Sunday, August 11, 2019

Longbox Junk Retro Review - Uncanny X-Men #23 (1966)

Once again, apologies for summertime Longbox Junk delays.  I do my comic readin' and reviewin' during my spare time at work managing a hotel.  The extremely busy peak tourist season takes a severe dent out of that spare time.  Good for business. . .bad for Longbox Junk.  The good news is that there's only about a month left until things calm down a bit.

So there's THAT. . .now here's THIS!

Welcome one and all to another Retro Review edition of Longbox Junk, where I take a look at some of the older comics in my collection, and give YOU yet another review you never asked for.  You're welcome!

I've said this before, but let me say it again.  I'm not really a fan of "traditional" capes and tights superheroes, and even less a fan of "team" books.  It's not that I HATE them, it's just that I like my heroes to be a little more down to earth, even if they ARE inhabiting a comic book world. . .characters like Green Hornet, Zorro, Jonah Hex, The Spirit and The Shadow (to name a few examples) are what I REALLY like.

THAT SAID. . .

A good story is a good story.  I'm willing to give ANY comic a fair shake.  Part of MY Longbox Junk experience is surprising myself with things I wouldn't normally read . . .especially in the case of these "Retro Reviews".  Most of the older comics in my collection I buy for the covers and never read.  Doing these Retro Reviews gives me an excuse to crack them open and see what's inside for the first time.

The comic at hand has sort of an interesting tale behind it.  I actually bought it by accident at the local flea market when my wife bought a picture for a dollar for the frame.  When I was pulling the existing picture out for her later at home, this comic was behind it as padding.  BONUS!

It's not the most valuable comic in my collection, but it's definitely the most valuable comic I've ever accidentally bought for a single lousy buck.

Enough introduction.  Let's get into this comic!

UNCANNY X-MEN #23
Marvel (1966)


SCRIPTS: Roy Thomas
PENCILS: Werner Roth
INKS: Dick Ayers
COVER: Werner Roth & Dick Ayers
EDITOR: Stan Lee

Let's start at the beginning and take a look at the cover. . .

It's pretty well-drawn, but seems extremely busy.  The lightning bolt being shot by "The Eel" over on the left side just looks bad.  It's not a terrible cover, but it's certainly not that great either.  This is not a comic I would buy for the cover.

It loudly proclaims that this particular issue is for action lovers, but (as you'll see below) that isn't really true at all.  THIS comic is for lovers of 1960's-style madcap comedy, the likes of which hasn't really been seen for quite a while.  What am I talking about? Read on!

The story goes like this (and it's a doozy):

In the previous issue, the X-Men have been captured by Count Nefaria, who wanted to recruit them to his criminal "Maggia" organization (Silver Age Marvel's hilariously obvious way of dodging code-violating references to the "Mafia").  But he quickly learns that he needs to improve his recruiting methods when the Merry Mutants tell him to sit and spin.  Despite this minor setback, Nefaria decides to go ahead with his plan. . .to take Washington D.C. hostage for (insert best Doctor Evil voice imitation here) One Hundred MILLION dollars. 

To accomplish his. . .er. . .Nefarious. . .plan, Nefaria covers D.C. with a clear dome created by a 1960's super-science ex-machina device, and then, since the X-Men inconveniently decided not to help him, he sends his B-Team of minor Maggia supervillains disguised as the X-Men by way of hologram to deliver the ransom demand, giving the government 3 hours to pony up the cash or all the oxygen gets sucked from the dome.

Of course, the obvious weak point in this plan is thinking the government can do ANYTHING in 3 hours.  I can't even get my address changed at the DMV in less than 3 hours.  But I digress.

IN THE MEANTIME. . .

Back at Nefaria's base, the X-Men are trying to escape.  Jean Gray tries and fails to contact Professor X, not realizing that he's busy working on a secret project and has pretty much decided to ignore all incoming mental calls.  While the captured X-Men bungle around trying to figure out how to escape, Professor X is finally disturbed by a regular phone call. 

It's the military requesting he get his bald behind to Washington to consult on how best to destroy those evil X-Men holding the city hostage. . .which comes as a bit of a surprise to him.  About that time, the X-Men finally free themselves and Professor X manages to get a "What the hell is going on, guys?" Mental call through to Jean Gray, and a plan of action is formed.

AND WHILE THAT'S GOING ON. . .

Nefaria is contacted by the government and they've agreed to his terms.  Even better, the X-Men show up and tell him they've changed their mind and will work with him.  He sends the X-Men to pick up the ransom, then tells his fake Maggia X-Men minions (B-Listers Unicorn, Plant Man, Porcupine, Eel, and Scarecrow) to keep an eye on the X-Men for a double cross.  The Maggia quickly decide to double cross Nefaria and steal the ransom for themselves.  

While all that is going on, Professor X arrives on the scene and sends his astral form into Nefaria's base to spy on him, learning the secrets of the ex-machina machine forming the dome over Washington, but unable to do anything because he's pretty much a mental ghost that can't touch anything.

AND THEN. . .

The X-Men collect the ransom and are chased by both the military AND a mob out for the blood of those filthy, unpatriotic muties.  They are rescued by the Maggia, but only so they can steal the ransom.  A brawl ensues, complete with quips galore and expository power explanations shouted during battle in such a way that there can be NO doubt that this is a 1960's comic.  

In the end, the X-Men prevail, but Unicorn double crosses his Maggia partners, grabs the money and runs.  The X-Men give chase and get the money back, but the other Maggia villains regroup and there's a hilarious juggling back and forth of the bag with the ransom in it until Marvel Girl finally manages to escape the battle with it.

AFTER THAT. . .

Jean returns to Nefaria's hideout and gives him the ransom bag.  However, their discussion about how great the Maggia is going to be with all this new money is interrupted by a mysterious masked man just strolling in and ignoring them while turning off Nefaria's machine forming the dome over D.C. 

The other X-Men finally arrive and are distracted long enough for Nefaria to escape with the ransom bag.  The mysterious masked man is revealed to be Professor X walking around with the aid of his secret project. . .a transistor powered set of leg braces.  Everyone takes a moment to say "Hold on. What?" before realizing Nefaria and the ransom is gone.

IN THE MEANTIME. . .

On board Nefaria's escape boat, the criminal mastermind THINKS he's gotten away with the money, but Unicorn shows up for a final double cross, only for it to be revealed that the ransom bag is an illusion, created by Professor X using Nefaria's own illusion machine and they are taken into the custody of The Coast Guard.  The real money is returned and the X-Men are cleared of wrongdoing. All's well that ends well, right?  WRONG!

After an extremely brief victory celebration.  Jean Gray reads a letter she got in the mail and tearfully tells the X-Men she has to leave the team.  Wait, What? Nope. . .to be continued.

SPOILER FOR NEXT ISSUE: It's from her parents and they want to transfer her to another school.

The End. . .To be continued.

Okay. So that was the story.  And there was a lot of it for one measly issue of a comic book!

Overall, I really liked it.  But not so much for the superhero action promised on the cover, but for the unintentional (or maybe not) comedy of it all.  It reminded me a lot of those "madcap" or "screwball" comedies of the past, where everyone is running around and the situation just gets crazier and crazier.

