By Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Russ Heath, Gene Colan, Joe Kubert & various (DC Comics)
The War That Time Forgot debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #90 and ran until #137 (May 1968) skipping only three issues: #91, 93 and #126 (the last of which starred the United States Marine Corps simian Sergeant Gorilla – look it up: I’m neither kidding nor being metaphorical…).
At present this stunningly bizarre black-&-white compendium is the only comprehensive collection: gathering together all the monstrously madcap material from SSWS #90, 92, 94-125 and 127-128 spanning April-May 1960 to August 1966.
Simply too good a concept to leave alone, this seamless, shameless blend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Caprona stories (known alternatively as the Caspak Trilogy or “The Land That Time Forgot”) provided everything baby-boomer boys – and probably girls too, if truth be told – could dream of: giant lizards, humongous insects, fantastic adventures and two-fisted heroes with lots of guns…
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, Romance, superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Batman and other genres too numerous to cover here.
He scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age which introduced Barry Allen AKA the 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 scripted the Golden Age iterations of Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary, Dr. Pat and Lady Cop, plus memorable villainesses Harlequin and Rose and Thorn. This last he reconstructed, during the relevancy era of the early 1970s, into a schizophrenic crime-busting super-heroine.
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 Amy at War.
He launched 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.
Among his many epochal war series were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, the Haunted Tank and The Losers as well as the visually addictive, irresistibly astonishing “Dogfaces and Dinosaurs” dramas depicted here.
Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and I suspect that he used this uncanny but formulaic adventure arena as a personal try-out venue for his many series concepts. The Flying Boots, G.I. Robot, Suicide Squad and many other teams and characters first appeared in this lush Pacific hellhole with wall-to-wall danger. Indisputably the big beasts were the stars, but occasionally ordinary G.I. Joes made enough of an impression to secure return engagements, too…
The wonderment commenced in Star Spangled War Stories #90 as paratroopers and tanks of “Question Mark Patrol” are dropped on Mystery Island from whence no American soldiers have ever returned. The crack warriors discover why when the operation is plagued by Pterosaurs, Tyrannosaurs and worse on the ‘Island of Armoured Giants!’, all superbly rendered by veteran art team Ross Andru & Mike Esposito.
Larry and Charlie, the sole survivors of that first foray, returned to the lost world in #92’s ‘Last Battle of the Dinosaur Age!’ when aquatic beasts attacked their rescue submarine forcing them back to the lethal landmass…
‘The Frogman and the Dinosaur!’ take up most of SSWS #94 as a squad of second-rate Underwater Demolitions Team divers are trapped on the island, encountering the usual bevy of blockbuster brutes and a colossal crab as well.
What starts out as Paratroopers versus Pterodactyls in #95 turns into a deadly turf-war in ‘Guinea Pig Patrol!’ whilst ‘Mission X!’ introduces the Task Force X/Suicide Squad in a terse infiltration story with the increasing eager US military striving to set up a base on the strategically crucial monster island.
The Navy took the lead in #97’s ‘The Sub-Crusher!’ with equally dire results as a giant gorilla joins the regular roster of horrors, after which a frustrated palaeontologist is blown off course and into his wildest nightmare in ‘The Island of Thunder’. The rest of his airborne platoon aren’t nearly as excited at the discovery…
The Flying Franks were a trapeze family before the war, but as “The Flying Boots” Henny, Tommy and Steve won fame as paratroopers. In #99’s ‘The Circus of Monsters!’ they face the greatest challenge of their lives after washing up on Mystery Island and narrowly escape death by dinosaur. They aren’t too happy on being sent back next issue to track down a Japanese secret weapon in ‘The Volcano of Monsters!’
‘The Robot and the Dinosaur!’ in #101 ramped up the fantasy quotient as reluctant Ranger Mac is dispatched to the monstrous preserve to field-test the Army’s latest weapon: a fully automatic, artificial G.I. Joe, who promptly saves the day and returned to fight a ‘Punchboard War!’ in the next issue; tackling immense killer fish, assorted saurians and a giant Japanese war-robot that even dwarfs the dinosaurs.
The mecha-epic carried over and concluded in #103’s ‘Doom at Dinosaur Island!’, after which the Flying Boots returned in Star Spangled #104’s ‘The Tree of Terror!’ when a far-ranging pterodactyl drags the brothers back to the isle of no return for another explosive engagement.
