Review by Frank Plowright
During its thirteen year run from 1971 Weird War Tales took several swerves into different interpretations of the title, and that’s already apparent over the first 21 issues reprinted here in black and white. It begins as a standard war title with some great art from the likes of Reed Crandall, Sam Glanzman, Russ Heath, Joe Kubert and Alex Toth, concentrating on combatants from World War II or later experiencing a mild supernatural intrusion, often with a spiritual side. These are in themed issues, such as escaping death or robot soldiers. Readers today won’t be fooled by the twist endings in scripts supplied by the likes of Bill Finger, Bob Haney and Robert Kanigher, and surely not many were in 1971, but admire some phenomenal art.
With some exceptions among the writing noted below, it’s the art that has the star quality throughout, with a nice Walter Simonson job, plus much from Filipino artists, with the grit of Tony DeZuniga, the refinement of Alfredo Alcala and the astonishing detail and versatility of Alex Niño standing out. However, even those with lesser reputations provide good pages. All the above along with Gerry Talaoc contribute to a smart Sheldon Mayer piece connecting events during different wars, all on October 30th.
Just before halfway through the emphasis changes. The stories are still feature war, but now frequently earlier in history, more obviously featuring ghosts and revenge, which makes anything not to that template stand out, and some particularly fine Toth art graces Mayer’s romantic tale of love during wartime. Mayer only writes five tales, but three of them are among the most absorbing. He returns to his romantic theme to relate what happes to an American soldier and his Japanese wife during World War II. Kanigher supplies several stories in this incarnation also, especially fond of pride preceding a fall.
The sample art* is from Niño’s pages on ‘Old Samurai Never Die’, which looks good in colour and can be read here. It elevates Arnold Drake’s standard revenge story into something astonishing. Drake also writes ‘The Green Man’, supplying Alcala’s sample page, this a more ordinary story about a man able to see those due to die, a plot used earlier in the collection, and here hampered by being in black and white when the story calls for distinct green eyes. Still, it’s a lovely splash page. Other notable art is provided by Bernard Baily, George Evans and Frank Robbins, although all in the service of predictable stories.
Not every page of art is something you’d want to frame, although a significant percentage are, but all too often Weird War Tales is a great artist producing beauty from a plot that took all too little time to cobble together. That art quality slightly tips the balance above average, though.
Other than the original comics, this is the only format for these stories, and although the spine identifies this as a first volume, there was no second collection. However, a pointer toward a theme featuring frequently in the material that followed is supplied by George Kashdan working from Michael J. Pellowski’s plot of two brothers drafted to fight in a war taking place in the far future. Several later contributions to Weird War Tales can be found in Showcase Presents The Great Disaster.
* Because the book is so bulky at 580 pages, viable scans of the actual pages aren’t possible. No art drops into the binding, but because we can’t produce acceptable scans the sample art is original art pages sourced online.