Comic Book Review: Our Army at War edited by Joey Cavalieri
Back in the day, DC Comics had a fine line of war comics. Primarily focused around World War Two, they paid tribute to the American military and the Greatest Generation. Which is not to say that they were mindless patriotic propaganda. The stories often depicted the costs of war, and to an extent the gray areas of combat. The Comics Code of the time prevented them from showing gore and some of the atrocities of wartime, or going too far in criticizing the officers, but the stories often showed U.S. soldiers who did not live up to strict moral standards, and the human side of the enemy.
Also, they had some of the best art at DC, with Joe Kubert as their iconic presence. As I mentioned in my review of Weird War Tales‘ Showcase volume, sales of the war books started to fall in the 1970s with the unpopularity of Vietnam and a general revulsion towards the military. At the same time, the Comics Code eased and (relatively mild) horror took a rise in popularity, resulting in “weird” elements being inserted in some of the lesser war books.
Eventually, the various series petered out. While there have been war books for short runs since, they’ve never been the sellers they once were. However, DC still has the trademarks for the titles, and some classic characters, so in 2010 the company published a handful of one-shots to keep the trademarks active. They were combined for this graphic novel version in 2011.
Our Army at War itself leads off with “Time Stands Still for No Man” by Mike Marts and Victor Ibañez. It compares and contrasts World War Two and the then-current Afghanistan War by following the stories of a volunteer soldier in each conflict. The WWII section has Sergeant Rock and Easy Company, but they are mostly background, as are the mercenary Gods of War in the modern section. It’s the most innovative of the stories in structure.
Weird War Tales is split into three shorts. “Armistice Night” by Darwyn Cooke and Dave Stewart is a darkly silly tale of the annual get together of the ghosts of history’s great warriors. “The Hell Above Us” by Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein spins a yarn of the sole survivor of a sunken submarine…and what he finds when he surfaces. “Private Parker Sees Thunder Lizards” by Jan Strnad and Gabriel Hardman is one of those borderline cases–is the blinded, dying soldier conjuring up dinosaurs to battle the Nazis, or is it all a fantasy his buddy is enabling to allow Private Parker pass away with a smile?
Our Fighting Forces stars “The Losers”: one-eyed and -legged PT boat captain without a boat Captain Storm; Johnny Cloud, the lonely Navajo Ace, and Gunner & Sarge, the sole survivors of their Marine platoon. Four misfits assigned to the toughest missions, who somehow come out alive to nurse their survivors’ guilt again. In “Winning Isn’t Everything” by B. Clay Moore, Chad Hardin & Wayne Faucher, they are assigned to take out an isolated Nazi air field, but the route mapped out for them is just a little too obvious. Their innovative solutions may win the day, but is that for the best?
G.I. Combat is back to the weird with “Listening to Ghosts” by Matthew Sturges and Phil Winslade is centered on the Haunted Tank, a M3 Stuart tank with a commander named Lieutenant Jeb Stuart. The lieutenant often sees and gets advice from his namesake, Civil War general J.E.B. Stuart. Usually the ghost only warns of danger with cryptic utterances. In this story, Lt. Stuart finds that his friendly rival Lt. Billy Sherman, who commands a M4 Sherman tank, has been killed by Nazi snipers, and he must use the unfamiliar machine to assist his regular crew, with another ghost whispering over his shoulder. Notably, the iconic Stars & Bars flag flown from the Haunted Tank in the original series is absent in this story without explanation.
Star-Spangled War Stories represents the non-American contingent of the Allies with French Resistance fighter Mademoiselle Marie. “Vive Libre ou Mourir!” by Billy Tucci, Justiano, Tom Derenck & Andrew Mangum has the beautiful and deadly anti-fascist parachuted in to a new Resistance group who she will lead in destroying key railroads. But treachery is afoot–the local Maquis du Gevaudan would rather use the money Marie brought to buy rifles for direct combat. More treachery ensues. Non-explicit sex scenes and some kink, as well as the standard violent death.
It’s a decent collection, but inconsequential. The Darwyn Cooke story is the most interesting. I’d say it’s a good choice for someone who wants to sample DC’s war comics characters without needing to find spendy back issues. Some great art.