Gunner and Sarge was the first recurring DC war series to debut during the period 1955 – 1959: Dawn of the Silver Age. True, by this time Blackhawk was being published by DC, but they had been a Quality Comics series for many years before this. Gunner and Sarge were a very simple but effective concept, of an old pro and an eager young soldier. Soon after their series began, they would gain a third member of sorts, a dog named Pooch.
Gunner and Sarge debuted with the cover story of All American Men of War 67. Created by Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, the pair squabble and complain as they fight together during World War II. Gunner, who narrates the story, resents the Sarge for always ordering Gunner to cover him, while the Sarge gets into the meat of the battle. But whenever Gunner thinks Sarge is in danger, he ignores his orders and jumps into the fray.
The first time in the story that he does this, it is the wrong thing. Sarge was acting injured in order to plant a bomb for a Japanese tank. But when Gunner jumps in again at the end of the story, he does save his superior’s life. The story ends with a message asking the readers to write in if they enjoy the duo.
The second Gunner and Sarge story appears in All American Men of War 68. As with the previous story, this is narrated by Gunner, who gets bossed around by Sarge. The men argue and grumble, but work together as an effective fighting unit.
In this tale, set in the south Pacific, Gunner keeps wanting to get some sleep, but Sarge keeps waking him in order to fight. Curiously, neither of these two stories open with any sort of logo. The fact that it is a continuing series is only apparent on the final page, when the text refers to it.
A month after the end of their run in All-American Men of War, Gunner and Sarge begin their run with a cover-featured tale in Our Fighting Forces 45. They even get a sort of half-assed version of a logo. Kanigher and Grandenetti helm this tale, which is once again told from Gunner's perspective. The men operate as a duo, even though we do get to see that they are part of a larger battalion in this story. Often their tales will make it seem like they are two man crew.
This tale has each of them taking turns acting as bait to lure out the Nazis, while the other then picks off the enemy forces. The story is an exception, in that the pair are fighting in Europe. Their series would otherwise be set in the Pacific, fighting the Japanese.
Gunner has one job in Our Fighting Forces 46. Do you think he can do it? After dealing with a Japanese ambush, Gunner gets ordered to protect the ammunition while Sarge and the other troops fight the enemy. Gunner is left to single-handedly deal with both a tank and a plane, and though he does take both out, the ammo all gets blown up. Rats. Fortunately, a supply ship shows up. Gunner and Sarge get aboard, and Gunner redeems himself by bazooka-ing a Japanese sub that has targeted them.
It's Gunner's birthday in Our Fighting Forces 47. Gunner and Sarge are in the Pacific, battling against the Japanese when Sarge notices that Gunner is all mopey. The boy explains that today is his birthday, and it will be the very first one he has spent away from home, with no party or cake or presents or anything.
There are some other soldiers in this story who are called the Apple Cake Patrol, which sounds more like a group of sweet old ladies. All of the soldiers are busy fighting the Japanese, but then Sarge shows up with a birthday cake for Gunner, out of the blue. I suspect that Apple Cake Patrol were involved in baking it.
Gunner and Sarge gain a third member for their team, Pooch, in Our Fighting Forces 49. Pooch's name is actually Billy, but that will rarely get used in the strip.
Sarge presents the dog to Gunner, as a partner and helper, though for the most part the dog seems much more interested in expressing affection for the young soldier. The other troops mock Gunner about the dog, and he is none too keen on the animal, even though the dog repeatedly alerts Gunner to enemy attacks.
At the climax of the story, as on the cover, Gunner gets blinded by an exploding shell. Pooch leads Gunner to a hidden tank that is firing on their men, despite having a wounded paw. Thanks to Pooch, Gunner is able to take the tank out, and by the end of the story, is proud to have the dog as his partner. Pooch would appear in many Gunner and Sarge stories.
Joe Kubert does the art on the Gunner and Sarge story in Our Fighting Forces 51. It’s a visual treat, although Sarge does come off looking and feeling like Sgt. Rock. There is some cliffside battle action at the top of the tale, but much of the story is, as the cover suggests, underwater. After Gunner and Sarge have some difficulty taking out a tank by attacking it while swimming in a river, Sarge decides that Gunner needs proper frogman training. Gunner protests that he is in the army, not the navy.
Sarge states that infantrymen should be know every form of combat. I'm not sure that this is true, but certainly if one is going to be the cover feature on a war book, it would help. It just so happens that Sarge's brother Eddie is a frogman, and so he trains Gunner. There is some great underwater battle stuff to climax the story and pay off the set-up. As the tale ends, Gunner finds out that Sarge has another brother, Zeke, who is a fighter pilot. Time for Gunner to learn aerial combat!
Gunner and Sarge continue in the next period, 1960 – 1964: the Silver Age.
Gunner and Sarge: All-American Men of War 67 - 68 (March – April 59)