Robert Kanigher found a comfortable formula for Sgt Rock, and the majority of his stories during the period 1964 – 1967: the New Look, fell into it. A new recruit would be introduced, and be problematic in some fashion. Rock would focus on the young man, who by the end of the story would either be dead or a competent member of Easy Company. A few of these characters stuck around, but most were never seen again. Interestingly, of the ones that stayed, some of the better stories went to the non-white ones, Little Sure Shot and Jackie Johnson, at a time when most characters in the DC universe were white. During this period Sgt Rock would also gain his archenemy, the Iron Major, and have an offbeat team-up with the Viking Prince.
The Sgt. Rock story in Our Army at War 153 opens with another sergeant, who loses all the men under his command to the Nazis, and has a major breakdown because of it. Rock promises himself that he would never be in the same situation, that he would bring at least one soldier back with him. But then he winds up thinking that Easy Company has all been wiped out. They haven't. He just got separated from them. He finds one, Pony Boy, a character that only appears in this story, and battles the Nazis off as he tries to bring the wounded kid back with him. At the end, the rest of Easy show up to help with the assault. Because of the nature of the tale, most of the members of Easy get very small roles, but we do see Bulldozer, Wild Man, Little Sure Shot, Sunny, Zach and Ice Cream Soldier, the most frequently appearing supporting players.
Little Sure Shot gets the focus in the Sgt. Rock tale in Our Army at War 145. Some excellent art as Rock and Little Sure Shot scale a precarious peak to take out a Nazi sniper base. While doing this, the two men have time to reflect on how they met, while they were in training. There are some continuity problems with this, as we already had the story of Rock becoming a sergeant while on the battlefield, rather than through training, but by now it is apparent that continuity is not a strong suit with this strip. Another key indication of that is the way Bulldozer is called Blockbuster in this story. We also get to see Little Sure Shot at home with his tribe, and heading out to join the army. Although Little Sure Shot excelled at jungle and forest based fighting, his and Rock's first mission was in the deserts of North Africa, but he proved himself there as well, taking out an enemy tank. Little Sure Shot also had to deal with an evil buzzard (probably a Nazi buzzard), and ripped a feather from the bird. He stuck it in his helmet, and it remained there for decades to come.
Little Sure Shot is once again featured in Our Army at War 151, as he presents his superior with a feather from his tribe. If Rock can manage to last the day with the feather intact, then he will become an honourary chief. So as the story progresses, the feather keeps getting clipped, usually by gunfire. And by the end, Rock loses it completely while in battle with a tank. But though he has lost the feather, and the honourary chiefdom, his men hail him as a great war chief anyway.
Our Army at War 160 contains the first story to give Jackie Johnson a significant role. Although the character had debuted four years earlier, this was only his third appearance. The story opens with a vicious boxing match between Johnson and a Nazi, and then jumps into flashbacks to show how this all came about. Rock was out on a mission with Johnson and Wild Man when all three were captured. The Nazi in charge, Uhlan, had been a boxer before the war, and had faced Johnson in the ring back then, and won. Uhlan is an unrepentant racist, and challenges Johnson to a fight, to prove the superiority of the white race. Johnson allows himself to be beaten, figuring that this will delay any action being taken against Rock and Wild Man. But Rock will have none of that, and goads Johnson into fighting back. Johnson beats Uhlan, and Easy Company show up and rescue the men. Uhlan gets wounded in the battle, and winds up needing a blood transfusion from Johnson. Good use of Nazi bigotry to breach the topic of racism.
Our Army at War 175 reveals a hitherto unmentioned fiancee of Sgt. Rock, Mary Walsh. Rock thinks back to the girl he left behind, and considers how important she is to him, he reason for wanting to make it back alive. That's all kind of strange, considering that she has never been mentioned before. And, indeed, the story that had Rock first meet Mademoiselle Marie paired the two of them up, as if Rock had no other romantic entanglements. Not that that matters much in the long run. Rock gets a letter from Mary, telling him that she is going to marry someone else, and sending Rock back his engagement ring. There is some battling against the Nazis in this story, of course, but that is not really what the tale centres on. Rock gets injured, and tended to by a young French girl, Mignon, who develops a crush on him. Mignon herself winds up shot by the Nazis, and Rock gets her to safety, and medical care. The girl asks Rock to marry her, and he gives her the engagement ring. It's a little creepy, but largely innocent.
