Weird War Tales

Posted by on October 5th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Weird War Tales; one-shot (November 2010); Various; Various; DC Comics; Color, 22 pp.; $3.99

Weird War Tales is back from the dead.

This one-shot anthology reminds us what was great about the classic DC horror-combat title. The stories are short, crisp, clever and poignant, but unpretentious.  In keeping with the demands of the anthology format, each story makes its point with a minimum of narrative complexity, and ends when it is done. Nic Klein’s and Gabriel Hardman’s art is similarly reminiscent of the ’70s-era horror comics.  It is nicely textured and carefully detailed, but sometimes a little bit stiff. Darwyn Cooke and Dave Stewart’s art, in contrast, is simplified, stylized and cartoony; it is more dynamic as a result, and also more humorous, which works well for the story it illustrates.  (Cooke and Stewart clearly owe a debt to Mike Mignola’s sometimes blocky work in Hellboy.)  The best image arrives as a single page by Steve Pugh.  Conceptually simple — a skeleton solider standing in a graveyard — it is carefully drawn with high contrast and a lot of detail.  More gloomy than scary, it would make for a good heavy metal album cover.

The stories are, by turns, fun, melancholy, and sweetly sentimental. The last story in the issue, “Private Parker Sees Thunder Lizards” by Jan Strnad and Gabriel Hardman, is actually all three.  It is a touching tale of friendship and loyalty, as one GI tries to comfort his mortally wounded buddy.  Childhood memories and desperate hallucinations mingle together, with bittersweet results.

Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein’s “The Hell Above Us” is rather darker by comparison, beginning as a tense, claustrophobic submarine story, and then joining a “timelessness of war” theme with an Ancient Mariner plotline.  In the course of a battle the sub is disabled and drifts down to the ocean floor.  It soon becomes apparent that no one is coming to save the crew.  They slowly run out of air and die, one by one — except for the narrator who remains, miraculously or horrifically, alive and trapped at the bottom of the ocean.

The best story of the set, in my opinion, is the first — Darwyn Cooke and Dave Stewart’s “Armistice Night.”  In it, dead soldiers from ages past assemble on a battlefield and compete in the skills of warfare.  The result is funny and grotesque — a slapstick parody of Valhalla, a mockery of the ideals of heroic warrior culture.  The contests build to an all-against-all fight to the finish, and, perhaps inevitably, Hitler blows everyone to pieces.  All that is left is a pile of charred skulls, one of which remarks:  “Not exactly our finest hour.”

The last frame presents the moral in the form of a pacifist slogan: “Make War No More.”

This anti-war sentiment is reflected on the cover, as well.  Also by Darwyn Cooke, the cover shows a more detailed image of the corpse soldiers, wearing the uniforms of their bygone eras, standing in a field of poppies under a red sky.  Aside from a central figure, who confronts the viewer with an eyeless stare, the dead warriors look downward and to the right, their weapons at rest.  It is not an image of glory, but of grief.  It sets the tone for a book as much about horror as about war — and thus, by implication, about the horror of war.

cover by Darwyn Cooke; ©2010 DC Comics

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