When Rob Bowman's 2002 film, Reign of Fire, came out, I remember thinking how fun the central idea was. Dragons vs. attack helicopters. Dragons vs. tanks. Dragons vs. soldiers. If the dragons are done right--as in, not like sissy dragons that talk with the voice of Sean Connery--then it's a concept that could work, or so I thought. Then I saw the movie, and while the dragon stuff was pretty well done, and the film featured a few exciting sequences, the human storyline bogged the movie down into mediocrity. I haven't seen it since 2002, so it's not fresh in my mind, but I remember thinking that the movie almost worked, but not quite. The plot was just an excuse to have soldiers fight dragons, and after a while, even soldiers fighting dragons isn't as cool as you want it to be.
I feel kind of the same way about The War that Time Forgot, written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated (mostly) by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. As you can clearly see by the cover of the Showcase volume, TWTTF has a simple conceit: army vs. dinosaurs. These stories were originally published in DC's Star-Spangled War Stories in the early-to-mid 1960s, and I know the belief in those days was that a reader should be able to pick up any issue of a comic and find a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end, but Kanigher takes that assumption to a ridiculous extreme in this series.
Each issue not only features a complete story, but it basically features the same story. Over and over. The story goes like this: In the midst of the "big war," a group of soldiers come across a strange island, an island on which a GIANT DINOSAUR attacks them (and although I use the word "dinosaur," sometimes it was just a dinosaur-looking monster, or even a giant ape, just to break the monotony). The soldiers knock the dinosaur for a loop and escape, barely.
Every issue. For years.
Sure, sometimes there was more than one GIANT DINOSAUR, and the cast of main characters kept changing (which was part of the problem, as I'll get to in a minute), but it was the same plot again and again in each consecutive issue. And not in the way that a Silver Age Flash comic had the same stories again and again, either. At least in those stories, the different villains and conflicts caused some slight variations. For example, a Gorilla Grodd story would have a different feel than a Captain Cold story, because the villains would create problems that were unique to them. In TWTTF, although one dinosaur might have giant teeth while another might have GIANTER teeth, they were all pretty interchangeable. Even if one could fly and one could swim underwater, they were just basically mindless monsters. Issue after issue. For years.
I can understand the philosophy of providing a complete story in every issue, to give the new reader something entertaining without forcing them to track down any of the other issues, but I don't see why you'd want to do that at the expense of the readers you already have. Sure, a new reader might think, "wow! Cool story. I'll pick up another issue of this comic now that I've had such a great experience reading it!" But how many issues would it take for the reader to think, "okay. Not as cool this time, since it's the same story I read last month. I'll give it one more try. Oh. It's the same story again. Um, this is kind of repetitive"?
Kanigher was surely aware of the repetitive nature of the stories, and like he did with Sgt. Rock, he tried to create a recurring cast of characters to keep regular readers from growing bored with the comic. Except, unlike Sgt. Rock, none of the regular characters seemed to stick in TWTTF. You can tell the series started with just the simple idea inherent in its premise. The first appearance of TWTTF has, on its cover, the slogan "Dinosaurs vs. Tanks! Who Will Win!" and it's really as simple as that. I can picture an editor telling Kanigher (although Kanigher may have been the editor on the war books back then, so maybe it was his editorial side talking to his writerly side), while chomping on a cigar, "kids love these dinosaurs. Bring 'em back." So the first handful of issues make almost no logical sense as a group. Each issue features a group of soldiers unwittingly landing on monster island, and then reporting, in disbelief, back to their commanders.
Did the military have such terrible communication that nobody told the other outfits about this ISLAND FULL OF GIANT MONSTERS??? Even if the military wanted to keep it a secret, and there's no explanation of why they would, wouldn't they at least tell their troops to STAY AWAY FROM THAT ISLAND during the war! Didn't they have Nazis to fight or something?
Anyway, once Kanigher begins to realize that this dinosaur stuff is going to keep going, he starts introducing the potential recurring characters. And they all flop.
He tries characters like "The Flying Franks," trapeeze artists brothers who now fight together and use their high-wire skills to kick dinosaurs! Flop.
He tries the "Joe and the G. I. Robot," which basically consists stories in which Joe talks to himself a lot and then the G. I. Robot accidentally (or maybe not) saves the day. Flop (mainly because Joe is annoying and the robot doesn't have any personality at all).
He tries the "Suicide Squad," which you might think was a success, because it later became pretty famous as a concept in the DC Universe. But in these stories, "Suicide Squad" basically refers to any team which shows up on the island on a desperate mission. The suicide squad "members" don't communicate with eachother, and don't refer to other members we've seen in previous issues. My favorite, however, are the absolutely ridiculous "Morgan and Mace," the Suicide Squad team with the most personality. Morgan walks around with a gun to Mace's back, and literally keeps repeating lines like this, "You'd like that, wouldn't you? Then you could blow this mission! Just like that toboggan run you made that killed my brother--because you panicked! Remember?"
How can he forget, Morgan? You remind him of it on practically EVERY PAGE of every story you two guys are in. Mace, apparently, killed Morgan's brother when they were in the Winter Olympics together. A toboggan run of death! Morgan won't let it go, and Mace doubts himself at every turn: "I'll never get another chance...to make good...for failing Bill Morgan...and Uncle Sam--Never--Never---Never..."
The message of the story, kids, is that if you accidentally kill your bobsled partner in the Winter Olympics, you can make up for it by fighting GIANT DINOSAURS as your commanding officer (who, coincidentally is the brother of the very man you bobsledded to death) sticks his pistol in your spine.
Are you surprised?
Sometimes even tanks vs. dinosaurs aren't enough. Turns out, they're not as cool as you want them to be.