Sgt. Rock: Between Hell & a Hard Place


By Joe Kubert & Brian Azzarello (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0053-4 (HC)                   978-1-4012-0054-1 (PB)

Sgt Rock and Easy Company rank amongst the greatest and most influential – if not enduring – creations of the American comic-book industry. The gritty meta-realism of Robert Kanigher’s ordinary guys in life-or-death situations captured the imaginations of generations of readers, young and old.

Most closely associated with those characters is legendary creator Joe Kubert, who worked as artist, writer, editor and educator since the earliest days of the medium. So, after a hiatus of many years, when a new Rock edition was announced in the early days of the 21st century, the artist was never in doubt.

Brian Azzarello was one of a vanishingly small pool of potential scripters for the proposed venture and the results of their collaboration was a powerful, if simplistic, morality play about the nature of killing. And, most importantly, it’s a damn’ fine read.

War is hell, but the killings are somehow justifiable if your country tells you so. How then does a moral man, a soldier, react when the life-taking moves beyond the acceptable parameters laid down by his superiors?

When Rock and his men capture four enemy officers after a frantic battle, the Nazis are taken prisoner and treated according to the Articles of War. The next morning three are dead and the fourth is missing. The Germans have all been executed at close range whilst confined…

Immediately a cloud of suspicion descends on the previously close-knit unit of G.I.s. Was it the missing prisoner, or is one of their own capable of the kind of atrocity they’re all fighting to end?

…And even so, don’t these monsters possibly deserve it? Rock must find all the answers. Not simply to restore his faith and trust, but because it’s the right thing to do.

As much detective mystery as war story, this is a searching and haunting re-examination of the most telling quandary of conflict. Why is dealing death right sometimes and not others? I can’t promise you answers, but the questions have seldom been asked in as striking or beautiful a manner.

Miraculously still available in both hardcover and paperback editions – but you’re plain out of luck if you like to revel in the delights of an electronic reader – challenging combat tales such as this one seem set to make a comeback considering the parlous state of world affairs, so why not get ahead of the curve now?
© 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Star Wars: The Marvel Covers


By Jess Harrold & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9838-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect Last-Minute Stocking-Stuffer… 9/10

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the mythology of Star Wars. What you might not know is that the first sight future fanatics got of its breathtakingly expansive continuity and the mythology-in-the-making way back in 1977 was the premier issue of the Marvel comicbook tie-in. It hit shelves two weeks before the film launched in cinemas, setting the scene for a legion of kids and beginning a mini-phenomenon which encompassed the initial movie trilogy and expanded those already vast imaginative horizons.

Marvel had an illustrious run with the franchise – nine years’ worth of comics, specials and paperback collections – before the option was left to die.

Comicbook exploits were reinstated in 1993 by Dark Horse Comics who built on the film legacy with numerous titles – and a three more movies – until Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars in 2012. Around the same time, the home of Donald & Mickey also bought Marvel Comics and before long the original magic was being rekindled…

When Marvel relaunched the enterprise, they included not just a core title but also solo books for the lead stars. Star Wars #1 debuted on January 14th 2015, with Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Poe Damaron coming soon after.

That auspicious, eagerly-anticipated event was supplemented by a crucial component of modern comics publishing: variant covers. These are alternative frontages for the same comicbook, usually by big-name artists of as part of sub-tropes of the medium such as images “homaging” earlier covers or as part of an ongoing event, commemoration or even trends such as Skottie Young’s occasional series of star characters as comedic babies…

Star Wars #1 had a staggering 70 individual variant covers. Successive issues also had a plethora of the same. What is most interesting here is how many of the name artists – and writers – were inspired by the comics they had read as kids as well as the films. Thus this gleefully exuberant hardcover art-collection, gathering those myriad covers for the new launch and interviewing the creators responsible…

Following an Introduction from Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonzo, writer Jess Harold and those writers and artists discuss their childhood memories of the phenomenon and current revival in ‘The Force is Strong with This #1’. There are reviews of the media’s reaction to the relaunch in ‘Search Your Feelings’ whilst ‘Never Tell Me the Odds’ analyses the breakdown in percentages of which character made the most appearances on the variant covers.

