Monday, May 04, 2009

The Tally [Gallery of War - RK & Toth]

The Tally
by Robert Kanigher & Alex Toth
Our Army At War #254
February 1973
First World War
8 pages

In the first World War, British ace pilot Alex Torrent obsesses about his credit for downed enemy planes.

The second of Alex Toth's two "Gallery" stories is, to no surprise, another one of the highlights of the series. This time he tackles an aerial combat story in the first World War. Aerial combat is kind of tricky to do effectively in comics, but when it is done right it's well worth it. War comic fans have been fortunate that there have been so many talented artists who had the skill and took the time to do it right, and Toth is obviously on that list. About three-quarters of this eight page story take place in the air, and the choreography and attention to detail are impressive. While I'm not as up on the details of planes as a lot of war comic fans seem to be (I couldn't tell you if a plane was a Nieuport or a Fokker or a Brandenburg. I know a Sopwith Camel looks like a dog house...), I like to think I know enough to tell what's good, and in Toth's art I see planes that look plausible, and I see them from a variety of angles and perspectives that I know he took drawing them right seriously.

Almost as much as the drawings of the planes in this story, I also like Toth's use of sound effects. You can see some of that in the sample page here, how he has the effects upsidedown when the plane is in a loop, and has the steady pace of "TOK" effects following the path of the plane in the longer shots. It's kind of neat in that it's a little playful but also does a good job of leading the eye, setting the reading pace, and giving an extra audio dimension to the reading.

So, to Kanigher's story, which was more than deserving of all this effort of Toth's part. What Kanigher writes about here is largely obsession. Torrent seems to have forgotten why his country is fighting this war, and he seems to have forgotten that the other planes in the sky contain human beings. His only concern is "The Tally", and he's determined that his will be higher than anyone else can hope to reach. Kanigher uses the aerial combat scenes to establish all of Torrent's character. A theme Kanigher returns to over and over in his stories is the different effects that war has on people, and in this case it's made a man a hero for all the wrong reasons.

Without giving away an especially powerful ending, this story closes with a really strong four panel sequence, wonderfully realized by Toth. Irony appears to be a favourite tool of Kanigher, and he seems to like his ironic blade sharp...

For other Toth aerial combat art, with writers other than Kanigher, you may want to look up:
Blazing Combat #2 - "Lone Hawk" by Archie Goodwin
Our Fighting Forces #146 - "Burma Sky" by Archie Goodwin
Frontline Combat #8 - "Thunderjet!" by Harvey Kurtzman
Frontline Combat #12 - "F-86 Sabre Jet!" by Harvey Kurtzman
Detective Comics $442 - Batman in "Death Flies the Haunted Sky" by Archie Goodwin
and his own Bravo For Adventure stories.

By all accounts a rather sad and especially needless loss in this particular category for comic fans is "Death Takes No Holiday", an Enemy Ace story by Kanigher intended for Star Spangled War Stories #144. A version drawn by Toth was reportedly rejected by Joe Kubert and then re-drawn for publication by Neal Adams and Kubert. Toth's original artwork for his version of the story, apparently, no longer exist.

Robert Kanigher's Gallery of War

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