Jeb Stuart and the Haunted Tank showed up in a couple of stories during these years, though I hesitate to call them team-ups. The Tank made cameos at best, rarely getting involved in the main plot. Our Army at War 172 opens with Rock and a German officer in a duel, one in which Rock does not appear to be faring very well, and then goes into a long flashback to explain how this came about. Jeb Stuart and the Haunted Tank get a small role in the story, under attack by Nazis. Rock and Easy Company come to their aid, but Rock winds up getting captured. He is then exchanged for a Nazi officer, but during the exchange the other man challenges Rock to a duel. Rock fires, but seems to miss the Nazi. As the story ends, we, and Rock, discover that he actually did hit the guy, who just kept walking forward anyway. The Nazi dies, and Rock returns to his men. Not much of a role for the Haunted Tank, but better then most.
Sgt, Rock gets an unusual team-up in Our Army at War 162, which brings back the Viking Prince, not seen since his solo issues of Brave and the Bold, back in 1959. The first chapter of this story is devoted to Sgt. Rock, grounding it in World War 2 action before suddenly bringing in the time lost, ice-encased Viking Prince. There are some differences between this version of Jon and his earlier portrayals. But then, there were differences and alterations with the character even during his original run. In this version, Jon was carried off to Valhalla by a Valkyrie before actually dying in the battle he was a part of. The two fell in love, to Odin's fury. The Viking Prince was not supposed to die in that battle, the Valkyrie had no reason to take him. Odin separates the two, and curses Jon, that nothing made of metal, wood, fire or water would ever be able to kill him. So now Jon is stuck on Earth, longing to die to rejoin his Valkyrie lover, and poor Sgt. Rock doesn't know quite what to make of the guy. At least he's a really good fighter.
The Sgt Rock/Viking Prince team-up concludes in Our Army at War 163. Rock and Easy Company are on a mission to destroy a secret Nazi missile base, and the Viking Prince joins them, eagerly throwing himself into battle with the Nazis, in hopes of dying and being re-united with his Valkyrie lover. The men get lead to the spot by a woman, who turns out to be a Nazi spy, leading them into an ambush. None of this really bothers the Prince, who cannot be killed. His curse of immortality proves to be quite useful in battle. Rock and his men plant plastic explosives to destroy the missile complex.
Odin's curse covered wood, metal, fire and water, but not plastic. This seems to do the trick, and Rock believes that he sees the Valkyrie flying away with the Viking Prince's body after the explosion. A very good two-parter, which manages to bring together two such wildly different characters. The Viking Prince would not return until the late 70s, in the pages of Justice League of America. In 1980 a different character, Valoric, the Viking Commando, would be introduced, which much the same backstory as is used for the Viking Prince in this tale.
The Iron Major, who would become the main recurring foe for Sgt. Rock, makes his debut in Our Army at War 158. The story also introduces another younger brother for Sgt. Rock, Josh, who died while the two of them were taking paratrooper training. But that has no direct bearing on the tale itself. Rock is holding a position against the invading Nazis, but gets captured by the Iron Major, who had lost a hand in the war, and had it replaced with an iron fist. The Iron Major taunts Rock, telling him how Easy Company is being lured into a trap. Rock escapes from his prison by jumping down into the river, thanks to the paratrooper training The Iron Major pursues Rock, and the story climaxes in the eerily named Forest of Forgotten Skulls.
The Iron Major's hand proves to be a pretty nasty weapon, and he beats the crap out of Rock. But as the major tries to drag Rock back to the prison, he steps on a landmine. Rock gets away, and warns Easy of the trap. The end of the story really implies that the Iron Major has died. But he was too good a villain. Just a little over the top, but close enough to reality to be an effective foe for the very grounded Rock. As for poor Josh Rock, he never gets mentioned again.
The Iron Major returns in Our Army at War 165. The story picks up on the ending of the first Iron Major story, which ended as the man was seemingly killed in a land mine explosion, and his iron hand left lying on the ground. Right at the top of this issue, we see that the Iron Major was barely injured in the blast, aside from having his fake hand knocked off. Rock and his men wind up taking over a German castle, home to an arrogant countess, who just happens to be the girlfriend of the Iron Major. The Nazis are in pursuit, and attack the castle. They are willing to kill the Countess to get at Rock and his men, and Rock takes a bullet intended for the woman. This clearly impresses her, and from bitter enemies they become passionately involved. Of course, it's at exactly that moment that the Iron Major shows up, and he and Rock get into a big fight. The conflict does not last long, as both men wind up falling into the moat. Once again the Iron Major appears to die, dragged down by the weight of his hand. It will be six years before the character makes a return. Having seen her boyfriend die in front of her, the Countess is no longer so keen to bang Sgt. Rock, and he and his men move on.
Sgt Rock continues in the next period, 1967 – 1970: It’s a Happening!
Sgt Rock: Our Army at War 142 – 183 (May 1964 – Aug 67)