Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Discuss: War Comics

Doug: It's Veterans' Day here in the States; perhaps it's still called Armistice Day elsewhere (I'll confess my ignorance). So in honor of those who serve and have served, let's delve into a comics genre not often dealt with here on the BAB -- war comics, and the creators who wrote and drew them.


dbutler16 said...

Meh. Even now, as I'm trying to expand my Bronze Age horizons into other comics than superheroes, such as fantasy, sci-fi, martial arts, and horror, the war comic genre just doesn't interest me, though to be honest, I haven't given them a fair shake.

Graham said...

I read war comics off and on in the 70's/early 80's, mostly the DC line....Sgt. Rock, the Haunted Tank (loved the Dollar Comic GI Combat), the Losers (Our Fighting Forces #152 is still one of my favorite Jack Kirby stories), the Unknown Soldier. I preferred the super-hero/sword and sorcery stuff, but they were always good, dependable reads and with artists like Kubert, Kirby, Glanzman, etc....you couldn't really go wrong.

I picked up the occasional Sgt. Fury when it made it to my local store. For some reason, it didn't make it to my neck of the woods on a regular basis.

Anonymous said...

Yes, in the UK we call it Armistice Day but the important events take place on the Sunday closest to Nov 11th so two days ago. In the '70s war comics were a staple of British comics and in 1977 Marvel UK tried to get in on the act by bringing out a weekly called 'Fury' featuring Sgt. Fury but it didn't last long mainly because British kids wanted to read about British soldiers not American ones. After the cancellation of his weekly Sgt. Fury transferred to Marvel UK's flagship title 'Mighty World of Marvel' where he appeared alongside the likes of the Hulk and Daredevil which seemed a bit strange to be honest - war stories and superheroes in the same comic...?

William said...

I never really got into war comics too much. But I love Harvey Kurtzman's artwork on those old issues of Frontline Combat. I'd like to get a collected volume of those one of these days.

david_b said...

At some point I'd like to get into the Sgt Fury Silver Age stuff.., just for the Silver covers and kooky Silver Age Marvel dialog along with their depiction of German forces, etc..

Other than that, I share dbutler16's 'Meh'...

I'm thankful folks still recognise us veterans. It's very nice.

Doug said...

Thank you, David, and to all of our readers who serve and have served. I'm glad we here in the States have finally gotten it "right" in terms of honoring and showing gratitude to our men and women in uniform.

Enemy Ace is a character I've long been curious about. Joe Kubert's work draws me in... It's a back burner goal of mine to read more war comics (I know next to nothing about the genre). As I mentioned a few months ago, I recently purchased the first paperback Masterworks for Sgt. Fury. Some day...


Anonymous said...

Totally go with Graham about The Losers; its been suggested that Kirby's dynamic style may have been rooted in post-traumatic stress, so its fascinating to see his later, more abstract approach applied to a WW2 setting. Particularly as it was so strikingly different to the more "realistic" DC war styles of Kubert, Glanzman etc.

Much as I like those other artists, I found most of the US war comics to be a little dull. Possibly this was an effect of the comics code, as at the same time I loved the dumb thrills of Johnny Red, Darkie's Mob, Hellman of the Panzer Corps and... well, this probably isn't the place to go on about stuff that will be hopelessly obscure to anyone not of a certain age who grew up in the UK.


Steve Does Comics said...

I have to admit I'm another one who was never at all into war comics - which was a shame, as every other British comic in my childhood seemed to be a war comic.

The only war comic I ever liked was Weird War Tales which grabbed me mightily at the time. It was definitely the weird rather than the war that appealed to me.

Edo Bosnar said...

I never really got into the whole war sub-genre of comics, either. There have been some individual stories I've enjoyed reading, some of the Kanigher/Kubert material (mainly Sgt. Rock, but also Enemy Ace) and some of the stuff from random issues of Weird War Tales (good call, Steve!), although those were mainly the more science fiction-type tales (with really nice art by the likes of Nino, Simonson or Chaykin).

And since Sean mentioned non-American comics, one war comic I'd actually like to read, as I've heard good things about it, is Jacques Tardi's WW1 graphic novel "It Was the War of the Trenches."

Anonymous said...

We call it Remembrance Day here in Canada...poppies everywhere! (I think they wear poppies in England too.)

