You’ll Never Know Book 3: Soldier’s Heart


By C. Tyler (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-588-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: an ideal example of Art for Our Sake… 10/10

In 2009 illustrator, educator, performer and occasional cartoonist Carol Tyler (The Job Thing, Late Bloomer) published the first of a trilogy of graphic memoirs examining her tempestuous relationship with her father. Chuck, a veteran of World War II and by all measures A Good and Decent Man, had been a mystery and painful cipher to his girl for years but everything changed one day in 2002.

After six decades of brusque taciturnity and scarily obsessive sublimating self-reliance, during which he had edited his service career out of his life, Chuck suddenly and explosively opened up about his time in Africa and Europe. However, he would not or could not recall his later experiences in Italy and France as the War staggered to a close…

Disease and growing infirmity had suddenly produced in her once strong-but-distant father a terrifying openness and desire to share his long-suppressed war experiences and history.

As if suddenly speaking for an entire generation who fought and died or survived and somehow soldiered on as civilians in a society with no conception of Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, Chuck Tyler began to unburden his soul.

Galvanised and hungry to learn more, Carol began creating an album of his army years but soon came up against a mental blank-period: one for which no corroborating records existed. For, as much as he could effusively recall, there was so much more that had been excised from Chuck’s mind and apparently erased by the government…

It became a quest: a relentless search for hidden truths which abruptly collapsed when the irritably mutable elder suddenly turned on her and the painful, frustrating search for the past.

In 2010, second volume Collateral Damage was released and found Carol coping with her own husband Justin’s infidelities, mental dilemmas, betrayal and desertion. This led to a resumption of the father-and-daughter recording and re-ordering of Chuck’s recollections of Italy and France (including the infamous Battle of the Bulge) whilst re-examining her own agonisingly chaotic, self-destructive existence and hidden demons.

Carol was forced to examine her troubled past through a new lens. How much did growing up the child of a devoted, loving husband who was incomprehensibly somehow a coldly, unapproachable father, shape her own parade of life-errors and marital mishaps?

Could she prevent her increasingly wild daughter Julia from perpetuating the cycle by making the same bad choices she had?

As her parents’ physical and mental states inexorably deteriorated, Chuck had become obsessed by the mystery of the missing months he’d forgotten and a potential “Government Pay-out”. In his more open and lucid moments he gratefully accepted Carol’s aid in trying to solve the dilemma and so the pair began to explore numerous Federal and Veteran’s Administrative archives and resources…

During an increasingly critical reappraisal of the family’s shared experiences, Carol subsequently discovered how her mother Hannah or “Red” had coped with dark tragedies and suppressed secrets on the Home Front, and gained enhanced perspective but no satisfactory answers to the continuing conundrum of her father.

Rushing to finish her self-appointed task of turning her father’s life into a comprehensible chronicle whilst her parents both visibly declined with every visit, Carol’s personal life was also becoming uncontrollable and too much to endure…

Exploring three generations of a family born out of collateral damage and which never truly escaped WWII, the saga concludes with the revelatory breakthrough moments of Soldier’s Heart, opening with a moving visual introduction by Carol and Red before revealing how Julia’s spiralling behavioural  problems brought a chastened and resolutely repentant Justin back into the fold. Julia’s troubles prove to have a biological and psychological basis and, whilst Justin came back into their lives, he never made it to Carol’s bed. As the once-marrieds moved into a new holding pattern, the cartoonist’s military searches brought her to the actual man of her dreams but family loyalty kept him from her too…

With ‘The Mind’ awhirl Carol found solace and renewed balance by adopting a miraculous dog before embarking on a frighteningly close shave involving Chuck, a gun and a mouse in ‘The X-mas Tale’ whilst New Year ruminations on the price soldiers always pay and how we honour the fallen in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Walking the Mat’ bring the pensive and elegiac narrative to ‘Dad’s Army Scrapbook and Tour of Duty Highlights part V: Rhineland Dec. 1944-Mar. 1945’

Here at last the researches find a crucial turning point as Chuck’s broken memories and the records pinpoint a discrepancy – although the old soldier’s recall describes his duties and exploits up to March when he was sent home, the files show that he didn’t get back to America again until November…

Further investigations and a growing network of helpful contacts lead them towards the National Archives Personnel Records Center in St. Louis and Carol resolves to take her folks on an epic road trip to Missouri. Although personally revelatory, the excursion turns into a frustrating bureaucratic nightmare in ‘Prairie Trek by Truck with Hannah and Chuck’ and advances the Tour of Duty Scrapbook not one jot.

Now the project’s very last hope is a ‘Trip to the National Archives and WWII Memorial – Washington, D.C. 2004’ but the journey is almost finished before it’s begun when Chuck’s latest home-improvement project turns the family home into an asbestos-soaked  death-trap and the old man’s toxic other self resurfaces.

With relations between father and daughter at their lowest ebb for years, the Washington excursion begins with little hope for success but leads unbelievably to a spectacular and moving breaking of the mental dam and subsequent epiphany of shocking proportions…

The story doesn’t end there but moves on to re-begin for the Tyler clan and there’s still one last moving ‘Epilogue’ before the close of this very special, grimly life-affirming account.

Ruminative, pensive and moodily elegiac with a series of stunning set-piece illustrations eerily reminiscent of American master of stoic isolation Edward Hopper blending into a mixed palette of cartooning and illustration disciplines, C. Tyler’s art adroitly mirrors her eclectic, entrancing non-sequential story-form, with a beguiling, bewildering array of styles meshing perfectly and evocatively to create a fully immersive comics experience.

Offering warmth, heartbreak, horror, humour, angst, tragedy, triumph and hope in a seductive display simultaneously charming and devastatingly effective, this grand narrative is itself constructed like a photo album (hardback, landscape and copiously expansive at 310x265mm) redefining the eternal question “How and Why Do Families Work?”

The mystery of the Soldier’s Heart is a magnificent conclusion to Tyler’s triptych of discovery and one no lover of comics or student of the human condition should miss.

© 2012 C. Tyler. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents the Losers Volume 1


By Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, John Severin, Ken Barr & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3437-9-8

The Losers were an elite unit of American soldiers formed by amalgamating three old war series together. Gunner and Sarge (later supplemented by the Fighting Devil Dog “Pooch”) were Pacific-based Marines; debuting in All-American Men of War #67, (March1959) and running for fifty issues in Our Fighting Forces (#45-94, May 1959-August 1965), whilst Captain Johnny Cloud was a native American fighter pilot who shot down his first bogie in All-American Men of War #82. The “Navaho Ace” flew solo until issue #115, (1966) and entered a brief limbo until the final component of the Land/Air/Sea team was filled by Captain Storm, a disabled PT Boat skipper who fought on despite his wooden left leg in his own eponymous 18-issue series from 1964 to 1967. All three series were created by comicbook warlord Robert Kanigher.

The characters had all pretty much passed their individual use-by dates when they were teamed-up as guest-stars in a Haunted Tank tale in 1969 (G.I. Combat #138 October), but these “Losers” found a new resonance together in the relevant, disillusioned, cynical Vietnam years and their somewhat nihilistic, doom-laden group anti-hero adventures took the lead spot in Our Fighting Forces #123 for a run of blistering yarns written by Kanigher and illustrated by such giants as Ken Barr, Russ Heath, Sam Glanzman, John Severin and Joe Kubert.

With the tag-line “even when they win, they lose” the team saw action all over the globe, winning critical acclaim and a far-too-small but passionate following. This magnificent monochrome tome collects that introductory tale from the October 1969 G.I. Combat and the complete formative run of suicidal missions from Our Fighting Forces #123-150 (January /February 1970-August/September 1974), after which comicbook messiah Jack Kirby took over the series for a couple of years and made it, as always, uniquely his own. For that seminal set you must see Jack Kirby’s The Losers Omnibus (no really, you must. That’s an order, Soljer…)

Kanigher often used his stories as a testing ground for new series ideas, and G.I. Combat #138 (October 1969) introduced one of his most successful. ‘The Losers!’, illustrated by the magnificent hyper-realist Russ Heath, saw the Armoured Cavalry heroes of the Haunted Tank encounter a sailor, two marines and grounded pilot Johnny Cloud, each individually and utterly demoralised after negligently losing all the men under their respective commands.

Guilt-ridden and broken, the battered relics were inspired by tank commander Jeb Stuart who fanned their sense of duty and desire for vengeance until the crushed survivors regained a measure of respect and fighting spirit by uniting in a combined suicide-mission to destroy a Nazi Radar tower…

By the end of 1969 Dirty Dozen knock-off Hunter’s Hellcats had long outlived their shelf-life in Our Fighting Forces and with #123 (January/February 1970) evacuated in the epilogue ‘Exit Laughing’ which segued directly into ‘No Medals No Graves’, illustrated by Scottish artist Ken Barr (whose stunning work in paint and line has graced everything from Commando Picture Library covers, through Marvel DC and Warren, to film, book and TV work) and picked up the tale as Storm, Cloud, Gunner and Sarge sat in enforced, forgotten idleness until the aforementioned Lieutenant Hunter recommended them for a dirty, dangerous job no sane military men would touch…

It appears Storm was a dead ringer for a British agent – even down to the wooden leg – and the Brass needed the washed-up sailor to impersonate their vital human resource. The only problem is that they wanted him to be captured, withstand Nazi torture for 48 hours and then break, delivering damaging disinformation about a vast commando raid that wouldn’t be happening…

The agent would do it himself but he was actually dead…

And there was even work for his despondent companions as a disposable diversionary tactic added to corroborate the secrets Storm should hopefully betray after two agonising days…

Overcoming all expectation the “Born Losers” triumphed and even got away intact, after which Ross Andru & Mike Esposito became the regular art team in #124 when ‘Losers Take All’ showed how even good luck was bad, after a mission to liberate the hostage king of a Nazi-subjugated nation saw them doing all the spectacular hard work before losing their prize to Johnny-come-lately regular soldiers…

