Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Look at DC's Weird War

In the early 1970's someone at DC noticed that a certain word caught the attention of the buying public. This word was attached to a number of genres, including war, western, adventure and humor. This started with Weird War Tales # 1, Oct 1971, followed nine months later by Weird Western Tales (# 12, July 1972); Weird Mystery Tales  # 1 (August 1972) and Weird Worlds # 1 (September 1972), which focused on material by Edgar Rice Burroughs (John Carter, Pellucidar). "Weird" was also added to the long running Adventure Comics (although the indicia remained unchanged) for five issues: it was appropriate for the Spectre stories produced by Michael Fleisher and Jim Aparo (#'s 433-437).  Even the humor comic Plop! was sub-titled "The Magazine of Weird Humor". The only genre missing was Weird Romance, although that title might have raised the ire of the Comics Code (it would have made for some interesting stories, though!).

 Weird War Tales was the first DC comic to employ the sobriquet, and as you can see from the cover to the first issue, "WEIRD" was emphasized. At this point the Comics Code had softened its guidelines and was more lenient with the use of horror and words that were once considered taboo.


Joe Kubert provides an excellent cover to the premiere issue. Notice how large and ornate the word Weird is on the cover. Weird War Tales # 1, October 1971. Image from the GCD.

 DC was doing well with their mystery line and decided to mix some of those elements to the war genre. Initially Weird War mainly consisted of reprints, with new wraparound pages similar to those that appeared in House of Mystery, House of Secrets and Tales of the Unexpected. New stories also appeared, with work by the likes of Reed Crandall and Russ Heath. Sales must have been strong, since by the 8th issue Weird War Tales featured all new material.



     A moody page by Joe Kubert (art and story?) featuring the "seaweed creature", who hosts the reprinted stories by Bill Finger, Bob Haney and Dave Wood and art by Ross Andru/Mike Esposito, Russ Heath and Mort Drucker. New material included work by Len Wein/Marv Wolfman, Russ Heath and John Costanza. Weird War Tales #3, February 1972.  



Editor Joe Kubert's versatility extends to this impressive letters page logo. Kubert also replied to the letters. 



Alex Toth's use of black space, open space and expressions shines through on this page from the opening segment of Weird War Tales # 5, June 1972. Bob Haney story, John Costanza letters.



Russ Heath's superlative storytelling is apparent, particularly on the bottom three panels, with his use of shadows. The unidentified colorist compliments the work. "Slave", Willie Franz script, John Costanza letters, Weird War Tales # 5. 

In issue # 6 the format changed from 25 cents/52 pages to 20 cents/32 pages, and Joe Orlando took over the editorship from Joe Kubert in issue #8. Orlando edited many of DC's "weird" titles.   


Walt Simonson's first professional work, I believe. While a little crude, his sense of design and offbeat character makes the page interesting. "Cyrano's Army", Len Wein script, Walt Simonson letters? Weird War Tales # 10, January 1973. Early issues of WWT included a number of young talents such as Howard Chaykin.

Weird War Tales continued under Joe Orlando's editorship until issue #55, featuring the work of creators such as Robert Kanigher, Shelly Mayer, Tony DeZuniga, Arnold Drake, Nestor Redondo, Luis Dominguez, Jack Oleck, Don Perlin, Alex Nino, George Evans, Bernard Baily and Frank Robbins (I'm missing many of these issues, but if anyone has a particularly nice page from this period, feel free to send me a scan at caputon66@aol.com and I'll try to update and include a few more images. Of course, you will be credited properly for your contribution).  

Paul Levitz became editor with issue # 56, running the show until # 92. Len Wein and Mike Barr followed, with E. Nelson Bridwell/Julie Schwartz credited as co-editors on issues 109-124. According to both Robin Snyder and Bob Kanigher, it was Bridwell who actually edited the book. 

In an interview with Steve Whitaker and Tim Bateman,  Kanigher explained:

"Schwartz was the editor of Weird War Tales except Nelson Bridwell did the editing."

Robin Snyder, who worked for DC at the time, was kind enough to elaborate with his first-hand observations on Bridwell's contributions:

"Each and every one of the final issues in the Weird War Tales series was developed, designed and carefully edited by E. Nelson Bridwell. He chose the writers, artists, letterers, colorists and constructed the book cover to cover but much of the run consisted of inventory inherited from Mike Barr, Len Wein and Jack C. Harris (I believe).
  
This is a fact. I watched him at work Monday through Friday. His office was across from mine.
  Bridwell was a serious fellow and all business.  He had few visitors other than myself, Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru and Gil Kane and an occasional writer or artist.

 I remember the day he was assigned the title. He asked if I had any ideas for it since the main writer, J.M. DeMatteis, had left the company. I suggested he call Kanigher and offer The Creature Commandos to him. RK accepted and called me to ask for necessary background and character information he might need. I assisted and/or gave Nelson a hand with a few features in almost every issue from #109 t0 #124. 

 I can recall his unique ability to catch problems at a glance, various corrections he made in my stories and his willingness to experiment and try something new or old.

 When he was told that the title would be cancelled to make way for something mercifully forgotten, he wondered if I had any ideas for the bitter end. I suggested a special feature for the editorial pages. That left one page open. I asked him to call RK to write a one-page finale to his continuing features, The Creature Commandos and The G.I. Robot. (Nelson surprised me in running two inventory stories I had written for his predecessor, Mike Barr.

 Nelson deserves all of the credit for that unique run and for keeping it going against insurmountable odds.
 
 Just why Julie and management would allow Schwartz to take credit for Bridwell's excellent work is a puzzle that may never be solved."  


