overblown fustian thrillers always played fast and loose with history and logic, so if you crave veracity above all I’d steer clear, but if you can swallow a heaping helping of creative anachronism there’s always great fun to be had here – especially since nobody drew atomic explosions like The King…

The drama was then topped off with more fact pages as ‘The Enemy That Was!’ explored the capabilities of German Infantryman whilst ‘Weapons of War: “Chatter Guns” of World War II’ tells everything you need to know about submachine guns…

Rough and ready gallows humour and broad comedy became increasingly important to the series from #3 onwards with home base rivalries and wry comradely sparring leavening the outrageous non-stop action of the missions. ‘Midnight on Massacre Mountain!’ found the squad explosively invading Italy to rescue a US army division caught in a Nazi trap. Along the way they met a brilliant OSS officer training partisan troops, and Fury thought that young Reed Richards would go far…

This issue was supplemented by a fascinating feature revealing what ordnance and hardware cost in ‘America’s World War II Shopping List!’

‘Lord Ha-Ha’s Last Laugh!’ in #4 began a long stint of embellishment by George Bell (AKA old Kirby studio-mate George “Inky” Roussos) and introduced a love interest for the Sarge when he met Red Cross volunteer Lady Pamela Hawley during an air raid in London. How strange and tragic was fate then, that the Howlers’ very next mission took them toBerlin to kidnap a young British nobleman with the same name, acting as a crucial propaganda mouthpiece for the Wehrmacht…

The mission was a double disaster. Not only did Pamela’s ignoble brother perish but the debacle also cost the life of the youngest Howler…

‘Weapons of War: Combat Rifles of World War II’ then ended this shocking, surprisingly grim and low-key melodrama…

Fury’s appearance in FF#21 – not included here – was released between that issue and #5, but no mention was made of it when the dark and cunning yarn introduced one of Marvel’s greatest villains. ‘At the Mercy of Baron Strucker’ saw Fury humiliated and defeated in personal combat against an Aryan nobleman and filmed footage used as a propaganda tool of the Nazis, until Dino pointed out how the nonplussed noncom had fallen for the oldest trick in Hollywood’s playbook…

The riotous rematch went rather better after which ‘Weapons of War: Light Machine Guns of World War II’ ended things in a graphically educational manner, whilst ‘The Fangs of the Desert Fox!’ in #6 dumped the Squad in the desert to tackle the hordes of General Rommel in a mission foredoomed to fail…

‘The Court-Martial of Sergeant Fury’ provided a glimpse at the hard-bitten hero’s past and offered insights into his tempestuous relationship with his immediate superior Captain Samuel “Happy Sam” Sawyer. Of course to get that information we had to watch Fury endure a dramatic trial after seemingly sabotaging a mission and striking a commanding officer…

Although he continued to draw the magnificent eye-catching covers, Kirby left the title with this issue. His astounding abilities were more profitably employed in the superhero titles, even as Lee began consolidating the ever expanding Marvel Universe by utilising more WWII iterations of contemporary characters.

‘The Death Ray of Baron Zemo!’ in #8 pitted the Howlers against a Captain America villain recently debuted in The Avengers as Ayers & Roussos ably depicted the team’s attempts to capture the Nazi scientist and a weapon that could shape the outcome of the entire war. The tale also introduced Junior Juniper’s replacement: a rather fruity caricature of a Brit named Percival Pinkerton, who sported horn-rimmed specs, pencil moustache, Fuschia beret and impossibly utilitarian umbrella…

In #9 the impossible ‘Mission: Capture Adolf Hitler!’ went awry when the Howlers’ invasion of Berlin again brought Fury face-to-face with Wolfgang von Strucker; leading to temporary capture and an astounding escape whilst ‘On to Okinawa!’ in #10 saw them achieve greater success when despatched to the Pacific to rescue a captured US colonel from the Japanese.

This tale also saw the debut of a bearded bombastic submarine commander who would become a series regular before eventually winning his own series (Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders) in 1967.

The pace had certainly slowed and melodrama and subplots increased by #11 and ‘The Crackdown of Capt. Flint!’ saw Happy Sam briefly replaced by a spit-and-polish officer who soon learned the limitations of his ways, whilst in #12 a raid on a V1 factory prompted Dino to join the Nazis ‘When a Howler Turns Traitor!’ It was just a trick though, but nobody told the American commander who stuck the star in front of a firing squad…

This issue also included a Marvel Masterwork Pin-up of Fury by Ayers.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #13 is arguably the best issue of the entire 167 issue run and the title says why. ‘Fighting Side-by-Side with… Captain America and Bucky!’ reunited Lee, Kirby & Ayers in a blistering battle yarn as the Howlers crossed paths with the masked Sentinels of Liberty after both teams stumble across a top secret Nazi operation to build an invasion tunnel under the channel to England. To resort to the terms of the times: “Wah-Hoo!”…

Ayers & Bell were back in artistic control in #14 as harassed Adolf Hitler ordered the creation of a Nazi answer to Fury’s elite attack force. All ‘The Blitzkrieg Squad of Baron Strucker!’ had to do was lure the Howlers to a V2 rocket base and spring their trap… Yeah, that was all…

Weapons of War: also returned here with all the gen on the ‘B-26 Martin Marauder’ whilst in #15 Steve Ditko stepped in to ink Ayers in ‘Too Small to Fight, Too Young to Die’ wherein a mission in Holland to destroy the dykes and flood the occupation forces went drastically wrong. The Howlers “fled” back to Britain with nothing but a broken-hearted boy named Hans Rooten – who had no idea that his quisling father was in fact the Allies’ top spy in the region…

The boy became the men’s mascot but couldn’t come with them when they flew to Africain #16 to eradicate yet more Nazi super-weapons in ‘A Fortress in the Desert Stands!’ (illustrated by Ayers & Frank Giacoia using the pseudonym Frankie Ray), after which it was only a short camel-ride south until they encountered natives and Nazis engaged in a battle of Hearts and Minds ‘While the Jungle Sleeps!’ (by Ayers & Colletta).

All this time the chalk-and-cheese relationship between Nick and Pam Hawley had been developing to the point where he was ready to propose. That all ended in #18 when, whilst the unit was busy sinking a German battleship in a Norwegian port, she was ‘Killed in Action!’ (Ayers & Chic Stone).

Crushed and crazy, Fury went AWOL in the next issue, ruthlessly hunting down the leader of the bomber flight which had targeted the hospital she worked in before extracting ‘An Eye for an Eye!’ in a satisfyingly shocking story sensitively rendered by Ayers & Giacoia.

A far grimmer Fury was still in the mood for cathartic carnage in #20, so when ‘The Blitz Squad Strikes!’ found the German Kommandos invading a Scottish castle filled with imprisoned Nazi airmen, he and Howlers were happy to lead the mission to retake it.

In the next issue a long running rivalry with First Attack Squad; Baker Company again resulted in fisticuffs before being interrupted by another rescue mission ‘To Free a Hostage!’ (inked by Golden Age legend Carl Hubbell, as was the next issue).

However, even after scientist and daughter were reunited, the beef with B Company didn’t diminish and when both units were dispatched to sabotage the oil refinery at Ploesti the defending forces captured everybody. When the gloating Nazis tried to get Fury and his opposite number to kill each they quickly learned ‘Don’t Turn Your Back on Bull McGiveney!’ and even Strucker’s Blitz Squad couldn’t stem the devastating destruction that followed…

The final WWII exploit herein is the Giacoia-inked saga of ‘The Man Who Failed!’ as a trip to Burma to rescue nuns and orphans resulted in the shameful revelation of True Brit Percy Pinkerton’s past, also offering a close insight into why our upper lips are so stiff…

This combat compendium concludes with the 15 page lead story from Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos King Size Annual #1 (1965) as the Howlers were called up and mustered to the 38th Parallel to defend democracy from Communist aggression. This particular escapade found them rescuing Colonel Sam Sawyer and resulted in Fury winning a ‘Commission in Korea!’ and at last becoming a Lieutenant in a stirring story by Lee, Ayers & Giacoia before pictorial features ‘A Re-introduction to the Howlers’, ‘A Birds Eye View of HQ, Able Company – Fury’s Base in Britain’, ‘Combat Arm and Hand Signals’ and a 2-page ad feature for the hero’s super-spy iteration as ‘Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ wraps everything up in Marvel’s military fashion.