There are so many double crosses and inconvenient situations in this issue that I couldn't help but laugh as each new one popped up. By my count, there are 6 double crosses in this story, with "Criminal Mastermind" Nefaria being the victim of 3 of them! 

I'm not really sure that this book was meant as comedy, but there's just a zany feel to it that makes it really enjoyable to read.  In particular, when the X-Men and the Maggia are fighting over the briefcase that has the ransom in it and it keeps getting passed from person to person. . .nobody can keep it for longer than a few moments before someone else grabs it. It's like something straight from an old Monkees episode!  

The art on this book was pretty good.  Nothing really stood out in a big way, but there weren't any really bad parts either.  It was just good workmanlike art, pretty standard for a 60's superhero comic.  The coloring was pretty sloppy throughout the book, though.  Not so much that it made for a bad read, but definitely noticeable enough to distract from time to time.

CONCLUSION

All in all, I really enjoyed this issue. . .but probably not for the reason the creators originally intended.  I found the multiple double crosses, inconvenient situations, ex-machina problem solutions, and cases of mistaken identity to be some good, funny reading.  

Like I said above, I'm not sure if the creators MEANT for this book to be funny in a madcap comedy way, but that's what I got out of it.  I'd be interested in finding out if anyone else has the same take on this issue.

Overall, this is one of those comics that make me love doing these retro reviews.  I accidentally bought it years ago and never read it beyond a quick flip through before throwing it in plastic and putting it in a box.  When I actually took the time to read it, I found a surprisingly entertaining comic.

Up Next. . .

The first Longbox Junk Reader appreciation entry.  A random draw from a list of reader requests.

Be there or be square!


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Longbox Junk - Captain America One Shots Part 2

Welcome back to Longbox Junk, home of comic reviews nobody ever asked for!

Once again, my apologies for the longer than usual gap between entries this time of year.  As a hotel manager, the summer tourist season takes a pretty severe cut into my comic readin' and reviewin' since I do these at work in my down time.

As you can see from the title, this time out we're going to take a look at another handful of Captain America one-shots from my collection.  The first part turned out pretty good. . .with 3 out of 4 being well worth hunting down in the bargain bin and 1 being. . .okay.  Take a look HERE if you missed it.

I've been told my intros are getting a bit long, so I'll keep this one short and just jump right in.  Captain America one shots. . .let's do this!

CAPTAIN AMERICA:
THE MEDUSA EFFECT
Marvel (1994)

SCRIPTS: Roy Thomas
PENCILS: Rich Buckler & M.C. Wyman
COVER: M.C. Wyman

So we start off this batch of Captain America one shots with ANOTHER WWII Nazi-Punchin' adventure.  This time out, it's not a team-up though.  So this will be the first actual Captain America one shot in this patriotic little bunch starring. . .Captain America!  And Bucky.  Let's not forget Bucky.

First, the cover.

Honestly, I find it a bit of a mess.  The individual parts and pieces of it are fine.  The artwork isn't great, but it's pretty good.  There's just a lot of those pieces and parts and there's no real focus, so the eye is drawn all over the place.  The coloring is a bit garish (a problem through the whole comic) as well.  It's not a BAD cover. . .just sort of messy.

The story goes like this:

New York, 1942.  Captain America and Bucky are on a mission for the FBI where they encounter a squad of Nazi saboteurs led by Germany's version of Cap, Master Man.  They arrive too late to stop them from assassinating famous scientist, Nikola Tesla, and to prevent Master Man from stealing information about a "Death Ray" Tesla was working on.

Following up on a clue left in Tesla's room, Cap and Bucky head to Madrid, Spain, where they meet with a mysterious woman at a bullfight that turns out to be Hilda Zemo. . .the wife of the infamous Baron Heinrich Zemo, and who the world thinks recently died in a car accident.  She actually faked her death and left her son behind in Germany in order to try and warn the Allies about Zemo's plot against Tesla's life.  In exchange for her information about the whereabouts of Zemo and the stolen Death Ray plans, Captain America agrees to not kill Zemo and get their son (Helmut) out of Germany.

The scene shifts to Berlin, where Cap, Bucky, and Hilda sneak through the city to Baron Zemo's secret laboratory beneath the Berlin zoo.  Leaving Bucky behind as rear guard, Cap and Hilda gain entrance to the lab, only to fall into Baron Zemo's and Master Man's trap!  They purposely led Cap to Germany in order to capture him.  Zemo is surprised to find his wife alive, but enraged that she is working with Captain America, and doesn't listen when she tries to talk sense to him.

MEANWHILE. . . As Master Man and Captain America fight in the secret lab, Bucky is forced to retreat by a squad of Nazi stormtroopers.  He sneaks into Baron Zemo's mansion and wakes his son, Helmut, convincing him that his mother is alive and they are leaving Germany.  Helmut knows of a secret entrance into his father's lab and agrees to show it to Bucky.

WHILE THAT'S HAPPENING. . .Master Man barely beats Captain America and he is thrown, along with Hilda Zemo, into a cell to await execution.  Shortly afterward Bucky and Helmut arrive in time to secretly listen to Zemo villain-monologue about the gigantic "Medusa Cannon" he has built using Tesla's stolen plans. . .a weapon capable of shooting planes out of the sky miles from their target.

Helmut Betrays Bucky and pushes him into the lab, where Zemo praises him for his devotion and tells him he can be the one to kill Bucky by being the first to fire the Medusa Cannon.  "WUNDERBARR!" Declares little Helmut.

IN THE MEANTIME. . .Captain America and Hilda share a kiss before Cap kicks down the door of their cell, but Hilda is shot by the guards as they make their escape.  She convinces him to leave her behind for the greater good and Cap rushes back to the secret lab to find Bucky tied over the barrel of the Medusa Cannon while a gleeful Helmut Zemo readies it to fire.

Cap solves the problem in the best way he knows how. . .Punchin' Nazis!  He manages to free Bucky just in time as the cannon misfires and a massive explosion starts collapsing the lab.  They grab Helmut and make their escape, leaving Zemo and Master Man to their fate, but arrive too late to save Hilda.  As the heroes flee the destruction, Helmut manages to slip away (To become Baron Zemo II in 1973).  Cap and Bucky find a "victory" where an innocent woman died, a child went missing, and the fate of the villains remains unsure to be a somewhat bitter pill to swallow.

The End.

Okay then.  Let's break it on down!

As you can see from the (extremely condensed) description above, there's actually quite a bit of story to be found in this one issue. . .and it's a pretty good story at that.  Roy Thomas gives us a classic Bronze Age-style Captain America tale that's meaty without being bloated.  It's well-written and moves along at a snappy pace.  If you like classic Captain America before he turned into the mopey "Do I really still represent THIS country at THIS time?" political navel gazer to be found on today's comic shelves, then you'll like the story here.  If you don't like a good old-fashioned Nazi Punchin' Captain America story, then this won't be for you.

The problem here is the art.  Specifically, the color art.  The line art and inks are fine.  They're nothing spectacular, but they tell the story nicely and there are even a few places here and there that elevate up into "really good" territory.  But those colors.  Garish, sloppy, and distracting would be the best way to describe them.  The colors on this comic take what SHOULD be a pretty good Captain America throwback story down a couple of notches. . .they're THAT bad.