‘Daughters of Death’ in #125 found the suicide squad initially fail to rescue a scientist’s children only to blisteringly return and rectify their mistakes, Of course, by then the nervous tension had cracked the Professor’s mind, rendering him useless to the Allied cause…

‘A Lost Town’ opened with The Losers undergoing a Court Martial for desertion. Reviled for allowing the obliteration of a French village, they faced execution until an old blind man and his two grandkids revealed what really happened in the hellish conflagration of Perdu, whilst in ‘Angels Over Hell’s Corner’ a brief encounter with a pretty WREN (Women’s Royal Navy Service) in Blitz-beleaguered Britain drew the unit into a star-crossed love affair that even death itself could not thwart…

In a portmanteau tale which disclosed more details of the events which created The Losers, Our Fighting Forces #128 described the ‘7 11 War’ wherein a hot streak during a casual game of craps presaged disastrous calamity for any unlucky bystander near to the Hard Luck Heroes, after which ‘Ride the Nightmare’ saw Cloud endure horrifying visions and crack up on a mission to liberate a captive rocket scientist, before the team again became a living diversion in #130’s ‘Nameless Target’. However, by getting lost and hitting the wrong target, The Losers gifted the Allies with their greatest victory to date…

John Severin inked Andru in OFF #131, in preparation to taking over the full art chores on the series, and ‘Half a Man’ hinted at darker, grittier tales to come when Captain Storm’s disability and guilty demons began to overwhelm him. Considering himself a jinx, the sea dog attempted to sacrifice himself on a mission to Norway but had not counted on his own brutal will to survive…

Back in London, Gunner & Sarge were temporarily reunited with ‘Pooch: the Winner’ (#132 by Kanigher & Severin), prompting a fond if perilous recollection of an exploit against the Japanese in the distant Pacific. However, fearing their luck was contagious, the soldiers sadly decided the beloved “Fighting Devil Dog” was better off without them…

Dispatched to India in #133’s ‘Heads or Tails’, The Losers were ordered to assassinate the “the Unholy Three” – Japanese Generals responsible for untold slaughter amongst the British and native populations. In sweltering lethal jungles, they only succeeded thanks to the determined persistence and sacrifice of a Sikh child hiding a terrible secret.

Our Fighting Forces #134 saw them brutally fighting from shelled house to hedgerow in Europe until Gunner cracked. When even his partners couldn’t get him to pick up a gun again it took the heroic example of indomitable wounded soldiers to show him who ‘The Real Losers’ were…

Issue #135 began a superb extended epic which radically shook up the team after ‘Death Picks a Loser’. Following an ill-considered fortune telling incident in London, the squad shipped out to Norway to organise a resistance cell, despite efforts to again sideline the one-legged Storm. They rendezvoused with Pastor Tornsen and his daughter Ona and began by mining the entire village of Helgren, determined to deny the Nazis a stable base of operations.

Even after the Pastor sacrificed himself to allow the villagers and Americans time to escape, the plan stumbled when the explosives failed to detonate and Storm, convinced he was a liability, detonated the bombs by hand…

Finding only his wooden leg in the flattened rubble, The Losers were further stunned when the vengeful orphan Ona volunteered to take the tragic sailor’s place in the squad of Doomed Men…

The ice-bound retreat from Helgren stalled in #136 when she offered herself as a ‘Decoy for Death’ leading German tanks into a lethal ambush, after which Cloud soloed in a mission to the Pacific where he found himself inspiring natives to resist the Japanese as a resurrected ‘God of the Losers’

Reunited in OFF #138, the Bad Luck Brigade became ‘The Targets’ when sent to uncover the secret of a new Nazi naval weapon sinking Allied shipping. Once more using Ona as bait they succeed in stunning fashion, but also pick up enigmatic intel regarding a crazy one-eyed, peg-legged marauder attacking both Enemy and Allied vessels off Norway…

Our Fighting Forces #139 introduced ‘The Pirate’, when a band of deadly reivers attacked a convoy ship carrying The Losers and supplies to the Norwegian resistance. Barely escaping with their lives the Squad was then sent to steal a sample of a top secret jet fuel but discovered the Sea Devil had beaten them to it.

Forced to bargain with the merciless mercenary for the prototype, they found themselves in financial and combat competition with an equally determined band of German troops who simply wouldn’t take no for an answer…

‘Lost… One Loser’ revealed that Ona had been with Storm at the end and was now plagued by a survivor’s guilty nightmares. Almost convincing her comrades that he still lived, she led the team on another mission into Norway, the beautiful traumatised girl again used herself as a honey trap to get close to a German bigwig and found incontrovertible proof that Storm was dead when she picked up his battered, burned dog-tag…

Still troubled, she commandeered a plane and flew back to her home to assassinate her Quisling uncle in #141’s ‘The Bad Penny’, only to be betrayed to the town’s German garrison and saved by the pirate who picked that moment to raid the occupied village for loot.

Even with the other Losers in attendance the Pirate’s rapacious rogues were ultimately triumphant but when the crippled corsair snatched Ona’s most treasured possession, the dingy dog-tag unlocked many suppressed memories and Storm (this is comics: who else could it be?) remembered everything…

Answers to his impossible survival came briskly in OFF #142 and ‘½ a Man’ concentrated on the Captain’s struggle to be reinstated. Shipping out to the Far East on a commercial vessel, he was followed by his concerned comrades and stumbled into an Arabian insurrection with three war-weary guardian angels discreetly dogging his heel.

Back with The Losers again in #143, Storm was soon involved in another continued saga as ‘Diamonds are for Never!’ found the Fatalistic Five sent to Africa to stop an SS unit from hijacking industrial diamonds for their failing war effort. However, even after liberating a captured mine from the enemy, the gems eluded the team as a pack of monkeys made off with the glittering prizes…

Hot on their trail in ‘The Lost Mission’ the pursuers stumble onto a Nazi ambush of British soldiers and determine to take on their task – demolishing an impregnable riverside fortress…

Despite being successful the Squad are driven inland and become lost in the desert where they stumble into a French Foreign Legion outpost and join its last survivor in defending ‘A Flag for Losers’ from a merciless German horde and French traitor

Still lost in the trackless wastes they survived ‘The Forever Walk!’ in #146, battling equally-parched Nazis for the last precious drops of water and losing one of their own to a terrifying sandstorm…

In ‘The Glory Road!’ the sun-baked survivors encountered the last survivor of a German ambush, but British Major Cavendish seemed unable to differentiate between his early days as a star of patriotic films and grim reality and when a German patrol captures them all the mockery proves too much for the troubled martinet…

Again lost and without water, in #148 ‘The Last Charge’ saw The Losers save a desert princess and give her warrior father a chance to fulfil a prophecy and die in glorious battle against the Nazi invaders, whilst #149 briefly reunited the squad with their long-missing member before tragically separating again in ‘A Bullet for a Traitor!’

This volume concludes with ‘Mark our Graves’ in #150 as The Losers linked up with members of The Jewish Brigade (a special British Army unit) who all paid a steep price to uncover a secret Nazi supply dump…

Although a superbly action-packed and moving tale, it was an inauspicious end to the run and one which held no hint of the creative culture-shock which would explode in the pages of the next instant issue when the God of American Comicbooks blasted in to create a unique string of “Kirby Klassics”…

With covers by Joe Kubert, Frank Thorne and Neal Adams, this grimly efficient, superbly understated and beautifully rendered collection is a brilliant example of how war comics changed forever in the 1970s and proves that these stories still pack a TNT punch few other forms of entertainment can hope to match.
© 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents the Haunted Tank volume 2


By Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath, Irv Novick, Joe Kubert, Sam Glanzman & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0789-8

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy in his signature war comics, as well as in horror stories, westerns and superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Batman plus other genres too numerous to cover here.

Kanigher sold his first stories and poetry in 1932, wrote for the theatre, film and radio, and joined the Fox Features shop where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for Blue Beetle and the original Captain Marvel.

In 1945 he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He wrote Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary and Lady Cop, and many memorable villainesses such as Harlequin and Rose and the Thorn. This last temptress he redesigned during the relevancy era of the early 1970s into a schizophrenic crime-busting super-heroine who haunted the back of Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, which Kanigher also scripted.

When mystery-men faded out at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved into westerns and war stories, becoming in 1952 writer/editor of the company’s combat titles: All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Army at War. He created Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his burgeoning portfolio when Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956, all the while working on Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Sea Devils, Viking Prince and a host of others.

In 1956 he scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age which introduced Barry Allen as the new Flash to the hero-hungry kids of the world.

Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and frequently used his uncanny but formulaic adventure arenas as a testing ground for future series concepts. Among the many epochal war features he created were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, The War that Time Forgot and The Losers as well as the irresistibly compelling “combat ghost stories” collected here in this second stupendously expansive war-journal.

This terrific monochrome tome re-presents more blockbusting exploits of boyhood friends Jeb Stuart Smith, Arch Asher, Slim Stryker and Rick Rawlins from G.I. Combat #120-156 (October/November 1966 – October/November 1972), a period during which superheroes rose to astonishing global dominance before almost vanishing into history once more.

Apparently immune to such tenuous trendiness, the battle-hardened veterans of the M-3 Stuart Light Tank – named for the legendary Confederate Army General who was a genius of cavalry combat, and haunted by his restless spirit – soldiered on, battling threats mortal and often metaphysical on many fronts during World War II, becoming (after Sgt. Rock) DC’s most successful and long-lived combat feature.

The tales were generally narrated by Jeb as he manned the Commander’s spotter-position (head and torso sticking out of the top hatch and completely exposed to enemy fire whilst driver Slim, gunner Rick and loader Arch remained relatively safe inside) constantly conversing with his spectral namesake who offered philosophy, advice and prescient, if often veiled, warnings …

Throughout the early days Jeb’s comrades continually argued about what to do with him. Nobody believed in the ghost and they all doubted their commander’s sanity, but since he began seeing the General, Stuart Smith had become a tactical genius and his “gifts” were keeping them all alive against incredible odds…

This volume opens with G.I. Combat #120 ‘Pull a Tiger’s Tail!’, illustrated by Irv Novick, detailing how, after accompanying both Sgt. Rock and Navajo fighter-pilot Johnny Cloud, on sorties, Jeb defied orders to capture a giant Tiger tank his own way…

Another spiritually-sponsored warrior, Cloud regularly saw a mounted Indian Brave dubbed Big-Brother-in-the Sky galloping across the heavens during his missions.

