« Look! An undersea monster!
Spearing that torpedo like it
was a sardine! It’s a nightmare! »
Writer-editor Bob Kanigher, flanked by artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, drew first blood in « The War that Time Forgot », chronicled in DC’s Star Spangled War Stories beginning with issue 90 (May, 1960). The idea was scarily basic, but it was an irresistible premise, at least where young boys were concerned: let’s face it… soldiers vs dinosaurs. How might a T-Rex fare against a bazooka charge? Well…
The only time the series (what I’ve read of it… Andru and Esposito are no dream team of mine) did anything for me was a tale about two soldiers, one American and the other Japanese, stranded together on « Monster Island » and having to save each other’s sashimi. And this was before Lee and Toshirô got together on their own little slice of Hell in the Pacific, yet! I enjoyed the human interest aspect of the tale.
While I, like pretty much any other kid, was fascinated by dinosaurs early on, I quickly soured on inaccurate and fanciful depictions of the beasts. The War That Time Forgot is just one long, tedious dino-butchering exercise, be they harmless herbivores or kill-frenzied carnivores. Piss-poor palaeontology, that. Give me King Kirby‘s Devil Dinosaur any old time instead: that series runneth over with surreal, freewheeling fun, with nary a claim to accuracy in sight or in mind.
Ahem. The WTTF ran its course in SSWS until issue 137 (February-March, 1968), and was replaced by the far more nuanced Enemy Ace by Kanigher and Joe Kubert. Their all-time high, arguably in the case of Kubert, and without the faintest shadow of a doubt in Kanigher’s case.
So why am I writing about this series if I care so little about it? Well, when Andru (meh) or Kubert (great, true to form) weren’t handling cover duties, Russ Heath was. And while I’m fairly unmoved by Heath’s skill as a storyteller (too static, too measured), he was a first-rate cover artist, most strikingly for DC’s 1960s war books (and hey, Sea Devils) and Atlas’ 1950s westerns and horror titles.
So, in fond remembrance of Mr. Heath, who left us last week at the age of ninety-one, here’s a gallery of his Star Spangled War Stories covers featuring The War That Time Forgot. Thank you, sir.
Addendum to SSWS 131: apparently, « Bird-Man » started a trend, as everyone and his distant ancestor soon was riding a Pteranodon of his own. To wit: Tomahawk #109 (Mar. – Apr. 1967… just a month later).
Russ Heath was a really good, talented artist, and probably a bit on the underrated side. Since he seldom drew super-heroes a lot of younger fans are not as familiar with his work.
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I quite agree with your conclusions, Ben. Up to the mid-1970s, when genre and audience variety collapsed, most of the various (but often overlapping) readerships that preferred their comics diet to be low in Spandex had plenty to sustain them. I’d see girls reading Archies, sure, but also Young Romance, Witching Hour and Ghostly Haunts… and maybe Wonder Woman. Guys who read G.I. Combat might also read Drag ‘n’ Wheels and the spooky books… and Archies, if they were handy. Then all those titles went away, and these readers, for the most part, never returned, leaving the superhero fans to write the history of the medium in their own image. That leaves quite a few stellar creators underrepresented.
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