Then John Cassaday provides monochrome art and intimate secrets in ‘You Cannot Escape Your Destiny’ before the first tranche of covers is revealed in ‘The Force is Strong with This One’. The variants deluge includes black-&-white versions or pencils-only iterations of fully-coloured covers and both are seen side by side here.

That stunning parade includes work from Cassaday, Laura Martin, Joe Quesada, Daniel Acuña, Simone Bianchi, Mark Brooks, J. Scott Campbell, Nei Ruffino, Pascal Campion, Frank Cho, Jason Keith and John Tyler Christopher plus photo-still movie variants.

‘I Have a Bad Feeling About This…’ concentrates on John Tyler Christopher’s faux action-figure packages and is followed by a feature on comics-only creation Jaxxon (a giant green rabbit) with photo covers and more variations on the theme from Amanda Conner, Paul Mounts, Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, Muntsa Vicente, Gabriele Dell’Otto,  Mike Del Mundo, Mike Deodato Jr., Frank Martin, Dave Dorman, Pasqual Ferry, Frank D’Armata, Jenny Frison, Stephanie Hans, Adi Granov, Greg Horn, Dale Keown, Jason Keith, Justin Ponsor, Salvador Larroca, Edgar Delgado, Alex Maleev, Mike Mayhew, Rainier Beredo, Mike McKone, Bob McLeod, Mike Perkins, Andy Troy, David Petersen, Sara Pichelli, Joe Quinones, Humberto Ramos, Paul Renaud, Alex Ross, Stan Sakai, Mico Suayan and Chris Sotomayor.

The aforementioned jovial junior japes of Skottie Young are then explored and exhibited in ‘Aren’t You a Little Short for a Stormtrooper?’ before ‘Chapter Two: Star Wars #2-6’ dissects successive releases in ‘The Circle is Now Complete’ with Jordan D. White talking to writers Jason Aaron (Star Wars), Kieron Gillen (Darth Vader) and Mark Waid (Princess Leia) about their formative years and the franchise. This is augmented by covers-&-variants by Cassaday & Martin, Sergio Aragonés, Howard Chaykin & Jesus Aburtov, Tyler Christopher, Ramos & Delgado, Leinil Francis Yu, Keith, Marte Gracia, Nick Bradshaw, Giuseppe Camuncoli & Israel Gonzalez and Phil Noto.

Chapter Three: Darth Vader #1-6’ concentrates on the Sith Lord’s series with ‘Give Yourself to the Dark Side…’ supplemented by covers from Granov, Bianchi, Mark Brooks, J. Scott Campbell & Ruffino and movie stills whilst ‘Never tell Me the Odds’ features images from Cassaday & Martin, Tyler Christopher, Del Mundo, Horn, Land, Larroca & Delgado and Whilce Portacio & Sotomayor.

‘There is No Try…’ concentrates on the contributions of mega-star illustrator Alex Ross with numerous covers and an in-depth examination of his working process from posed models to pencils to finished work, before a gallery of more Vader pieces by Suayan, Sotomayor, Young, Granov, Dave Dorman, Larroca & Delgado and Noto.

‘Chapter Four: Princess Leia #1-6’ concentrates on the avenger from Alderaan as ‘There is Another…’ offers background and a wealth of original art by series illustrators Terry & Rachel Dodson. Then comes their covers plus more from Brooks, Campbell & Ruffino, Cassaday & Martin, Tyler Christopher, Amanda Conner, Dell’Otto, Granov, Jackson Guice, Horn, Land & Ponsor, Ross, Suayan, Sotomayor, Young, Maleev, Francesco Francavilla, Noto and more movie photo-covers.

Wrapping up the fabulous picture-fest is a stroll down memory lane in ‘Star Wars: The Original Marvel Years’ harking back to ‘A Long Time Ago’ with a short selection of classic covers by Rick Hoberg & Dave Cockrum, Chaykin, Carmine Infantino, Walter Simonson, Ron Frenz, Cynthia Martin, Bill Sienkiewicz and Klaus Janson, plus a range of modern tributes by Granov, Chaykin, Greg Hildebrandt, Gene Day & Delgado and Tom Palmer.