Whereas close rival DC increasingly abandoned the Death or Glory bombast at this time in favour of humanistic, almost anti-war explorations of war and soldiering, Marvel’s take always favoured action-entertainment and fantasy over soul-searching for ultimate truths. On that level at least, these early epics are stunningly effective and galvanically powerful exhibitions of the genre. Just don’t use them for history homework.
© 1963, 1964, 1965, 2011 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Peach Slices


By Donna Barr (Aeon/Mu)
No ISBN:                    2006 edition: 978-1-89225-325-5

The Desert Peach is the supremely self-assured and eminently efficient gay brother of Erwin Rommel, the legendary German soldier universally hailed as “the Desert Fox”. Set – usually – in Africa during World War II, this priceless gem of a series effortlessly combines hilarity, absurdity, profound sensitivity and glittering spontaneity, with stories describing the dalliances and daily tribulations of Oberst Manfred Pfirsich Marie Rommel; dutiful albeit unwilling cog in the iniquitous German War Machine, yet one determined to remain a civilised gentleman under the most adverse and unkind conditions.

However, although in his own ways as formidable as his beloved elder sibling, the caring, gracious and genteel Peach is a man who loathes causing harm or giving offence. Thus he spends his service commanding the dregs of the military in the ghastly misshapes of the 469th Halftrack, Gravedigging & Support Unit of the Afrika Korps, daily endeavouring to remain stylish, elegant, civil and ever so patient with and to the assorted waifs, wastrels and warriors on both sides of the unfortunate global conflict.

It’s a thankless, endless task: the 469th houses the worst the Wehrmacht has ever conscripted, from malingerers and malcontents to useless wounded, shiftless conmen, screw-ups and outright maniacs.

Pfirsich unilaterally applies the same decorous courtesies to the sundry natives inhabiting the area and the rather tiresome British and Anzac forces – not all of whom are party to a clandestine non-aggression pact Pfirsich has agreed with his opposite numbers in the amassed Allied Forces. In fact the only people to truly annoy the peace-loving Peach are boors, bigots, bullies and card-carrying Blackshirts…

The romantic fool is also passionately in love with and engaged to Rosen Kavalier: handsome Aryan warrior and wildly manly Luftwaffe Ace, but arguably the real star of these fabulous frothy epics is the Peach’s long-suffering, unkempt, crafty, ill-mannered, bilious and lazily scrofulous orderly Udo Schmidt, a man of many secrets whose one redeeming virtue is his uncompromising loyalty and devotion to the only decent man and tolerable officer in the entire German army.

This eccentric aggregation of extras, excerpts and exotica was first released in 1993, gathering extraneous material from a variety of sources and covering the period 1987-1993: as much an affectionate art-book as delicious dose of non-or mis-canonical hi-jinx. The entire package was subsequently re-released in 2006 in a Directors Cut edition which added issue #25’s WWI Transylvanian Hammer-Horror pastiche ‘Beautiful’ to the mix and included reminiscences, background commentary and creator kibitzing regarding all the esoteric tales and titbits.

The gloriously visual treat begins with an Unused Pin Design and a splendid Badge Design from the San Diego Comic-Con 1989 after which a quartet of stunning and bizarre Beer Labels (for ales created by micro brewer Wendell Joost in 1988) precedes ‘Peach on Earth’ from A Very Mu Christmas 1992 – one of the very best Christmas stories ever produced in the notoriously twee and sentimental comics field.

Set in the harsh December of 1945, it follows the demobbed and repatriated Pfirsich as he wanders through his broken and occupied homeland, avoiding trouble and American troops but not the gnawing starvation and freezing snows which would kill so many returning, defeated German soldiers. On the verge of despair and death the Peach is brusquely adopted by a strange, brittle and utterly fearless little boy who has only known the Fatherland in the throes of decline, but still looks eagerly to a brighter tomorrow…

This is followed by a rather risqué Rosen Kavalier pinup from Paper Phantasies (1991) and an unused strip originally commissioned by Rip Off Press whilst ‘Whipping Boy’ is a full-on adult escapade of the unconventional lovers as is ‘I Am What I Am… (I Think)’ a “Desert Peach Pitt Stop” that also languished unpublished until this collection preserved it.

Bits ‘n’ Pieces was a short-lived self-published magazine the indefatigable author used to disseminate assorted works which never made it into the regular, normal-length Desert Peach title. ‘The Veteran’ comes from the first issue in 1991 and returned focus to the motley cast of the hapless 469th for adeliciously philosophical foray that starred a most peculiar and innocent warrior named Thommi, whilst, after a frolicsome Desert Peach pinup from the 1989 Amazing Heroes Swimsuit Special, ‘Hindsight’ (Bits ‘n’ Pieces #1 1991) dabbles into personal politics before ‘Reflections’ from #3 offered a few New Year’s observations on the cast and stars from Barr herself.

The 1991 San Diego Comic-Con booklet provided another beguiling pinup before ‘Udo and the Phoenix’ (from Xenophon #1, 1992) related another tale of the spirited Arab horse accidentally owned by Udo and cared for by the equally magnificent Pfirsich, whilst ‘Reluctant Affections’ (from Bits ‘n’ Pieces #1 1991, before being redrawn as ‘Pigeonholed’ for Gay Comics #16) explored a tender, fragile moment and adorable chink in the macho armour of uber-Mensch Rosen…

‘The More Things Change’ from benefit book Choices in 1992 debates the abortion issue with characteristic abrasive aplomb after which ‘Sweet Delusions’ (Wimmin’s Comix #16 1991) gets down to the eye-watering nitty-gritty of Rosen & Pfirsich’s love life and ‘Wet Dream’ (Bits ‘n’ Pieces #3 1991) follows up with more of the same in a hilariously wry maritime moment.

Barr’s creations are never far from always internally consistent flights of extreme fantasy as seen in glorious diversion ‘The Oasis’ (Centaurs Gatherum 1990) with Pfirsich and brother Erwin finding a militarily priceless waterhole with a fantastic secret and forced to spend a truly outrageous time trapped as hybrid half horses…

This captivating chronicle concludes with a selection of ‘Peach Pits’ miscellanea: illustrations, roughs and small press items culled from the Desert Peach Musical books, t-shirts and posters. There’s some fascinating rough layouts from the aforementioned ‘Peach on Earth’, an unused page from DP #17 (the superb ‘Culture Shock’ as seen in The Desert Peach: Marriage & Mayhem) and assorted stuff from Zine Zone #13, 1992, covers from Germanophilic Amateur Press Association magazine ‘Krauts’ and shirt designs before the whole outrageous affair ends well with an implausibly “true tail” starring half-horse Stinz Löwhard, Pfirsich and Erwin in a ‘Character Revolt’ from 1987’s Fan’toons 19.

Desert Peach adventures are always bawdy, raucous, satirical, authentically madcap and immensely engaging; bizarre (anti) war stories which rank amongst the very best comics of the 1990s. Even now they still pack a shattering comedic kick and – if you’re not quite ready – poignantly emotional charge.

The Desert Peach ran for 32 intermittent issues via a number of publishers and was subsequently collected as eight graphic novel collections (1988-2005). A prose novel, Bread and Swans, a musical, and an invitational collection by other artists entitled Ersatz Peach were also created during the strip’s heyday. A larger compendium, Seven Peaches, collected issues #1-7 and Pfirsich’s further exploits continue as part of the Modern Tales webcomics collective…

Illustrated in Barr’s fluidly seductive wood-cut and loose-line style, this book is another must-have item for lovers of wit, slapstick, high drama and belly-laughs and grown-up comics in general. All the collections are pretty hard to find these days but if you have a Kindle, Robot Comics released individual comicbook issues, and for anybody with internet access and refined tastes there’s always the webcomic to fall back on…

© 1987-1993 Donna Barr. All rights reserved. The Desert Peach is ™ Donna Barr.

 

Christmas miracle moment: Just as we were preparing to post this, the multi-talented Mirth-Meister herself dropped us an update on availability and I’m not mean enough to keep the contents to myself in this season of sharing.

So to see Peach magic for yourself check out websites http://www.donnabarr.com or http://thedesertpeach.com and if you just have to own your own Peach product http://www.lulu.com/desertpeach, offers a huge double collection that also comes as economical loadable files and The Desert Peach (plus Stinz and Bosom Enemies) are all re-printed with colour extras at http://www.Indyplanet.com at marvellously economical rates.

Enjoy!

