The PopCult Comix Bookshelf
This is a bit of a strange compilation of great comics. From the 1950s to the 1980s DC’s War comics boasted some of the top creators in the company’s history, and this hardcover collection includes work by Joe Kubert, Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, Alex Toth, Russ Heath, Mort Drucker, John Severin, Garth Ennis, Eduardo Baretto and more, but aside from having a stellar line-up of classic war stories, this book has a bit of a half-assed feel to it.
There are no text pages in DC Goes To War. Nothing gives you the history behind these stories or provides any context. There is nothing to explain the evolution from the comics in the 1940s, when the characters are preoccupied with “killing Krauts,” to the nuanced anti-war stance of a story like “Head-Count,” where the reader is left to ponder whether or not a medal winner was also a murderous psychopath.
I realize that it’s really not fair to compare a reprint collection to another reprint collection that came out 41 years earlier, but of 17 stories collected in DC Goes To War, 13 of them were previously published in 1979 in a collection called America at War: The Best of DC War Comics, which was edited and compiled by Michael Uslan. That book also included Uslan’s 7-page essay that did provide the historical context and background information that this new collection is sorely lacking.
Only four of the stories collected in DC Goes To War were not included in the previous collection, and only three of those were published in the ensuing forty-plus years since that first collection. One of those newer stories, an excellect Enemy Ace mini-series from 2001, written by Garth Ennis, takes up the last 100 pages of this 352-page collection. It’s a great story and well deserving of a reprint, but because of its length it crowds out a lot of other notable works.
I can’t quite understand why DC didn’t simply publish an updated edition of America at War: The Best of DC War Comics, and then, if that did well, produce a second volume with newer stories and some of the gems that were missed. Both books include the first notable appearances of Blackhawk, Hop Harrigan, Sgt. Rock, The Haunted Tank, The Unknown Soldier, Capt. Hunter, Gunner and Pooch, Mlle. Marie and Enemy Ace. Each book makes for a good overview and introduction, but there are so many high-quality stories in those series that warrant more than just a “Secret Origins” collection.
Since DC shut down their war comics in the mid-1980s, there haven’t been many memorable war comics published by them. Many of the better recent stories are already collected in hardcover or paperback form.
DC has produced Archive Editions and Showcase collections of some of their classic war comics, but most of those are out of print, and there is still a wealth of top-quality material in the DC Comics war library that has never been reprinted before, from dozens of classic Kanigher/Kubert Sgt. Rock tales to stories with spectacular art by Russ Heath, Alex Toth, Frank Redondo and Sam Glanzman, among many others. It would’ve been nice if DC had chosen to tap into that motherlode, rather than simply copy their own previous collection.
As I said, DC Goes To War is a terrific collection, if you don’t already have America at War: The Best of DC War Comics. It’s a good introduction to DC’s war comics, and the production is pretty decent. You can order it from any bookseller by using the ISBN code, or you can get it at a discount from Amazon.