It would appear that there is an inexhaustible appetite for views of “A Galaxy Far, Far Away…” and the Star Wars franchise has spawned an awful lot of comics. This fascinating art compendium celebrates the verve, vitality and sheer impact of the printed material in a way no fan could possibly resist – especially as the latest cinematic chapter is about to unfold…
STAR WARS and related text and illustrations ™ and/or © of Lucasfilm Ltd. and/or its affiliates. © & ™ of Lucasfilm Ltd.  All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock volume 3


By Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, Russ Heath & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2771-5

In America after the demise of EC Comics in the mid-1950’s and prior to the game-changing Blazing Combat, the only certain place to find controversial, challenging and entertaining American war comics was DC.

In fact, even whilst Archie Goodwin’s stunning but tragically mis-marketed quartet of classics were waking up a generation, the home of Flash, Green Arrow and the Justice League of America was a veritable cornucopia of gritty, intriguing and beautifully illustrated battle tales presenting combat on a variety of fronts and from many differing points of view.

Whilst the Vietnam War escalated, 1960s America increasingly endured a Homefront death-struggle pitting deeply-ingrained Establishment social attitudes against a youth-oriented generation with a radical new sensibility. In response DC’s (or rather National Periodical Publishing, as it then was) military-themed comicbooks became even more bold and innovative…

Sgt. Rock and the “combat-happy Joes” of Easy Company are one of the great and enduring creations of the American comic-book industry. The gritty meta-realism of Robert Kanigher’s ordinary guys in a constant welter of life-or-death situations captured the imaginations of generations of readers, young and old.

So pervasive is this icon of comicbook combat that’s it’s hard to grasp that Rock is not an immortal industry prototype like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman – with us since the earliest moments of the industry – but is in fact a late addition to and child of the Silver Age of Comics: debuting as just another tale in war anthology G.I. Combat (#68, January 1959, by Kanigher & Joe Kubert).

The archetypal and ideal sergeant was an anonymous boxer who wasn’t particularly skilled but simply refused to be beaten, absorbing any and all punishment dealt out to him. When ‘The Rock!’ enlisted, that same Horatian quality attained mythic proportions as he held back an overwhelming Nazi attack by sheer grit and determination, remaining bloody but unbowed on a field littered with dead and broken men. The tale inspired an instant sequel or two before, in Our Army at War #83 (June 1959), the legend really began…

This third monumental military milestone collects in chronological publishing order and stark, stunning monochrome more of the groundbreaking classics which made Rock a comics legend. These grim and gritty, epically poetic war stories are taken from the still-anthological Our Army at War #149-180 (bracketing December 1964 to May 1967), a period when American comics were undergoing a spectacular renaissance in style, theme and quality even as the Vietnam war took over the nation’s consciousness and conscience.

Scripted throughout by Writer/Editor Kanigher and illustrated primarily by Joe Kubert, the terse episodes herein begin with ‘Surrender Ticket!’ as the German High Command randomly pick an American Company to endure unrelenting pressure until they crack, thereby proving Nazi superiority. They really should have picked again after selecting Easy Company…

In ‘Flytrap Hill!’, Rock is forced to request a retreat before instead leading his brutalised men to unlikely victory after they all find fresh inspiration through the example of a messenger who gave his life to reach them whilst ‘War Party!’ sees the Sarge undertaking a trial organised by Little Sure Shot to become an honorary Apache Indian, with the always-advancing Germans inadvertently spoiling his chances at every turn.

OAAW #152 is a full-length yarn in which a shipment of green replacements find themselves frozen under fire until Rock recounts the tales of Ziggy and Hopeless who found courage with their last breaths in ‘Last Man – Last Shot!’ This narrative device of incorporating brief past-action episodes into a baptism of fire scenario played over and over again in Sgt. Rock and never got old.

‘Easy’s Last Stand!’ saw the stony serviceman battling alone in the mistaken belief he was the only one left alive whilst ‘Boobytrap Mascot’ found Easy accompanying boy soldier Andre Lune in search of hidden artillery emplacements as the lad tried to live up to – and die for – the pressure of generations of warrior ancestors who gave their lives for France…

‘No Stripes for Me!’ saw the non-com in the middle of a family feud as a valiant GI continually refuses well-earned battlefield promotions his father – the General – keeps foisting upon him, after which a bumbling medic deemed unfit for combat fatally proves his worth saving Easy as ‘The Human Tank Trap!’

