Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Our Army at War - Darwyn Cooke, Billy Tucci, et al.

Don't let that Joe Kubert cover fool you. The stories in this trade paperback collection aren't reprints of classic yarns from the heyday of DC war comics. No, back in 2011, somebody came up with the idea of publishing single issues of the iconic titles OUR ARMY AT WAR, OUR FIGHTING FORCES, G.I. COMBAT, STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES, and WEIRD WAR TALES, featuring new stories by today's comics creators about the characters who starred in those comics 'way back when.

The results are, shall we say, a mixed bag. While it's always good to see Sgt. Rock and the other combat-happy joes of Easy Company, telling a story that cuts back and forth between World War II and post-9/11 Afghanistan just didn't work very well for me. I only liked one of the three stories from WEIRD WAR TALES, which was about a malfunctioning submarine trapped on the bottom after the attack on Pearl Harbor. I thought that was an intriguing idea, and it ended well. The story from the new version of OUR FIGHTING FORCES features The Losers, a team-up series from late in the original title's run that includes Marine riflemen Gunner and Sarge (the long-time stars of that book), one-legged P.T. boat commander Captain Storm, and Navajo flying ace Johnny Cloud. (Both of those latter two had their own series at times, as well.) I don't dislike any of these characters, but I never thought they worked well together and that their original incarnation was a little too forced.

But the Mademoiselle Marie series from STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES, about a beautiful French resistance fighter, was usually pretty good, and the new story featuring her in this collection is okay. The real high point of this volume, though, is the Haunted Tank story from G.I. COMBAT. I always enjoyed the original series, with stories by Robert Kanigher and great art by Russ Heath and Irv Novick. I've read reprints of some of those and they hold up very well. If you're not familiar with the concept, Sgt. Jeb Stuart (named after the legendary Civil War cavalry commander General J.E.B. Stuart) is a tank commander in North Africa assigned to an M3 Stuart tank (also named after the general). And it just so happens that the World War II sergeant is haunted by the ghost of the Civil War general, who often appears to him during battle to offer advice and philosophy. Now, you never really know for sure if Jeb is actually seeing the general's ghost or if he's just nuts, but that's part of the appeal of the series and that element appears in Matthew Sturges's new story, too. It's an excellent yarn with art by Phil Winslade, and it wouldn't have been out of place in the old G.I. COMBAT book.

Even though I was more of a superhero fan back in those days, I read a lot of those war comics, too, and surprisingly, they've stayed with me more than some of the superhero stuff has, and they hold up better on rereading, too. (The Essentials collection of SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS makes you realize just how really, really good that comic was in its early issues. Jack Kirby's art is fantastic, and Stan Lee's scripts are some of his best writing from that era. But I was talking about DC...) It's good to see new stories from that genre, and while I can't give this version of OUR ARMY AT WAR an unqualified recommendation, I think it's worth picking up if you're a long time fan like I am. 
(It appears to be out of print, but Amazon has used copies.)


Richard R. said...

A mixed bag is pretty much what I'd expect, James, with this concept. They would have been better off reprinting good issues of the originals.

James Reasoner said...

DC has done Showcase editions of Sgt. Rock, the Haunted Tank, the Unknown Soldier, and the GIs vs. dinosaurs stuff from STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES. Oh, and Enemy Ace. Lots of great stuff there, and war comics seem to work well in black and white. Just wish I had more time to dig into them.