Monday, August 10, 2009

Tales From the Vault: G. I. COMBAT #127

Look, it's a story written during the Vietnam War about a World War II tank crew directed by a Civil War Ghost. I'm just sorry they couldn't work any Peloponnesians into it. Let's dig in!

Details: This issue of G. I. Combat, which like most features a cover by the legendary Joe Kubert, has a cover date of Dec.-Jan. 1967, or in other words, January of 1968. Even at this late date, however, there aren’t any story credits. I’m going to go out on a limb here and postulate that the first story is by Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert. Because, well, I think they all were, weren’t they?

Synopsis One: First up is a story featuring the Haunted Tank called "Mission -- Sudden Death!!" Yes, it's about the golden goal system in World Cup soccer. The story starts with Jeb Stuart and his tank caught in the middle of a tank battle, as tanks so frequently are. Some tanks shoot at each other and one of them explodes; sadly, it's one of ours. Our little American shells just can't penetrate the enemy's defenses. To wit:

"The shell bounced off of the hide of the Nazi tank like it was just a ping pong ball..."

Looking to avenge their friend, Jeb swings his tank around and they shoot the enemy and blow them up. Hmm. I guess that's why these guys are the stars of the book; even though they were driving the exact same type of tank, their round worked while the other guy's just bounced off. Funny thing, that.

Anyway, having dispatched the bad guys, Jeb rushes to the ruined tank. It's too late for the Skipper -- not the Gilligan's Island guy, but the tank driver, who is also named Skipper -- but before he dies, Skipper orders them to head somewhere for a rendezvous with the French Resistance. You know, judging by how many French Resistance units there are in comic books, you'd think the entire population of Europe was hiding under a barn in Normandy with a short wave radio and a beret waiting to hear that John has a long mustache.

Suddenly, the ghost of J.E.B. Stuart shows up and gives his namesake this helpful warning:

" will have to fight on a different battlefield than you imagine for your mission to be successful!"

However, he refuses to say anything more and vanishes. Wow, that was incredibly useless. A different battlefield than he imagines? That could literally be anything. The moon? Inside a dance hall? On top of old smokey? Jeb is like, "thanks for nothing" and the tank carries on.

Suddenly, because everything is sudden, there's... oh, wait. This actually takes place "Three hours later". My bad. It's the next panel in the story, so it seems pretty darn sudden. But, anyhow, a big American plane is flying overhead being shot to pieces by a German fighter. Jeb and gang decide to pitch in by shooting at the fighter with their tank, which... can they do that? Apparently so, because they shoot the fighter down. Nice one. Not as impressive as Dum Dum Dugan knocking down German planes with hand-thrown grenades, but pretty good.

Too late to save the Americans, though; our plane also crashes. There goes the rendezvous, except, wait! Yep, one person parachuted out and it's none other than ubiquitous French Resistance leader Mme. Marie. I wonder if anyone's ever done a Mme. Marie timeline. She must have appeared in one story or another on every single day of the entire war. Now, though, her mission is super duper important: rescue her father, who is also a big scientist type. Uh-oh. I hope he isn’t being forced by the Nazis to create the ultimate weapon!

Gathering themselves up, they all head out, randomly blowing up another German tank on their way. Then they hide their own tank and get ready to sneak into town. They aren't allowed to shoot, because that would raise a general alarm. Suddenly, though, a German patrol shows up, led by a hound dog who, upon finding the tank crew, shouts "ARRGH!" Arrgh: for when barking just isn’t enough.

Anyway, the crew jumps in with their fists, since they can't shoot, and luckily -- not just now but for the rest of the whole story -- none of the Germans shoot their guns either. I guess they don't want to risk alerting themselves. Dispatching the patrol, the crew gets into town and quickly finds Mme. Marie's father. A couple right hooks and no shooting later they grab him and run to safety, punching out yet another squad:

"We fought in a deadly silence -- knowing that a single shot could arouse the garrison..."

Ah, that's it: the Germans don't fire either because they want to let their friends get some serious shuteye. That makes sense. And. sure enough, a couple panels later, yet another patrol finds them and again no shots are fired, just punches. That's four fistfights.

Finally breaking clear, the crew commandeers a truck and races towards where their tank is hidden. Unexpectedly, an enemy tank shows up. Everyone bails out except Jeb and Marie, who wait until the last moment, then jump, leaving behind a pile of grenades. The truck crashes into the tank and blows it sky high. Well, that might finally alert the guards. Sure enough, the guards have sent out two of their tanks, but by now the crew has gotten in their own tank. They use the ol' rope-a-dope: maneuvering between the other two tanks, they sit there until the two tanks fire and accidentally shoot each other. Works every time.

And that's that. The tank rolls to safety and J.E.B. Stuart shows up again to congratulate his namesake. Jeb is all, "How could we miss -- with you guarding our tank?" Here's how: HE DIDN'T DO ANYTHING. The damn ghost only shows up in three panels. All he did was give some totally useless cryptic nonsense. Bah.


Synopsis Two: The other story in this issue is called "Last Chance for Hobie!" This actually has a signature from Jack Abel, so at least I know who did the art, but there's no writer listed. Anyhow, the story is pretty simple and is telegraphed from a billion light years away (which is impressive distance for a telegraph) so I'm going to be brief:

Hobie washed up in flight school, so he became a bomber. However, when it came time to raid, he couldn't hit any targets with his bombs. One day he crashes and some resistance fighters (there they are again) give him a captured German plane, which he uses to sneak through enemy lines and destroy the base he had failed to bomb. The Air Force decides the proof is in the pudding and transfers him to flight school to become a fighter pilot.

Sure, whatever.


Extras: The lettercolumn in this issue is kind of… odd. There are four letters published, and the two longest ones are both about issue #92. You'll note that, thanks to the bi-monthly nature of the title, #92 appeared a full five and a half years before this issue, #127, came out. Nothing like some timely commentary. Of course, I’m reviewing a comic book that came out in 1967 so what the hell do I know.

Another person writes in to complain that the tank crew is driving a tiny Stuart tank which is constantly outclassed by the giant German tanks and he thinks it's goofy. Robert Kanigher, who answers all these letters himself and signs his initials so you know it, rebuts with a couple jokes along with this irrefutable logic:

"Besides, our tank is haunted."

Yup. Score one for Robert Kanigher. That statement can pretty much end any argument about the believability of the stories in G.I. Combat. It's too bad Sgt. Fury didn't have a haunted tank to shut up all the knobs who wrote in to complain that their comic book wasn’t hewing close enough to reality.

My grade: C+ for the Haunted Tank story; the art was good as expected and the story was weird and boring and the ghost didn't do a single damn thing. Even Mme. Marie couldn't bring this up. The backup story gets a B-; the execution was fine, but you could see it coming a mile away.

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