Who knew Cap's shield was pink inside. . .

Overall, this one is a bit of a mixed bag for me.  I like the story and the art, but the colors are so God-Awful distracting that they really take away from the enjoyment of this comic.  Maybe it was done on purpose to try and further evoke the Bronze Age throwback feel of the story?  I'm not sure, but it's pretty disappointing.  Still, I see this one in the bargain bins all the time, so pick it up if you're looking for some Nazi-Punchin' Captain America on the cheap and can stand some bad coloring.

NEXT!

DAREDEVIL & CAPTAIN AMERICA:
DEAD ON ARRIVAL
Marvel (2008)

SCRIPTS: Tito Faraci
PENCILS: Claudio Villa
COVER: Claudio Villa

And so we come to the first one shot of the bunch NOT to be set in WWII.  It's a team-up with Daredevil against a villain from the past who has seemingly come back to life, written and illustrated by two top Italian comic creators.  Let's do it!

First, the cover.

I'm kind of a sucker for covers like this where the characters are set against a stark background.  Daredevil and Captain America are very nicely showcased and detailed in a darkly-inked and realistic way that reminds me a lot of one of my all-time favorite comic artists, Steve Epting.  It's not the greatest comic cover I've seen, but it definitely will take a turn up on my office wall's rotating comic cover display one of these days.  Moving along. . .

The story goes like this:

It all starts as a normal, kind of boring night for Captain America and Daredevil. . .Cap punching training robots at Avengers HQ in his spare time, because spare time to Captain America is wasted time, and DD punching lowlifes in the alleys of Hell's Kitchen, as Daredevil tends to do.  

BUT THEN. . .Nick Fury shows up and tells Cap that he's on the job.  A villain called Death-Stalker, thought long dead after a battle with Daredevil gone wrong, seems to have returned.  The problem is that the gloves he wears control his ability to shift back and forth to another plane of reality. . .and there's a set of the exact same gloves at S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ that have just activated, which should be impossible.  S.H.I.E.L.D. scientists are worried that the paradox will tear open a hole that will destroy their entire reality.  Not good.  Luckily, they can track the energy given off by the gloves and that's where Cap comes in.


AT THE SAME TIME. . .Daredevil is told that there's a murder witness at police HQ that will only talk to him.  She's there to deliver a message to DD. . .Death-Stalker is back and has a bunch of hostages at the cemetery where he "died" many years before.  If DD doesn't show up, the hostages die.  And so off he goes!



WHILE THAT'S GOING ON. . .we learn through flashbacks that the Death-Stalker that has seemingly come back to life is ACTUALLY the original Death-Stalker, who has somehow managed to travel forward in time thanks to a failed (?) experiment that was supposed to help keep Death-Stalker in one reality instead of shifting back and forth the way he does.  When he arrives in the future and finds out DD accidentally killed him, he goes just a little crazy and concocts the hostage plan in order to take revenge for his own death.

AND SO. . .Daredevil shows up in the cemetery to deal out some well-deserved villain punching.  During the fight, Death-Stalker sprays DD in the face with a chemical that makes him see living things as monsters. . .JUST in time for Captain America to arrive, thanks to the S.H.I.E.L.D. tracking device.  Daredevil sees Cap as a monster and it's time for a "Heroes fight each other for the wrong reasons" battle!

BUT. . .Cap stabs DD with a syringe and gives him a dose of anti-hallucinigenic ex-machina that brings him back to reality and suddenly it's time for a villain punchin' TEAMUP! Together, Captain America and Daredevil pretty easily beat Death-Stalker, but he tries to have the last laugh by killing himself with his own dimension-shifting gloves and destroying reality. . .unfortunately, both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Death-Stalker were wrong and nothing is destroyed.  Death-Stalker returns to his own time and everyone wonders what the hell just happened.  

The End.

Well then.  Hmmmmm. . .not bad.  Not great, mind you, but a pretty good story.  It's a simple and timeworn framework of "two heroes collide while both hunting the same villain" that's been a mainstay of superhero comics since there WERE superhero comics.  But even though the plot is a moldy oldie, that doesn't make it bad. . .just a little overly-familiar.   The dialogue is well-written and the story moves along at a brisk pace.  It's a classic sort of story that fits like a favorite pair of old jeans.   Every now and then, that's just fine. 

The art on this one really elevates it up beyond the familiar premise.  Like I said when I took a look at the cover. . .it's the sort of realistic, darkly-inked artwork that really brings characters to life.  It reminds me a lot of the style of the artist that made me love Captain America again. . .Steve Epting.  It might be unfair to compare one artist to another, but the similarities in style are very strong.  But like I said, it's a style I really like a lot, so I'm not complaining.  Just about any comic artist can illustrate heroes in battle poses.  It takes a GOOD comic artist to make the scenes of people standing around talking just as interesting.  The artist on this one delivers and makes an okay story stand out in a great way.

Overall, this was a pretty good comic.  It has an extremely timeworn premise, but is well-written and backed up by some great art.  Definitely one to pick up if you spot it in the bargain bin.

NEXT!

GHOST RIDER / CAPTAIN AMERICA:
FEAR
Marvel (1992)

SCRIPTS: Howard Mackie
PENCILS: Lee Weeks
COVER: Lee Weeks

In this one shot, Captain America teams up with Ghost Rider. . .the 90's version. . .Danny Ketch, my personal favorite Ghost Rider.  They will have to overcome their own darkest fears in order to defeat Marvel's (copycat) Scarecrow.  Two of my favorite characters together. . .Let's do it!

First, the cover.

Ehhhh. . .it's okay.  It's got all the major players.  They're drawn nicely. . .especially Ghost Rider.  I like the bold colors quite a bit.  There's just something missing and I'm not exactly sure what it is.  Maybe it just looks too posed.  It's hard to say.  Sometimes a cover can be well done and STILL seem just sort of okay.  To me, this is one of those covers.  Moving along. . .

The story goes like this:

We open in a mysterious operating room, where an unknown man is undergoing some obviously illegal surgery.  He wakes up while still under anesthesia and slaughters the doctors. It is revealed that he's Marvel's Scarecrow.

A WEEK LATER. . .Ghost Rider (AKA Danny Ketch) shows up on the scene of a hostage situation, but Police Captain Dolan is more concerned with taking him down than the safety of the hostages.  Afterward, Danny gets into an argument with his girlfriend, Stacy (Captain Dolan's daughter and also a police officer, who isn't aware that her boyfriend is the host of the Spirit of Vengeance) over whether or not Ghost Rider is a hero or menace.  Danny feels he's doing the right thing, but is having a bit of a crisis of conscience. . .

THAT NIGHT. . .Scarecrow is in the city and leaving "messages" for Captain America in the form of dead bodies.  He is interrupted while killing a young couple by two police officers, one of which (By remarkable coincidence!) is Danny Ketch's girlfriend, Stacy Dolan.  Scarecrow kills her partner, but takes Stacy prisoner because of a strong resemblance to his mother. . .

