Tuesday, 6 April 2010

War is Hell - literally. Weird War Tales #23.

Weird War Tales #23If names are for tombstones that could explain why the artists with the best names seemed to draw tales from beyond the grave.

It could also explain why DC's horror mags grabbed me more than Marvel's. Marvel's horror anthologies were always produced by people with names like Stan and Don and Jack.

But DC?

Ah, DC, they knew a horror tale should be brought to you by people with names like Ruben, Alfredo, Nestor and Luis.

Top of the tree for me when it came to DC horror anthologies was Weird War Tales. This was odd, as one of the reasons I quickly gravitated towards American comics was that British comics always seemed to be full of plucky Tommies battling Germans who only ever said things like, "Gott in Himmel", "Achtung", and, "For you, Britisher dog, the war is over." Needless to say, thanks to this sophisticated level of characterisation, I was not a fan of war comics.

Perhaps inevitably though, war and horror go together and, thus, as a lover of horror, I was more then willing to make an exception for Weird War Tales.

Issue #23 is, I think pretty typical of the mag. In the first tale, the mighty Alfredo Alcala shows us his illustrative chops, as an American GI keeps seeing a bird of death hovering over anyone who's going to die. Needless to say he uses this "gift" to lure his nasty German captor to the doom he so richly deserves. The second story's a Day After Doomsday scenario with a man who's starving and finds a snack machine that only dispenses money. Although well done, they're pretty much standard fare for the title.

Weird War Tales #23, Corporal Kelly's Private War, Alex Nino
But the final story's one of my favourite Weird War Tales ever; Corporal Kelly's Private War, in which a radar operator, bored by the lack of action in the modern army, finds himself transported to another dimension where he single handedly wins a war, only to find, when he returns home, that his absence is to blame for Pearl Harbour.

It's quite untypical in that way. Mostly DC horror stories saw their protagonist get the comeuppance he so richly deserved, whereas poor old Corporal Kelly's done nothing whatsoever to deserve his fate. George Kashdan wrote it but a huge chunk of the thing's appeal is that it's drawn by the fabulous Alex Nino, a man whose twisted and demented artwork defies all description. In his hands, even a tin of beans becomes a strange and alien thing.

A couple of years back, I got my hands on a job lot of Weird War Tales, including virtually all the issues I had as a kid and, reading them all back-to-back, it quickly becomes clear how limited the comic's palette was, with the same ideas turning up time and again. How many times someone invaded another community with surprising ease only to discover their new "subjects" were all vampires who'd allowed themselves to be "conquered" so they'd have a ready supply of food. Or, as in this issue, a man with a curse/gift who uses it to die a hero. Not to mention endless doomed attempts to achieve literal or metaphorical immortality.

It's also clear that, strangely, it didn't seem able to move readers to strong opinions, judging by editor Joe Orlando's constant pleas for them to actually send in some letters so he could have a letters page. Still, as a kid, none of that ever struck me. All I knew was that war is hell and, for the twenty minutes it took to read an issue, I was in a minor kind of heaven.

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