DC Comics History: The War That Time Forgot
By Deejay Dayton
Jun 30, 2017 - 11:29
The War That Time Forgot grew from a one off tale into an ongoing series in the pages of Star Spangled War Stories during the period 1960 – 1964: the Silver Age. A series devoted to soldiers fighting dinosaurs, as it progressed different elements were added to the strip in an attempt to keep it fresh. Three acrobat brothers would become the first recurring characters, followed by GI Robot. Before the period was out, a new version of the Suicide Squad would start appearing as part of the series.
The first of what would come to be called the War That Time Forgot stories appeared in Star Spangled War Stories 90, the Island of Armoured Giants, was intended as a one-shot tale, by Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. After two reconnaissance missions to an apparently deserted island never report back, a third one is sent, expecting to find a secret Nazi base. Instead, what they find are huge purple dinosaurs.
A pterodactyl attacks them as they land, and there is a big battle between a tank and a tyrannosaurus, or something that resembles it. Most of the men get lost fighting the giant beasties, and even escaping from the island is difficult, as a swimming dinosaur attacks their ship. A couple of men make it out, and comment that they have fought the "last battle of the dinosaur age." How wrong they were.
The second of these stories appeared in Star Spangled War Stories 94. The tale deals with some rookie navy frogmen, getting rid of floating mines. Detonating the mines seems to wake an underwater giant snake type creature, which the frogmen then have to deal with.
So it's once again human vs dinosaurs, but this time taking place entirely underwater. Some good visuals, and a decent climax, in which they bind the creature with mines and then shoot it with a missile.
Star Spangled War Stories 95 has dinosaurs, but not really Dinosaur Island. A group of soldiers find and rescue one of their own, so traumatized that they have no idea what he has been through. The rest of the people from his mission were not heard from again, so another mission is sent out on the same course.
Their plane gets attacked by a pterodactyl, and as they fall into the water they face the big sea snake thing. A more typical dinosaur shows up after that, and while there is a very tiny island, it is clearly not where these creatures are from. In fact, it's so small the dinosaur eats it. Another plane shoots down the dinosaur, and rescues the men, who find it just as hard to talk about this adventure as their traumatized teammate.
The title "The War That Time Forgot" makes its first appearance in a box on the cover of Star Spangled War Stories 96, although the story inside does not use that as a logo, it does get mentioned on the splash page. The story follows two soldiers, Marty and Jesse. The latter is more often called "Professor," although he isn't actually one, because he reads a lot. Specifically, the book Robinson Crusoe. They are on a mission to an island that may have a Nazi base on it, but get intercepted along the way.
A giant turtle attacks the submarine they are travelling in. This is a new creature for the series, and its central to this tale. But we still get the pterodactyl, and giant sea snake, as well as some more typical dinosaurs. The turtle scenes are the stand-out ones, particularly the giant eggs hatching huge baby turtles. Jesse repeatedly helps Marty survive by adapting things he has learned from Robinson Crusoe. The pair manage to escape Dinosaur Island by using the broken turtle eggs as a little boat.
A pair of brothers are at the centre of The War That Time Forgot tale in Star Spangled War Stories 97. Nick and Petey are travelling in separate craft, part of a larger team that goes to investigate what caused the destruction of a submarine, found crushed. Nick is in the submarine, which gets grabbed by a big dinosaur, from under the water. So the remainder of the tale is told from Petey's point of view.
We get the usual series of dinosaurs, but the sub crushing monster gets the most play, and does have the best scene, showing up at a waterfall. A giant gorilla is worked into the story as well. And, as always a pterodactyl, this one intelligent enough to steal and drop bombs. As implausible as it is, Nick turns out to have survived the sub crushing.
The brothers re-unite at the end of the story, and watch the army blast Dinosaur Island back to the stone age. There would be more War That Time Forgot stories that put brothers onto the island, having the battle with the dinosaurs part of having the brothers deal with their own issues.
Of all the brothers who appeared during these years the most important ones were a trio of acrobats who debut in The War That Time Forgot story in Star Spangled War Stories 99. The three brothers are accomplished trapeze artists, the Three Franks. They get drafted into the army, and are all on a mission together when their ship gets grabbed by a dinosaur, which results in them getting trapped on Dinosaur Island.
