Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents: Weird War Tales Volume 1 edited by Joe Kubert & Joe Orlando
As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, the relaxation of the Comics Code in the early 1970s created a horror anthology boom at DC Comics. At the same time, the once best-selling war comics were going into a slump, at least partially due to the real-life Vietnam War becoming increasingly unpopular. So a hybrid title was created that combined the two genres.
Like many anthology comics, there was initially a framing device of a narrator telling the stories to a soldier and the reader. This switched around a few times, until the series settled on Death as the host of the book. For who knows the stories of war better? The majority of the stories are set in World War Two, both because the writers and artists had served in that conflict or were close to those that were, and because the sides were so clearly drawn. None of the stories in the first twenty-one issues are set in the Vietnam conflict; the most recent war covered is the Korean War in one story, and even then not presented by name.
The art in this volume is stellar. Joe Kubert (who also got to be an editor on this title), Russ Heath, Irv Novick and others are well-served by the black and white reprint. The stories range from good to trite. The two most often used plots are “Corporal Bob saved your life? But he died last week!” and “Arrogant Nazis disregard local superstitions, die horribly.” A couple of standouts are Issue #11’s “October 30”, which is a series of interconnected stories taking place on that date in different years as Von Krauss seeks glory and promotion in more than one war; and “The Warrior and the Witch Doctors!” which has a Roman legionary time traveling, but a unique twist ending changes everything.
The Comics Code, while loosened, was still in effect, so while rape and suicide are implied, they are never directly shown. The gore is also turned way down, unlike many current horror comics. (On the other hand, there’s enough violence to make the “Make War No More” buttons that sometimes end the stories seem out of place.) There are some period ethnic slurs in a couple of the stories. Only one female soldier is seen, and very briefly at that in a post-atomic war story.
The subject matter means that this volume won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the art makes it well worth it for fans of war comics who can take a little weirdness in with it.