IN THE MEANTIME. . .Captain America shows up on the scene of Scarecrow's latest "Message" to him and fills Captain Dolan in on Scarecrow's past, as well as his obsession with Cap.  At the same time, Ghost Rider shows up and Captain America holds the police back in order to go speak to him.

Surprisingly, a stock "heroes battle until they realize they're on the same side" comic battle doesn't ensue!  Instead, Cap calmly confronts Ghost Rider and tells him that he knows GR isn't the villain and that Cap himself has been called the villain enough times to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Ghost Rider appreciates that Cap didn't just jump in on him and fills him in on the situation.  The two heroes team up to take down Scarecrow and rescue Stacy.

WHILE THAT'S GOING ON. . .Stacy Dolan is being tortured by Scarecrow, who is calling her "mommy", AND mysterious figures are following Scarecrow's trail, remarking on the new powers they've built into him and how they need to get to him first so they can make use of their new "investment".

AND SO. . .Captain America and Ghost Rider track Scarecrow down pretty easily . . .by following a giant flock of birds congregating around a particular building in Brooklyn. Cap comes up with a plan: Cap going straight in and using Scarecrow's obsession with him in order to let Ghost Rider come in from above and save Stacy.  Unfortunately, Ghost Rider isn't much one for strategy, so as soon as Cap and Scarecrow start fighting, GR jumps right in.

  They both learn pretty quickly that Scarecrow has been upgraded since last time he and Cap squared off. . .he now has super-strength AND a sort of "fear field" emanating from him that drastically weakens Cap.  It affects Ghost Rider less, so while he keeps fighting Scarecrow, Cap takes a minute to recover. . .just in time for Captain Dolan to roll up, determined to rescue his daughter.

IN THE MEANTIME. . .the battle between GR and Scarecrow moves from the roof inside while Cap and Dolan come into things from below, discovering a series of brutally-murdered corpses along the way, which drives Dolan into a frenzy.  When they all come together in the room where Stacy hangs, bloody and tortured, Cap has to keep both Dolan and Ghost Rider from killing Scarecrow.

IN THE END. . .After they free Stacy, she grabs a gun in order to kill Scarecrow.  He tries to escape, but falls out of the window, impaling himself on the fence below.  

EPILOGUE:  Captain America convinces Captain Dolan to soften his hard-line approach to Ghost Rider.  Thanks to Cap's encouragement, Danny Ketch is more convinced than ever that  he's a hero.  And finally, we learn that an accelerated healing factor is another of Scarecrow's new improvements as he comes back to life just in time for a mysterious fellow named Stern to help him escape, letting him know that he's behind Scarecrow's new powers and that he has some things for him to do. . .

The End.

Allrighty then.  Not too bad.  

Like the Captain America/Daredevil team up, it's REALLY more of a Ghost Rider story (Early in GR's career.  This story references GR #25) than a Captain America story. . .and (like that story) it also follows the well-worn comic path of "Two heroes accidentally meet up while on the same case". 

 What I DID like a lot about this story was that the initial meeting between Cap and GR DIDN'T start off as a cliche "Heroes fight until they realize they're on the same side", but was actually a really good character moment of Captain America letting Ghost Rider know that HE'S been labeled the villain from time to time and that he's willing to give GR a chance.  I found the calm conversation between a veteran hero and new hero to be be refreshing and really sort of surprising.  It's pretty much the best part of this story!



The rest of it. . .it's okay.  Like I said, it follows a VERY well-worn track, and even given the great character moment of Cap encouraging a new hero instead of just jumping into a fight, Captain America plays a pretty weak role here.  He could have been replaced with literally almost any other veteran superhero.  This would have been a great vehicle for an inter-company Ghost Rider/ Batman crossover with exactly the same story beats.  Daredevil would fit easily. . .even Iron Fist.  Since this is so much more a Ghost Rider story, the second character team up slot is SO generic that. . .really, beyond a few interactions, it's not even needed.  This COULD have easily just been a Ghost Rider solo story.

ALSO like the Captain America/Daredevil team up, it's the art that elevates this one-shot beyond the threadbare premise and a story that's mostly an extended fight scene.  Lee Weeks is a very solid comic artist with a kinetic, realistic style and with Al Williamson's bold inks, the art team channels their inner David Mazzucchelli for a dark, gritty, realistic take on these characters and the filthy city the story takes place in.  The coloring is a little garish, but for some reason it works here. . .making the dark artwork even darker in a good way.



SO. . .what we have here is a decent story backed up by some excellent artwork that follows an extremely well-worn comic book team up path with a little twist.  After that, it's mostly fighting.  The team-up aspect of the story is extremely generic to the point that Captain America is interchangeable with almost any other veteran superhero.   All in all, it's a pretty good Ghost Rider story worth picking up if you should spot it in the bargain bin.

NEXT!

WHAT IF: CAPTAIN AMERICA
WHAT IF. . .CAPTAIN AMERICA FOUGHT IN THE CIVIL WAR?
Marvel (2006)

SCRIPTS: Tony Bedard
PENCILS: Carmine DiGiandomenico
COVER: Tony Harris

And last but (hopefully) not least, we have a What If? story featuring Captain America in the Civil War! Let's just make it clear here. . . I LOVE What If?/Elseworlds stories!  But here's the problem with them. . .they either work or they don't.  There's very little wiggle room between Good and Bad when it comes to What If?/Elseworlds stories, in my humble opinion.  Let's see which side of the line this one comes in on!

But first, the cover.

Tony Harris is a great artist, in my opinion, and he does a solid job on this cover. . .unfortunately, right out of the gate I'm getting the feeling this What If? MIGHT not hit the "good" side of the line just from the subject matter.  I'm going to give it a fair shake, but seeing Captain America in this strange quasi-Native American getup doesn't give me much confidence. Cap's uniform is pretty nice, but that headdress/mask combo just seems to be trying a bit too hard. That said, the cover itself is fine.  I like the strong use of Red, White, and Blue colors a lot.  Moving along. . .

The Story goes like this:

1863. . .the Kansas/Missouri border during the Civil War on a world like ours, but just a little different.  Fresh recruit Corporal Steve Rogers joins the "Redlegs" Regiment under the command of Colonel Buck Barnes. . .an elite cavalry unit formed to harass Confederate Guerrilla units and the towns that support them.


Roger's naive notions of fighting for an honorable cause are shattered during his first raid with the Redlegs, where his fellow soldiers kill women and children while looting and ravaging a small town.  Barnes confronts Rogers when he tries to protect 3 small children he finds hiding in a barn.  Rogers turns against his commander when Barnes orders him to kill them.  The fight ends with Rogers being shot in the back by Barnes and dragged by horses out of town.

LATER. . .Rogers is found and rescued by Private Wilson, a member of the all-volunteer African and Native American Third Indian Home Guard, who takes him to their base at Fort Gibson to recover from his wounds.  The fort's commander is convinced that Rogers won't last the night.  Wilson believes that he was guided to Rogers by an Eagle Spirit for a reason, and stays with him through the night, tending to his wounds as taught to him by the Medicine Man who raised him.