The inspirational Russ Heath illustrated #121’s ‘Battle of Two Wars!’ wherein after rescuing a shell-shocked pigeon the tankers are inexplicably drawn back to WWI to save Sgt Rock’s father, who then returns the favour once the Stuart returns to its proper time whilst in ‘Who Dies Next?’ (#122 and with art from Novick), the General issued a dire proclamation that one of their own would not last the day out – a forecast that came true in a most shocking manner…

Heath returned to the art with #123’s ‘The Target of Terror!’ as guest star Mlle. Marie returned with news of a secret weapon to be destroyed at all costs. Unfortunately the French Resistance leader had partial amnesia and didn’t remember exactly what or where, whilst in ‘Scratch that Tank!’ the crew’s shiny new replacement vehicle was a cause of acute embarrassment until it finally gained a few praiseworthy combat scars…

G.I. Combat #125 decreed ‘Stay Alive… Until Dark!’ as Jeb’s sorely reduced battle-group attempted to hold too much ground with too few tanks, culminating in a Horatian last stand in the shattered, cloistered streets of a tiny French town, after which the crew endured deadly desert warfare in a desperate search for Panzers hidden by a cunning ‘Tank Umbrella!’

Novick illustrated the two-fisted ‘Mission – Sudden Death!!’ in #127 as Mlle. Marie led the tank-jockeys far from their comfort zone in an infantry raid to rescue her captured father before Heath returned to limn ‘The Ghost of the Haunted Tank!’, a superbly evocative thriller in which the crew finally cracked during a brutal massed Panzer assault and restrained their clearly delusional commander for his own good. However when solid, no-nonsense Slim took the observer’s spot he too began to see the spectral sentinel and was forced to act on the apparition’s strategic advice…

Issue #129 is pure Kanigher poesy as ‘Hold that Town for a Dead Man!’ saw the tankers roll past an American soldier expired at his post, and swear to eradicate the foes who felled him… and when the blistering cat-and-mouse duel seemed to go against the crew they were saved by an impossible burst of gunfire fired by a cold, stiff hand…

In the afterlife all great military commanders sponsored mortal combatants. General Stuart was stuck looking after a pack of “Damned Yankees”, but the other side also had phantom patrons.

G.I. Combat #130 saw the return of savage shade Attila the Hun, who directly attacked his revenant rival in a deadly ‘Battle of the Generals!’ with Jeb watching helplessly whilst trying to save his tank from mundane but just as murderous German panzer, artillery and air attacks…

Their next mission took the crew and a band of savage child-warriors (the short-lived and controversial Kid Guerrillas of Unit 3 who had debuted in a Sgt. Rock tale in Our Army at War #194, June 1968) into the heart of Paris to rescue Mlle. Marie from the Gestapo in #131’s ‘The Devil for Dinner!’ after which Mike Sekowsky & Joe Giella stepped in to illustrate the follow-up wherein the Belle of La Resistance led Jeb and the boys – bizarrely disguised as a circus troupe – against merciless SS leader ‘The Executioner!’

The artists stayed on for #133’s ‘Operation: Death Trap’ as the Haunted Tank and crew were parachuted into North Africa to liberate enslaved natives working in a German diamond mine, before, following a ‘Special Battle Pinup’ of the tankers by Joe Kubert, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito signed up for a stint, beginning with ‘Desert Holocaust’ wherein the boys dealt out vengeance for the three MacBane brothers, sibling tank-commanders slaughtered by the Afrika Korps.

Continuity was never a big concern for Kanigher and stories would often occur in no logical or chronological order. In #135 they were back in France battling paratroopers and air-lifted Panzers with only aged WWI survivors to aid them in ‘Death is the Joker’ whilst ‘Kill Now – Pay Later!’ pitted Tank against Nazi U-Boat and Jeb against its driven doom-obsessed Commander in an improbable duel, before Russ Heath returned in #137 to illustrate the African adventure ‘We Can’t See!’ wherein the lads were all temporarily blinded but nevertheless succeeded in destroying a poison gas cache thanks to aid of a little Arab boy.

Kanigher often used his stories as a testing ground for new series ideas and G.I. Combat #138 introduced one of his most successful in ‘The Losers!’ when the Armoured Cavalry unit encountered a sailor, two marines and old friend Johnny Cloud, all utterly demoralised after losing all the men in their respective commands.

Inspired by Jeb and a desire for revenge, the crushed survivors regained a measure of respect and fighting spirit after surviving a certain suicide-mission and destroying a Nazi Radar tower…

The new team were formed by amalgamating three old war series together. Gunner and Sarge (later supplemented by Pooch, the Fighting Devil Dog) were Pacific-based Marines debuting in All-American Men of War #67, March 1959 and ran for fifty issues in Our Fighting Forces (#45-94, May 1959-August 1965), whilst Captain Johnny Cloud was a native American fighter pilot who shot down his first bogie in All-American Men of War #82.

The “Navaho Ace” flew solo until issue #115, (1966) whilst Captain Storm was a disabled PT Boat skipper who fought on despite his wooden left leg in his own eponymous 18-issue series from 1964 to 1967. All three series were originally created by comicbook warlord Kanigher and The Losers soon returned as an elite unit of suicide-soldiers to star in Our Fighting Forces.

G.I. Combat #139 again saw the Haunted Tank parachuted into an Arabian nightmare when the crew interrupt a funeral and save the widow from being forced onto the pyre with her deceased husband. ‘Corner of Hell’ saw Jeb wed and lose his bride to Nazi sympathizers and an ancient prophecy…

Issue #140 featured a reprint not included here – although the new Kubert introduction page is – and the graphic narratives resume with ‘Let me Live… Let me Die!’ as Kanigher & Heath confronted the topics of race and discrimination in a powerful tale describing the plight of African-American soldiers who were used as porters, gravediggers and ammunition carriers but forbidden from bearing or actually using arms.

When Jeb arrived at a recently decimated ammo dump the sole survivor of the Segregated Negro unit demanded to accompany the crew and be allowed to fight and die like a man. Rushing to reinforce Sgt. Rock’s Easy Company and despite the thinly veiled disdain of Slim, Arch and Rick, when Jeb was wounded the valiant tag-along finally got his chance…

G.I. Combat #142 found Jeb obsessed with the moment of his own death in ‘Checkpoint – Death!’ but when the General wasn’t forthcoming soon forgot it about as an unseasonal snowstorm turned the world into a frozen hell, after which ‘The Iron Horseman!’ saw a frustrated WWI tanker finally get at chance to be a hero when Panzers attacked a convent and Jeb’s crew were ambushed. There follows an informational spread ‘Battle Album: General Stuart Light Tank M31A’ by Kubert, before #144 revealed a retrofitted origin for the Haunted Tanker in ‘Every Man a Fort!’ (illustrated by Heath). Now with Jeb a Northern Yankee, the tale revealed how he had to win the respect of Southerners Rick, Slim and Arch with his fists before they’d let him call himself Jeb Stuart, and cemented that bond during their first foray under fire in North Africa…

The desert milieu continued in #145’s ‘Sun, Sand & Death!’ when a sandstorm forced the tank off-course and led them to an abandoned B-25 bomber, giving the dying pilot a chance to redeem his lost honour, whilst #146 saw the M-3 and its crew endure debilitating hazards battling the Afrika Korps but still persevere when the General advised Jeb to ‘Move the World!’

For some Americans the wounds of the Civil War still festered, as Jeb discovered when he encountered the hostile commander of a ‘Rebel Tank’ in #147. Of course, the Germans were happy to remind the feuders who was currently doing all the shooting, whilst in #148 ‘The Gold-Plated General!’ (a thinly disguised analogue of George S. “Blood and Guts” Patton) demanded a spit-and-polish war, but even under combat conditions led by painful example…

American services discrimination was again confronted in G.I. Combat #149 when a Jewish soldier joined the division in ‘Leave the Fighting to Us!’ Many of the good guys had to eat their words when the tank group liberated a Nazi concentration camp…

A major visual change came in #150 with ‘The Death of the Haunted Tank!’, which saw the M-3 destroyed in combat and the crew jury-rig a jigsaw replacement from the remnants of other scrapped and abandoned and, unsurprisingly, bigger, more powerful vehicles.

Proving again that men and not the machine were the heart of the partnership, the General stuck around, and when the new Haunted Tankers passed through an alpine village they relived a mediaeval battle against barbarian invaders in #151’s ‘A Strong Right Arm!’ before bringing a Nazi infiltrator aboard who turned their homemade rolling fortress into a deadly ‘Decoy Tank’ to lure Allied forces into an ambush…

Comics and animation legend Doug Wildey replaced Heath for #153 as sentimental fool Jeb adopted a lost piglet, orphan puppy and lame duckling before completing his tank’s transformation to ‘The Armored Ark!’ by packing in a homeless and displaced family, all while tracking down and eradicating a hidden Nazi rocket silo, after which the series took on a far grittier and raw feel with the addition of a new regular artist.

With G.I. Combat #154 (June/July 1972), unsung master and battle-scarred veteran Sam Glanzman began his decades-long association with the feature, pencilling and inking the blistering improbable ‘Battle Prize!’ wherein the Haunted Tank and crew were captured and paraded before Hitler in Berlin before busting loose and heading East. Hijacked by Polish Resistance fighters soon the Yanks were stranded in ice-bound, siege-locked Russia…

Shamefully, Sam Glanzman is one of the least highly-regarded creators in American comics, despite having one of the longest careers and certainly one of the most unique styles. His work, in genres from war to mystery, westerns, science fiction, sword & sorcery, horror, fantasy and even graphic autobiography is passionate, powerful, subtly engaging and irresistibly compelling.