Though the line up of dinosaurs is pretty much the same as in previous issues, the action is quite different, with the three using their circus tricks to survive. This also makes for some interesting visuals. They escape from, at the end, a giant turtle, making it onto a submarine.
The three circus brothers have another encounter with The War That Time Forgot in Star Spangled War Stories 100. The story is not in any way a continuation of the previous one. The three are sent on a mission against the Japanese, but get attacked by a pterodactyl, and crash onto Dinosaur Island. There is no direct reference to the previous tale. It's not even 100% clear that this is the same island. Much later continuity would establish that Dinosaur Island can move, so it is more than likely the same place, even though it's in a different location.
This story is also more militaristic than the previous one. The Three Franks still execute their circus moves, but integrate that with gunfire. The main dinosaur they are dealing wit has been "nesting" on some missiles, left behind by the Japanese. The brothers manage to get the dinosaur away long enough to rig the missiles to hit the Japanese plane targeting them, and then get picked up by their own forces.
The former Frank Brothers, who started calling themselves the Boots Brothers once they joined the army, return in the War That Time Forgot tale in Star Spangled War Stories 104. The story expands a bit on the circus days of the brothers, and their relationship with the circus manager, a guy named Zig-Zag Zack, who was never quite impressed with their routines.
As usual, the trio are not heading to Dinosaur Island when they parachute down to a mission. In this case, they all wind up landing on the back of a giant pterodactyl. Then it's back to the island and the dinosaurs. As in their last appearance, the Frank brothers have neatly integrated their use of weapons with their acrobatic routines.
In this story, though, they keep envisioning Zig-Zag Zack barking at them, which is probably the last thing you need when being chased by dinosaurs. They escape from the island at the end of the story, getting rescued by a helicopter. And who should be on the copter? Zig-Zag Zack.
The Three Franks do have the worst luck, consistently winding up on Dinosaur Island, though at least they have a tank with them in issue 105. On the other hand, that limits their acrobatics in this story. The story brings back their old circus manager, now a superior officer in the army, Zig-Zag Zack. As the brothers deal with a dinosaur and a pterodactyl, both fighting over the tank that they are in, they also find Zack on the island after his helicopter crashes.
They rescue Zack, and keeps trying to impress him with their clever ways of surviving, but he just doesn't seem to be paying any attention. They all get off of the island, but the brothers learn that Zack was in shock during his time there, and has no memory of what happened. This was the last appearance of the three brothers.
The first incarnation of G.I. Robot, Joe, gets introduced in the War That Time Forgot tale in Star Spangled War Stories 101. Joe is sent out on a mission to test how well he will function, with a soldier named Mac. Thought of course they do not intend to send Joe and Mac to Dinosaur Island, that is where they wind up. Joe has no mouth, and is pretty slow to respond to commands.
Nevertheless, he does prove himself useful right from the start, saving Mac after a pterodactyl takes out their plane, and destroys Mac's parachute. But Joe does seem a bit too heavy to function well, especially in a jungle environment.
He is good with taking out dinosaurs, but falls easily into traps. At the end he even sinks into quicksand, and only makes it out because Mac keeps commanding him to jump. Without a human to give him orders, this G.I. Robot isn't very useful. But Mac and Joe return in the following issue, anyway.
In Star Spangled War Stories 102 Joe has been upgraded, and while he will only respond to vocal commands from Mac, he also will respond to light beams fired at his chest control plate - presumably by anyone who has a flashlight on them. While heading out to be tested, Joe and Mac are once again set upon by pterodactyls, and crash again, this time in the water. Joe is able to function and shoot from the seabed, but Mac fears he will rust. Attempting to swim while dragging Joe works better than it ought to, but the two still wind up getting sucked into an underground realm, full of dinosaurs. This is, unquestionably, Skartaris, the land explored in the much later Warlord series.
While down there, they not only have to deal with dinosaurs, but also a giant Nazi robot. They escape both, and make it up to the shores of Dinosaur Island itself. The giant Nazi robot follows them. Mac finds the base the Nazis had used to construct their creature, but no sign of the men themselves. Unlike previous stories from this series, this tale does not end with the main character making it off the island. Instead, Joe and Mac are still there, hiding out, and ready to return to action.