BUT. . .Barnes and the Redlegs have tracked Rogers to Fort Gibson, and late that night they show up, demanding Rogers be handed over for execution as a deserter and traitor.  While Barnes and the fort's commander are arguing, Wilson performs a Medicine ceremony to summon the Eagle spirit and heal Rogers by bringing out his inner strength.  But instead of just healing Rogers, he is possessed by the Eagle Spirit and transformed into a mighty warrior!

Barnes sees the strange lights coming from the cabin where the ceremony is taking place and breaks down the door.  The same ceremony that drew out Roger's inner strength also draws out what is inside of Barnes. . .turning him into a twisted figure of hate with a skull for a face!

Driven mad by his sudden transformation, Barnes orders his men to slaughter everyone in the fort.  Rogers jumps in to stop the massacre and a battle between the new Captain. . .er. . .Corporal? America and White Skull ensues. Through his new powers of command over a spirit eagle, Rogers easily defeats Barnes.



EPILOGUE. . .Corporal Rogers is promoted to Captain (so, Captain America) and helps end the Civil War earlier than in our history. He also prevents the assassination of President Lincoln, and ended the Indian Wars before they began.  White Skull escaped captivity and formed a white supremacist organization that still exists and is the enemy of Steve Roger's future ancestor. . .his great grandson, General America!

The End.

Sigh.  This one falls on the wrong side of the Good/Bad line for What If? and Elseworlds stories.  I REALLY wanted to like this one.  The idea sounded great! Captain America in the Civil War? I say, "HELL YEAH!"  Unfortunately, it's more of a "Why?"

The beginning of the story is pretty good and gives a solid background for the Civil War version of Steve Rogers. . .experiencing the true horror of war and seeing the injustice on both sides of the conflict as being one and the same.  It's a good reason for Captain America to come into existence.  

Sadly, the actual execution of HOW Captain America (and by extension, White Skull) came to be just seems forced, rushed, and frankly a bit silly.  To be honest, after the first half of this story, the whole thing seems forced and rushed. . .like the writer was trying to cram too many Captain America story beats into what little page space he had left, and in doing so, did it in a way that everything happens just because it does.  Case in point:  Captain America in regular comics wears a mask because he's sort of a celebrity and wants to be able to live a normal life. . .but why does THIS Captain America wear a mask when he suddenly transforms?  He just does.  That's just one example.  There's a lot of others.

And so we come to one of the biggest problems with Elseworlds-style stories. . .the writer has a very limited space in which to build an (almost) entirely new world.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.  This is one of those times it doesn't.

As far as the art goes. . .It's pretty good.  I happen to be a fan of Carmine DiGiandomenico's unique art style, but it's definitely one of those "Love it or Hate it" styles.  Truthfully, this isn't his best work, and his style doesn't really fit the tone of the story, but it's not bad.  It's just sort of a shame that he got saddled with illustrating such a weak story.

Overall, what we have here is a story with a good start that fails in execution about halfway through, feeling rushed and with story elements forced in for no reason other than as nods to "normal" Captain America when the writer should have concentrated on making his own creation special.  The art has a unique style and isn't bad, but doesn't really fit the story.  All in all, I have to sadly suggest skipping this one entirely unless you are a Captain America or What If? Completionist.  

And there we are, folks!  A little more of a mixed bag than the first handful of Captain America one shots, but really only one that could be called bad.  I'd say that one bad out of eight is pretty good for any handful of comics, so overall this has been a decent batch of Longbox Junk.

Up Next. . .

How about something a little different?

I feel like taking a request.  Any suggestions?

Tell me what Longbox Junk you want me to check out!




Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Longbox Junk - Captain America One Shots Part 1

Welcome back to Longbox Junk, home of comic reviews nobody ever asked for!

I've admitted before that I'm not a very big fan of what many think of as traditional comic book superheroes. . .the "capes and tights" crowd, in other words.  I like my heroes to be a bit more "grounded", even if they ARE inhabiting a comic book world.  Lone Ranger, Zorro, Jonah Hex, Tarzan, Green Hornet, Rocketeer, The Spirit, Sgt. Rock, The Shadow. . .THOSE are the kind of heroes that I love.

BUT. . .

That's not to say I don't like more traditional comic superheroes at all.  A good story is a good story, as far as I'm concerned.  As a matter of fact, one of my all-time favorite comic characters in general happens to be of the "capes and tights" variety (well, tights anyway):  The one and only Star-Spangled Avenger. . .CAPTAIN AMERICA!

So. . .

This being July, why not wave the flag a bit here in Longbox Junk?  I have a pretty good handful of Captain America one-shots in my collection. . .let's take a look, shall we?  We shall!

BATMAN & CAPTAIN AMERICA
Marvel/DC (1996)

SCRIPTS: John Byrne
PENCILS: John Byrne
COVER: John Byrne

What we have here is not only a Captain America team-up, but an intercompany Marvel/DC crossover with my OTHER favorite "traditional" superhero. . .the one and only Dark Knight Detective, BATMAN!  It's an out-of-continuity "Elseworlds" tale set in 1945 during the superhero-filled comic book version of WWII.  Let's take a look!

First, the cover.  There's our heroes front and center, and you can tell from their smiling faces that (despite being put out in the 90's) this isn't going to be some grim-n-gritty affair. . .there's gonna be some Nazi punchin'!  I really like this cover a lot.  Captain America is especially nice.  Moving on!

The Story goes like this:

Batman and Captain America cross paths in Gotham when Cap is pulled from the war in Europe and sent stateside for a secret mission. . .to find out if Bruce Wayne is behind attempts to steal a powerful new weapon code named "The Gotham Project".  After discovering each other's secret identities, the two heroes team up and track down the actual culprits. . .Joker and Red Skull, who are also working together.

In an action-packed finale in the skies over the Atlantic Ocean, Batman and Captain America fight to prevent Red Skull from dropping the world's first atomic bomb on Washington D.C., and with the unexpected help of The Joker, barely manage to save the day.

The End.

I have to say that I REALLY enjoyed this comic!  Not only does it star two of my favorite superheroes, but it's written in such a fun and engaging way that I had a big smile on my face reading it.

This is not the grim and driven "Is he a hero or is he a psychopath?" Batman.  This is not the sad and introspective "Can I still be a symbol of THIS America?" Captain America. You can find THOSE gloomy guys in new comics on the stands every Wednesday.  No. . .THIS is The Caped Crusader and The Star Spangled Avenger!

 This is a rollicking Silver Age throwback adventure where Batman calls Robin "Chum" and Captain America can't help smiling as he punches Nazis.  This is an adventure where Joker switches sides when he discovers he's actually working with Red Skull because Joker may be a Criminal Lunatic, but he's an AMERICAN Criminal Lunatic!

John Byrne knocks it out of the park in a big way on this one, walking the tightrope of making it Silver Age fun without making it Silver Age silly.  It's just a great story and most of all, it's FUN.  It's like a breath of fresh air after reading the gloomy and sad adventures of Captain America and Batman currently on the stands.

The art is as much a fun Silver Age throwback as the writing.  Byrne has truly outdone himself in perfectly merging art and story with comic full of bold and colorful action that's just as much fun to look at as it is to read.