The shell-shocked last survivor of an eradicated relief company goes through hell at Rock’s side as the topkick strives to prove that ‘Nothin’s Ever Lost in War!’ before OAAW #158 introduces some insight into the pre-war world of civilian Frank Rock as well as an antithesis and arch-enemy for Easy’s front man in ‘Iron Major – Rock Sergeant!’

With the non-com captured, tortured and used as bait in a blizzard by a steel-handed master strategist, it takes sheer guts and unflinching to save Easy from a deadly ambush…

Wounded in combat, hunted by a German kill-team and guided by the sister of a nurse he feels responsible for killing, Rock becomes ‘The Blind Gun!’ before recovering his sight and finding a measure of solace in groundbreaking epic ‘What’s the Colour of Your Blood?’

Here black soldier (it’s a comicbook making a point: please ignore the appalling and sordid truth about US Army segregation during WWII) and former boxer Jackie Johnson is forced to bare-knuckle battle the racist Aryan prize-fighter he trounced in the years before the war. Of course if he raises his hands to defend himself in this impromptu rematch, Storm Trooper Uhlan’s comrades will shoot Jackie’s Easy Co. comrades… until the right word from Rock changes all the odds…

An over-eager replacement almost dies to prove he’s not a coward like his court-martialled brother in ‘Dead End for a Dog Face!’ before ‘The Prince and the Sergeant!’ revives an old DC star for a truly bizarre team-up.

When superheroes were in decline during the 1950s, comicbook companies sought different types of action hero. In 1955 Kanigher devised traditional adventure comic The Brave and the Bold which featured historical strips and stalwarts such as Golden Gladiator, Robin Hood and Silent Knight. Already-legendary, Joe Kubert drew the fantastic exploits of a dynamic Norseman dubbed the Viking Prince.

This last feature appeared in nearly every issue, eventually monopolising Brave and the Bold entirely, until the resurgent superhero boom saw the comic retooled as a try-out title with the 25th issue. Before that, however, those fanciful Scandi-sagas were among some of the finest adventure comics of all time (and they’re still too long overdue for a definitive collection of their own).

In Our Army at War #162 Easy Company were sent to Norway on a proverbial suicide mission but subsequently separated under fire. Taking cover in a cave, Rock discovered a warrior frozen in ice moments before an explosion shattered the frigid tomb. Soon the revived Prince Jon was slicing his way through the modern Huns, determined to sell his life dearly.

Before his entombment he had fallen in love with a Valkyrie and had to die gloriously in battle to reunite with her in Valhalla. Of course, offended Odin had stacked the odds and decreed no mortal weapon could now harm him…

Despite his best efforts Jon and Rock kept winning and so the saga continued in the next issue as the doughty comrades completed the suicide mission with the Viking crying ‘Kill Me – Kill Me!’… until a seeming martial miracle occurred…

Our Army at War #164 was an 80-page Giant reprint issue (not included here) and #165 heralded the ‘Return of the Iron Major!’ with the Nazi Superman back from the dead and seeking revenge, only to find Rock kissing his former fiancée Contessa Helga von Hohenschlag-Lowenburg

That resulted in another brutal death-duel after which ‘Half a Sergeant!’ saw the indomitable human force-of-nature suffer a crack-up until an inconsolable loss on the battlefield shocked him back to normal, whilst ‘Kill One – Save One!’ continued the psycho-dramas as Rock shoots a sniper and discovers he’s killed a child. The guilt cripples him so completely he can’t raise a hand against the boy’s even younger comrade who takes the topkick prisoner…

An element of supernatural mystery flavoured ‘I Knew the Unknown Soldier!’ in Our Army at War #168, as Rock proudly recalls an enigmatic GI who repeatedly saved and inspired Easy to overcome impossible odds. This short yarn would be the genesis of future combat superstar The Unknown Soldier

Again blinded in battle, Rock unwittingly trekked across the African desert towards German lines with an American-educated ‘Nazi on My Back!’ in #169 but was back in Europe for ‘No One Comes Down Alive from – Buzzard Bait Hill!’: dealing with a shell-shocked veteran who had been reliving the war since the last time Germans invaded France.

War’s insanity was a recurring theme and in ‘The Sergeant Must Die!’ Easy had to steal a relic of huge symbolic importance from a mediaeval castle defended by a deranged Nazi who believed himself the reincarnation of legendary Hun Barbarosa. A perilous stalemate was only broken by vicious single combat; a situation echoed in ‘A Slug for a Sergeant!’ as Russ Heath slowly began to take over illuminating Rock’s sorties.

