Monday, April 02, 2012

Number 1133: Russ Heath's internal war

I don't know who wrote these stories for Atlas' War Comics #7 (1951)—Hank Chapman, maybe?—but they took a cue from Harvey Kurtzman and his cerebral war stories in Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales. They both show soldiers in combat who have a lot on their minds. In the first, a soldier doubts his ability to confront an enemy, in the other, bothered by no mail from home preys on the soldier's mind.

These human reactions elevate these stories over many other comic book war stories, where the American soldiers are unrealistically heroic, brave and single-minded. Before being drafted, in many a nightmare I confronted my own fears of being in the same situation as the G.I. in "Alone." I was in the Army during the Vietnam era but spent my time in Germany. As a clerk-typist my actual worst fear was putting the carbon paper in backwards.

Russ Heath does his usual superb work. He is a master of the impact panel, in this case the bottom panel of page 5, where the soldier's fears suddenly materialize into reality, and the full horror stands before him.


Ger Apeldoorn said...

The job numbers on these stories are next to each other. Since the numbes were given out when a writer delivered his script, they probably were written by the same man. I don't think it is Chapman and it certainly isn't Stan Lee himself. And then Russ Heath walked in and asked for a new story to do. "Here, take two," Stan said.

Gumba G Gadwa said...

Kurtzman always said his various imitators never got the point, and it shows here. This stuff screams Kurtzman through and through, but the happy ending erasing everything that came before it.

Just like the mad-inspired stuff got the humor but missed the sarcasm, this stuff missed the "war is hell/there are no winners" aspect of Kurtzman's stuff.

Kurtzman wasn't trying to be anti-war but trying to realistically portray what it was. This is just jingoistic.

Beautiful art, though. Fits a war tell perfectly.

Pappy said...

Gumba, it would be hard for anyone to be able to "get" Kurtzman, or even to copy his style totally. He was a unique talent.

I like that the writer attempted to give his soldiers some feelings and thoughts, being scared, or in the case of the letter-less G.I. in "A.P.O.", feeling cut off from home and family.

As for happy endings, that could have to do with editorial style, dictating to the writer. HK being his own editor solved that problem.

Ger, thanks as always for your insights. I'm always interested in the production end of comics, but I leave it to you and other Atlas experts to figure out the job numbers.

Mykal Banta said...

HEATH!!! God, this makes me miss my war comics blog. Curse me for a fool for giving it up.

Heath was like no other. I don't care who wrote it. Heath did the art.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Gumba, don't judge all Atlas comics just by these two stories. In fact, most of their war stories from 1952 are more depressing and sarcastic than those of HK. There are whole books where every story ends with the main hero dying. There is one story by Hank Cgapman about a soldier who is pinned to the ground on a bajonet and in the end he decided to shoot himself through the stomach rather than be captured by the commies and betray his mates. That's another weird thing about them; they are bleak and show that war is a teriible thing... while still operting from the basic thought that the war against the commies is necessary. I think the biggest point of Kurtzman's comics wasn't that they were anti-war, because they weren't. But that they weren't pro-war either. The biggest difference must have been his age - Kurtzman did not fight overseas in WWII and Hank Chapman did and that resulted in a totally different outlook. Do yourself a favor and look online for some of Chapan's early war stories and you'll be surprised.

Weird WWII said...

Russ is one of my favorites and his war books were incredible. His Our Army at War books were by far his best in my book.

Sorry Joe,