With a solid, uniquely rough-hewn style he has worked since the 1940s on a variety of titles for many companies, mostly on anthology material for fantasy, mystery, war and adventure titles, but also on serial characters such Attu, Sgt. Rock, Jonah Hex, Hercules and Jungle Tales of Tarzan for Charlton, Kona and Voyage to the Deep for Dell/Gold Key: magnificent action sagas that fired the imagination and stirred the blood, selling copies and winning a legion of fans amongst his fellow artists if not from the small but over-vocal fan-press.

His most significant works are undoubtedly the two semi-autobiographical graphic novels A Sailor’s Story and Wind, Dreams and Dragons although his Vietnam set ‘The Lonely War of Willie Schultz’ and the subtly beguiling U.S.S. Stevens (and if anybody from DC is reading this, those 46-odd U.S.S. Stevens strips are so-very-long-overdue for the trade paperback treatment…).

Glanzman, born in 1924, is still active today producing online strips and a new USS Stevens story is forthcoming in October 2012.

G.I. Combat #155 undertook ‘The Long Journey’ as the Haunted Tank experienced the worst horrors of war whilst trekking across the embattled Eastern Front, aided by Russian partisans, women, children and dotards as they fought off the fascists with every drop of their blood and sweat whilst making their way to a port and the normal war…

This second sterling tome ends with the crew back in Africa where the desert and the German vie for the privilege of destroying the beleaguered tankers and their frantic search for fuel and water drags them ‘Beyond Hell’

An added attraction for art fans and battle buffs are the breathtaking covers by Heath and Kubert…

These spectacular tales took the Haunted Tank through tumultuous times when America fervently questioned the very nature and necessity of war. Vietnam was progressively blighting the nation’s sensibilities, and in response DC’s war comics addressed the issue and also confronted the problems of race and gender roles in a most impressive and sensitive manner.

As always they combine spooky chills with combat thrills and a fierce examination of both war and warriors but always offer a powerful human message that has never dated and may well rank this work amongst the very best war stories ever produced.
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 2008, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Desert Peach volume 6: Marriage & Mayhem


By Donna Barr (Aeon)
ISBN: 1-883847-07-9

The Desert Peach is the supremely self-assured and eminently efficient gay brother of the legendary German soldier hailed as “the Desert Fox”. Set in World War II Africa and effortlessly combining hilarity, absurdity, profound sensitivity and glittering spontaneity, the stories describe the trials and tribulations of Oberst Manfred Pfirsich Marie Rommel; a dutiful if unwilling cog in the German War Machine, yet one determined to remain a civilised gentleman under the most adverse and unkind conditions.

However, although as formidable as his beloved elder sibling, the gracious and genteel Peach is a man who loathes causing harm or giving offence and thus spends his service commanding the dregs of the military in the ghastly misshapes of the 469th Halftrack, Gravedigging & Support Unit of the Afrika Korps, daily endeavouring to remain stylish, elegant, civil and gracious to the assorted waifs, wastrels and warriors on both sides of the unfortunate global conflict.

It’s a thankless, endless task: the 469th houses the worst the Wehrmacht has ever conscripted, from malingerers and malcontents to useless wounded, shiftless conmen, screw-ups and outright maniacs.

Pfirsich unilaterally applies the same decorous courtesies to the sundry natives inhabiting the area and the rather tiresome British and Anzac forces – not all of whom are party to a clandestine non-aggression pact Pfirsich has agreed with his opposite numbers in the amassed Allied Forces. In fact the only people to truly annoy the peace-loving Peach are boors, bigots, bullies and card-carrying Blackshirts…

The romantic fool is also passionately in love with and engaged to Rosen Kavalier: handsome Aryan warrior and wildly manly Luftwaffe Ace…

Arguably the real star of these fabulous frothy epics is the Peach’s long-suffering, unkempt, crafty, ill-mannered, bilious and lazily scrofulous orderly Udo Schmidt, a man of many secrets whose one redeeming virtue is his uncompromising loyalty and devotion to the only decent man and tolerable officer in the entire German army.

This tragically rare sixth softcover collection reprints issues #16, 17 and 19 (#18 being a reproduction of the innovative Musical Program which accompanied the stage show: to see that check out The Desert Peach Webcomic or http://www.desert-peach.com/comic/DP18.pdf) and starts with an enchanting comic introduction from the captivatingly clever Mike Kazaleh before ‘Flight of the Phoenix’ opens the comedic assault. Even though ill-bred rogue Udo’s impending wedding to Tuareg princess Falila has been apparently side-lined, a spoil of that outrageous betrothal – a magnificent Arabian war-mare named Phoenix – is still causing trouble for Pfirsich, who is her nominal owner.

The steed is wild and utterly untrained, constantly causing trouble for the decidedly neat and tidy Peach and especially Sergeant Mögen and Lieutenant Hecht, who are responsible for her care…

When scattered tribesmen convene a colossal horse-fair on the camp’s doorstep, the problems magnify exponentially: not only was Phoenix stolen, but she comes from legendarily purebred lines and unless the Peach can arrange an honourable and fitting stud for her it might result in a native uprising…

Now all he has to do is select the right one out of the hundreds of willing stallions and touchy, eager Arab owners, but as usual the soldiery have the own ideas on the perfect partner, all filtered through personal prejudices and ideological bigotry…

So when Udo attempts to settle the quandary one dark night by taking Phoenix to his own preferred favourite, all hell naturally breaks loose as the skittish steed rampages through camp before making her own choice… When the valiant Rosen and sundry soldiers try to catch her, Udo then ends up trapped between the ever-so-keen equine bride and her equally impatient suitors, and taken for a ride he’ll never forget…

As a consequence of the riot Udo is held responsible for the accidental gelding of a stallion and as an outlander faces death or worse – until somebody suggests that if he were actually married to his desert princess he’d be a tribesman and allowed to buy his way out of trouble…

This is followed by ‘Culture Shock’ as fanatical political officer Winzig works himself into a tizzy about the upcoming miscegenation nuptials and reveals a long-hidden shameful secret: he is a musical prodigy whose piano playing could make Devils weep and Angel dance with delight. Most appalling of all is his facility for jazz – a form of music the Nazis have declared “sub-human”…

His secret out, Winzig is easily cajoled by Pfirsich into playing at the up-coming wedding, but other problems are surfacing. The rumours that Udo is Jewish are circulating again (they’re all true but were scotched by the Desert Peach in book 5: Belief Systems) but when the coordinating commanders of both Tuareg and German parties are trying to sort out the form of service, the panicking and reluctant groom sees a get-out-of-jail-free card – whatever ceremony is performed, it won’t be binding…

Udo had been griping and trying to weasel his way out of his impending, unwanted but necessarily pragmatic wedding from the start. The swarthy little scoundrel wanted sex not commitment, and now only the threat of agonising dismemberment is making Schmidt nee Isador Gülphstein  honour his word and live up to his responsibilities…

That is of course until the poor shmuck catches sight of Falila in all her wedding finery…

After a chaotic, joyous and hilarious wedding and reception in the local bordello everything seems to have worked out until the bride’s father hears a certain tale that his new son-in-law is a Hebrew…

Using humour to devastating effect, the author manipulates the crisis to make a few telling points about religion and prejudice and, with order restored, this volume then concludes with the utterly manic and earthily scatological ‘Self-Propelled Target’ as some of the weary and jaded grave-digging unit play with wrong cadaver and both Winzig and Pfirsich accidentally ingest organic matter from a rotting – and exploding – corpse. With Pfirsich revoltingly hors-de-combat the men of the469th declare open war on the hated political martinet they call the “Human Swastika”…

With the Peach incontinent and incommunicado the battle of nerves and dogma rapidly escalates to terrifying heights and when the recuperating Peach almost loses his life in one of the malicious pranks, Udo at last steps in to settle things with disastrous and disgusting consequences…

Treading in the same the same anti-war trench as Three Kings, Hogan’s Heroes, Oh, What a Lovely War! and Catch 22, these Desert Peach adventures are always bawdy, raucous, satirical, authentically madcap and immensely engaging; this time though they’re also painfully romantic, revoltingly near-the-knuckle and intoxicatingly subversive.

These gloriously baroque yarns were some of the very best comics of the 1990s and still pack a shattering comedic kick, liberally leavened with situational jocularity, accent humour and lots of footnoted Deutsche cuss-words for the kids to learn. Moreover, with this volume the potential of the minor supporting characters is at last fully realised with The Peach often relegated to a minor or supervisory role.

This captivating excursion is also capped off with many magical extras: hilarious marginal illustrations and more cut-out paper-dolls and extra outfits for you to admire and play with: this time featuring the wardrobe of Udo and the log-suffering Winzig.

The Desert Peach ran for 32 intermittent issues via a number of publishers and was subsequently collected as eight graphic novel collections (1988-2005). A prose novel, Bread and Swans, a musical, and an invitational collection by other artists entitled Ersatz Peach were also created during the strip’s heyday. A larger compendium, Seven Peaches, collected issues #1-7 and Pfirsich’s further exploits continue as part of the Modern Tales webcomics collective…

Illustrated in Barr’s fluidly seductive wood-cut and loose-line style, this book is another must-have item for lovers of wit, slapstick, high drama and belly-laughs and grown-up comics in general. All the collections are pretty hard to find these days but if you have a Kindle, Robot Comics have started releasing individual comicbook issues, and for anybody with internet access and mature tastes as mentioned above there’s always The Desert Peach webcomic to fall back on…
© 1992-1994 Donna Barr. Introduction © 1994 Mike Kazaleh. All rights reserved. The Desert Peach is ™ Donna Barr.

Showcase Presents the Haunted Tank Volume 1


By Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath, Irv Novick, Joe Kubert & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0789-8

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy in his signature war comics, horror stories and superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Batman and others genres too numerous to cover here. He scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age which introduced Barry Allen as the new Flash to the hero-hungry kids of the world in 1956.

Kanigher sold his first stories and poetry in 1932, wrote for the theatre, film and radio, and joined the Fox Features shop where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for Blue Beetle and the original Captain Marvel.

