Thursday, 16 August 2012

DC Big 5 War Comics: Our Army at War

I started to write this post before I heard about the death of the legendary Joe Kubert. Readers of this blog will be aware of my love of the art that Joe created over his long career.  During the course of my next few posts I will be writing about DC war books and there will be a lot of Joe's art involved.  Joe Kubert was and remains an absolute legend.

DC Comics are attempting to revive their once great line of war comics.  As part of the New 52 they launched a new Men of War title and revived Blackhawks, both were cancelled after eight issues.  Blackhawks had gone through many re-vamps and re-boots over the years and whilst I enjoyed some of the incarnations of the group I have never really considered it to be a war comic in the same way as I viewed G I Combat.  Men of War was an attempt to relaunch a revered DC war title and update the character Sgt. Rock.  The New 52 continuity is still evolving and I am not sure if the "real" Sgt. Rock existed in this new time line. DC has not given up as they replaced Men of War with a new G I Combat containing revamps of The War That Time Forgot and Unknown Soldier, both stalwarts of Star-Spangled War Stories.

Personally I think what DC are attempting with their war comics is impossible to achieve.  The youth of today can get their military fix from Code of Duty or any one of many combat games on the market.  Most of the customers interested in military comics would probably be happy with monthly anthology re-prints from DC's Big 5 War Comics illustrated by great artists such as Russ Heath, Joe Kubert, John Severin, Ross Andru and Jerry Grandenetti.  Over the course of my next five posts I will be providing an overview of each of DC's Big 5: Our Fighting Forces, All-American Men of War, Star-Spangled War Stories, G I Combat, and to kick things off, Our Army at War.

Our Army at War #1 (August 1952)
Pencil Art by Carmine Infantino, inks: Joe Giella

Our Army at War was launched in 1952 by Editor Bob Kanigher while American and Allied forces were involved in the Korean War.  EC Comics had led the way with war anthology comics with Two-Fisted Tales (November/December 1950 to February/March 1954) and Frontline Combat (July/August 1951 to January 1954) under the guidance of Harvey Kurtzman and other publishers such as Charlton, Quality, Fawcett and Atlas/Timely/Marvel were contributing to the genre as well.  DC responded  with new title Our Army at War  and renaming existing titles: All-American Western became All-American Men of War and Star-Spangled Comics became Star-Spangled War Stories and all three made their debut dated August 1952.  Our Fighting Forces followed in 1954 and G I Combat was a Quality Comics title acquired by DC and completed DC's Big 5 in 1957.

Under Kanigher's guidance the war comics became very successful.  Kanigher had a good eye for artists and used the best available. Joe Kubert was the best of the best and the pairing of Kanigher and Kubert was without peer.  Kanigher by most accounts was difficult to work with but Kubert found Kanigher very professional and able to evoke images with his writing that were so graphic that they spurred the artist on to draw very high quality illustrations. The prototype for Sgt.Rock appeared in G. I. Combat #68 (January 1959) in a story edited, plotted and scripted by Bob Kanigher and drawn by Joe Kubert.  The character evolved and appeared in Our Army at War #81 (April 1959, script by Bob Haney, pencil art by Ross Andru, inks by Mike Esposito),  Our Army at War #82 (Haney again with Mort Drucker providing art) and eventually the character fully emerged as Sgt. Rock in Our Army at War #83 with the series' enduring team of  Kanigher and Kubert.

G I Combat #68 (January 1959)
Art by Jerry Grandenetti
Our Army at War #81 (April 1959)
Art by Jerry Grandenetti
Sgt. Rock became America's most famous comic book soldier and an iconic representation of what is believed to be the best qualities of the American fighting man. The character was so successful that Our Army at War was renamed Sgt. Rock with #302 (March 1977) and continued publication until #422 (June 1988).  Our Army at War also saw the first appearance of my favourite war series, Enemy Ace.  Hans Von Hammer was introduced by Kanigher and Kubert in Our Army at War #151 (February 1965) going on to appear in Showcase and Star-Spangled War Stories for an extended run (1968 -1976).  I will cover Enemy Ace in a future post about Star-Spangled War Stories.  Kubert was a master of the lost art of comic cover illustration and his passing has left the comics loving community feeling very sad but able to appreciate that his unique talents will live on in every panel he drew.  My sincere apologies to fans of the other great artists who contributed to Our Army at War, I aim to post about their fine work in the future, but this post could only be about Joe Kubert.
Our Army at War #141 (April 1964)
Art by Joe Kubert

