I guess I should start out by confessing that I considered reviewing all of these comics separately as part of a larger #WarComicsMonth review set, but the month of November got all sorts of crazy and I wanted to make sure I got them all in. Plus, I thought it would be interesting to do a bit of a comparative review here.
So what I’m looking at is Star Spangled War Stories #183, a DC comic from 1974 starring The Unknown Soldier; and four comics published by Charlton in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s: D-Day #4 (1966), Fightin’ Army #113 (1974) and #153 (1981), and Fightin’ Marines #135 (1977). While they span the better part of fifteen years, they’re all of a particular vintage and similar style.
The Star Spangled War Stories issue features a story that centers around Kamikazes and winds up being a survival story where an American pilot and a Japanese soldier fend off sharks on a raft. The Charlton books are stories about various heroes or villains of World War II, from Marines in the jungle to various horror stories of Nazis.
Out of the four Charlton books, D-Day was the most interesting to me because most of the story centered around a platoon who landed at Normandy having a reunion. However, the copy that I had (purchased for a quarter at my LCS) was so badly mildewed it was literally hard to read. There’s a well-told story in one of the Fightin’ Army issues about a pair of brothers on each side of the war against Germany that features the Nazi captain discovering the error of his ways after visiting Auschwitz and making the heroic sacrifice. And there’s a good recap about the Russian offensive in another. But for the most part, the Charlton books were pretty generic and didn’t exactly hold my attention. I think it’s because I have read my fair share of DC and Marvel war comics at this point and those are a better quality.
Why is that? Well, the artwork wasn’t worse or anything like that. It’s the writing. The Charlton books are pretty solid overall, but they lack the strength of character that both DC and Marvel do. Star Spangled War Stories is really good because of the presence of The Unknown Soldier, and if I were buying this off the stands back in 1974, I would have been looking for that particular hero. Plus, a guy with bandages around his face is pretty interesting.
This, of course, shows my bias. I’m a DC guy as well as a fan of books like G.I. Joe, so the whole aesthetic of the “gimmick” war comic character is right up my alley. Plus, I have to say that the backup story called “Return,” is a science fiction story by Walt Simonson and is absolutely gorgeous.
Now, if you’re curious about what Charlton put out in the realm of war comics, check out Comic Book Plus, which has free public domain books. And if you see one of these on the extremely cheap, give it a try. As for Star Spangled War Stories, these are a little harder to come by. DC hasn’t done a lot of digitzing of its war comics, so you’ll have to go bin hunting for these. I’d say it was worth it, even if my copy is literally falling apart and I’m going to send it off to somewhere else.
Keep, Sell, Donate, or Trash?
Donate all of them.