‘The War on Dinosaur Island!’ sees the circus boys leading a small-scale invasion, but even tanks and the latest ordnance prove little use against the pernicious and eternally hungry reptiles, after which ‘The Nightmare War!’ reveals a dino-phobic museum janitor trapped in his worst nightmare. At least he has his best buddies and a goodly supply of bullets and bombs with him…
The action shifts to the oceans surrounding the island for sub-sea shocker ‘Battle of the Dinosaur Aquarium!’ with plesiosaurs, titanic turtles, colossal crabs and crocodilians on the menu, before hitting the beaches in #108 for ‘Dinosaur D-Day!’ as the monsters take up residence in the Navy’s landing craft.
‘The Last Soldiers’ pits determined tank-men against a string of scaly perils on land, sea and air, after which a new Suicide Squad debut in #110 to investigate a ‘Tunnel of Terror’ into the lost land of giant monsters: this time though, the giant gorilla is on their side…
That huge hairy beast is the star of ‘Return of the Dinosaur Killer!’ as the harried Squad leader and a wily boffin (visually based on Kanigher’s office associate Julie Schwartz) struggle to survive on the tropically reptilian atoll, whilst ‘Dinosaur Sub-Catcher!’ shifts the locale to freezing ice floes as a pack of lost sea dinosaurs attack a polar submarine and US weather station.
Star Spangled War Stories #113 returned to the blue Pacific for ‘Dinosaur Bait!’ and a pilot tasked with hunting down the cause for so many lost subs after which ‘Doom Came at Noon!’ once more returns to snowy climes as dinosaurs inexplicably rampage through alpine territory, making temporary allies out of old enemies dispatched to destroy hidden Nazi submarine pens.
Issue #115’s ‘Battle Dinner for Dinosaurs!’ has a helicopter pilot marooned on Mystery Island and drawn into a spectacular aerial dogfight, after which a duo of dedicated soldiers faced ice-bound beasts in ‘The Suicide Squad!’
The big difference being that here Morgan and Mace are more determined to kill each other than accomplish their mission…
‘Medal for a Dinosaur!’ bowed to the inevitable and introduced a (relatively) friendly baby pterodactyl to balance out Mace and Morgan’s scarcely-suppressed animosity, whilst ‘The Plane-Eater!’ finds the army odd couple adrift in the Pacific and in deep danger until the leather-winged little guy turns up once more…
The Suicide Squad were getting equal billing by the time of #119’s ‘Gun Duel on Dinosaur Hill!’, as yet another group of men-without-hope battle saurian horrors and each other to the death, after which the apparently un-killable Morgan and Mace return with Dino, the flying baby dinosaur.
They make a new ally and companion in handy hominid Caveboy before the whole unlikely ensemble struggle to survive against increasingly outlandish creatures in ‘The Tank Eater!’
Issue #121 presented another diving drama as a UDT frogman gains his Suicide Squad berth and proves to be a formidable fighter and ultimately, ‘The Killer of Dinosaur Alley!’
Increasingly now, G.I. hardware and ordnance began to gain the upper hand over bulk, fang and claw…
Much-missed representational maestro Russ Heath added an edge of hyper-realism to ‘The Divers of Death’ in Star Spangled War Stories #122 wherein two Frogman brothers battle incredible underwater insect monsters but are still unable to gain the respect of their land-lubber older siblings, whilst Gene Colan illustrated the aquatic adventure of ‘The Dinosaur who Ate Torpedoes!’ before Andru & Esposito returned to depict ‘Terror in a Bottle!’. This was the second short saurian saga to grace issue #123 and another outing for that giant ape who loved to pummel pterosaurs and larrup lizards.
Undisputed master of gritty fantasy art Joe Kubert added his pencil-and-brush magic to a tense and manic thriller ‘My Buddy the Dinosaur!’ in #124 and stuck around to illumine the return of the G.I. Robot in the stunning battle bonanza ‘Titbit For a Tyrannosaurus!’ in #125, after which Andru & Esposito covered another Suicide Squad sea saga ‘The Monster Who Sank a Navy!’ in #127.
The last tale in this volume (#128) then sees Colan resurface to illuminate a masterfully moving human drama which is actually improved by the inclusion of ravening reptiles in ‘The Million Dollar Medal!’.
Throughout this eclectic collection of dark dilemmas, light-hearted romps and spectacular battle blockbusters the emphasis is always on human fallibility; with soldiers unable to put aside long-held grudges, swallow pride or forgive trespasses even amidst the strangest and most terrifying moments of their lives, and this edgy humanity informs and elevates even the daftest of these wonderfully imaginative adventure yarns.
Classy, intense, insanely addictive and Just Plain Fun, The War that Time Forgot is a deliciously guilty pleasure and I for one hope the remaining stories from Star Spangled War Stories, Weird War Tales, G. I. Combat and especially the magnificent Tim Truman Guns of the Dragon miniseries all end up in sequel compilations before too much more time has passed.
Now Read This book and you will too…
© 1960-1966, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.