Sgt. Rock #302 (March 1977)
Art by Joe Kubert

12 comments:

  1. What a great post. I love these comics! More please!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Glad you like the post. I adore DC's war comics and Joe Kubert in particular. I have not been as upset at the passing of someone whom I have never met since the death of George Harrison. Once I have finished with the Big 5 (and Weird War Stories) I am going to post about Viking Prince, Hawkman and Tarzan. Kubert's art will live forever!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I agree that "what DC are attempting with their war comics is impossible to achieve." The comics market now is completely different from 1959 or 1965. Most comic book fans want super heroes, and fans of other genres don't read comics. Even if there were enough war comics fans to support a monthly series, most of them would (as you pointed out) probably prefer reprints of classic DC (or EC). I know I would. That's another thing: I doubt if today's writers and artists could even do a good war (or Western, or detective) comic. A lot of creators in the 1950's and 1960's were WWII veterans who knew what they were talking about. Most comics writers and artists nowadays wouldn't know a squad from a squadron.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, today's creators probably lack the knowledge and inclination to produce war comics, it is easier to re-imagine old superhero plots. Artists need to have a very firm grasp of anatomy and perspective, sadly lacking with some of the current crop.

      Delete
  4. You mentioned Blackhawk. My impression is that Quality Comics, and later DC, never could figure out what to do with that series after WWII. (Fawcett and other publishers probably had similar problems with their quasi-military heroes like Spy Smasher and Phantom Eagle.) I think Blackhawk might have worked in "Mission:Impossible"-type plots with Cold War intrigue and international espionage. Instead, they usually seemed to be involved in domestic crime-fighting more appropriate for Batman, or in shlock sci-fi with bug-eyed monsters that would have been better suited to Adam Strange or Green Lantern. DC even tried turning the Blackhawks into costumed super-heroes and agents for a spy organization. That was an obvious attempt to jump on both the super-hero and James Bond bandwagons. But, by 1967, both of those fads were passing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mark Evanier's run on Blackhawks was probably the best post WWII. The series in the Silver Age was uninspiring and the conversion to superheroes was silly and desperate. Why DC didn't give the book to Kanhiger I don't know. We could have seen a very good Blackhawks set in WWII with art by Kubert, Heath, Severin, etc.

      Delete
    2. Blackhawk had some similarity to Batman. After the science-fiction/monster phase, the character got a new look in 1964. There were a few not-bad, relatively realistic stories. But then the pop art/camp comedy fad came in, and the Blackhawks became a bad imitation of both the super hero teams (JLA, Avengers) and the super spies (James Bond, Man from U.N.C.L.E.). Batman later went back to his Dark Knight image and regained his popularity. Blackhawk never really recovered.

      Delete
    3. Julius Schwartz took over Batman and Detective for the new look and saved Batman from oblivion (with help from tv!), I think Murray Boltinoff edited Blackhawk when the smart move would be to give the book to Kanigher.

      Delete
    4. IIRC, the postwar Blackhawk comics from Quality sometimes did have "Mission Impossible-type plots with Cold War intrigue and international espionage." A frequent (in fact, over-used) plot premise would have them traveling to some fictitious country to thwart some Communist revolution or coup attempt. When DC took over, though, it seemed that Blackhawk became more of a superhero comic (with costumed super-villains who would have been more appropriate for Batman or the Flash), or a science-fiction series (with bug-eyed monsters and aliens).

      I agree that it wasn't a "real" war comic, though. Like Spy Smasher or the Boy Commandos, it was more of an action-adventure strip in a war setting.

      Delete
    5. DC did drop the ball with Blackhawk in the sixties, some of the stories were dreadful!

      Delete
  5. Certain writers and artists just naturally work well together. Many Silver Age fans will fondly remember the K&K team, Kanigher and Kubert.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Got to agree with you there, Bob and Joe were terrific!

      Delete