The final story of Joe and Mac as G.I. Robot continues to fight against a giant robot foe in the War That Time Forgot, in Star Spangled War Stories 103. The dinosaurs are really only important at the top of this story, when Joe seems a bit less swift at following Mac's commands. The big robot comes back to life, and is the major menace for the bulk of the story. I referred to it as a Nazi robot in the previous issue, and the uniform still makes me see it that way, but it does have the Japanese rising sun emblem on its hat, so I guess it's really meant to be Japanese. Joe displays some curious behaviour in this story, and even Mac is not certain if G.I. Robot is acting on his own volition, or if these are accidents.
At one point he seems to be pinning Mac down while the evil robot is shooting at him, and then Joe hurls Mac off a cliff, but this all serves to save the soldier from a pterodactyl. The story climaxes not with a dinosaur, but with the face off between Joe and the giant robot. Joe appears to be ignoring Mac's commands again. But in fact, he delays long enough to get a shot at the giant robot's face, which takes it down. Has G.I. Robot developed sentience? We never do find out, as Joe and Mac are not seen again. As they remain on the island at the end of the story, one can only assume that they eventually did fall prey to the dinosaurs.
There is another, more basic, sort of robot to the War That Time Forgot in Star Spangled War Stories 109. The story has a couple of soldiers assigned to test a new super-tank, but while being flown to their destination, the aircraft is set upon by pterodactyls. The pilot has no choice but to drop the tank and its crew.
As it turns out, the tank lands not only on Dinosaur Island, but on an actual dinosaur back! The creature tries to shake it off, but the added weight simply serves to break the tree the creature is on, and send the tank and crew towards the river below. Fortunately, the tank not only has a parachute, but is also waterproof, and able to function on the riverbed. It's at this point that the basic robot gets introduced, able to control the tank on it's own, while the soldiers try to shoot the big swimming beasts that are after them.
A tyrannosaurus helpfully pulls the tank out of the river, but also destroys it in an effort to get to the tasty people inside. The soldiers flee, bringing the robot with them. While the robot is nowhere near as useful as G.I. Robot, it does help at the end, functioning as a bomb to take out one last pursuing dinosaur. Though the loss of tank and robot seem to indicate that they were not up to snuff, the soldiers report to their superior than in fact they functioned perfectly.
Star Spangled War Stories 110 announces on both its cover and splash page that this is a Suicide Squad story. The Suicide Squad had been introduced a few years earlier in the pages of Brave and the Bold as a secret government group, fighting the Cold War and occasional strange creatures. Kanigher, Andru and Esposito do not use any of the characters from that team in this War That Time Forgot tale, although the PT captain, just called Allan, does bear a passing resemblance to Rick Flag. But the two men in this story are on a military mission, hunting out a legendary giant white gorilla, which takes them to Dinosaur Island.
The captain is accompanied by a scientist, and much of the story plays out as the others in this series, as they struggle to survive while being attacked by various dinosaurs. But they also find indications of a tribe who once lived on the island, who drew cave pictures showing the white gorilla protecting humans from the dinosaurs.
Sure enough, the giant white gorilla does show up, and does help the two men escape from the island, dying in the process. But the story does continue in the next issue, with both Allan and the Professor, as well as another white gorilla. While nothing connects this story directly with the Suicide Squad already shown, it must be remembered that this story is set during World War 2, and the other stories of the Squad took place afterwards.
Allan and the Professor head back to Dinosaur Island in the War That Time Forgot Story in Star Spangled War Stories 111. The simple fact that they willingly choose to do this merits them being called the Suicide Squad. They are serving as spotters, following the movements of Japanese aircraft. When the Japanese land on the island they are using, they head back to the one with all the dinosaurs.
They find the remains of the giant white gorilla that saved them in the previous issue, but also come across another one, who is just as friendly and helpful, and fights the dinosaurs for them. This sort of reduces the pair largely to targets, and observers, with the gorilla getting all the action. The two men find an abandoned airplane, and the gorilla even helps them take off and evade the pterodactyls.
The War That Time Forgot continues in the next period, 1964 – 1967: the New Look.
The War That Time Forgot: Star Spangled War Stories 90, 92, 94 – 114
(April/May 60, Aug/Sept 60, Dec/Jan 60/61 – April/May 64)
Next up – Atomic Knights!
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