Monkeywanger – the Crimes of Oscar Dirlewanger (Special Edition)


By Peeler Watt Ph.D., illustrated by MIND, Jahn Fermindoza & Red Ink studios
ISBN: 978-1-47928-230-2

As any long-time reader will attest, I’m a huge advocate of doing it yourself when it comes to making comics and this collection – gathering the first three books of an epic historical exposé of one of humanity’s greatest monsters – shows just why, as it spectacularly blends harsh fact with high drama to reveal a mere smattering of the atrocities perpetrated by macabre madman Oskar Paul Dirlewanger, one of the most infamous and deviant of villains to find purpose, outlet and sanction under the Nazis…

This ambitiously oversized (280x216mm) mostly blood-red-and-monochrome horror story by historian Peeler Watt (not his real name) and animator/illustrator Mike Ian Noble Dobson (augmented and supplemented by Jahn Fermindoza and Filipino studio Red Ink Animation: Van Winkle Amaranto, Silvan Amante, Mikaela and Sharon Amaranto, Clewin Mars & Flor Villa) introduces fictionalised antagonist Untersturmfuhrer Otto Voge (an amalgam of actual people caught up in Dirlewanger’s sphere of unholy influence), a dedicated, passionate patriotic German cop with a secret who volunteered for active duty with the SS and lived to regret it…

The tale begins, after a brief and brutal comic strip précis of the political, social and religious background, with Voge arriving in the Nazi controlled Jewish ghetto of Lublin in August 1941 and seeing first-hand the atrocities perpetrated by Penal Battalion Oranieburg - an SS division personally founded by Dirlewanger from criminal scum too debased for the regular army.

Due to a clerical error Voge was assigned to the appalling dreg unit rather than a decent and proper army division on active service and soon realises that the soldiers have their commanding officer’s full approval to loot, brutalise and torture the subjugated Poles – Jewish or otherwise.

The deviant Captain is nonetheless very impressed with his new subordinate’s obvious martial prowess. After savage skirmishes in the devastated city the Captain puts Voge forward for an Iron Cross, impressing the young leutnant with his obvious craving for real combat on the Russian Front rather than glorified guard duty in the ghetto.

Dirlewanger is an odd character, a spit-and-polish martinet with terrifying self-composure: ruthlessly cruel, fiercely passionate in his prejudices but utterly devoted to the pet monkey “Moses” which is never far from his side…

Voge’s fellow officers are little better than the conscripted men, but they would all be horrified if they knew their comrade’s dark secret: Voge is a Soviet sleeper agent who has been reporting to his Communist paymasters since his days as a peace-time policeman…

When Dirlewanger sends his men on another raid to rob and torment the subjugated Jews, Voge tries to curb their worst excesses but, as partisan’s attack the soldiers, the Leutnant is again forced to display his talent for combat, further cementing his commander’s favourable impressions. As Jewish women and children are rounded up Voge pushes his luck and manages to save one mother and her mentally deficient child from the fate of the others…

As the days pass Voge learns more about his outcast fellows and their reprehensible chief. Dirlewanger was a decorated hero in WWI and the Spanish Civil War, but also a psychopathic killer, and child-molester (according to some historians he was also a sadist and necrophiliac and given the dubious distinction of being “the most evil man in the SS”) …but certainly no fool.

Voge finds it increasingly impossible to stay uninvolved and concentrate on either his ostensible duties or covert mission and soon is deeply embroiled in the criminal machinations of the Battalion whilst simultaneously secretly working with Jewish Partisans. His only concern is to save innocent civilians from his debauched and murderous German comrades, but finds that they are equally endangered by their own ruthlessly driven and fanatical Resistance fighters and Voge’s increasingly impatient Russian spymasters…

The day is swiftly approaching when the mounting, conflicting pressures will surely cause a fatal misstep, but when Dirlewanger gets word from a Jewish informant of a Catholic convent hiding Hebrew girls that should be spicing up the Nazi’s private brothel,  it soon becomes clear that Voge’s own morality might be his actual undoing.

Painfully aware that his now suspicious commander was playing with him, Voge moves too late to save the girls and, after another ferocious clash between partisans and battalion soldiers, realises a final confrontation is now unavoidable…

Dark, brooding, painfully oppressive and grimly adult in nature, Monkeywanger is a powerful story of war, obsession and duty that will certainly impress fans of war stories, history buffs and devotees of fine storytelling, and there’s even the prospect of more to come …

No Trademark invoked so I’m assuming © 2012 Peeler Watt. All rights reserved.
For more information and to obtain your own copy check out http://www.monkeywanger.com

Corpse on the Imjin! and Other Stories by Harvey Kurtzman


By Harvey Kurtzman & others (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-545-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: War is Hell – but never looked better or taught us more… 9/10

EC Comics began in 1944 when comicbook pioneer Max Gaines sold the superhero properties of his All-American Comics company to half-sister National/DC, retaining only Pictures Stories from the Bible. His plan was to produce a line of Educational Comics with schools and church groups as the major target market.

He augmented his core title with Picture Stories from American History, Picture Stories from Science and Picture Stories from World History but the worthy project was already struggling when he died in a boating accident in 1947.

As detailed in the final comprehensive essay in this superb graphic collection, his son William was dragged into the family business and, with much support and encouragement from unsung hero Sol Cohen – who held the company together until the initially unwilling Bill Gaines abandoned his dreams of a career in chemistry – transformed the ailing enterprise into Entertaining Comics

After a few tentative false starts and abortive experiments, Gaines and his multi-talented associate Al Feldstein settled into a bold and impressive publishing strategy, utilising the most gifted illustrators in the field to tell a “New Trend” of stories aimed at an older and more discerning readership.

From 1950 to 1954 EC was the most innovative and influential publisher in America, dominating the genres of crime, horror, war and science fiction and, under the auspices of writer, artist and editor Harvey Kurtzman, the inventor of an entirely new beast: the satirical comicbook…

Kurtzman was hired to supplement the workforce on the horror titles but wasn’t keen on the genre and suggested a new action-adventure title. The result was Two-Fisted Tales which began with issue #18 at the end of 1959 as an anthology of rip-snorting, he-man suspense dramas. However, withAmerica embroiled in a military “police action” inKorea, the title soon became primarily a war comic and was soon augmented by another.

Frontline Combat was also written and edited by Kurtzman, who also assiduously laid-out and meticulously designed every story – which made for great entertainment but was frequently a cause of friction with many artists…

Moreover, in keeping with the New Trend spirit, these war stories were not bombastic, jingoistic fantasies for glory-hungry little boys, but rather subtly subversive examinations of the cost of conflict which highlighted the madness, futility and senseless, pointless waste of it all…

Kurtzman was a cartoon genius and probably the most important cartoonist of the last half of the 20th century. His early triumphs in the fledgling field of comicbooks (especially the groundbreaking Mad magazine) would be enough for most creators to lean back on but Kurtzman was a force in newspaper strips (See Flash Gordon Complete Daily Strips 1951-1953) and a restless innovator, a commentator and social explorer who kept on looking at folk and their doings: a man with exacting standards who just couldn’t stop creating.

He invented a whole new format and gave America Popular Satire when he converted his highly successful full-colour baby Mad into a black and white magazine, safely distancing the outrageously brilliant comedic publication from the fall-out caused by the 1950s socio-political witch-hunt which eventually killed all EC’s other titles.

He pursued his unique brand of thoughtfully outré comedy and social satire further with the magazines Trump, Humbug and Help!, all the while still conceiving challenging and powerfully effective funny strips such as Little Annie Fannie (for Playboy), The Jungle Book, Nutz, Goodman Beaver, Betsy and her Buddies and many more. He died far too early in 1993.

This first volume of the Fantagraphics EC Library gathers a stunning selection of Kurtzman stories in a lavish monochrome hardcover edition, packed with supplementary interviews, features and dissertations, beginning with ‘The Truth’ by cartoonist and historian R.C. Harvey, who describes in stark detail the history of Kurtzman’s EC days.

Then follows a raft of stirring sagas solely from the master’s hand, beginning with ‘Conquest’ from Two-Fisted Tales #18, which with acerbic aplomb relates the rise and fall of Spanish conquistador Juan Alvorado, whose rapacious hunger for Aztec gold led inexorably to the downfall and doom of his entire expedition. Jivaro Death’ (#19) deals with modern-day greed as two duplicitous Yankees search for diamonds in the heart of the Amazon jungle whilst T-FT #20 revealed the fate of an amnesiac buccaneer who returned from certain death to obsessively reclaim his ‘Pirate Gold’ from the men who betrayed him.

From issue #21 comes ‘Search!’ which ironically combined an Italian-American’s search for family with the devastating US assault on Anzio in 1943, after which the first selection from Frontline Combat produces an uncharacteristically patriotic clash with the North Korean aggressors in ‘Contact!’ (#2, September 1951).

‘Kill’ from T-FT #23 also takes place in Korea and details a squalid encounter between a blood-thirsty knife-wielding G.I. psycho and his soulless Commie antithesis, whilst ‘Prisoner of War!’ (FC #3) highlights the numbing, inhuman brutality of combat when American POWs attempt an escape…

‘Rubble!’ (T-FT #24) boldly stepped into the “enemy” shoes by highlighting the war’s casual cost to simple Korean civilians whilst ‘Air Burst!’ in FC #4 goes even further by featuring the Communist soldiers’ side of the conflict.

