Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock volume 1

By Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, Bob Haney, Ross Andru, Mort Drucker, Irv Novick, Russ Heath & 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 (and many happy returns to you, Sarge!) through April 1962: a period wherein the American comicbook market was undergoing a staggering revolution in style, theme and quality.

Behind the stunning Jerry Grandenetti cover (the first of many in this bulky and impressive monochrome paperback tome) for G.I. Combat #68 lurks a quiet, moodily 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 before finally winning a personal and extremely individualistic identity as Sgt. Rock in the next issue. This was 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 Kanigher & Kubert’s ‘The Rock and the Wall!’: a tough-love, battlefield tutor shepherding his men to competence and survival amidst the constant perils of war. Here the grizzled nomcom meets 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 fight to take a heavily-fortified citadel before OAAW #85 introduces the first continuing cast member in the Kubert-limned ‘Ice Cream Soldier!’ Here Rock assuages 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 suffers a shocking crisis of confidence and ‘No Shot from Easy!’ wherein the indomitable sergeant is forced to give his toughest ever order…

Issue #90 offered classic Kubert 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 sagas in #91, beginning with ‘No Answer From Sarge!’ as the NCO risks everything to drag a recruit out of a crippling funk; ‘Old Soldiers Never Run!’ where he has 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!’

OAAW #92 saw Kanigher & Kubert tackle battlefield superstitions in ‘Luck of Easy!’, and ‘Deliver One Airfield!’ introduces Zack Nolan, a son of privilege who has to learn teamwork the hard way before #94’s ‘Target… Easy Company’ pits the unit against a German General determined to eradicate the increasingly high-profile heroes.

Issue #95 debuted charismatic and ambitious Bulldozer Nichols who wants Rock’s rank and position in ‘Battle of the Stripes!’, after which ‘Last Stand for Easy!’ sees the still in-charge topkick compelled to relinquish his lead-from-the-front position and ‘What Makes a Sergeant Run?’ finds him again sharing his hard-earned 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 recalls a number of instances which all qualified, before once more triumphing over insurmountable odds and adding one more clash to the list.

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!’ as a parachute drop goes tragically awry, before #102’s ‘The Big Star!’ concedes the consequences of depending on a young man utterly unsuited for combat…

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

In #105 a ‘TNT Birthday!’ has Rock worried about the underage kid who had somehow got past all the instructors to join Easy under terrifying fire whilst ‘Meet Lt. Rock!’ (illustrated by Novick) sees the dedicated noncom forcibly promoted until he manages to undo the horrifying prospect after which #107’s ‘Doom Over Easy!’ again sees the savvy soldiers afflicted by crippling superstition…

The superb Russ Heath drew his first Rock strip in OAAW #108: ‘The Unknown Sergeant!’ has the squad 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 – before Kubert’s return in #109’s ‘Roll Call of Heroes!’ signals a dose of grim reality when Rock recalls his own deadly baptism of fire and lost comrades, after which a green Lieutenant almost provokes mutiny and murder until he learns the rules of Combat Arithmetic in ‘That’s An Order!’

‘What’s the Price of a Dogtag?’ is painfully answered in the occupied streets and on seemingly deserted beaches in #111, whilst ‘Battle Shadow!’ focuses on the burgeoning supporting cast in a blisteringly explosive extravaganza that heralds African American soldier Jackie Johnson taking 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 hits hard in ‘Killer Sergeant!’, whilst civilian survivors and partisans who comprise ‘Rock’s Battle Family!’ help him survive the worst the war can throw at him – featuring a cameo from French Resistance star Mademoiselle Marie – before the ragged warrior finds himself all alone when he answers #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 find 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 – remains 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, especially as modern tastes in books and digital compilations haven’t quite remembered that star warriors and superheroes are not the only flavours…
© 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.