Friday, April 09, 2010

The "Don't Worry, There Are No Enemies Here" Covers

These covers became a cliché of the war comics genre, starting in the late 1960s and extending well into the 1970s. Here's a classic example, from Our Army At War #195 (July 1968):

Here we see the classic elements of the DWTANEH cover:

1. Hidden enemies in the foreground.
2. Central "hole" in the cover through which we can see the approaching Americans.
3. Clear statement or belief that the enemies are not there.

Here are a few more examples:

As you can see, the covers pack some dramatic punch. The reader can see something that the approaching GIs can't, that there is about to be a sudden reversal of fortune. A number of these covers feature children, as in the GI Combat issue above, or this one:

The children may give an added sense to the soldiers that everything is okay, that they are not about to be ambushed. You can see the same thing with these covers:

These covers also often feature blinded American soldiers:

This adds a bit to the dramatic tension, as we know that even if the soldiers become aware of the enemy's presence, they will be hard-pressed to do battle.
Similar themes crop up in these covers:

I was unable to find a significant number of these covers prior to about 1968. The Our Army At War #159 cover with the nurse helping Sgt. Rock is from October of 1965, but even that one is arguably atypical, in that Rock is clearly alert and on guard. Similarly, I don't think this February 1960 cover counts:

Here's the exit question. Was the popularity of these covers inversely related to the popularity of the US military among comic-buying kids and teens? As the Vietnam War dragged on, there is little doubt that the image of our armed forces declined, especially after an event like My Lai. Did this give the readers of the time an added perverse enjoyment of covers featuring American soldiers heading into an ambush? Or am I reading too much into this?


Mykal said...

Pat: Cool covers! I think you may be misreading (or perhaps misstating by inches) the meaning of such covers. I don't think they reflected readers getting pleasure, perverse of otherwise, from American soldiers wondering blindly into overwhelming enemy forces. I think, rather, it reflected a growing awareness and despair that American forces had wondering into a terrible quagmire (Vietnam) for which they were unprepared. To me, these covers were nearly subconscious cries of angst and warning.

Great post! -- Mykal

Ed said...

Yes, I think that might be an overreach, Pat. Because Kanigher, like Mort Weisinger frequently recycled stories and themes,the covers would naturally follow suit.

Combine that with the notion that your audience turned over every five years or so and you might have a reason.

And even if they became a cliche quickly, they were, as you point out, innately dramatic, suspenseful scenes, particularly when drawn by Joe Kubert.

I have a feeling a lot of Western comics used the same scenario.

Great selection of covers!

David said...

The Vietnam War ended when I was 10, and trust me, I had no political opinions whatsoever at that age. I did, however, respond covers like these, because they do what a cover should do...make you crazy to find out what happens inside. I don't think they were motivated by anything deeper than that.

My all-time fave is a sort of inverse variation on the theme. Enemy Ace is hiding under the floorboards of an old lady's house and she's telling a squad of armed searchers, "No, I haven't seen an enemy flier around here..." but at the same time she's pointing down to Von Hammer's hiding place and selling him out. One of Kubert's best, and that's saying something.

Saladin said...

Great blog -- haven't been here before, but am loving it!

I don't think you're 'reading too much' into the covers, but I see here almost the opposite of what you're finding. As more and more of the ugliness of civilian deaths in Vietnam comes to light, we get a sort of subconscious justification: The notion that 'bad guys' use kids and women as decoys (unlike 'our boys,' who are so stand-up that they can't even imagine or prepare for such evil intentions). These covers seem to imply that, 'over there,' there's no such thing as a 'peaceful village.' Maybe it depends on one's leanings whether one finds revenge fantasy against or justification for My Lai-ish massacres here?

In any case, they're cool as hell.

Ed said...

I'm no computer whiz, so I don't know how to post (or even if I'm allowed to) cover images, but check out All-Star Western (the 70's revival) and Weird Western Tales. As I thought, this scenario was used there as well. A quick peek showed it back-to-back on issues 9 and 10.

Then, as it became Jonah Hex's book, you see Jonah walking into a few ambushes, including one with what looks like a werewolf, and another with him blindfolded about to step into a pit of sharpened stakes.

One interesting twist. Jonah is shown in the ambush position,luring bad guys into his room by making it look as if he's asleep in his bed.

And this is just the first 25 issues!

(Thanks to Mike's Amazing World...)

Pat said...

The part that interests me is that DC did not use that type of cover image in the hundreds of war comics that they published before 1965 (really 1968 if we ignore the one OAAW cover). On the western covers, I can argue it's the same thing; by the 1970s it was becoming more politically correct to root for the Indians against the Cowboys. BTW, it's my distinct impression that there is a Tomahawk cover with this theme from about 1969 or so.

Don't get me wrong; I don't think that DC's editors were consciously doing this, but perhaps the readers were attracted to these types of covers because of the zeigeist. And of course the editors would reuse covers that sold well.

Ed said...

Yes, it was a Neal Adams cover with the Rangers climbing up a pueblo(?)where Indians were waiting.

Anonymous said...

It's simple. Robert Kanigher was removed as editor of the DC war books
around 1968, and Joe Kubert took over
that position. Kubert designed ALL
these covers, whether he drew them
or passed his layouts on to another
This kind of cover, which was repeated over and over, was a great
"grab ya" moment which attracted the
browsers at the news stands.
Don't these covers make you want to
see what happens inside? Almost
assuredly! Back then and for a long time, effective covers were
the most important element in selling comics.

Sam Kujava

Anonymous said...

Variations on "DWTANEH" appeared on the covers of super hero, adventure, and western comics as well: Batman #249, Brave & Bold #92, Teen Titans #27, Tomahawk #113, and Detective #383. I think they were more about building suspense than any kind of political statement. Maybe they also gave the fans a feeling of smug superiority, allowing us to see the danger before the heroes did.