The eponymous ‘Corpse on the Imjin!’ (T-FT #25) is one of the most memorable, moving and respected tales of the genre: a genuine anti-war story which elegiacally traces a body’s motion down the river and exposes the ruminations of the doomed observers who see it. The sentiment is further explored in ‘Big ‘If’!’ (FC #5) as G.I. Paul Maynard sits in a shell hole and ponders what might have been…

Kurtzman’s unique display of cartooning and craftsmanship is followed by the essay ‘Combat Duty’ wherein Jared Gardner discusses the background and usage of the other artists who worked on the author’s Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat scripts, after which ‘Marines Retreat!’ drawn by John Severin (and inked by Kurtzman from FC #1, July/August 1951) describes in microcosm the shocking American forced withdrawal from the Changjin Reservoir in December 1950 – an event which stunned and terrified the folks at home and shook forever the cherished belief in the US Marines’ invincibility – all told through the eyes of a soldier who understood too late the values he was supposed to be fighting for…

Kurtzman’s relationship with his artists could be fraught. Alex Toth, a tempestuous individualist who only drew three tales from his editor’s incredibly detailed lay-outs, famously produced some of his very best work at EC under such creative duress. The first and least was ‘Dying City!’ (T-FT #22) which found an aged Korean grandfather berating his dying descendent for the death and destruction he had brought upon his family and nation,

‘O.P.!’ was drawn by hyper-realist Russ Heath (FC #1) and once more ladled on the bleak, black irony during an annihilating trench encounter during WWI. After which Toth’s astounding aerial imagination produced in ‘Thunderjet!’ (FC #8) one of the most thrilling and evocative dogfight dramas in comics history.

This tale was an alarm-call to complacentAmericaas aUSpilot was forced to concede that his winged weapon was inferior to the ever-present Communist MIGs…

‘Fire Mission!’ (T-FT #29) was drawn by Dave Berg – an artist far better regarded for his comedy work – and lent his facility with expressions to a rather standard tale of courage discovered under fire in Korea, after which Gene Colan delineated the rift between military and civilians in the hours before the attack on Pearl Harbor in ‘Wake!’ from T-FT #30.

From the same issue ‘Bunker!’ was the first strip illustrated by Ric Estrada and described rivalry and tension between American units during a Korean offensive. Oddly enough for the times, the fact that one was comprised of Negro soldiers was not mentioned at all…

The Cuban artist then drew a chillingly macabre tale of Teddy Roosevelt and the Spanish American war of 1898 in ‘Rough Riders!’ (FC #11) after which master of comics noir Johnny Craig detailed the fate of a ‘Lost Battalion!’ in WWI (T-FT #32, March/April 1953).

‘Tide!’ was an EC debut tale for the already-legendary Joe Kubert from the same issue, and detailed a D-Day debacle and its insignificance in the grand scheme of things after which Toth’s magnificent Kurtzman-scripted swansong ‘F-86 Sabre Jet!’ (FC #12) revisited and even surpassed his Thunderjet job with a potent and beguiling reductionist minimalism that perfectly captured the disorienting hell of war in the air.

Due to illness and the increasing workload caused by Mad, Kurtzman’s involvement with war titles was gradually diminishing. Frontline Combat #14, (October 1953) provides his last collaboration with Kubert in ‘Bonhomme Richard!’, a shocking personalised account of American nautical legend John Paul Jones’ devastating duel with the British warship Serapis – as told by one of the hundreds of ordinary sailors who didn’t survive…

This master-class in sequential excellence concludes with a salutary tale from the Civil War special Two-Fisted Tales #35 (October 1953), illustrated by Reed Crandall.  ‘Memphis!’ blends the destructive horror of the Union’s River Fleet of Ironclad’s as they inexorably took control of the Mississippi with the irrepressible excitement of Southern kids who simply couldn’t understand what was happening to their parents and families…

Even with the comics extravaganza ended, there’s still more to enjoy as underground cartooning legend Frank Stack discusses the techniques and impact of Kurtzman’s astonishing covers for Two-Fisted Tales and Two-Fisted Tales in ‘Respect for Simplicity – the War Covers of Harvey Kurtzman’ which is superbly supplemented by a full-colour section representing all of them, even the seldom-seen Two-Fisted Annual 1952.

Also adding to the value is‘A Conversation with Harvey Kurtzman’  by John Benson, E.B. Boatner & Jay Kinney which transcribes two interviews from 1979 and 1982, as well as a full appreciation of the great man’s career in ‘Harvey Kurtzman’ by S.C. Ringgenberg.

Rounding everything off is ‘Behind the Panels: Creator Biographies’ a comprehensive run-down of all involved by Bill Mason and others, and a general heads-up on the entire EC phenomenon in ‘The Ups and Downs of EC Comics: A Short History’ by author, editor, critic and comics fan Ted White.

The short, sweet but severely limited output of EC has been reprinted ad infinitum in the decades since the company died. These astounding stories and art have changed not just comics but also infected the larger world through film and television and via the millions of dedicated devotees still addicted to New Trend tales. However, as far as I can recall nobody has produced collections faithfully focussing on the contributions of individual creators, and even though the likes of me know these timeless classics intimately, this simple innovation has somehow added a new dimension to the readers’ enjoyment.

I eagerly anticipate the advent of the other volumes in this superb series and strongly suggest that whether you are an aged EC Fan-Addict or nervous newbie, this is a book no comics aficionado can afford to miss…

This edition © 2012 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All comics stories © 2012 William M. Gaines Agent, Inc., reprinted with permission. All other material © 2012 the respective creators and owners.

You’ll Never Know Book 3: Soldier’s Heart


By C. Tyler (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-588-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: an ideal example of Art for Our Sake… 10/10

In 2009 illustrator, educator, performer and occasional cartoonist Carol Tyler (The Job Thing, Late Bloomer) published the first of a trilogy of graphic memoirs examining her tempestuous relationship with her father. Chuck, a veteran of World War II and by all measures A Good and Decent Man, had been a mystery and painful cipher to his girl for years but everything changed one day in 2002.

After six decades of brusque taciturnity and scarily obsessive sublimating self-reliance, during which he had edited his service career out of his life, Chuck suddenly and explosively opened up about his time in Africa and Europe. However, he would not or could not recall his later experiences in Italy and France as the War staggered to a close…

Disease and growing infirmity had suddenly produced in her once strong-but-distant father a terrifying openness and desire to share his long-suppressed war experiences and history.

As if suddenly speaking for an entire generation who fought and died or survived and somehow soldiered on as civilians in a society with no conception of Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, Chuck Tyler began to unburden his soul.

Galvanised and hungry to learn more, Carol began creating an album of his army years but soon came up against a mental blank-period: one for which no corroborating records existed. For, as much as he could effusively recall, there was so much more that had been excised from Chuck’s mind and apparently erased by the government…

It became a quest: a relentless search for hidden truths which abruptly collapsed when the irritably mutable elder suddenly turned on her and the painful, frustrating search for the past.

In 2010, second volume Collateral Damage was released and found Carol coping with her own husband Justin’s infidelities, mental dilemmas, betrayal and desertion. This led to a resumption of the father-and-daughter recording and re-ordering of Chuck’s recollections of Italy and France (including the infamous Battle of the Bulge) whilst re-examining her own agonisingly chaotic, self-destructive existence and hidden demons.

Carol was forced to examine her troubled past through a new lens. How much did growing up the child of a devoted, loving husband who was incomprehensibly somehow a coldly, unapproachable father, shape her own parade of life-errors and marital mishaps?

Could she prevent her increasingly wild daughter Julia from perpetuating the cycle by making the same bad choices she had?

As her parents’ physical and mental states inexorably deteriorated, Chuck had become obsessed by the mystery of the missing months he’d forgotten and a potential “Government Pay-out”. In his more open and lucid moments he gratefully accepted Carol’s aid in trying to solve the dilemma and so the pair began to explore numerous Federal and Veteran’s Administrative archives and resources…

During an increasingly critical reappraisal of the family’s shared experiences, Carol subsequently discovered how her mother Hannah or “Red” had coped with dark tragedies and suppressed secrets on the Home Front, and gained enhanced perspective but no satisfactory answers to the continuing conundrum of her father.