German Sgt. Schlum was every inch Rock’s equal and when the hostage American chose to duel his counterpart rather than betray Easy into ambush, the outcome was anything but certain…

Our Army at War #173 was another reprint – also omitted here – and Kubert returned in #174 as ‘One Kill Too Many!’ sees the Sarge suffer another breakdown after reliving the moment he shot that child-sniper and freezing under fire. His inaction leads to Easy’s medic being killed and the broken soldier giving up fighting to take his place… until the wounded men he treats show Rock where he truly belongs…

Heath was back in #175 to deliver the ‘T.N.T. Letter!’ from Rock’s stateside sweetheart Mary which left him broken and suicidal until he met a battlefield gamin who restored his perspective, and Kubert limned the strange saga of Crusher Cole, a beefy replacement who wanted the sergeant’s job and kept crying ‘Give Me Your Stripes!’

Following another 80-Page Giant in #177, ‘Only One Medal for Easy’ (Heath, #178) returned to the series’ picaresque, portmanteau traditions as Rock is given one gong and a Pass to dispense to Easy’s most outstanding combatant. Of course, the medal is passed around the entire company as every time the enemy attacks, a different hero saves the day…

Kubert was back reprising that landmark tale of bigotry and tolerance in OAAW #179 as white supremacist Sharkey joined Easy and made things tough for the unit’s only black soldier. Even Rock couldn’t change his attitudes but the trials of war and the patience of a truly noble man finally change the racist views of the soldier who wouldn’t give ‘A Penny for Jackie Johnson!’

Russ Heath ends this cataclysmic comics campaign with another stunning moral quandary as Rock captures a German officer and has to endure unbearable provocation as he escorts his prisoner to base; coming within an inch of breaking all the rules as the cunning monster brags ‘You Can’t Kill a General!’

Robert Kanigher at his worst was a declarative, heavy-handed and formulaic writer, but when writing his best stuff – as here – his work was imaginative, evocative, iconoclastic and heart-rending. He was a unique reporter and observer of the warrior’s way and the unchanging condition of the dedicated and so very human ordinary foot-slogging G.I. He was also a strident and early advocate of equality and integration.

With superb combat covers from Kubert fronting each episode, this battle-book is a visually vital compendium and a certain delight for any jaded comics fan looking for something more than flash and dazzle.

A perfect example of true Shock and Awe; these are stories every comics fan and combat collector should see.
© 1964-1967, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock volume 2


By Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, Bob Haney, Ross Andru & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1984-0

Sgt Rock and the “combat-happy Joes” of Easy Company are one of the great and enduring creations of the American comic-book industry. The gritty meta-realism of Robert Kanigher’s ordinary guys in life-or-death situations captured the imaginations of generations of readers, young and old. So pervasive is this icon of comicbook combat that’s it’s hard to grasp that Rock is not an immortal industry prototype like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman – with us since the earliest moments of the industry – but is in fact a late addition to and child of the Silver Age of Comics: debuting as just another tale in war anthology G.I. Combat (#68, January 1959, by Kanigher & Joe Kubert).

The archetypal sergeant was an anonymous boxer who wasn’t particularly skilled but simply refused to be beaten, absorbing any and all the punishment dealt out to him.

When ‘The Rock!’ enlisted in the US Army, however, that same Horatian quality attained mythic proportions as he held back an overwhelming Nazi attack by sheer grit and determination, remaining bloody but unbowed on a field littered with dead and broken men.

The tale inspired an instant sequel or two before, in Our Army at War #83 (June 1959), the story really began…

This second titanic tour of duty collects in stark and stunning monochrome the groundbreaking tales which made Sgt. Rock a comics legend. These grim and gritty, epically poetic war stories are taken from the then still-anthological Our Army at War #118-148, bracketing May 1962 to November 1964, a period when American comics were undergoing a renaissance in style, theme and quality.

