Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Single Issue Review: Star Spangled War Stories #132

In honor of Veteran's Day, I thought I'd cover one of DC's war comics. Star Spangled #132 has the oddball distinction of being one of those rare comics that actually was printed twice. Star Spangled Comics started out as a superhero book, featuring the adventures of the Star Spangled Kid and Stripesy. When that feature proved insufficient to sustain sales, DC added the Newsboy Legion, a Simon & Kirby creation. Eventually interest waned there, and DC began a series of (terrific) stories featuring Robin, the Boy Wonder. In the late 1940s SS fronted Tomahawk, a western feature that quickly graduated to his own magazine; then in the early 1950s DC pushed "horror" stories in keeping with the trends. Eventually the book switched to a war format, and became Star Spangled War Stories with #131. That lasted until #133, when DC, for reasons unknown, decided to reboot the numbering, although even there they screwed up as they started with #3 even though there had been three issues before that.

The end result is that there are two separate comics known as Star Spangled #132, the one issued in 1952 and the one issued in 1967. The one I am going to talk about actually falls outside the Silver Age, being published in September 1952.

The cover story leads off the issue, and it's terrific. Hank Miskov is a major-league hurler who won game seven of the World Series in memorable fashion, tossing the first no-hitter in the history of the fall classic (this was before Don Larsen accomplished that feat for the New York Yankees). However, his elation turns to disappointment as he's drafted into the army to do his part in World War II. He's worried (as shown on the cover) that he'll ruin his arm. Fortunately he meets a fellow recruit named George Harris who's a big fan and who volunteers to do the risky work for him. Miskov quickly earns the scorn of the rest of the soldiers for his refusals to risk his arm, but Harris still idolizes him. Inevitably:

Well, you can probably guess the rest of the story right there; inspired by George's sacrifice, Hank becomes a lean, mean, fighting machine, wiping out Germans by the score with his throwing arm and a box full of grenades, and when the war is over, he has the inspiration he needs in a jam:

Comments: A wonderful and inspirational story. About the only flaw I can see is that they show Miskov throwing grenades overhand, which of course probably would have ruined that million-dollar arm. Because (at the time) DC's war stories were almost exclusively one-shots, they needed terrific characterization presented very quickly, and this tale delivered it in spades.

The next story in the book is an offbeat number called Suicide Detail. Trip-wire Wiggins is the army's best man at laying anti-tank mines, but he's also something of a jitterbug and loves to listen to popular music, which drives his commanding officer batty. But things turn grim as his company is trapped by the Germans and the only way out is through a minefield that Wiggins had laid earlier. He can't remember the pattern he used until he hears a fellow soldier playing guitar. This jogs his memory and he successfully leads the men through the mines.

Comments: Cute little story and a good change of pace.

The Braggart of Company B is the third yarn in the book, and it concerns George Pringle, a PFC who continually regales his squadron with tall tales about his heroism in action. But in a twist on the old "boy who cried wolf", when Pringle actually does do something courageous, nobody believes him.

Comments: Okay story, nice art by Jerry Grandinetti, one of DC's top war artists.

The text story is a good one, about the training fighter pilots undergo at the old Williams Field Air Force Base in Chandler, Arizona, written by Air Force Lieutenant Joseph Jarrett.

The final story concerns a mail clerk in the army who never receives any mail for himself. This is another aspect of the war stories that DC published; they tried to cover every occupation in the military, not just the fighting men. In this one, a soldier is anxiously awaiting news of the birth of his first child, but the mail never seems to come. Finally a postcard arrives for the soldier; it's a boy! But the proud papa is under fire on the front lines, and the mail clerk decides to risk his own life to deliver the message.

Moved by his bravery, the rest of the company decides to see to it that the mail clerk gets some mail of his own:

Comments: Another wonderful and heartwarming story.