Rushing to finish her self-appointed task of turning her father’s life into a comprehensible chronicle whilst her parents both visibly declined with every visit, Carol’s personal life was also becoming uncontrollable and too much to endure…

Exploring three generations of a family born out of collateral damage and which never truly escaped WWII, the saga concludes with the revelatory breakthrough moments of Soldier’s Heart, opening with a moving visual introduction by Carol and Red before revealing how Julia’s spiralling behavioural  problems brought a chastened and resolutely repentant Justin back into the fold. Julia’s troubles prove to have a biological and psychological basis and, whilst Justin came back into their lives, he never made it to Carol’s bed. As the once-marrieds moved into a new holding pattern, the cartoonist’s military searches brought her to the actual man of her dreams but family loyalty kept him from her too…

With ‘The Mind’ awhirl Carol found solace and renewed balance by adopting a miraculous dog before embarking on a frighteningly close shave involving Chuck, a gun and a mouse in ‘The X-mas Tale’ whilst New Year ruminations on the price soldiers always pay and how we honour the fallen in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Walking the Mat’ bring the pensive and elegiac narrative to ‘Dad’s Army Scrapbook and Tour of Duty Highlights part V: Rhineland Dec. 1944-Mar. 1945’

Here at last the researches find a crucial turning point as Chuck’s broken memories and the records pinpoint a discrepancy – although the old soldier’s recall describes his duties and exploits up to March when he was sent home, the files show that he didn’t get back to America again until November…

Further investigations and a growing network of helpful contacts lead them towards the National Archives Personnel Records Center in St. Louis and Carol resolves to take her folks on an epic road trip to Missouri. Although personally revelatory, the excursion turns into a frustrating bureaucratic nightmare in ‘Prairie Trek by Truck with Hannah and Chuck’ and advances the Tour of Duty Scrapbook not one jot.

Now the project’s very last hope is a ‘Trip to the National Archives and WWII Memorial – Washington, D.C. 2004’ but the journey is almost finished before it’s begun when Chuck’s latest home-improvement project turns the family home into an asbestos-soaked  death-trap and the old man’s toxic other self resurfaces.

With relations between father and daughter at their lowest ebb for years, the Washington excursion begins with little hope for success but leads unbelievably to a spectacular and moving breaking of the mental dam and subsequent epiphany of shocking proportions…

The story doesn’t end there but moves on to re-begin for the Tyler clan and there’s still one last moving ‘Epilogue’ before the close of this very special, grimly life-affirming account.

Ruminative, pensive and moodily elegiac with a series of stunning set-piece illustrations eerily reminiscent of American master of stoic isolation Edward Hopper blending into a mixed palette of cartooning and illustration disciplines, C. Tyler’s art adroitly mirrors her eclectic, entrancing non-sequential story-form, with a beguiling, bewildering array of styles meshing perfectly and evocatively to create a fully immersive comics experience.

Offering warmth, heartbreak, horror, humour, angst, tragedy, triumph and hope in a seductive display simultaneously charming and devastatingly effective, this grand narrative is itself constructed like a photo album (hardback, landscape and copiously expansive at 310x265mm) redefining the eternal question “How and Why Do Families Work?”

The mystery of the Soldier’s Heart is a magnificent conclusion to Tyler’s triptych of discovery and one no lover of comics or student of the human condition should miss.

© 2012 C. Tyler. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents the Losers Volume 1


By Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, John Severin, Ken Barr & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3437-9-8

The Losers were an elite unit of American soldiers formed by amalgamating three old war series together. Gunner and Sarge (later supplemented by the Fighting Devil Dog “Pooch”) were Pacific-based Marines; debuting in All-American Men of War #67, (March1959) and running for fifty issues in Our Fighting Forces (#45-94, May 1959-August 1965), whilst 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) and entered a brief limbo until the final component of the Land/Air/Sea team was filled by Captain Storm, a disabled PT Boat skipper who fought on despite his wooden left leg in his own eponymous 18-issue series from 1964 to 1967. All three series were created by comicbook warlord Robert Kanigher.

The characters had all pretty much passed their individual use-by dates when they were teamed-up as guest-stars in a Haunted Tank tale in 1969 (G.I. Combat #138 October), but these “Losers” found a new resonance together in the relevant, disillusioned, cynical Vietnam years and their somewhat nihilistic, doom-laden group anti-hero adventures took the lead spot in Our Fighting Forces #123 for a run of blistering yarns written by Kanigher and illustrated by such giants as Ken Barr, Russ Heath, Sam Glanzman, John Severin and Joe Kubert.

With the tag-line “even when they win, they lose” the team saw action all over the globe, winning critical acclaim and a far-too-small but passionate following. This magnificent monochrome tome collects that introductory tale from the October 1969 G.I. Combat and the complete formative run of suicidal missions from Our Fighting Forces #123-150 (January /February 1970-August/September 1974), after which comicbook messiah Jack Kirby took over the series for a couple of years and made it, as always, uniquely his own. For that seminal set you must see Jack Kirby’s The Losers Omnibus (no really, you must. That’s an order, Soljer…)

Kanigher often used his stories as a testing ground for new series ideas, and G.I. Combat #138 (October 1969) introduced one of his most successful. ‘The Losers!’, illustrated by the magnificent hyper-realist Russ Heath, saw the Armoured Cavalry heroes of the Haunted Tank encounter a sailor, two marines and grounded pilot Johnny Cloud, each individually and utterly demoralised after negligently losing all the men under their respective commands.

Guilt-ridden and broken, the battered relics were inspired by tank commander Jeb Stuart who fanned their sense of duty and desire for vengeance until the crushed survivors regained a measure of respect and fighting spirit by uniting in a combined suicide-mission to destroy a Nazi Radar tower…

By the end of 1969 Dirty Dozen knock-off Hunter’s Hellcats had long outlived their shelf-life in Our Fighting Forces and with #123 (January/February 1970) evacuated in the epilogue ‘Exit Laughing’ which segued directly into ‘No Medals No Graves’, illustrated by Scottish artist Ken Barr (whose stunning work in paint and line has graced everything from Commando Picture Library covers, through Marvel DC and Warren, to film, book and TV work) and picked up the tale as Storm, Cloud, Gunner and Sarge sat in enforced, forgotten idleness until the aforementioned Lieutenant Hunter recommended them for a dirty, dangerous job no sane military men would touch…

It appears Storm was a dead ringer for a British agent – even down to the wooden leg – and the Brass needed the washed-up sailor to impersonate their vital human resource. The only problem is that they wanted him to be captured, withstand Nazi torture for 48 hours and then break, delivering damaging disinformation about a vast commando raid that wouldn’t be happening…

The agent would do it himself but he was actually dead…

And there was even work for his despondent companions as a disposable diversionary tactic added to corroborate the secrets Storm should hopefully betray after two agonising days…

Overcoming all expectation the “Born Losers” triumphed and even got away intact, after which Ross Andru & Mike Esposito became the regular art team in #124 when ‘Losers Take All’ showed how even good luck was bad, after a mission to liberate the hostage king of a Nazi-subjugated nation saw them doing all the spectacular hard work before losing their prize to Johnny-come-lately regular soldiers…

‘Daughters of Death’ in #125 found the suicide squad initially fail to rescue a scientist’s children only to blisteringly return and rectify their mistakes, Of course, by then the nervous tension had cracked the Professor’s mind, rendering him useless to the Allied cause…

‘A Lost Town’ opened with The Losers undergoing a Court Martial for desertion. Reviled for allowing the obliteration of a French village, they faced execution until an old blind man and his two grandkids revealed what really happened in the hellish conflagration of Perdu, whilst in ‘Angels Over Hell’s Corner’ a brief encounter with a pretty WREN (Women’s Royal Navy Service) in Blitz-beleaguered Britain drew the unit into a star-crossed love affair that even death itself could not thwart…

In a portmanteau tale which disclosed more details of the events which created The Losers, Our Fighting Forces #128 described the ‘7 11 War’ wherein a hot streak during a casual game of craps presaged disastrous calamity for any unlucky bystander near to the Hard Luck Heroes, after which ‘Ride the Nightmare’ saw Cloud endure horrifying visions and crack up on a mission to liberate a captive rocket scientist, before the team again became a living diversion in #130’s ‘Nameless Target’. However, by getting lost and hitting the wrong target, The Losers gifted the Allies with their greatest victory to date…

John Severin inked Andru in OFF #131, in preparation to taking over the full art chores on the series, and ‘Half a Man’ hinted at darker, grittier tales to come when Captain Storm’s disability and guilty demons began to overwhelm him. Considering himself a jinx, the sea dog attempted to sacrifice himself on a mission to Norway but had not counted on his own brutal will to survive…

Back in London, Gunner & Sarge were temporarily reunited with ‘Pooch: the Winner’ (#132 by Kanigher & Severin), prompting a fond if perilous recollection of an exploit against the Japanese in the distant Pacific. However, fearing their luck was contagious, the soldiers sadly decided the beloved “Fighting Devil Dog” was better off without them…

Dispatched to India in #133’s ‘Heads or Tails’, The Losers were ordered to assassinate the “the Unholy Three” – Japanese Generals responsible for untold slaughter amongst the British and native populations. In sweltering lethal jungles, they only succeeded thanks to the determined persistence and sacrifice of a Sikh child hiding a terrible secret.