A special mention goes to the fantastic, detailed full-pager of the 1940's Batcave!
Does it get any better than that?  In my humble opinion, I say no!


CONCLUSION

Bottom Line: If you are a fan of classic Captain America or Batman, you need to have this comic.  As I said above, it's like a breath of fresh air after reading the sad and gloomy adventures of Batman and Captain America currently on the stands.  It's FUN.  Sometimes you just want your comics to be fun.  John Byrne delivers on that in a big way. This comic is like a shining nugget of Longbox Junk gold and I highly recommend it.

BONUS: There's a Sgt. Rock and Easy Company/ Captain America crossover cameo in the first part of this comic before Cap is called to Gotham that's almost worth the price of admission alone!

A great start.  NEXT!

CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE INVADERS
BAHAMAS TRIANGLE
Marvel (2019)

SCRIPTS: Roy Thomas
PENCILS: Jerry Ordway
COVER: Jerry Ordway

So what we have here is another Captain America WWII team-up. This time out with the Golden Age Human Torch and Namor. . .but it's before they became the Invaders, and the "Team-up" is really more like "Crossing paths without realizing it", so actually this is sort of a Invaders"Prequel". It's set very early in Cap's career before America entered the comic book version of WWII and he was still punching Nazi spies and saboteurs  stateside.  It's nice FRESH Longbox Junk that just came out this month and is still on the shelves.  Let's take a look!

First, the cover.  Hmmm. . .it's. . .okay.  I like the whole "America, Hell Yeah!" feel of it, but the execution seems off.  Cap looks a little strange, especially in the face and legs, and looks more like he's posing than running through fire carrying Old Glory.  I see now. . .THAT'S the problem.  It's an action scene that has no feeling of motion.  It's okay. . .not good, not bad. . .just okay.  Moving on!

The Story goes like this:

March, 1941.  With the world at war and America trying to stay out of the fighting, the newly-created Captain America is detailed to safeguard President Roosevelt during a fishing trip to the Bahamas as his first major assignment. 

Little does Cap or his superiors know, but a German U-Boat carrying Baron Zemo and a squad of Nazi Stormtroopers is ALSO headed to the Bahamas, intending to kidnap the abdicated King of England (Edward, now Duke of Windsor and Governor of The Bahamas) in order to force him to sit on the throne of a defeated England as Hitler's puppet king.

Luckily for both Roosevelt (the fishing trip is a cover for a clandestine meeting between the President and Duke of Windsor) and Edward, not only is a disguised Captain America on the scene, but also ANOTHER disguised U.S. "Special Agent", Jim Hammond. . .otherwise known as the Human Torch.  

Working together without realizing it, Cap and the Torch defeat Zemo and send the remaining Nazi Stormtroopers into a hasty retreat aboard their U-Boat, only for them to encounter yet a THIRD agent that destroys the fleeing sub. . .the mysterious Namor, The Sub-Mariner!

The End.

Hmmm. . .okay.  A pretty simple story about Captain America foiling a Nazi plan with the help of some allies he's not really aware of (he suspects there's something going on with "seaman" Jim Hammond, but is completely ignorant of Namor).  It's not a bad little story at all.  Nothing spectacular or even very memorable about it, but it's a decently-written tale of the sort that gets read once then goes into the longbox to be forgotten.

The problem here is the art.  Jerry Ordway is much better known for his DC work, and I've always found his style to be very workmanlike and somewhat plain.  Unfortunately, this comic is no exception, and is possibly even a bit worse than what I would usually expect from Ordway.  For such an action-packed story, the art is pretty stiff and utterly unremarkable.  Like the cover, the action seems more posed than dynamic. . .


That and Cap just looks strange through the whole comic from cover to end.  Really the only time the art hits the somewhat high bar of "Good" is during Namor's underwater scenes, and even those look stiff. . .


CONCLUSION
This is out on the shelves right now and, in my humble opinion, if you are anything less than a Captain America completionist you can safely save yourself five bucks by skipping this one.  It has a forgettable story and stiff, workmanlike art.  Unless you pick up one of the variants, even the cover isn't worth it. It's not a BAD comic. . .but it's not really what I'd call good, either. It's certainly not worth the five bucks Marvel is asking for it.  If you're curious, grab it from the bargain bin where the unsold copies will inevitably land. Don't pay cover price.

A bit of a disappointment.  NEXT!


CAPTAIN AMERICA AND NAMOR
(Captain America Vol. 1 #635.1)
Marvel (2012)

SCRIPTS: Cullen Bunn
PENCILS: Will Conrad
COVER:  Stuart Immonen

What we have here is our third WWII Captain America team-up story in a row!  This time out, teaming up with Namor against the threat of some of that special brand of creepy Nazi Magic/Science that deserves plenty of  superheroic punching!  

This issue is actually part of the ongoing Captain America series at the time (Vol. 5), but came in at a time when there were TWO Captain Americas and Marvel was trying to decide what to do, so they split up the regular series into smaller, separately-titled arcs (Captain America and Bucky, Captain America and Hawkeye, Captain America and Black Widow, and so on) that were team-ups with other characters.  So this is a separate story (as are all the Captain America And [insert name here] stories of the time), even though it's got an issue number.  Got all that? Okay. . .let's do this!

First, the cover.  It's a great cover! I've always been skeptical about how overpowered Namor is, and especially cringe at his seemingly random ability to fly (Why the $%&@ should an underwater character be able to fly? WHY?), but this cover is so nicely done that I don't really mind it showcasing everything I dislike about Namor at all.  The colors, the composition, the details on that tank. . .all outstanding. Stuart Immonen does a great job on this one.  Moving along!

The story goes like this:

France, 1942.  Captain America encounters Namor after a botched parachute jump that lands Cap miles away from his own unit.  He joins forces with the Sub-Mariner against a unit of Hitler's Occult Specialists, The Thule Society. . .who are attempting to harness the destructive power of an ancient Lemurian artifact.

In flashbacks during the battle, we see that Namor was given the information about the Thule's plans by a mysterious organization calling itself "The Covenant".  He accepts their information, but declines their offer to join them.

After a brutal battle, Captain America and Namor emerge victorious.  Namor destroys the artifact that the Thule Society were using. . .letting Captain America know that it holds the power to win the war easily, but at the expense of the Atlantean people (their souls are used to power the artifact).

At the end, it is shown later that The Covenant has recovered the artifact and pieced it back together, and that they have imprisoned Atlantians that they intend to use to unlock its terrible power, as well as one of the Nazi Thule scientists Namor thought he had killed. . .

The End.

Not a bad story at all.  Not great, mind you. . .it's mostly an extended battle scene broken up with flashbacks. . .but it's well-written and moves along at a snappy pace.  

It's actually more of a Namor story than a Captain America story, but that's fine.  Namor is one of those characters that has the kind of overbearing attitude that can shine in the hands of a good writer. . .sort of like Doctor Doom.  This writer handles Namor well, having him throw dry-witted verbal burns on pretty much everyone who speaks to him.  Namor's dialogue is probably the best thing about this comic, and is really what elevates this one-shot beyond a simple "Nazi Punchin' Team-Up"

I really liked the art on this one as well.  Unlike the stiff and posed-looking Ordway art on the previous one-shot, the art here is dynamic and fluid, shown from interesting perspectives, and generally just making every page great to look at.  I like the more realistic and grounded modern comic interpretations of WWII Captain America we've gotten since the first Captain America movie, and this artist hits that perfect balance between super-hero and ground soldier that I like. . .