As noted, Robin Snyder wrote a few stories for Weird War, and his lively, informative and entertaining letter column replies in issues 104-115 and 121-124 are a special treat.



A sample of RS's [Robin Snyder] letter column, from Weird War Tales # 106, December 1981 



Dick Ayers was noted for his work on Sgt. Fury at Marvel, along with numerous war features. Ayers also drew his share of horror, and here the two are combined. "The Blood Boat", J.M. DeMatteis story, Dan Adkins inks, Jean Simek letters, Jerry Serpe colors. Weird War Tales # 70, December 1978. 



Don Heck also showed up in the pages of Weird War. Above is an attractively designed page. "Frieze Frame", Paul Kupperberg script, Todd Klein letters, Bob Le Rose colors, Weird War Tales # 81, November 1979.     



Don Heck was no stranger to horror comics, and drew his share of monsters and ghouls in the 950's. Here he takes a turn at depicting the skeleton host for a subscription ad in the aforementioned Weird War # 81.


Tom Sutton drew a 17 page story taking place during the crusades. Throughout its run Weird War would employ the occasional longer or full length stories, including a variety of time periods, past, present and future. "The Ravaging Riders of Ruin" Cary Burkett script, Ben Oda letters, Adrienne Roy colors, Weird War # 92, October 1980.


And what would a post be without some Ditko content?? Steve Ditko contributed a handful of stories to Weird War over the years. Here he illustrates the stone statues of Easter island. I particularly like the imposing statue's face in panel 4. "The 600 Heads of Death!" Bob Kanigher script (one of the few instances that Ditko illustrated a Kanigher story. The second appears in WWT # 105, "Death's Second Face), Oda letters, Serpe colors, Weird War Tales # 95, January 1981.     


Dave Cockrum presents some Blackhawk-esque characters in "The War That Time Forgot" series. "A Gauntlet of Giants" Bob Kanigher script, Jerry Ordway inks, Ben Oda letters, Adrienne Roy colors, Weird War Tales # 99, May 1981. "The War that Time Forgot" was originated by Robert Kanigher in Star Spangled War Stories # 90, May 1960, originally drawn by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. It remained as an ongoing (and often cover feature) until # 137, March 1968. 

Beginning in Weird War # 93 the title began to include offbeat recurring series such the aforementioned "War That Time Forgot", G.I. Robot (also created  and written by Bob Kanigher) and  "Creature Commandos" (originated by J.M. DeMatteis and later written by Kanigher). With issues # 108-122 the masthead was altered, minimizing the Weird War Tales logo to headline the Creature Commandos and (on three issues) G.I. Robot. Editorial apparently felt that a lead feature was needed to maintain sales, although the experiment only lasted twelve issues. 

    
Shades of Ray Harryhausen! Ditko strikes again with a three panel sequence of a skeleton warrior rising out of the sea. Back-up tales continued even as features appeared. "Raze the Flag!" Joey Cavalieri script, Pierre Bernard Jr. letters, Gerry D'Angelo colors. Weird War Tales # 104, October 1981   

Weird War reverted to its old logo for the last two issues (#'s 121-122), but sales apparently were not up to expectations, and after a healthy twelve year run the series came to an end with the June 1983 issue. Robin Snyder presided over a tribute to the comic in the letters section. By the 1980's genre titles were becoming less prevalent, overtaken by superhero comics. The same month that DC cancelled Weird War, it produced a total of five ongoing genre titles (Blackhawk, GI Combat, Sgt. Rock, House of Mystery and Jonah Hex). The following year they were down to three. By the end of the decade there was hardly a sign of war, western or mystery comics. Abandoned, but not forgotten, these genres were filled with variety and often featured solid writing and art. I appreciate them much more now then I did in my youth.

Special thanks to my good friend Robin Snyder for his input, advice and kindness all these years. 


Up next: Weird Western Tales          







6 comments:

Kid said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kid said...

Another belter of a post, Nick. I was thinking of changing the name of my blog to 'WEIRD Comicbooks, Cartoons & Collectables', but then I realised that people think it's weird enough anyway. (Well, me or the blog.)

I don't have a lot of those titles in my collection - perhaps I'll start collecting them one day. Roll on your next post.

Nick Caputo said...

Thanks, Kid. Maybe I should change the name of my blog to Weird Mysteries and Comics Minutiae! And your blog is always interesting, informatave and thought provoking, no matter what you call it!

I was going to write about the war and westerns in one post, but as it continued to grow and I wrote into the wee hours of the morning, I thought it would be best to break them up. I'm fervently working away on the next post, which will be up before you can say "Mighty World of Marvel!"

Brook Gale said...

When I was a kid this was the first comic book run for which I bought every back issue. I remember how it was hard to find issue #1, but find it I did. I got it at a convention for $12.

If it weren't for my total loyalty t the line at the time I would've quit when they brought back the Creature Commandos. When they became a regular feature my love affair with Weird Ward Tales died a little bit more with every story they were in. I bought these at the 7-11 and I remember being so disappointed when I saw the covers with the Creature Commandos. it's no wonder this title died a quick death after that.

Thanks for the awesome post and let me know what you want scanned.

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Brook,

It's wonderful to hear your thoughts about collecting the series. I can't comment much on the Creature Commandos since I don't have many issues featuring them, but although sales may have been poor, management could have changed features or gone back to genre stories. It didn't appear that there was much interest in war titles by those running the show.

JOHN ESTRADA said...

Do any of you fans (like me) think WEIRD WAR TALES would make a fantastic TV series? Cable, not network... or Netflix. Just curious.