Our Fighting Forces #134 saw them brutally fighting from shelled house to hedgerow in Europe until Gunner cracked. When even his partners couldn’t get him to pick up a gun again it took the heroic example of indomitable wounded soldiers to show him who ‘The Real Losers’ were…

Issue #135 began a superb extended epic which radically shook up the team after ‘Death Picks a Loser’. Following an ill-considered fortune telling incident in London, the squad shipped out to Norway to organise a resistance cell, despite efforts to again sideline the one-legged Storm. They rendezvoused with Pastor Tornsen and his daughter Ona and began by mining the entire village of Helgren, determined to deny the Nazis a stable base of operations.

Even after the Pastor sacrificed himself to allow the villagers and Americans time to escape, the plan stumbled when the explosives failed to detonate and Storm, convinced he was a liability, detonated the bombs by hand…

Finding only his wooden leg in the flattened rubble, The Losers were further stunned when the vengeful orphan Ona volunteered to take the tragic sailor’s place in the squad of Doomed Men…

The ice-bound retreat from Helgren stalled in #136 when she offered herself as a ‘Decoy for Death’ leading German tanks into a lethal ambush, after which Cloud soloed in a mission to the Pacific where he found himself inspiring natives to resist the Japanese as a resurrected ‘God of the Losers’

Reunited in OFF #138, the Bad Luck Brigade became ‘The Targets’ when sent to uncover the secret of a new Nazi naval weapon sinking Allied shipping. Once more using Ona as bait they succeed in stunning fashion, but also pick up enigmatic intel regarding a crazy one-eyed, peg-legged marauder attacking both Enemy and Allied vessels off Norway…

Our Fighting Forces #139 introduced ‘The Pirate’, when a band of deadly reivers attacked a convoy ship carrying The Losers and supplies to the Norwegian resistance. Barely escaping with their lives the Squad was then sent to steal a sample of a top secret jet fuel but discovered the Sea Devil had beaten them to it.

Forced to bargain with the merciless mercenary for the prototype, they found themselves in financial and combat competition with an equally determined band of German troops who simply wouldn’t take no for an answer…

‘Lost… One Loser’ revealed that Ona had been with Storm at the end and was now plagued by a survivor’s guilty nightmares. Almost convincing her comrades that he still lived, she led the team on another mission into Norway, the beautiful traumatised girl again used herself as a honey trap to get close to a German bigwig and found incontrovertible proof that Storm was dead when she picked up his battered, burned dog-tag…

Still troubled, she commandeered a plane and flew back to her home to assassinate her Quisling uncle in #141’s ‘The Bad Penny’, only to be betrayed to the town’s German garrison and saved by the pirate who picked that moment to raid the occupied village for loot.

Even with the other Losers in attendance the Pirate’s rapacious rogues were ultimately triumphant but when the crippled corsair snatched Ona’s most treasured possession, the dingy dog-tag unlocked many suppressed memories and Storm (this is comics: who else could it be?) remembered everything…

Answers to his impossible survival came briskly in OFF #142 and ‘½ a Man’ concentrated on the Captain’s struggle to be reinstated. Shipping out to the Far East on a commercial vessel, he was followed by his concerned comrades and stumbled into an Arabian insurrection with three war-weary guardian angels discreetly dogging his heel.

Back with The Losers again in #143, Storm was soon involved in another continued saga as ‘Diamonds are for Never!’ found the Fatalistic Five sent to Africa to stop an SS unit from hijacking industrial diamonds for their failing war effort. However, even after liberating a captured mine from the enemy, the gems eluded the team as a pack of monkeys made off with the glittering prizes…

Hot on their trail in ‘The Lost Mission’ the pursuers stumble onto a Nazi ambush of British soldiers and determine to take on their task – demolishing an impregnable riverside fortress…

Despite being successful the Squad are driven inland and become lost in the desert where they stumble into a French Foreign Legion outpost and join its last survivor in defending ‘A Flag for Losers’ from a merciless German horde and French traitor

Still lost in the trackless wastes they survived ‘The Forever Walk!’ in #146, battling equally-parched Nazis for the last precious drops of water and losing one of their own to a terrifying sandstorm…

In ‘The Glory Road!’ the sun-baked survivors encountered the last survivor of a German ambush, but British Major Cavendish seemed unable to differentiate between his early days as a star of patriotic films and grim reality and when a German patrol captures them all the mockery proves too much for the troubled martinet…

Again lost and without water, in #148 ‘The Last Charge’ saw The Losers save a desert princess and give her warrior father a chance to fulfil a prophecy and die in glorious battle against the Nazi invaders, whilst #149 briefly reunited the squad with their long-missing member before tragically separating again in ‘A Bullet for a Traitor!’

This volume concludes with ‘Mark our Graves’ in #150 as The Losers linked up with members of The Jewish Brigade (a special British Army unit) who all paid a steep price to uncover a secret Nazi supply dump…

Although a superbly action-packed and moving tale, it was an inauspicious end to the run and one which held no hint of the creative culture-shock which would explode in the pages of the next instant issue when the God of American Comicbooks blasted in to create a unique string of “Kirby Klassics”…

With covers by Joe Kubert, Frank Thorne and Neal Adams, this grimly efficient, superbly understated and beautifully rendered collection is a brilliant example of how war comics changed forever in the 1970s and proves that these stories still pack a TNT punch few other forms of entertainment can hope to match.
© 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents the Haunted Tank volume 2


By Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath, Irv Novick, Joe Kubert, Sam Glanzman & 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, as well as in horror stories, westerns and superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Batman plus other genres 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 and Hawkman, created Black Canary and Lady Cop, and many memorable villainesses such as Harlequin and Rose and the Thorn. This last 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 when 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 the 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 – October/November 1972), a period during which superheroes rose to astonishing global dominance before almost vanishing into history 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 often metaphysical on many fronts during World War II, becoming (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 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 defied orders to capture a giant Tiger tank his own way…

Another spiritually-sponsored warrior, Cloud regularly saw a mounted Indian Brave dubbed Big-Brother-in-the Sky galloping across the heavens during his 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, who then returns the favour once the Stuart returns to its proper time whilst in ‘Who Dies Next?’ (#122 and with art from Novick), the General issued a dire proclamation that one of their own would not last the day out – a forecast that came 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. Unfortunately the French Resistance leader had partial amnesia and didn’t remember exactly what or where, whilst in ‘Scratch that Tank!’ the crew’s shiny new replacement vehicle was a cause of acute embarrassment until it finally gained a few praiseworthy combat scars…

G.I. Combat #125 decreed ‘Stay Alive… Until Dark!’ as Jeb’s sorely reduced battle-group attempted 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 endured deadly desert warfare in a desperate search for Panzers hidden by a cunning ‘Tank Umbrella!’

Novick illustrated the two-fisted ‘Mission – Sudden Death!!’ in #127 as Mlle. Marie led the tank-jockeys far from their comfort zone in an infantry raid to rescue her captured father before Heath returned to limn ‘The Ghost of the Haunted Tank!’, a superbly evocative thriller in which the crew finally cracked during a brutal massed Panzer assault and restrained their clearly delusional commander for his own good. However when solid, no-nonsense Slim took the observer’s spot he too began to see the spectral sentinel and was forced to act on the apparition’s strategic advice…

Issue #129 is pure Kanigher poesy as ‘Hold that Town for a Dead Man!’ saw the tankers roll past an American soldier expired at his post, and swear to eradicate the foes who felled him… and when the blistering cat-and-mouse duel seemed to go against the crew they were saved by an impossible burst of gunfire fired by a cold, stiff hand…

In the afterlife all great military commanders sponsored mortal combatants. General Stuart was stuck looking after a pack of “Damned Yankees”, but the other side also had phantom patrons.