Scripted throughout by Editor Kanigher, the terse episodes herein begin with ‘The Tank vs. the Tin Soldier!’ illustrated by the brilliant Russ Heath as movie idol Randy Booth mustered in to Easy Company and spent all his snobbish energy trying to get out again. By the time he learned how to be a real soldier, his moment in the limelight had turned from cinematic melodrama to Greek tragedy…

The artist most closely associated with Rock, Joe Kubert illustrated #119’s memorable fable ‘A Bazooka for Babyface!’ wherein a kid who’d lied about his age made it to the Front, but didn’t fool the indomitable topkick. Of course, by the time the fighting died down enough to send him back, the Babyface was a seasoned combat veteran…

Kubert superbly limned the majority of stories in this volume, such as #120’s ‘Battle Tags for Easy Co.!’, which used brief vignettes to illustrate how squad stalwarts Ice Cream Soldier, Wild Man and Bulldozer earned their nicknames, before showing the latest Green Apple recruit why the Sarge was called Rock, after which ‘New Boy in Easy!’ in #121 introduced a chess-obsessed replacement who took a lot of convincing that war was no hobby and men weren’t just pawns…

This narrative device of incorporating brief past-action episodes into a baptism of fire scenario played over and over again in Sgt. Rock and never got old.

OAAW #122 featured ‘Battle of the Pyjama Commandoes!’ comprising more portmanteau tales as a number of Easy Joes recuperated in a field hospital, until the Germans broke through and the wounded had to pick up their weapons again…

High-energy stylist Jerry Grandenetti illustrated ‘Battle Brass Ring!’ in #123 as a pushy new replacement antagonised the entire unit until he learned to his cost the value of teamwork and the price of command, after which Kubert returned for ‘Target – Sgt. Rock!’

When the indomitable warrior was captured and brainwashed by a Nazi tank commander into leading an attack on Easy, Bulldozer had to balance Rock’s life against his beloved sergeant’s unflinching standing orders…

More moral dilemmas punished the valiant warriors in #125 (illustrated by Heath) as the unit was cut off from the main Allied force and ordered to ‘Hold – At All Costs!’, whilst ‘The End of Easy Company!’ (#126 and illustrated by Kubert) pitted the unstoppable dogfaces against impassable fortifications and a veritable mountain of Germans who severely underestimated the sheer stubbornness of tired, angry Americans…

With Kubert settling in for the long haul as regular artist on the strip, issue #127 offered an epic 25-page blitz of stories-within-a-story as a quartet of combat-happy Joes related personal tales of their unbeatable boss in ‘4 Faces of Sgt. Rock’.

OAAW #128 featured ‘The Battle of the Sergeants!’ as Rock met his Nazi counterpart in the deserts of Africa, after which #129 revealed that ‘Heroes Need Cowards!’ by exploring Rock’s earliest days in the Army, and ‘No Hill for Easy!’ in #130 saw the battered band of brothers go above and beyond to placate a shell-shocked Major and finish the suicide mission of a deranged last man standing…

In #131 ‘One Pair of Dogtags … For Sale’ saw Easy meet a woman warrior every inch their equal who literally spilled her own blood to keep Rock alive, whilst in ‘Young Soldiers Never Cry!’ the sergeant became a combat babysitter after rescuing a toddler on the battlefield of Normandy.

‘Yesterday’s Hero!’ in #133 saw a decorated veteran join Easy to a rapturous welcome, but flounder, unable to escape the shocking circumstances that made him an unwilling example of both heroism and cowardice, whilst in ‘The T.N.T. Book’ another replacement insisted on playing the odds in war as he had on the track… until he learned the true stakes of battle…

Our Army at War #135 pitted Rock against a German non-com who was in almost every way his ‘Battlefield Double!’, whilst in #136 a desperately frightened new kid arrived begging the indomitable topkick to ‘Make Me a Hero!’, and #137 saw a cavalry holdover from WWI finally achieve his long-delayed charge to glory in ‘Too Many Sergeants!’