In 1945 he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He wrote Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary and Lady Cop, and many memorable villainesses such as Harlequin and Rose and the Thorn. This last temptress he redesigned during the relevancy era of the early 1970s into a schizophrenic crime-busting super-heroine who haunted the back of Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, which Kanigher also scripted.

When mystery-men faded out at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved into westerns and war stories, becoming in 1952 writer/editor of the company’s combat titles: All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Army at War. He created Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his burgeoning portfolio when Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956, all the while working on Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Sea Devils, Viking Prince and a host of others.

Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and frequently used his uncanny but formulaic adventure arenas as a testing ground for future series concepts. Among the many epochal war features he created were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, The War that Time Forgot and The Losers as well as the irresistibly compelling “combat ghost stories” collected here in this stunning and economical monochrome war-journal.

This terrific first monochrome tome re-presents the early blockbusting exploits of boyhood friends Jeb Stuart Smith, Arch Asher, Slim Stryker and Rick Rawlins from G.I. Combat #87-119 (April/May 1961- August/September 1966) and also includes guest-star postings from The Brave and the Bold #52 (February/March 1964) and Our Army at War #155 (June 1965) beginning with ‘Introducing – the Haunted Tank’, illustrated by the sublime Russ Heath.

In this introductory tale the now-adult pals are all assigned to the same M-3 Stuart Light Tank, named for the legendary Confederate Army General who was a genius of cavalry combat – and during a patrol somehow destroy an enemy Panzer even though they are all knocked unconscious.

Narrated by Jeb as he mans the Commander’s spotter-position (head and torso sticking out of the top hatch and completely exposed to enemy fire whilst driver Slim, gunner Rick and loader Arch remain inside) he recounts how a ghostly voice seems to offer advice and prescient, if veiled, warnings, all while enduring the jibes of fellow soldiers who drive bigger, tougher war machines…

Eventually the little tank proves its worth and Jeb wonders if he imagined it all due to shock and his injuries, but in #88 ‘Haunted Tank vs. the Ghost Tank’, Jeb was actually seeing and conversing with his phantom namesake as he and the boys solved the completely logical mystery of an enemy battle-wagon which seemed to disappear at will.

‘Tank With Wings’ in G.I. Combat #89 was illustrated by Irv Novick and described how the old General’s impossible prophecy came chillingly true when the M-3 shot down a fighter plane whilst hanging from a parachute, after which Heath returned to limn a staggering clash against German ‘Tank Raiders’ who had stolen their haunted home on treads.

Throughout the early days Jeb’s comrades continually argued about what to do with him. Nobody believed in the ghost and they all doubted his sanity, but ever since he began to see the spirit soldier Stuart Smith had become a tactical genius and his “gifts” were keeping them all alive against incredible odds. In #91’s ‘The Tank and the Turtle’ a chance encounter with a plucky terrapin led to brutal clashes with strafing aircraft, hidden anti-tank guns and a booby-trapped village whilst ‘The Tank of Doom’ (illustrated by Jerry Grandenetti) saw the snow-bound tank-jockeys witness true heroism and learn that flesh, not steel, won wars…

In #93 Heath depicted a ‘No-Return Mission’ which depleted American tank forces until the Ghostly General took a hand and guided his mortal protégé through a veritable barrage of traps and ambushes, after which ‘The Haunted Tank vs. the Killer Tank’ began to widen the General’s role as the phantom protector agonised over intel he was not allowed to share with his Earthly namesake during a combined push to find a Nazi terror-weapon.

This time it was the young sergeant who had to provide his own answers…

The rest of the crew were near breaking point and ready to hand Jeb over to the medics in #95’s ‘The Ghost of the Haunted Tank’ but when Slim took over he too began to see and hear the General in the blistering heat of battle…

In ‘The Lonesome Tank’ Jeb was back in the hot-seat and scoffing at the other tank commanders’ reliance on lucky talismans, until the General seemingly abandoned him and he was pushed to the brink of desperation, whilst in G.I. Combat #97 ‘The Decoy Tank’ proved that a brave man made his own luck after a Nazi infiltrator took the entire crew hostage.

‘Trap of Dragon’s Teeth’ allowed the Ghostly Guardian to teach Jeb a useful lesson in trusting one’s own senses, not weapons and machinery, in combat, after which issue #99 saw the legendary Joe Kubert begin a stint on the series in the book-length thriller ‘Battle of the Thirsty Tanks’ with the Stuart labouring under desert conditions which reduced both German and American forces to thirsty wrecks as they struggled to capture a tantalising oasis.

‘Return of the Ghost Tank’ in #100 found the lads back in Europe as the crew revealed that their fathers had all been tank jockeys in WWI who had disappeared in action. Shock followed shock when they realised their sires had all been part of the same crew and reality was further stretched when the M-3 began to retrace the last mission of their missing fathers…

Any doubts about whether the General was real or imagined were finally laid to rest in #101’s ‘The Haunted Tank vs. Attila’s Battle Tiger’ illustrated by Jack Abel, as the evil spirit of the barbarian became patron to a German Panzer and began a campaign to destroy both the living and dead Jeb Stuarts, after which Kubert returned for ‘Battle Window’, a brilliant tale of old soldiers where a broken-down nonagenarian French warrior was given one final chance to serve his country as the American tank blithely drove into a perfect ambush…

A particularly arcane prognostication in #103 drove Jeb crazy until ‘Rabbit Punch for a Tiger’ showed him how improvisation could work like magic in a host of hostile situations whilst ‘Blind Man’s Radar’ helped the crew complete a dead man’s mission after picking up a sightless survivor of an Allied attack.

In the mid-1960s before the Batman TV show led to rampant “Bat-mania” The Brave and the Bold was a comicbook that featured team-ups of assorted DC stars and #52 (February-March 1964) grouped Tankman Stuart with Sgt. Rock and Lt. Cloud as the 3 Battle Stars in ‘Suicide Mission! Save Him or Kill Him!’ by Kanigher & Kubert. In this superb thriller the armoured cavalry, infantry and Air Force heroes combined forces to escort and safeguard a vital Allied agent, who had been sealed into a cruel and all-encompassing iron suit. Fast-paced, action-packed and utterly outrageous, the chase across occupied France resulted in one of the best battle blockbusters of the era.

Back in G.I. Combat #105 the ‘Time-Bomb Tank!’ began seconds after the B&B yarn as the Haunted Tank received information that Sgt. Rock’s Easy Company were under attack and dashed to the rescue. However circumstances soon caused the M-3 to become a mobile Marie Celeste…

The ‘Two-Sided War’ saw Jeb promoted to Lieutenant and suffer apparent hallucinations where he and his crew were trapped in the Civil War after which #107’s ‘The Ghost Pipers!’ found the tank aiding the last survivor of a Scottish battalion in an attack that spanned two wars, before again teaming up with Rock in ‘The Wounded Won’t Wait’ as Rick, Arch and Slim were injured and the Easy Co. topkick rode shotgun on the brutal ride back to base…

Issue #109 ‘Battle of the Tank Graveyard’ downplayed the supernatural overtones for a more straightforward clash in a deadly mountain pass whilst ‘Choose Your War’ found the Confederate General chafing at his role assisting “Union” cavalry until circumstances again seemed to place the modern soldiers in a historical setting and the two Jeb Stuarts worked out their differences.

In #111’s ‘Death Trap’ the Armoured Cavalry crew was again working with Easy Company – in the desert this time, as continuity was never a big concern for Kanigher – but when the M-3 was captured by the enemy, Jeb and the boys had a bloody taste of infantry fighting before taking it back.

‘No Stripes for Me’ is actually a Sgt. Rock tale from Our Army at War #155 (June 1965) with the Haunted Tank in support as a battle-hungry General’s son continually refused the commendations and promotions his valiant actions deserved, no matter what the cost to men or morale…

Rock and Jeb stayed together for G.I. Combat #112’s struggle against the Luftwaffe ‘Ghost Ace!’ who was Attila the Hun’s latest mortal avatar in a blistering supernatural shocker that once more forced the Phantom General to take a spectral hand in the battle against evil, after which ‘Tank Fight in Death Town!’ saw the war follow the M-3 crew back into a much-needed leave. Luckily Rock and Easy Co. were around to provide vigorous fire-support…

After nearly four years in the saddle scripter Kanigher decided to revamp the backstory of the crew and issue #114 (October/November 1965) featured the Russ Heath illustrated ‘Battle Origin of the Haunted Tank’ with the General revealing that he had been assigned to watch over the M-3’s boys by Alexander the Great.

In the afterlife all great military commanders sponsored mortal combatants but he had refused to pick anybody and was stuck looking after “Damned Yankees”. Happily the courage and mettle of the boys under fire had changed many of his opinions after watching their first battle in the deserts of North Africa…

Heath also drew the team-up in #115 where Jeb was reunited with Navajo fighter-pilot Johnny Cloud as ‘Medal for Mayhem’ pitted both spiritually-sponsored warriors (Cloud regularly saw a mounted Indian Brave dubbed Big-Brother-in-the Sky galloping across the heavens during his missions) against overwhelming odds and forced to trade places in the air and on the ground, after which Novick illustrated the sequel when Cloud and Stuart helped proud Greek soldier Leonidas fulfil his final mission in the stirring ‘Battle Cry of a Dead Man!’

‘Tank in the Icebox’ in #117 was another Heath martial masterpiece wherein an incredible mystery was solved and a weapon that turned the desert into a frozen hell was destroyed before Novick took the controls for the last two tales in this volume, beginning with ‘My Buddy… My Enemy’ as a bigoted Slim learned tragically too late that not all Japanese soldiers were monsters and #119 again asked difficult questions when Jeb and the crew had to escort an American deserter to his execution with German forces attempting to kill them all before they got there in ‘Target for a Firing Squad!’

An added attraction for art fans and battle buffs are the breathtaking covers by Heath, Kubert and Grandenetti, many of them further enhanced through the stunning tonal values added by DC’s brilliant chief of production Jack Adler.