I liked Sgt. Rock and the Losers when I was a kid; I could never really get into Enemy Ace or Unknown Soldier...maybe I was too young to really appreciate the nuances. I had some old British war comics when I was a kid (I remember having to ask my dad what terms like "bob" and "tanner" meant), but all I've got left are a couple of War Picture Library issues.

Mike W.

J.A. Morris said...

I picked up a few issues of Sgt. Fury, the Battle of the Bulge story in Annual #4 comes to mind. And I had friends who had stacks of Sgt Rock and GI Combat issues. The Haunted Tank still cracks me up, it was "high concept" before the term existed.
But the genre never captured me.

I'll will say that Sam Glanzman's 'A Sailor's Story' has one of the saddest endings of any "comic book" I've ever read.

Garett said...

I've read Sgt Rock archives Vol 1-3. Great stuff, especially Vol 2+3. Kubert had a real sharpness to his work. I haven't been able to get into Enemy Ace though, but it's in my future to-read list. Unknown Soldier, I have the Showcase volume to read with Kubert's art as well.

For Kirby, I really enjoyed the first Sgt Fury masterwork paperback, and The Losers omnibus.

I wasn't a fan of war comics as a kid, preferring superheroes, but over the last few years other genres have been exciting to explore.

Yes in Canada, as Mike said, it's Remembrance Day. Every Canadian kid learns the poem In Flanders Fields by Canadian WW1 soldier John McCrae. Do people outside Canada know In Flanders Fields?

I read The 'Nam recently, issues 1-10 in the paperback that came out in '09. Very impressed by this, the art by Michael Golden and writing by Doug Murray, who did 2 tours in Vietnam. In the intro, editor Larry Hama also mentions that the series won an award from a veterans group as "best portrayal of the Vietnam War", beating out the movie Platoon. I appreciated the quiet scenes with no dialogue, where the art speaks for itself.

Another one is Dong Xoai, by Kubert again. Some beautiful black and white art in this, similar to other late works by Kubert, but the story I found too technical. Didn't connect with the characters as much as in The 'Nam.

Anonymous said...

I have that Haunted Tank issue where they fought that weird Nazi robot!!
Also a couple issues of Weird War Tales. And one issue of Blitzkrieg!
DC put out some cool war comics back then.

Humanbelly said...

That BLITZKRIEG comic only had the one issue, IIRC. So strange-- I can't imagine what the thinking was for that book.

Although I didn't or acquire many, I know READ a zillion war comics as a kid. Loved the Severin Sgt Fury, but Marvel just didn't have the knack (or best stable of appropriate talent?) to sustain many war books. And Kubert seemed like he was capable of putting out about 10 masterpieces a month for DC, as well as Tarzan and anything else non-super that DC needed to have covered. Really like Enemy Ace, tended to follow the never-ending soap-opera in The Losers, could always pick up Sgt Rock-- it was so non-linear, Haunted Tank was kinda hokey, but tanks are an easy-win for adolescent boy readers, and Weird War was probably one of my favorite non-superhero titles ever.

What DC got so incredibly right was their almost across-the-board quietly subversive tone. War was not a glorious, gallant virtue-always-triumphs proposition in their books. It was certainly not black & white. And it was surprisingly lacking in its use of expected jingoism-- very few speeches about Mom, apple pie, and the American Way. The Losers and Easy Co. in particular NEVER caught a break ("Ain't nothin' ever easy. . . fer Easy.")-- it was practically part of their mission statement.

It was a neat trick of creating largely anti-war comics while completely maintaining the integrity and honor of the characters serving in the stories.


Fred W. Hill said...

I got a few issues of Sgt. Fury but never got all that much into war comics as a kid. As an adult, however, after reading an interview with Harvey Kurtzman in the Comics Journal about his time at EC, I found a hardbound copy of the complete run of Frontline Combat, written and edited by Kurtzman, and featuring great art by Kurtzman, Davis, Wood, Severin & others. I also need to get the complete Two-Fisted Tales. Some of the best comics ever, mainly because Kurtzman often had a point he wanted to get across, and he used the story and art to do it very well and remain engaging. "The Big If", about a U.S. soldier in Korea pondering all the things that led up to the moment when he received a wound he knows will be fatal, is one of the best, but there are so many more.

Jefe said...

