onsdag 6 juni 2012

DC Showcase Presents: The Losers by Bob Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, and John Severin

So I've been working my way through a bunch of DC Showcase volumes. It's a mixed bag. Some of them are really bad, some of them are bad but saved by the artwork, some of them aren't really good, but viewed for what they are and considering the how long ago they were written, they're still OK. I think you really have to approach most of them as if you were still a kid – and from that perspective, there are still a few that I'd call "good".

Joe Kubert contributed a bunch of beautiful covers for the series.
As editor, he also apparently redrew the occasional panel inside the book.

The Losers is not good, though. In fact, it's pretty bad.

Here's the set-up (from G.I. Combat #138, 1969): The Haunted Tank, a light M-3 Stuart tank, has a mission. All by its lonesome, it's supposed to knock out a Nazi radar tower that turns out to be guarded by three German tanks. The light American tank kills one of the heavier German ones before sustaining a hit that destroys its gun, so it has to withdraw. Feeling like total losers, the dejected crew and their wounded tank clank aimlessly through an empty landscape, when they suddenly spot a navy Officer limping around, similarly aimlessly.

Russ Heath. Second only to Kubert as a DC war story artist.

In one of those amazing little coincidences, he had gotten the order to with his sole PT boat take out a big German gun, protected by a concrete bunker. By amazingly bouncing the PT boat's torpedoes along the waves, he managed to fulfill his mission, but lost the boat with all hands when it hit a mine shortly thereafter. (The limp isn't a result of any wound received in that tragedy, however; it's his old wooden leg that's responsible).

The navy officer, Captain Storm, gets a ride from the tankers, and shortly, they spot two more Americans wandering about. They're U.S. Marines Gunner and Sarge, who were brought over to the European Theater of Operations to teach an Army squad how to fight. Unfortunately, they lost the whole squad in an ambush, so they also feel like complete losers. And somewhat later, they chance upon a dejected flier ace, Navajo Indian Johnny Cloud, wandering away from his crashed airplane after having lost his greenhorn wingman.

So naturally, Jeb Stuart, the tank commander, asks this sorry lot if they'll help him fulfill his mission, and equally naturally, they agree. The newcomers sneak across an unguarded bridge into the unguarded little town harboring the Nazi radar station, and start shooting it out with the multitude of German soldiers inside the building housing the radar station, whereupon the Haunted Tank rolls onto the bridge guarded by two Nazi tanks, apparently to create a diversion – which is of course somewhat beside the point now that the foot soldiers have already been discovered.

Anyway, the Nazi tanks keep missing the M-3 (a good thing, too, as it only has its machine gun to protect itself), and the German soldiers guarding the radar facility keep missing Captain Cloud et al, so the latter simply drop a bunch of tank rounds down on the radar station, blowing the whole thing to kingdom come. After that, everybody escapes unscathed – except for Capt. Storm, but fortunately it's only his wooden leg that gets hit (which'll be a recurring event throughout the book; huge amounts of ammo will be expended in the Losers' direction, and the only casualty they'll suffer is another hit in Capt. Storm's wooden leg).

Anyway, this initial episode was drawn by Russ Heath, so at least it looked gorgeous, The following ones, from the pages of Our Fighting Forces, don't even have that going for them. Ken Barr does the first following episode, then the classic team of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito do about 100 pages. (Unfortunately, I've never much cared for their style; a certain stiffness in the figures and something about the way Andru draws faces, especially the mouth area, has always put me off.) Finally, John Severin takes over the art chores for the rest of the book's 450 pages, and while his no-frills style isn't exactly Kubertian, it's still pretty good. (I'd call it the Neue Sachlichkeit if that name wasn't already taken.)

Characteristic overwhelming-odds-and-no-cover-don't-matter fight scene.
Artists: Ross Andru & Mike Esposito.

But ultimately, it doesn't help, when the scripts are mostly artless repetitions of the same old story – the Losers whiningly accept a mission ("What does it matter? We're the Losers. We always lose!"), the Losers attacking an overwhelming number of Germans and winning, accomplishing their objective but failing to do so perfectly, then whining "We're the Losers. We always lose!".

Occasionally, there'll be a story that has something going for it, like a sentimental story about the Losers making friends with a young English woman about to marry, only to see her killed by a Stuka (inexplicably attacking an English countryside inn) and then her flier fiancee killed in a dogfight before he learns the tragic news, but mainly this is "we can beat these SMG-armed Germans with just our fists" tripe that I don't think I could have liked past the age of ten.

Machinegun-armed plane against a half-dozen guys armed merely with submachine guns.
You only get one guess who'll win – and without any losses, of course. Artist: John Severin.

Not recommended. Leave it to the comics history nerds to do the slugging one's way through this one.

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