CONCLUSION

I mentioned in the intro to this comic that I'm not a huge fan of Namor in general because his power set just seems sort of random. . .especially his ability to fly.  That said, between the great dialogue from the writer and the detailed, powerful art, this one shot delivers a version of Namor that I liked a lot. Don't get me wrong. . . I'm still not a fan, but this story is definitely a winner.  And not for nothin' but Captain America in this issue hits all the great "WWII Nazi Bustin' Cap" points that I could want from a good wartime Captain America story too.  

Definitely pick this one up if you should spot it in the bargain bin.  

And last but (hopefully) not least. . .

CAPTAIN AMERICA/ NICK FURY
THE OTHERWORLD WAR
Marvel (2001)


SCRIPTS: Peter Hogan
PENCILS: Leonardo Manco
COVER: Leonardo Manco

And here we have ANOTHER WWII Captain America team-up (I didn't plan it that way.  Just sort of happened), making this first one shot batch 4 for 4!  I don't mind, though.  I love seeing Cap back in his prime wartime Nazi-Punchin' days.  This time out, he's teaming up with Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos for a magic-filled adventure in the otherworldly realm of the Dread Dormammu!  Let's do it!

First, the cover.  Leonardo Manco is one of my favorite comic artists and he doesn't disappoint here!  I really like Cap's heroic face and stance compared to Fury's no-nonsense look.  Manco's Red Skull is about one of the nastiest (in a good way) versions I've seen.  The one thing I don't like is Cap's strange gloves (which are the same through the whole comic).  I like how Manco puts his own flavor onto familiar characters, but those gloves are pretty bad.  Moving along! 

The story goes like this:

Sgt. Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos accidentally cross paths with Captain America and Bucky when they both gain information that a secret flight with a deadly new weapon is due to depart from a hidden airfield.  The stakes are raised when the Red Skull's involvement is revealed. 

Bucky and Cap disappear into a strange portal of light while chasing Red Skull and trying to capture the weapon, which is a mystic amulet stolen from Tibet. . .the Eye of Agamotto (of Dr. Strange fame a few decades in the future).  The Nazi's were also holding a priest, who is revealed to be The Ancient One.  He sends Fury and his team into the portal after Cap and Bucky.



On the other side of the portal is a strange, magical world unlike anything Cap or Fury has ever seen.  Captain America manages to grab the amulet from Red Skull, but during their escape, Bucky is wounded during a battle with gigantic creatures and Cap leaves him in a cave while he gets help.

Elsewhere, Fury and the Howlers make their way toward the sound of fighting, gaining directions and information from a village of strange, alien beings.  In the meantime, the ruler of the realm. . .none other than the Dread Dormammu. . .has struck an uneasy alliance with Red Skull in exchange for his assistance in gaining back the Amulet.

Red Skull takes Bucky captive and offers his life in exchange for the Amulet.  With the help of The Ancient One's magical trickery and some good bluffing on the part of Fury and Captain America, the heroes manage to escape Dormammu's realm with both Bucky and the Amulet.  Back on Earth, The Ancient One erases everyone's memories of the whole incident. . .leaving it as a forgotten chapter of WWII.

The End.

Well. . .Allrighty, then.  Captain America and Nick Fury in another dimension going up against the Dread Dormammu?  It actually reads better than it looks like it would.  As a matter of fact, I really liked this story!  Like the Captain America/ Namor one shot above, this is actually more of a Sgt. Fury story than a Captain America story. . .with just a dash of Dr. Strange thrown in for good measure.  

That said, like the Cap/Namor issue, I don't really mind Captain America being a secondary character here.  I'm not a big fan of Fury and The Howling Commandos in general.  When it comes to war comics, I've always been drawn more toward DC because of their more Anti-War stance.  Fury and The Howlers always seemed to glorify war in a very "Comic Booky" way.  But HERE (even though this is a jaunt through a very "comic booky" situation), the writer makes Fury and Company gritty and readable, without making them TOO dark.  I like this version of the characters a lot more than I normally would.

Captain America is pretty much there to heroically punch things and Bucky serves his usual Golden Age role of getting injured or captured (in this case, both).  So their roles are definitely second fiddle and not quite as well-written as Fury's.  That's not to say they're written badly.  They're just supporting characters in their own story.

Overall, this whole thing moves along at a very quick, very readable pace.  It's not the greatest comic story I've ever read by a long shot, but it's also a long way away from the worst.  It sort of sits in the middle of the scale as something that's not a particularly memorable story, but it IS a pretty fun story. . .so that gains it a few extra points in my book. 

BUT. . .

What REALLY takes this story up a notch is 63 glorious pages of fantastic Leonardo Manco artwork!  I mentioned above that Manco is one of my favorite artists and every single panel of every single page of this comic is feast for the eyes for a fan such as myself.  If you're NOT a fan of Manco's dark and gritty, sorta spiky art style, then you probably won't get as much out of this as I did, but to ME, the art alone is pretty much worth picking this one up.


I really like Manco's unusual panel layouts, and he thrives when given mystical or otherworldy subjects to work with.  After seeing this comic, I REALLY wish he could have done a Doctor Strange ongoing series.  I mean. . .just look at THIS!


CONCLUSION

Like I said above in my review of the Batman/Captain America crossover. . .sometimes you just want your comic books to be FUN.  Well, this is a fun comic book!  It's basically a fast-paced, unusual story that sold pretty well when it came out, but is now pretty much forgotten.  It's never been reprinted and there's barely any reviews. . .in other words, Longbox Junk.  That said, it's FUN Longbox Junk backed up by some stunning artwork.   In other words, it's a good read that's nice to look at that can be found pretty easily in the bargain bin. . .so definitely pick it up if you spot it!  

So there you have it.  A decent handful of Captain America One Shots.  Overall, not a bad bunch.  Bahama's Triangle was a bit disappointing, but even so it's not COMPLETELY bad. . .just. . .not great.  The other three are all good bargain bin picks, with Batman/ Captain America being the best of the bunch and definitely worth hunting down.

Up Next. . .

MORE Captain America One Shots!  
*waves flag* Awwwwwwwwww. . .YEAH!

Be there or be square!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Longbox Junk Retro Review Independence Day Special - Our Army At War #295

Welcome to another Longbox Junk Retro Review!  Every now and then, I like to take a step back from my usual Bargain Bin fare and shine a spotlight on some of the older or more "valuable" single issues in my collection. . .this is one of those times.  Enjoy!

To many "serious" collectors, the comic at hand isn't that old.  Likewise it isn't really too "valuable", either (about $20 in perfect condition). What this comic DOES have going for it is that it was part of DC's celebration of America's Bicentennial in 1976, and I was wanting to do something related to Independence Day for this entry.