There was a story about a Nazi soldier who had cold feet and terrible boots in the dead of winter. He noticed one of his comrades had a very nice pair and killed him for his boots but he died soon after. I was reading a lot of Haunted Tank at the time and can't remember which one I was reading at the time but it was a combination of different scarey stories. It stuck with me now and I am 40 years old still thinking about that story of desire and what men do to get it.

Redartz said...

HB- great point about DC's war comics and the tone they often displayed. I have a couple of Sgt. Fury's, with the 'gung ho' attitude of the Lee/Kirby/Ayers Silver age. By contrast, Kubert's "Enemy Ace" really captured my interest as an adult who didn't read war comics. The stories seem positively somber, reflective. Reading these books gives you a glimpse of the sense of honor and mutual respect that the pilots (and soldiers, and sailors) felt. Both for their comrades, and also for their opponents.

On this Veteran's Day, a big salute to all who have served.

Anonymous said...

There is a sort of catch-22 with war comics: most comic book fans seem to want outright fantasy (superheroes, sword-and-sorcery), and fans of more realistic genres (war, Westerns, crime drama) don't read comic books.

IMHO, DC was much better than Marvel at war stories. DC's stuff was relatively realistic (by comic book standards), and the characterization was reasonably believable. Sgt. Fury, Combat Kelly, Captain Savage, and their units seemed more like superheroes than soldiers or marines. The biggest difference between the Avengers and the Howling Commandos was their uniforms.

Marvel did try to introduce some realism into Sgt. Fury in later years (e.g., the deaths of Junior and Pamela Hawley). By then, though, the series had acquired a reputation for treating WWII as a romp, and it was too late to appeal to fans who wanted an anti-war message.

"The Losers" (Captain Storm, Gunner & Sarge, Johnny Cloud) was made up of characters who had lost their respective solo strips. Storm was the first DC Silver Age action hero to debut in his own self-titled comic book. His relegation (along with the others) to an ensemble strip was a sign of a general decline in the war genre.

Individually, many Sgt. Rock stories are excellent, but they (and most DC war series) tended to be formulaic, and the repetition becomes obvious when you read a lot of them in a short time. Of course, that's a common problem when comic book stories are collected in a TPB, or when TV series episodes are collected on DVD.

"Blitzkrieg" ran for five issues in 1976.

EC's Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales may still be the best war comics ever.

The 'Nam and Don Lomax's Vietnam Journal deserve more recognition than they got.

And at least some of us in the US have heard of "Flanders Fields."

Anonymous said...

Well war comics were never my bag although like Graham I did read the occasional issue of Haunted Tank, Losers, Unknown Soldier and Sgt. Rock. I remember vividly an issue of Haunted Tank where they encountered dinosaurs, including an honest to goodness T-Rex! Sam Glanzman was the artist there, while the most memorable thing about Sgt. Rock for me was always the exquisite Joe Kubert art.

To all the veterans living or dead, thank you for your sacrifice.

- Mike '13 gun salute' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Jeff Nettleton said...

Almost a decade later.

Long time fan of war comics. There is a ton of great material out there, if you know where to look. Harvey Kurtzman's EC books and the DC line are the American pinnacle, of the classic stuff; but, Marvel did a ton, in the Atlas years, with a lot of gung ho stuff, but some good stuff in there. Charlton probably churned out the most, after DC, with their various Fightin' comics, plus Army Attack, Attack!, War, Armu War Heroes, Marine War Heroes, etc. The Fightin' Army feature, The Lonely War of Captain Willy Schultz, by Will Franz and Sam Glanzman, is some of the best, most humanistic writings of a soldier, in war, that you will find, in comics. Also, Fightin' Marines tried a Vietnam-based feature, Shotgun Harker and The Chicken that had a sort of satirical element that made it stand out. Some similarity in the humor of Sgt Fury, in its earlier days.

Later, you have some fine stuff in The Nam, Sam Glanzman's A Sailor's Stories (based on his WW2 experiences and the later stories he did, at DC, about his ship, the USS Stevens), and Don Lomax's Vietnam Journal and related mini-series. Wayne vansant has also done some great historical stuff, at Caliber and for other publishers, including Battlegroup Peiper, his WW2 Day of Infamy and related series, and work on D-Day and the Civil War.

In the UK, there was Charly's War, about a young man in World War One, and the horror of the trenches.

Archie Goodwin's Blazing Combat is one of the best, period, for its 4 issue lifespan.

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