These spectacular tales cover the Haunted Tank through the blazing gung-ho early years to a time when America began to question the very nature and necessity of war (Vietnam was just beginning to really hurt the home-front in 1966) and combat comics started to address the issue in a most impressive and sensitive manner. They combine spooky chills with combat thrills but always offer a powerful human message that has never dated and may well rank amongst the very best war stories ever produced.
© 1961-1966, 2006 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Desert Peach book 3: Foreign Relations


By Donna Barr (Aeon)
ISBN: 1-883847-04-4

The Desert Peach is the supremely self-assured and eminently accomplished gay brother of the legendary “Desert Fox” and one of the most perfectly realised characters in comics.

Set in World War II Africa and effortlessly combining hilarity, absurdity, profound sensitivity and glittering spontaneity, the stories describe the daily grind of Oberst Manfred Pfirsich Marie Rommel; a dutiful if unwilling cog in the German War Machine and his efforts to remain a perfect gentleman under the most adverse and unkind conditions.

As formidable as his beloved elder sibling Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the gracious and genteel Peach is a man of breeding who loathes causing harm or giving offence and thus spends his dry and dusty days commanding the ever-so-motley crew of the 469th Halftrack, Gravedigging & Support Unit of the Afrika Korps, trying to remain stylish, elegant, civil and gracious to the men under his command, the enemy forces opposite him and all the unfortunate natives whose countries both Allied and Axis powers are currently running riot within.

It’s a lot of work: the 469th houses the worst dregs of the Wehrmacht, from malingerers and malcontents to useless wounded, sharpers, screw-ups and outright maniacs.

Pfirsich applies the same genteel courtesies and rule of well-manicured thumb to the sundry indigenes populating the area surrounding the camp and the rather tiresome British – not all of whom are party to a clandestine non-aggression pact Pfirsich has agreed with his opposite number in the opposing British Forces.

The romantic fool is passionately in love with and engaged to Rosen Kavalier: handsome Aryan warrior and outrageously manly Luftwaffe Ace: in fact the only people the Peach really has no time for are boors, bigots and card-carrying Blackshirts…

Arguably the real star of these fabulous frothy epics is the Peach’s long-suffering, unkempt, crafty, ill-mannered, bilious and lazily scrofulous orderly Udo Schmidt, a man of many secrets and non-existent morals whose one redeeming virtue is his uncompromising loyalty and devotion to the only decent man and tolerable officer in the entire German army.

This hard to find but supremely superb third monochrome compendium reprints issues #7-9 and includes an all-new tale too.

Battle commences with ‘The Spoiled Fruit’ as the mild mannered and utterly urbane Peach is accidentally dosed with shell-shocked veteran Corporal Doberman’s anti-psychotic medication. The ghastly experimental brew acts like Angel Dust on the sweet lad and turns Pfirsich into a raging warmongering lunatic, who goes on a three day battle-jag, dragging the 469th with by sheer rampaging willpower and almost winning the desert war single-handed… until the drugs stop working.

Even more embarrassing than the death and bloodshed he caused and certainly more painful than the bullet wound in his posterior is brother Erwin awarding him a medal…

This is followed by international adventure and intrigue in ‘Dressing Down’ as an old-fashioned army concert-party leads to one of the most ludicrous espionage missions of the war.

In an attempt to raise morale Udo organises a show where he and a few other ranks dress up in drag. Although a little unhappy at the sordid and distasteful turn of events, Pfirsich lets it go but is horrified when an intelligence officer from his brother’s staff claims that Udo-as-a girl looks just like Hannah Mardi, a German agent currently missing in England.

She and her sister were the only hope of recovering the stolen plans for Rommel’s latest tank but for such a mission to succeed Hannah should be accompanied by her usual partner. What a happy coincidence that Pfirsich looks so much like the equally absent “Portia Sophi”: the Peach could pass for her with almost no make-up at all…

Arriving at the last known address of the missing spies in London, the terrified and mutinously reluctant Pfirsich and Udo are horrified to discover something very peculiar is going on in the agents’ old lodgings and things become surreal, hilarious and quite, quite tricky when the Peach realises that the landlady’s son Willie is the same delightful boy who befriended him in those carefree days before the war..

The reprints end with ‘Scourge of Love’ as the ever-horny Udo unwittingly turns a bargaining session for fresh rations with Tuareg traders into an accidentally proposal to the Chieftain’s beautiful daughter Falila.

He thought he was getting a “quickie” from a easy trollop but too soon Udo realises he was not only betrothed to the proud princess of a people who have turned avenging insults into an art-form and spectator blood-sport, but that to prove himself worthy he would have to steal a herd of camels from the Arabs’ greatest and most ancient enemies.

With a tribal revolt threatening to interfere with the smooth course of the war, Udo’s tenderest and most cherished organs at risk and, most importantly, the honour and happiness of a lady at stake, the Desert Peach has no choice but to step in and settle matters in his own uniquely sensitive and refined manner…

The new epilogue ‘Home is Where…’ is set in the Peach’s declining years, wherein Pfirsich and his adult son Mani play host to a reunion of the 469th few survivors: a bittersweet vignette which delights and fearfully foreshadows tragedies yet to come. This moving vignette also appears in Book 4 Baby Games.

Referencing the same vast story potential as Sgt. Bilko, Hogan’s Heroes, Oh, What a Lovely War! and Catch 22, as well as such tangential films as Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and The Birdcage, the Desert Peach is bawdy, raucous, clever, authentically madcap and immensely engaging.

These fabulously weird war stories were some of the very best comics of the 1990s and still pack the comedic kick of a floral-scented howitzer, liberally leavened with situational jocularity, accent humour and lots of footnoted Deutsche cuss-words for the kids to learn.

Pfirsich’s further exploits continue as part of the Modern Tales webcomics collective…

Illustrated in Barr’s fluidly seductive wood-cut and loose-line style, this book is a must-have for any history-loving, war-hating lover of wit, slapstick, romance and belly-laughs. All the Desert Peach books are pretty hard to find these days but if you have a Kindle, Robot Comics have just begun to release individual comicbook issues for anybody who can make their way around Das Ferslugginer Internetten …
© 1990-1994 Donna Barr. All rights reserved. The Desert Peach is ™ Donna Barr.

The Desert Peach book 5: Belief Systems


By Donna Barr (Aeon)
ISBN: 1-883847-07-9

The Desert Peach is the supremely self-assured and eminently capable gay brother of the legendary German soldier hailed as “the Desert Fox” and one of the most perfectly realised characters in comics.

Set in World War II Africa and effortlessly combining hilarity, absurdity, profound sensitivity and glittering spontaneity, the stories describe the daily grind of Oberst Manfred Pfirsich Marie Rommel; a dutiful if unwilling cog in the German War Machine and his efforts to remain a civilised gentleman under the most adverse and unkind conditions.

However, although as formidable as his beloved elder sibling Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the gracious and genteel Peach is a man who loathes causing harm or giving offence and thus spends his dry and dusty days with the ever-so-motley crew of the 469th Halftrack, Gravedigging & Support Unit of the Afrika Korps, trying to remain stylish, elegant, civil and gracious to the men under his command and the enemy forces around him.

It’s a lot of work: the 469th houses the worst dregs of the Wehrmacht, from malingerers and malcontents to useless wounded, sharpers, screw-ups and outright maniacs.

Pfirsich unilaterally applies the same decorous courtesies to the sundry natives inhabiting the area and the rather tiresome British – not all of whom are party to a clandestine non-aggression pact Pfirsich has agreed with his opposite numbers in the amassed Allied Forces. The only people the Peach really has no time for are boors, bigots, bullies and card-carrying Blackshirts…

The romantic fool is also passionately in love with and engaged to Rosen Kavalier: handsome Aryan warrior and wildly manly Luftwaffe Ace…

Arguably the real star of these fabulous frothy epics is the Peach’s long-suffering, unkempt, crafty, ill-mannered, bilious and lazily scrofulous orderly Udo Schmidt, a man of many secrets whose one redeeming virtue is his uncompromising loyalty and devotion to the only decent man and tolerable officer in the entire German army.

This tragically rare fifth softcover collection reprints issues #13-15 and starts with an enchanting comic introduction from the captivatingly clever Roberta Gregory after which the sagacious star yields focus to the tragically bewildered Doberman in ‘Nobody’ wherein the pitifully shell-shocked Corporal finally blows himself up with his pet landmine and is evacuated home.

Dobi unexpectedly returns some time later with tales of his nightmarish detour to the hidden Jewish concentration camps where all the undesirables are being dealt with: systematically and efficiently eradicating Jews and other “sub-humans”…

Pfirsich is appalled and refuses to believe the stories: surely no sane human beings could perpetrate such atrocities? Udo however, has also heard stories of how Hitler and his hierarchy are dealing with Jews and shares them with his commander. In a rage the Peach rushes off to tell his brother, knowing the Field Marshal can do something about it.

The noble Desert Fox also explodes in fury and determines to return to Berlin to stop the program. His plan is simple – since Hitler is a good man and cannot possibly know of these atrocities, all Erwin has to do is inform Adolf and the Fuhrer will put a stop to the horrors…

Pfirsich, knowing Hitler’s hierarchy far better than that, is faced with an impossible choice: allow his brother to sign his own death warrant or withdraw the allegations and become complicit in genocide…

This bleakly chilling and tortured black comedy is followed by ‘Surprise, Surprise’ with Udo griping and trying to weasel his way out of his impending, unwanted but necessarily pragmatic wedding to Bedouin princess Falila. The swarthy little scoundrel wants sex not commitment, but as Pfirsich urges his subordinate to honour his word and live up to his responsibilities another secret slips out.

Udo Schmidt used to have another name: the only card-carry Nazi Party member in the entire 469th was born Isador Gülphstein

“Udo” is the scion of a venerable line of soldiers who have served the Fatherland and the long-suffering son of a proud German Jewish veteran of the Great War who changed the family name so that his sons could join the army too… whether they wanted to or not.