Oddly enough it seems to be the only comic I have from 1976 marked as being part of America's Bicentennial Celebration.  I have other comics from 1976 in my collection, but none of them seem to care about the Bicentennial. For that matter, it seems to be the only comic in my collection that has anything to do with Independence Day in general (my daughter is out of town, so I didn't have a chance to dig through her boxes). I find that a bit strange, but there it is.

SO. . .

What we have here is my lone Independence Day-themed comic book.

It's one of the last issues of Our Army At War (which changed title to "Sgt. Rock"  and went from being an anthology to a Sgt. Rock-only comic with issue #301).  In my humble opinion, DC has always had hands-down the BEST war comics, and Our Army At War was right up there at the top of the list with great recurring characters like Sgt. Rock & Easy Company and Enemy Ace as well as talent like Robert Kanigher, Sam Glanzman, and my personal favorite all-time artist, the legendary Joe Kubert.

I think what I like best about Our Army At War (and DC's war comics in general) is that they never really glorify war.  Most of DC's war stories are ACTUALLY Anti-War stories!  In my humble opinion, Sgt. Rock is one of the greatest Anti-War characters ever written.

But enough introduction.  Let's take a look at this comic.

Oh. . .and Happy Independence Day from me to you!
Enjoy yourself and drive safely.

OUR ARMY AT WAR #295
DC (1976)
COVER: Joe Kubert

Before we get inside, let's take a moment and look at the cover.  
And what a cover it is!

It's a simple character portrait of Sgt. Rock done by the great Joe Kubert, but in its simplicity there's a lot of power.  It's just Rock standing there, surrounded by the colors and symbols of the United States. Sgt. Rock is a grim and unheroic figure, weathered and weary of war. You can definitely see Kubert's intent to show the patriotism of America's Bicentennial contrasted with a representation of the tired soldiers that have fought for America through history.

This is a brilliant cover and definitely one of my all-time favorites.

Let's get into the comic!  

THE DEVIL IN PARADISE
SCRIPT: Robert Kanigher
PENCILS: Frank Redondo

Sgt Rock and Easy Company are tasked with clearing a small town of any Nazi defenders so that an allied armor  unit can use it for a headquarters.  It's just another day in the war for Rock and the Easy veterans, but for a newly-arrived replacement, it's his baptism by fire when Easy Company loses several men to friendly mortar fire.

Rock is sickened by seeing yet another young man forced to witness the horror of war for the first time, and when the town is pacified after some brutal house to house fighting, he takes a walk to get some air and clear his head.

Outside of town, Rock is finally able to relax as he walks through a forest untouched by the war.  Unfortunately, on the shore of an idyllic pond, he is attacked by a German soldier.  A desperate hand to hand battle to the death ensues.  Rock finally wins, but as he looks around the forest. . .now disturbed by blood and battle. . .he realizes there's nowhere he can go to escape the war.

The End.

I have to say, this is a pretty powerful story.  It's well written by Robert Kanigher, and even though it's a bit heavy-handed, it packs a good emotional punch, especially in the beginning when Easy Company's new recruit gets his first taste of the horror of war and Sgt. Rock stoically tells him he's "joined the club". 


With that one single line, Kanigher tells us everything we need to know about Sgt. Rock.  He cares, but he's seen some stuff that can't be unseen.  He knows it's just the beginning for the new kid and there's nothing he can do about it except try to keep him alive. . .and there's no guarantees on that end.  

Once again, I maintain that DC had some of the best Anti-War /War Comics ever put on the stands, and the writing of people like Robert Kanigher was one of the things that made that possible. . .this short, simple story is a fine example.

The art in this story is pretty workmanlike.  Generally-speaking, it's good but not great.  It tells the story but doesn't try to be special.  That said, there are surprising splashes of brilliance here and there. . .the stoic expression of Rock as he tells the kid he's "Joined the club" on the page above, and this panel of Rock walking through the forest after the fight through the town. . .


In my humble opinion, the panel above completely captures the essence of Sgt. Rock in an almost perfect way!  I just wish the art in the rest of the story could have matched it throughout instead of just giving us flashes of greatness. That said, overall the art is pretty good.

Moving on!

WAR GAMES
ART: Sergio Aragones

Here we have a one page comedy interlude between the two actual stories of the comic.  To tell the truth, after the emotional punch of the opening story, it feels really weak and somewhat out of place.  Don't get me wrong, Sergio Aragones is a legend and I'm generally a fan of his work, but this really isn't one of his better efforts, and it's made a bit worse by coming in after such a great opener.


And finally. . .

MEDAL OF HONOR: SGT. YORK
SCRIPT & ART: Norman Maurer

Here we have an illustrated re-telling of the true tale of legendary WWI American hero and Medal of Honor Recipient,  Alvin York.

York was a Tennessee farmer who, when drafted into the army during WWI, initially refused to engage in any kind of violence against his fellow humans because of his extremely strong religious beliefs.  He eventually came to believe that violence in the name of protecting others and the greater good was acceptable.

In France, at the battle of the Argonne Forest, German machine gun fire had killed all the officers and most of the men in York's unit, leaving Corporal York in charge of the remaining soldiers. . .all seven of them.

Faced with THIRTY-FIVE German machine gun nests, York used the marksmanship he'd learned hunting in Tennessee to single-handedly take down TWELVE of them.  He then had his remaining men provide cover fire as he snuck behind the Germans to continue his one-man assault. . .taking down SIX more before encountering a German Major who surrendered the rest of his forces to York.

ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-EIGHT German soldiers and 4 officers surrendered to York and his handful of men that day.  For this amazing feat, York was awarded the Croix de Guerre (France's highest military honor) and the Medal of Honor.

The End.

This short re-telling of Alvin York's story hits the high points, but still falls a bit short of the full story of probably the most humble Bad@$$ Uncle Sam has ever handed a rifle to and sent to a foreign land.  Seriously, this guy was the real deal.  Read up on him.

The story itself is written well enough, it's pretty much a "this happened and then this happened" no frills narrative that skims York's tale decently enough for those who might not know about him.

The art is likewise no frills. . .average bordering on poor in places.  It helps tell the story at hand, but that's about all it does.  There's absolutely no effort toward making the art anything other than than it needs to be.  


Overall, this is a pretty minimal effort, using material you could get out of an encyclopedia and backed up by artwork that barely manages to hurdle the low bar of average.  It's interesting because of the subject, but other than that. . .not much to it.  

CONCLUSION

An almost perfect cover, a great opening story, a sorta "meh" one pager, and an average pre-Wikipedia true story info dump.  Overall, I give Our Army At War #295 a B- grade.  Where it's good, it's REALLY good.  The rest of it is just sort of. . .there.

The most disappointing thing about this comic for ME is that, despite that awesome cover, there's nothing in this comic about the Bicentennial or Independence Day in general, which really makes it a somewhat poor choice for an Independence Day Longbox Junk Special. . .but I've already written this much, so there it is.  I ain't a quitter, son!

All in all, I give this issue a recommendation for fans of war comics based on the main story alone.  It's a fine example of the War/Anti-War stories DC comics were so good at before the genre fizzled out.

Up Next. . .

Back to Longbox Junk business as usual. . .WITH advance apologies for inevitable summer delays.

Be there or be square!