G.I. Combat #130 saw the return of savage shade Attila the Hun, who directly attacked his revenant rival in a deadly ‘Battle of the Generals!’ with Jeb watching helplessly whilst trying to save his tank from mundane but just as murderous German panzer, artillery and air attacks…

Their next mission took the crew and a band of savage child-warriors (the short-lived and controversial Kid Guerrillas of Unit 3 who had debuted in a Sgt. Rock tale in Our Army at War #194, June 1968) into the heart of Paris to rescue Mlle. Marie from the Gestapo in #131’s ‘The Devil for Dinner!’ after which Mike Sekowsky & Joe Giella stepped in to illustrate the follow-up wherein the Belle of La Resistance led Jeb and the boys – 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 were parachuted into North Africa to liberate enslaved natives working in a German diamond mine, before, following a ‘Special Battle Pinup’ of the tankers by Joe Kubert, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito signed up for a stint, beginning with ‘Desert Holocaust’ wherein the boys dealt 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 they were 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!’ pitted Tank against Nazi U-Boat and Jeb against its driven doom-obsessed Commander in an improbable duel, before Russ Heath returned in #137 to illustrate the African adventure ‘We Can’t See!’ wherein the lads were all temporarily blinded but nevertheless succeeded 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 and G.I. Combat #138 introduced one of his most successful in ‘The Losers!’ when the Armoured Cavalry unit encountered a sailor, two marines and old friend Johnny Cloud, all utterly demoralised after losing all the men in their respective commands.

Inspired by Jeb and a desire for revenge, the crushed survivors regained 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 (later supplemented by Pooch, the Fighting Devil Dog) were Pacific-based Marines debuting in All-American Men of War #67, March 1959 and ran for fifty issues in Our Fighting Forces (#45-94, May 1959-August 1965), whilst 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 his wooden left leg in his own eponymous 18-issue series from 1964 to 1967. All three series were originally created by comicbook warlord Kanigher and The Losers soon returned as an elite unit of suicide-soldiers to star 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’ saw Jeb wed and lose his bride to Nazi sympathizers and an ancient prophecy…

Issue #140 featured a reprint not included here – although the new Kubert introduction page is – and the graphic narratives resume with ‘Let me Live… Let me Die!’ as Kanigher & Heath confronted 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 arrived at a recently decimated ammo dump the sole survivor of the Segregated Negro unit demanded 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 was wounded the valiant tag-along finally got his chance…

G.I. Combat #142 found Jeb obsessed with the moment of his own death in ‘Checkpoint – Death!’ but when the General wasn’t forthcoming soon forgot it about as an unseasonal snowstorm turned the world into a frozen hell, after which ‘The Iron Horseman!’ saw a frustrated WWI tanker finally get at chance to be a hero when Panzers attacked a convent and Jeb’s crew were ambushed. There follows an informational spread ‘Battle Album: General Stuart Light Tank M31A’ by Kubert, before #144 revealed a retrofitted origin for the Haunted Tanker in ‘Every Man a Fort!’ (illustrated by Heath). Now with Jeb a Northern Yankee, the tale revealed how he had to win the respect of Southerners Rick, Slim and Arch with his fists before they’d let him call himself Jeb Stuart, and cemented that bond during their first foray under fire in North Africa…

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

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

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

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

Proving again that men and not the machine were the heart of the partnership, the General stuck around, and when the new Haunted Tankers passed through an alpine village they relived a mediaeval battle against barbarian invaders in #151’s ‘A Strong Right Arm!’ before bringing a Nazi infiltrator aboard who turned 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 adopted a lost piglet, orphan puppy and lame duckling before completing his tank’s transformation to ‘The Armored Ark!’ by packing in a homeless and displaced family, all 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 the Haunted Tank and crew were captured and paraded before Hitler in Berlin before busting loose and heading East. Hijacked by Polish Resistance fighters soon the Yanks were 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 the two 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 (and if anybody from DC is reading this, those 46-odd U.S.S. Stevens strips are so-very-long-overdue for the trade paperback treatment…).

Glanzman, born in 1924, is still active today producing online strips and a new USS Stevens story is forthcoming in October 2012.

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 as 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 German vie for the privilege of destroying the beleaguered tankers and 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.
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 2008, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Desert Peach volume 6: Marriage & Mayhem


By Donna Barr (Aeon)
ISBN: 1-883847-07-9

The Desert Peach is the supremely self-assured and eminently efficient gay brother of the legendary German soldier hailed as “the Desert Fox”. Set in World War II Africa and effortlessly combining hilarity, absurdity, profound sensitivity and glittering spontaneity, the stories describe the trials and tribulations of Oberst Manfred Pfirsich Marie Rommel; a dutiful if unwilling cog in the German War Machine, yet one determined to remain a civilised gentleman under the most adverse and unkind conditions.

However, although as formidable as his beloved elder sibling, the gracious and genteel Peach is a man who loathes causing harm or giving offence and thus spends his service commanding the dregs of the military in the ghastly misshapes of the 469th Halftrack, Gravedigging & Support Unit of the Afrika Korps, daily endeavouring to remain stylish, elegant, civil and gracious to the assorted waifs, wastrels and warriors on both sides of the unfortunate global conflict.

It’s a thankless, endless task: the 469th houses the worst the Wehrmacht has ever conscripted, from malingerers and malcontents to useless wounded, shiftless conmen, screw-ups and outright maniacs.

Pfirsich unilaterally applies the same decorous courtesies to the sundry natives inhabiting the area and the rather tiresome British and Anzac forces – not all of whom are party to a clandestine non-aggression pact Pfirsich has agreed with his opposite numbers in the amassed Allied Forces. In fact the only people to truly annoy the peace-loving Peach are boors, bigots, bullies and card-carrying Blackshirts…

The romantic fool is also passionately in love with and engaged to Rosen Kavalier: handsome Aryan warrior and wildly manly Luftwaffe Ace…

Arguably the real star of these fabulous frothy epics is the Peach’s long-suffering, unkempt, crafty, ill-mannered, bilious and lazily scrofulous orderly Udo Schmidt, a man of many secrets whose one redeeming virtue is his uncompromising loyalty and devotion to the only decent man and tolerable officer in the entire German army.

This tragically rare sixth softcover collection reprints issues #16, 17 and 19 (#18 being a reproduction of the innovative Musical Program which accompanied the stage show: to see that check out The Desert Peach Webcomic or http://www.desert-peach.com/comic/DP18.pdf) and starts with an enchanting comic introduction from the captivatingly clever Mike Kazaleh before ‘Flight of the Phoenix’ opens the comedic assault. Even though ill-bred rogue Udo’s impending wedding to Tuareg princess Falila has been apparently side-lined, a spoil of that outrageous betrothal – a magnificent Arabian war-mare named Phoenix – is still causing trouble for Pfirsich, who is her nominal owner.

The steed is wild and utterly untrained, constantly causing trouble for the decidedly neat and tidy Peach and especially Sergeant Mögen and Lieutenant Hecht, who are responsible for her care…

When scattered tribesmen convene a colossal horse-fair on the camp’s doorstep, the problems magnify exponentially: not only was Phoenix stolen, but she comes from legendarily purebred lines and unless the Peach can arrange an honourable and fitting stud for her it might result in a native uprising…

Now all he has to do is select the right one out of the hundreds of willing stallions and touchy, eager Arab owners, but as usual the soldiery have the own ideas on the perfect partner, all filtered through personal prejudices and ideological bigotry…

So when Udo attempts to settle the quandary one dark night by taking Phoenix to his own preferred favourite, all hell naturally breaks loose as the skittish steed rampages through camp before making her own choice… When the valiant Rosen and sundry soldiers try to catch her, Udo then ends up trapped between the ever-so-keen equine bride and her equally impatient suitors, and taken for a ride he’ll never forget…

As a consequence of the riot Udo is held responsible for the accidental gelding of a stallion and as an outlander faces death or worse – until somebody suggests that if he were actually married to his desert princess he’d be a tribesman and allowed to buy his way out of trouble…

This is followed by ‘Culture Shock’ as fanatical political officer Winzig works himself into a tizzy about the upcoming miscegenation nuptials and reveals a long-hidden shameful secret: he is a musical prodigy whose piano playing could make Devils weep and Angel dance with delight. Most appalling of all is his facility for jazz – a form of music the Nazis have declared “sub-human”…

His secret out, Winzig is easily cajoled by Pfirsich into playing at the up-coming wedding, but other problems are surfacing. The rumours that Udo is Jewish are circulating again (they’re all true but were scotched by the Desert Peach in book 5: Belief Systems) but when the coordinating commanders of both Tuareg and German parties are trying to sort out the form of service, the panicking and reluctant groom sees a get-out-of-jail-free card – whatever ceremony is performed, it won’t be binding…

Udo had been griping and trying to weasel his way out of his impending, unwanted but necessarily pragmatic wedding from the start. The swarthy little scoundrel wanted sex not commitment, and now only the threat of agonising dismemberment is making Schmidt nee Isador Gülphstein  honour his word and live up to his responsibilities…