Now, with The Peach fully aware of the fate Jews are facing, how can he risk Schmidt’s secret getting out? Moreover how can he risk antagonising the desert tribes or disappointing the clearly addled girl who wants to marry Udo? After all, fanatic camp political officer Kjars Winzig already suspects something isn’t – or rather is – Kosher about Udo…

The troubles only really begin when eavesdropping boyfriend Rosen Kavalier takes charge and offers a drastic and outrageous solution…

This darker-than-usual volume concludes with ‘The Triangle Trade’ (from a suggestion by cartoonist Steve Gallacci) as The Peach encounters by-the-book soldier Oberst Quark, herding a supply column directly towards an Allied tank unit.

Keen to avoid any bloodshed Pfirsich intercepts the column and lends the commander his spotter plane, determined to keep the Germans out of trouble whilst their war-mongering commander is safely up in the air.

Deprived of glorious battle Quark conceives a subtle vengeance and transfers the two biggest troublemakers in his command to the 469th.

Sadly the younger Rommel has never encountered the average fighting man and sorely overestimates his ability to control the greedy, vicious and cunningly duplicitous thugs Leutnants Hecht and Horowitz

With the camp quickly dissolving into a hotbed of criminality and black marketeering harsh measures are called and this time even Rosen has met his match. Seizing the nettle Pfirsich is forced to fall back upon his own unique strengths to solve this thorny dilemma effectively and with unmistakable style…

Fabulously following the same anti-war path as Sgt. Bilko, Hogan’s Heroes, Oh, What a Lovely War! and Catch 22, as well as such tangential films as Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and The Birdcage, these Desert Peach adventures are always bawdy, raucous, clever, authentically madcap and immensely engaging.

These gloriously baroque yarns were some of the very best comics of the 1990s and still pack the comedic kick of a silken howitzer or chartreuse flamethrower, liberally leavened with situational jocularity, accent humour and lots of footnoted Deutsche cuss-words for the kids to learn. Moreover, with this volume the dark bitter edges and cold iron underlying these fabulous characters and their horrific, doomed situation become ever more poignant and powerful.

The Desert Peach ran for 32 intermittent issues via a number of publishers and was subsequently collected as eight graphic novel collections (1988-2005). A prose novel, Bread and Swans, a musical and an invitational collection by other artists entitled Ersatz Peach were also created during the strip’s heyday. A larger compendium, Seven Peaches, collected issues #1-7 and Pfirsich’s further exploits continue as part of the Modern Tales webcomics collective…

Illustrated in Barr’s fluidly seductive wood-cut and loose-line style, this book is a must-have for any lover of wit, slapstick, high drama and belly-laughs and grown-up comics in general. All the collections are pretty hard to find these days but if you have a Kindle, Robot Comics have started releasing individual comicbook issues for anybody with internet access and mature tastes…
© 1991-1994 Donna Barr. Introduction © 1994 Roberta Gregory. All rights reserved. The Desert Peach is ™ Donna Barr.

The Desert Peach volume 4: Baby Games


By Donna Barr (Mu Press/Aeon Pubs)
ISBN: 1-883847-05-2

Donna Barr is one of the comic world’s most singular graphic raconteurs. She always constructs impeccable, fully realised worldscapes to house her stories and tells them with a style and voice that are definitely one-of-a-kind. Her most perfect creations are the Half-Horse Stinz Löwhard, and The Desert Peach, perfectly self-assured and eminently capable gay brother of the legendary “Desert Fox” and the scintillating star of this effervescent assemblage of sly, dry wit, raucous drollery and way out military madness.

Set in World War II Africa and effortlessly combining hilarity, absurdity, profound sensitivity and glittering spontaneity, the stories describe the daily grind of Oberst Manfred Pfirsich Marie Rommel; a dutiful if unwilling cog in the German War Machine.

However, although as capable as his beloved elder sibling Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the gracious and genteel Peach is a man who loathes causing harm or giving offence and thus spends his dry and dusty days with the ever-so-motley crew of the 469th Halftrack, Gravedigging & Support Unit of the Afrika Korps, trying to remain stylish, elegant and non-threatening to the men under his command and the enemy forces around him.

The only people he really dislikes are boors, bigots and card-carrying Blackshirts…

He applies the same genteel courtesies to the sundry natives inhabiting the area and the rather tiresome British – not all of whom are party to a clandestine non-aggression pact Pfirsich has agreed with his opposite numbers in the amassed Allied Forces…

The romantic fool is also passionately in love with and engaged to Rosen Kavalier: handsome Aryan warrior and wildly manly Luftwaffe Ace…

The Desert Peach ran for 32 intermittent issues via a number of publishers and was subsequently collected as eight graphic novel collections (1988-2005). A prose novel, Bread and Swans, a musical and an invitational collection by other artists entitled Ersatz Peach were also created during the strip’s heyday. A larger compendium, Seven Peaches, collects issues #1-7 and Pfirsich’s further exploits continue as part of the Modern Tales webcomics collective…

Arguably the real star of these fabulous frothy epics is the Peach’s long-suffering, unkempt, crafty, ill-mannered, bilious and lazily scrofulous orderly Udo Schmidt, a man of many secrets whose one redeeming virtue is his uncompromising loyalty and devotion to the only decent man and tolerable officer in the entire German army.

This terrifyingly scarce fourth softcover collection reprints issues #10-12, and starts the ball rolling with ‘Two-Timers’ wherein the fiercely protective Pfirsich infiltrates the British positions as history’s least believable English Officer to ferret out a spy targeting his brother Erwin.

Of course to carry off the mission somebody has to be prominently visible in the German camp as the ever-so-unmissable and wickedly froufrou Desert Peach. Ein step vorwarts, (or else…) patriotic he-man and self-appointed Nazi political officer Leutnant Kjars Winzig…

Meanwhile, as the entire 469th kvetch over the Leutnant’s unlikely and unhappy performance, Pfirsich’s impossible imposture is going inconceivably well until he confronts the undercover agent over drinks in the NAAFI. Although the bold Boche succeeds in reasoning with the master-spy, a couple of Anzac non-coms (who hate Poms as much as Krauts) are not fooled, leading to a spectacular chase and frantically thrilling conclusion…

That hilarious comedy of terrors was quickly topped by a superbly delightful and trenchantly wicked adult farce in ‘Straight and Narrow’ wherein Udo, disgusted with the mockery his effeminate boss engenders amongst other German units, determines to get his boss laid by a woman – specifically the very willing and professional ladies of local bordello “The Cedars”.

Aiding and abetting this appalling scheme is Pfirsich’s one true love, wild man Luftwaffe pilot and airborne inamorata Rosen Kavalier. Even with the more than willing demimondaine Babette in on the scheme and exerting all her professional wiles it takes a chemical “additive” to finally get the ball rolling…

Of course the entire vile scheme ends badly and the Peach, crushed, disgusted and humiliated storms off. Soon after however, Babette realises that she’s now eating for two…

The reprinted material ends here with the inevitable conclusion in ‘Menschenkind – Child of the World’ as nine months after that epic night Pfirsich – still distant with his staff and boyfriend – drives away the unrepentant Ace. Kavalier storms off and visits The Cedars again, discovering a fascinating piece of news…

Although the Peach refuses to listen to his true love, cunning Udo, in on the secret, inveigles his boss into returning to his place of shame, where after another farcical misapprehension of events the Peach is finally introduced to his newborn son…

But of course even this joy is tempered by incredible problems…

To augment and complete this fabulous triptych of torrid tales there’s a new epilogue ‘Home is Where…’ set in the Peach’s declining years, wherein Pfirsich and his adult son Mani play host to a reunion of the 469th few survivors: a bittersweet vignette which delights and fearfully foreshadows tragedies yet to come…

Referencing the same vast story potential as Sgt. Bilko, Hogan’s Heroes, Oh, What a Lovely War! and Catch 22, as well as such tangential films as Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and The Birdcage, the Desert Peach is bawdy, raucous, clever, authentically madcap and immensely engaging. These fabulous combat fruit cocktails were some of the very best comics of the 1990s and still pack the comedic kick of an embroidered landmine, liberally leavened with situational jocularity, accent humour and lots of footnoted Deutsche cuss-words for the kids to learn. Moreover, with this volume the dark bitter edges and cold iron underlying these fabulous characters and their horrific, doomed situation become increasingly apparent.

Illustrated in Barr’s fluidly seductive wood-cut and loose-line style, this book is a must-have for any history-loving, war-hating lover of wit, slapstick, high drama and belly-laughs. All the Desert Peach books are pretty hard to find these days but if you have a Kindle, Robot Comics have just begun to release individual comicbook issues for anybody who can get the hang of all this verfluchte technical tsuris…
© 1991-1994 Donna Barr. All rights reserved. The Desert Peach is ™ Donna Barr.

Sgt. Rock Archive Edition Volume 1


By Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, Bob Haney, Ross Andru & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-841-9
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 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.

This gloriously gritty, full-colour premier collection musters all pertinent material in the evolution of the immortal “topkick” from the early salvo of battle blockbusters from Our Army at War #83-96 (including the tentative first steps in the character’s evolution from G.I. Combat #68 and Our Army at War #81-82), a period spanning the dog-days of 1958 to the summer of 1960, wherein the entire field of American comics was just beginning a staggering revolution in style, theme and quality.

