America at War

    (DC, 1979)
™ and © DC Comics

War, despite its tragic and gory aspects, has always been a primary subject of adventure literature, and it was a staple genre of comic books from the early days of the Golden Age until the early 1980s. Bad war comics are painful to read–full of clichés, stereotypes, simple-minded politics, and tasteless glorification of real-world violence. But the good ones, if rarely great, maintain a consistent level of storytelling quality, even if the underlying ideas seem quaint (or worse) by modern standards.

Throughout its 40 years of publishing war comics, DC maintained high standards of writing, art and characterization that made almost any given issues of one of its “Big Five” titles (Our Army at War, Star-Spangled War Stories, GI Combat, Our Fighting Forces, and All-American Men of War) a decent read. This was due in large part to the quality of Robert Kanigher’s scripts and the clean, bold art of Joe Kubert, Russ Heath, Irv Novick, Sam Glanzman and Ross Andru.

America at War presents a cross-section of these stories from the 1940s to the late 1970s. The Golden Age work is closer to the super-hero genre, with characters like Blackhawk, the Boy Commandoes, and Hop Harrigan. A couple World War II-era Superman stories are also reprinted. From the 1950s on, however, the cast changes to more everyman soldiers, like the iconic Sgt. Rock and his Easy Company. America at War also presents a few more sophisticated stories from the late 60s and 70s, when the Vietnam era led to a questioning of the values underlying the black and white moral universe of war comics. These, including beautifully-drawn stories by Alex Toth and Sam Glanzman, are among the highlights of the volume.

America at War was one of three collections of DC genre comics (the others were romance and sci-fi, to be discussed in a later column) published by Fireside Books and edited by Michael Uslan. The trade paperback editions are hard to come by; the hardcovers are downright rare. All are worth hunting down, as they offer nicely-produced reprints of enjoyable stories from a bygone era of comics history.

— Rob Salkowitz

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  Michael Uslan