That is of course until the poor shmuck catches sight of Falila in all her wedding finery…

After a chaotic, joyous and hilarious wedding and reception in the local bordello everything seems to have worked out until the bride’s father hears a certain tale that his new son-in-law is a Hebrew…

Using humour to devastating effect, the author manipulates the crisis to make a few telling points about religion and prejudice and, with order restored, this volume then concludes with the utterly manic and earthily scatological ‘Self-Propelled Target’ as some of the weary and jaded grave-digging unit play with wrong cadaver and both Winzig and Pfirsich accidentally ingest organic matter from a rotting – and exploding – corpse. With Pfirsich revoltingly hors-de-combat the men of the469th declare open war on the hated political martinet they call the “Human Swastika”…

With the Peach incontinent and incommunicado the battle of nerves and dogma rapidly escalates to terrifying heights and when the recuperating Peach almost loses his life in one of the malicious pranks, Udo at last steps in to settle things with disastrous and disgusting consequences…

Treading in the same the same anti-war trench as Three Kings, Hogan’s Heroes, Oh, What a Lovely War! and Catch 22, these Desert Peach adventures are always bawdy, raucous, satirical, authentically madcap and immensely engaging; this time though they’re also painfully romantic, revoltingly near-the-knuckle and intoxicatingly subversive.

These gloriously baroque yarns were some of the very best comics of the 1990s and still pack a shattering comedic kick, liberally leavened with situational jocularity, accent humour and lots of footnoted Deutsche cuss-words for the kids to learn. Moreover, with this volume the potential of the minor supporting characters is at last fully realised with The Peach often relegated to a minor or supervisory role.

This captivating excursion is also capped off with many magical extras: hilarious marginal illustrations and more cut-out paper-dolls and extra outfits for you to admire and play with: this time featuring the wardrobe of Udo and the log-suffering Winzig.

The Desert Peach ran for 32 intermittent issues via a number of publishers and was subsequently collected as eight graphic novel collections (1988-2005). A prose novel, Bread and Swans, a musical, and an invitational collection by other artists entitled Ersatz Peach were also created during the strip’s heyday. A larger compendium, Seven Peaches, collected issues #1-7 and Pfirsich’s further exploits continue as part of the Modern Tales webcomics collective…

Illustrated in Barr’s fluidly seductive wood-cut and loose-line style, this book is another must-have item for lovers of wit, slapstick, high drama and belly-laughs and grown-up comics in general. All the collections are pretty hard to find these days but if you have a Kindle, Robot Comics have started releasing individual comicbook issues, and for anybody with internet access and mature tastes as mentioned above there’s always The Desert Peach webcomic to fall back on…
© 1992-1994 Donna Barr. Introduction © 1994 Mike Kazaleh. All rights reserved. The Desert Peach is ™ Donna Barr.

Showcase Presents the Haunted Tank Volume 1


By Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath, Irv Novick, Joe Kubert & 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, horror stories and superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Batman and others genres too numerous to cover here. He scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age which introduced 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. He wrote Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary and Lady Cop, and many memorable villainesses such as Harlequin and Rose and the Thorn. This last 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 when 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.

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 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 from G.I. Combat #87-119 (April/May 1961- August/September 1966) and also includes guest-star postings from The Brave and the Bold #52 (February/March 1964) and Our Army at War #155 (June 1965) beginning 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 genius of cavalry combat – and during a patrol somehow destroy an enemy Panzer even though they are all knocked unconscious.

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) he recounts how a ghostly voice seems to offer advice and prescient, if veiled, warnings, all while enduring 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 was actually seeing and conversing with his phantom namesake as he and the boys solved the completely logical mystery of an enemy battle-wagon which seemed to disappear at will.

‘Tank With Wings’ in G.I. Combat #89 was illustrated by Irv Novick and described how the old General’s impossible prophecy came chillingly true when the M-3 shot down a fighter plane whilst hanging from a parachute, after which Heath returned to limn a staggering clash against German ‘Tank Raiders’ who had stolen their 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 become a tactical genius and his “gifts” were keeping them all alive against incredible odds. In #91’s ‘The Tank and the Turtle’ a chance encounter with a plucky terrapin led to brutal clashes with strafing aircraft, hidden anti-tank guns and a booby-trapped village whilst ‘The Tank of Doom’ (illustrated by Jerry Grandenetti) saw the snow-bound tank-jockeys witness true heroism and learn that flesh, not steel, won wars…

In #93 Heath depicted a ‘No-Return Mission’ which depleted American tank forces until the Ghostly General took a hand and guided his mortal protégé through a veritable barrage of traps and ambushes, after which ‘The Haunted Tank vs. the Killer Tank’ began to widen the General’s role as the phantom protector agonised over intel he was not allowed to share with his Earthly namesake during a combined push to find a Nazi terror-weapon.

This time it was the young sergeant who had to provide his own answers…

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

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

‘Trap of Dragon’s Teeth’ allowed the Ghostly Guardian to teach Jeb a useful lesson in trusting one’s own senses, not weapons and machinery, in combat, after which issue #99 saw the legendary Joe Kubert begin a stint on the series in the book-length thriller ‘Battle of the Thirsty Tanks’ with the Stuart labouring under desert conditions which reduced both German and American forces to thirsty wrecks as they struggled to capture a tantalising oasis.

‘Return of the Ghost Tank’ in #100 found the lads back in Europe as the crew revealed that their fathers had all been tank jockeys in WWI who had disappeared in action. Shock followed shock when they realised their sires had all been part of the same crew and reality was further stretched when the M-3 began to retrace the last mission of their missing fathers…

Any doubts about whether the General was real or imagined were 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 became patron to a German Panzer and began a campaign to destroy both the living and dead Jeb Stuarts, after which Kubert returned for ‘Battle Window’, a brilliant tale of old soldiers where a broken-down nonagenarian French warrior was given one final chance to serve his country as the American tank blithely drove into a perfect ambush…

A particularly arcane prognostication in #103 drove Jeb crazy until ‘Rabbit Punch for a Tiger’ showed him how improvisation could work like magic in a host of hostile situations whilst ‘Blind Man’s Radar’ helped the crew complete a dead man’s mission after picking up a sightless 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 that featured team-ups of assorted DC stars and #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!’ by Kanigher & Kubert. In this superb thriller the armoured cavalry, infantry and Air Force heroes combined 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 chase across occupied France resulted in one of the best battle blockbusters of the era.

Back in G.I. Combat #105 the ‘Time-Bomb Tank!’ began seconds after the B&B yarn as the Haunted Tank received information that Sgt. Rock’s Easy Company were under attack and dashed to the rescue. However circumstances soon caused the M-3 to become a mobile Marie Celeste…

The ‘Two-Sided War’ saw Jeb promoted to Lieutenant and suffer apparent hallucinations where he and his crew were trapped in the Civil War after which #107’s ‘The Ghost Pipers!’ found the tank aiding the last survivor of a Scottish battalion in an attack that spanned two wars, before again teaming up with Rock in ‘The Wounded Won’t Wait’ as Rick, Arch and Slim were injured and the Easy Co. topkick rode shotgun on the brutal ride back to base…

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

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

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

Rock and Jeb stayed together for G.I. Combat #112’s struggle against the Luftwaffe ‘Ghost Ace!’ who was Attila the Hun’s latest mortal avatar in a blistering supernatural shocker that once more forced the Phantom General to take a spectral hand in the battle against evil, after which ‘Tank Fight in Death Town!’ saw the war follow the M-3 crew back into a much-needed leave. Luckily Rock and Easy Co. were 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 sponsored mortal combatants but he 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 where Jeb was reunited with Navajo fighter-pilot Johnny Cloud as ‘Medal for Mayhem’ pitted both spiritually-sponsored warriors (Cloud regularly saw a mounted Indian Brave dubbed Big-Brother-in-the Sky galloping across the heavens during his missions) against overwhelming odds and forced to trade places in the air and on the ground, after which Novick illustrated the sequel when Cloud and Stuart helped proud Greek soldier Leonidas fulfil his final mission in the stirring ‘Battle Cry of a Dead Man!’

‘Tank in the Icebox’ in #117 was another Heath martial masterpiece wherein an incredible mystery was solved and a weapon that turned the desert into a frozen hell was destroyed before Novick took the controls for the last two tales in this volume, beginning with ‘My Buddy… My Enemy’ as a bigoted Slim learned tragically too late that not all Japanese soldiers were monsters and #119 again asked difficult questions when Jeb and the crew had to 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 to address the issue in a most impressive and sensitive manner. They 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.
© 1961-1966, 2006 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.