Following a fascinating reminiscence from co-creator and living legend Joe Kubert (and this inaugural battle-book also includes detailed creator profiles), the pictorial action commences with a stunning Jerry Grandenetti cover – the first of many in this impressive tome – from G.I. Combat #68 (cover-dated January 1959), and a simple, unassuming filler story by Robert Kanigher & Joe Kubert, of an anonymous boxer who wasn’t particularly skilled but simply refused to be beaten. 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. Although no more than another straight “ordinary guy finds his heroic niche” yarn for the anthology mill that was war comics of the era, something in this tale – other than the superbly taut script and stunning illustration – caught the attention of both the public and the editors…

Christened “Rocky”, the character returned as a sergeant in the April Our Army at War (#81, April 1959) again facing overwhelmingly superior German forces as ‘The Rock of Easy Co.!’ in a brief but telling vignette by Bob Haney, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito before finally winning an actual persona as Sgt. Rock in the next issue, in the Mort Drucker illustrated ‘Hold Up Easy!’: another harsh and declarative mini-epic from Kanigher which saw everyman hard-luck heroes Easy Company delayed and then saved by callow replacements who eventually came good in the life-changing crucible of combat…

Our Army at War #83 (June 1959) saw the true launch of the ordinary hero in ‘The Rock and the Wall!’ (Kanigher & Kubert): wherein a tough-love, battlefield tutor shepherded his men to competence and survival amidst the constant perils of war. Here he met a rival for his men’s admiration in the equally impressive warrior Joe Wall…

Irv Novick illustrated ‘Laughter on Snakehead Hill!’ as the embattled dog-faces of Easy fought to take a heavily fortified citadel and OAAW #85 introduced the first continuing and marginally less-disposable cast member in the Kubert limned ‘Ice Cream Soldier!’ wherein Rock assuaged a fearful replacement’s jangled nerves with tales of another hopeless “green apple” who grew into his job.

This ploy of incorporating brief past-action episodes into a baptism of fire scenario would play over and over again and never got old…

Following a magnificent cover by master of realism Russ Heath, Haney returned in #86 to script ‘Tank 711’ for Kubert as the terse top-kick educated another newbie in combat etiquette. Kanigher returned to describe the taking of “No-Return-Hill” and the initiation of four more raw recruits in ‘Calling Easy Co.!’ after which Grandenetti illustrated a brace of tales in #88 and 89; ‘The Hard Way’ in which Rock suffered a shocking crisis of confidence and ‘No Shot from Easy!’ wherein the indomitable sergeant was forced to give his toughest ever order…

Issue#90 is classic Kubert from start to finish as ‘Three Stripes Hill!’ revealed the story of how Rock won his stripes after which the traditionally anthological Our Army at War offered three complete Sgt. Rock stories in #91, beginning with ‘No Answer From Sarge!’ as the NCO risked everything to drag a recruit out of a crippling funk, ‘Old Soldiers Never Run!’ where he had to weigh an old man’s pride against Easy’s continued existence, and the Haney scripted tragic fable of a sole-surviving Scottish soldier in ‘The Silent Piper!’

Issue #92 saw Kanigher and Kubert tackle battlefield superstitions in ‘Luck of Easy!’, ‘Deliver One Air Field!’ introduced Zack Nolan, a son of privilege who had to learn teamwork the hard way and #94’s ‘Target… Easy Company’ pitted the company against a German General determined to eradicate the high-profile heroes.

OAAW #95 debuted the charismatic and ambitious Bulldozer Nichols who wanted Rock’s rank and position in ‘Battle of the Stripes!’, but grew to become the second most-recognisable character of the entire series and this premier deluxe edition closes its preliminary campaign with ‘Last Stand for Easy!’ which saw the still in-charge top-kick compelled to relinquish his lead-from-the-front position when a by-the-book officer deems him too valuable to waste on a battlefield…

Robert Kanigher at his worst was a declarative, heavy-handed and formulaic writer, but when writing his best stuff – as he does here – an imaginative, evocative, iconoclastic and heart-rending 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 Grandenetti, Kubert or Heath fronting each episode, this titanic tome is a visually intoxicating compendium and brilliant tonic for any jaded fan looking for something more substantial than simple flash and dazzle.
A perfect example of true Shock and Awe; these are stories every fan should know.
© 1959, 1960, 2002 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock volume 1


By Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, Bob Haney, Ross Andru & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1713-6

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.

This initial compendium collects in stunning black and white the tentative first steps in the character’s evolution from G.I. Combat #68 and Our Army at War #81-82 to the first full barrage of battle blockbusters from OAAW #83-117, covering January 1959 to April 1962, a period wherein all American comics were undergoing a staggering revolution in style, theme and quality.

Behind the stunning Jerry Grandenetti cover (the first of many in this impressive tome) from G.I. Combat #68, January 1959, lurks a quiet, unassuming story (by Kanigher & Joe Kubert) of an anonymous boxer who wasn’t particularly skilled but simply refused to be beaten. 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.

Dubbed “Rocky” the character returned as a sergeant in the April Our Army at War (#81) again facing superior German forces as ‘The Rock of Easy Co.!’ in a brief but telling vignette by Bob Haney, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito and finally won a personal identity as Sgt. Rock next issue, in the Mort Drucker illustrated ‘Hold Up Easy!’: another harsh and declarative mini-epic from Kanigher which saw hard-luck heroes Easy Company delayed and then saved by callow replacements who eventually came good…

Our Army at War #83 (June 1959) saw the true launch of the immortal everyman hero in ‘The Rock and the Wall!’ by Kanigher & Kubert: a tough-love, battlefield tutor shepherding his men to competence and survival amidst the constant perils of war. Here he met a rival for his men’s admiration in the equally impressive Joe Wall…

Irv Novick illustrated ‘Laughter on Snakehead Hill!’ as the embattled dog-faces of Easy fought to take a heavily fortified citadel whilst OAAW #85 introduced the first continuing cast member in the Kubert limned ‘Ice Cream Soldier!’ as Rock assuaged a fearful replacement’s jangled nerves with tales of another hopeless “green apple” who grew into his job.

This ploy of incorporating brief past-action episodes into a baptism of fire scenario would play over and over again and never got old…

Haney returned in #86 to script ‘Tank 711’ for Kubert as the terse top-kick educated another newbie in combat etiquette. Kanigher returned to describe the taking of “No-Return-Hill” and the initiation of four more raw recruits in ‘Calling Easy Co.!’ after which Grandenetti illustrated a brace of tales in #88 and 89; ‘The Hard Way’ in which Rock suffered a shocking crisis of confidence and ‘No Shot from Easy!’ wherein the indomitable sergeant was forced to give his toughest ever order…

Issue#90 holds classic Kubert as ‘Three Stripes Hill!’ revealed the story of how Rock won his stripes and the traditionally anthological Our Army at War offered three complete Sgt. Rock stories in #91, beginning with ‘No Answer From Sarge!’ as the NCO risked everything to drag a recruit out of a crippling funk, ‘Old Soldiers Never Run!’ where he had to weigh an old man’s pride against Easy’s continued existence, and the Haney scripted tragic fable of a sole-surviving Scottish soldier in ‘The Silent Piper!’

Issue #92 saw Kanigher and Kubert tackle battlefield superstitions in ‘Luck of Easy!’, ‘Deliver One Airfield!’ introduced Zack Nolan, a son of privilege who had to learn teamwork the hard way and #94’s ‘Target… Easy Company’ pitted the company against a German General determined to eradicate the high-profile heroes.

OAAW #95 debuted the charismatic and ambitious Bulldozer Nichols who wanted Rock’s rank and position in ‘Battle of the Stripes!’, after which ‘Last Stand for Easy!’ saw the still in-charge top-kick compelled to relinquish his lead-from-the-front position and ‘What Makes a Sergeant Run?’ found him again sharing his war wisdom with the young and the hapless.

Haney penned ‘Soldiers Never Die!’ in #98 with Rock forced to overcome his team’s trauma at losing a beloved comrade whilst Kanigher described ‘Easy’s Hardest Battle!’ in #99 as the weary warrior recalled a number of instances which all qualified, before once more triumphing over insurmountable odds.

The Stalwart Sergeant risked everything to save a broken replacement in #100’s ‘No Exit For Easy!’ and repeated the task in ‘End of Easy!’ when a parachute drop went tragically awry, before #102’s ‘The Big Star!’ saw the consequences of depending on a young man utterly unsuited for combat…

‘Easy’s Had It!’ in #103 was another Haney contribution, exploring what happened when Rock was wounded and the company had to fight without their guiding light and lucky talisman, after which Kanigher assumed full script duties beginning with #104 and ‘A New Kind of War!’ with the grizzled vet totally outgunned by a valiant nurse who refused to retreat and never surrendered.

‘TNT Birthday!’ in #105 had Rock worried about the underage kid who had somehow got past all the instructors to join Easy under terrifying fire and ‘Meet Lt. Rock!’ (illustrated by Novick) saw the inveterate non-com forcibly promoted until he managed to undo the horrify prospect and #107’s ‘Doom Over Easy!’ again saw the savvy soldiers afflicted by crippling superstition.

The superb Russ Heath drew his first Rock strip in OAAW #108: ‘The Unknown Sergeant!’ found the Combat-Happy Joes passing through a French village with a statue of a WWI Yank “doughboy” bearing an uncanny resemblance to their own indomitable leader – provoking some very uncomfortable historical hallucinations – whilst Kubert’s return in #109’s ‘Roll Call of Heroes!’ signalled a dose of grim reality when Rock recalled his own deadly baptism of fire and lost comrades, after which a green Lieutenant almost caused mutiny and murder until he learned the rules of Combat Arithmetic in ‘That’s An Order!’

‘What’s the Price of a Dogtag?’ was painfully answered in the occupied streets and on seemingly deserted beaches in #111 whilst ‘Battle Shadow!’ focused on the burgeoning supporting cast in a blistering explosive extravaganza and African American soldier Jackie Johnson took centre stage (in a bold early example of comicbook affirmative action) for a memorable last-stand moment in ‘Eyes of a Blind Gunner’ in #113 (December 1961).

The incessant toll of lost comrades hit hard in ‘Killer Sergeant!’, whilst the civilian survivors and partisans who comprised ‘Rock’s Battle Family!’ helped him survive the worst the war could throw at him and featured a cameo from French Resistance star Mademoiselle Marie, but the ragged warrior was all alone when he answered #116’s ‘S.O.S. Sgt. Rock!’ to save lost comrade Ice Cream Soldier…

This inaugural battle-book concludes with a dramatic tale of three hopelessly square pegs who finally found their deep, round holes in #117’s traumatic saga of ‘The Snafu Squad!’

Robert Kanigher at his worst was a declarative, heavy-handed and formulaic writer, but when writing his best stuff – as he does here – an imaginative, evocative, iconoclastic and heart-rending 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 is a lost 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 fan should see.
© 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.