Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Fair Trade -- Showcase Presents: The War That Time Forgot

Showcase Presents: The War That Time Forgot

When I first saw the first wave of Marvel Essentials back when I was in college, I really fell for the idea of inexpensive, bulk, black and white reprints of classic material. And as I eagerly tore through each volume of Essential Iron Man and Essential Avengers, I couldn't help but wonder: why did DC do the same thing? Obviously there was a demand for this format of trade paperback, and DC had a really varied and diversified offering back in the late 50s and through the 60s, including plenty of "genre" comics which are not well represented today, including Western and War. So when DC finally announced their competing format, I was very happy to see Jonah Hex and Haunted Tank amongst the early editions, not to mention Unknown Soldier following closely behind. But never, ever, could I have predicted this.

I mean, it's soldiers fighting dinosaurs. Every story. Every issue. Think about that.

Star-Spangled War Stories did feature some other, more standard War comics inside its anthological pages, but for this collection, the entire focus is on the "War That Time Forgot" feature, with a smattering of recurring characters, and quite a few anonymous grunts, ending up tangling with prehistoric beasts "from the dinosaur age!" By the way? Get used to that phrase. You're going to see it a lot.

For sheer inanity and Silver Age oddness, this is a hard volume to top. Beyond the basic concept, which is pretty out there in the first place, you have such elements as the Flying Boots, a trio of brothers who are also a circus high-wire act, or the G.I. Robot, long before a similar character took over the pages of Weird War Tales. There's a strange group called the Suicide Squad (!), consisting of various men who seem to all have it in for one another in addition to the enemy, including Mace and Morgan, who have a few starring roles towards the end. There's even a few adventures with a giant, friendly albino gorilla, Dino, the Baby Dinosaur, and G.I. Caveboy. G.I. Caveboy. To call this "unusual" is the understatement of several centuries.
Battle of the Dinosaur Aquarium! STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES #107
But that's not say it's bad, because it most certainly is not. This is, for the most part, entertaining stuff, with outlandish creatures and a crazy rendition of the US Armed Forces. Bob Kanigher could write war stories like nobody's business, and on these tales he seemed to be just cutting loose and having fun. The art, mostly done by Ross Andru, but with some Kubert mixed in there, is clean and creative, with most of the beasties given some unique traits to differentiate it. The sound effects are superb, crackling and vibrant, and also are very useful at highlighting the difference between modern and classic effect work. And, individually, the stories are not bad especially considering that this is Silver Age DC.

Notice I said individually. The problems begin to show up when you read the stories in fairly rapid succession, like I have. The repetition of not only basic plot but also of phrases and elements starts to drag the reader down from the grin-inducing silliness. I suspect that this was due more to the fact that "War That Time Forgot" was a feature in an anthology, so every two months you'd not only get your dinosaur fix, but also some more staid fare as well, so it wasn't hitting over the head like it is here. It gets to the point where you start dreading reading the phrase "Mace and Morgan -- who hate each other more than the enemy!" or "Blockbuster from the dinosaur age!" again and again, and the stories start to bog.

The Dinosaur Who Ate Torpedos!  STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES #123
But ultimately, I cannot hold that against this volume too much. It's not the material's fault that it is best read spread out, and not condensed. One could purchase this trade, and spend a year reading stories out of it, and would probably enjoy it more than I have pounding it out in a month or so. If you've grown bored with what's sitting on the racks of your local comic shop, you will get a good deal of mileage out of Showcase Presents: The War That Time Forgot, with which you can shut off your brain and dream about tossing "lead pineapples" at "tank crushers" from, that's right, "the dinosaur age!"

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