When a close skirmish separated Rock from his greenest new replacement in #138, the weary warrior went through combat hell to find ‘Easy’s Lost Sparrow!’, before the next mission resulted in capture for four of the unit’s best and a ‘A Firing Squad for Easy!’ at a German Submarine dock. Happily the team of Frogmen they’d been protecting returned the favour…

OAAW #140 was another full-length thriller – with cameos from fellow comicbook combatant Captain Johnny Cloud and French Resistance fighter Mademoiselle Marie – which revealed the wry story of how Rock kept winning deserved but wholly unwelcome battlefield promotions. His dilemma as a ‘Brass Sergeant!’ was only resolved after reuniting a misunderstood son with his “spit-and-polish” General father under exceptional circumstances…

An timid old school friend turned up in #141, still needing Rock’s protection until “Shaker” finally pulled the ‘Dead Man’s Trigger!’, whilst in the next issue Kanigher pushed the envelope with the tale of a boy who held the sergeant to ransom and became ‘Easy’s New Topkick!’ in order to finish his dead Maquis comrades’ last mission. This stirring saga inspired the creation of Unit 3 – a French Resistance squad of battle-hardened children who appeared sporadically in later issues.

In #143 the US soldiers were back in the desert where embattled dogfaces honoured fallen comrade Farmer Boy by planting ‘Easy’s T.N.T. Crop!’ and harvested a victory built on sand, after which ‘The Sparrow and the Tiger!’ saw Rock at last succumb to battle fatigue and the constant loss of his “kids” until a scared replacement showed him the true value of persistence and grace under fire…

Our Army at War #145 offered the back-story on the squad’s Native American rifleman in ‘A Feather for Little Sure-Shot!’, whilst in #146 imagination ran wild as ‘The Fighting Guns of Easy!’ compared stories about the men who fired them.

This second savage selection of combat actions concludes with a rare 2-part yarn, beginning in #147 as ‘Generals Don’t Die! Book One’ found the hands-on topkick the envy of all his commanding officers. However, after helping desk-jockey General Bentley die in glorious battle, Rock was saddled with fulfilling a promise to a dying man and forced to impersonate Bentley.

Things got even trickier when the impostor had to lead the troops in breaking a stalled advance, a classic conundrum spectacularly resolved in the blockbuster conclusion ‘Generals Don’t Die! Book Two: Generals are Sergeants with Stars!’ as Rock kept the dead man’s secret and maintained Bentley family honour until he could pass on those unearned Brass Stars to the next Bentley generation…

Robert Kanigher at his worst was a declarative, heavy-handed and formulaic writer, but when writing his best stuff – as here – his work was imaginative, evocative, iconoclastic and heart-rending. He was a unique reporter and observer of the warrior’s way and the unchanging condition of the dedicated and so very human ordinary foot-slogging G.I.

With superb combat covers from Kubert, Grandenetti, and Heath fronting each episode, this battle-book is a visually perfect compendium and a certain delight for any jaded comics fan looking for something more than flash and dazzle.

A perfect example of true Shock and Awe; these are stories every comics fan and combat collector should see.
© 1963, 1964, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Sgt Rock: Between Hell & a Hard Place

Sgt Rock: Between Hell & a Hard Place

By Joe Kubert & Brian Azzarello

(Vertigo)  ISBN 1-4012-0054-0

Sgt Rock and Easy Company are some of the great and enduring creations of the American comic-book industry. The gritty meta-realism of the late Robert Kanigher’s ordinary guys in life-or-death situations captured the imaginations of generations of readers, young and old.

Most closely associated with these characters today is legendary creator Joe Kubert, who has worked as artist, writer, editor and educator since the earliest days of the medium. So when a new Rock edition was announced, the artist was never in doubt, and Brian Azzarello was one of a vanishingly small pool of potential scripters. Their collaboration has produced a powerful, if simplistic, morality play about the nature of killing. And, most importantly, it’s a damn fine read.

War is hell, but the death is somehow justifiable if your country tells you to. So how does a moral man, a soldier, react when the killing moves beyond the acceptable parameters laid down by his superiors? When Rock and Co capture four enemy officers after a frantic battle, the Nazis are taken prisoner and treated under the Articles of War. The next morning three are dead and the fourth is missing. The Germans have all been executed at close range whilst confined.

Immediately a cloud of suspicion descends on the previously close-knit unit of G.I.s. Was it the missing prisoner, or is one of their own capable of the kind of atrocity they’re all fighting to end? And even so, don’t these monsters possibly deserve it? Rock must find all the answers. Not simply to restore his faith and trust, but because it’s the right thing to do.

As much detective mystery as war story, this is a searching and haunting re-examination of the most telling quandary of conflict. Why is dealing death right sometimes and not others? I can’t promise you answers, but the questions have seldom been asked in as striking or beautiful a manner.

© 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.