DC Comics History: Sgt. Rock (1960 - 1964: the Silver Age)
By Deejay Dayton
Jun 15, 2017 - 9:46
There were some developments in Sgt. Rock’s series that pertained to the title character during the period 1960 – 1964: the Silver Age, but far more time was spent on expanding the line up of soldiers in Easy Company. For a series that hadn’t been around that long at this point, there were already continuity problems brewing. Sgt. Rock would get a featured issue of Showcase during these years, and have his first encounters with Mademoiselle Marie, Johnny Cloud, and the Haunted Tank.
The first of the new Easy Company soldiers to be introduced during this period was Zach, making his debut in Our Army at War 93. Unlike many of the soldiers who had been at the centre of Sgt. Rock tales so far, Zach Nolan is not a new recruit, but a transfer from another company, and an experienced infantryman. The downside to this is that Zach is not a team player. His skills reinforce his attitude, and Zach is twice able to take out Nazi troops by acting on his own, against Rock's orders.
But the third time does not go as well for him. Zach gets wounded, and Rock has to come to his aid. This is clearly a really significant event for Zach, whose entire attitude changes, and he returns the favour, saving Rock's life, and then becomes a big promoter of the importance of teamwork.
Bulldozer, one of the better known members of Easy Company (which is to say, even I have heard of him) gets introduced in Our Army at War 95. Bulldozer is a giant of a man, and an experienced soldier when he gets assigned to Easy Company. Looking over Sgt. Rock, Bulldozer insists that he deserves to be the sergeant, much more than Rock does. But Bulldozer, for all his combat skills, is a loud braggart, played up in contrast to the silent but effective Sgt. Rock.
Of course, by the end of the story, Bulldozer comes to realize that Rock is the superior soldier, when the sergeant comes to save Bulldozer, who gets trapped in a ruined house by a tank. Bulldozer remains a loudmouth, and a bit of a braggart, but from now on is a solid backer of Rock.
Up until now, the various members of Easy Company had only appeared in the stories that introduced them. In Our Army at War 103 Ice Cream Soldier, Zach, and Bulldozer all return, fleshing out the group as they interact with Sgt. Rock. In a way, this story highlights a problem raised by the earlier ones. With Sgt. Rock the paragon of everything "army," and the team so idolizing him, he is believed to be the sole reason for their success. When things go very hard on Easy during a battle, all focus is given to Rock, and the group thinks that if he dies, Easy will have no chance.
So, of course, that's sort of what happens. A vicious attack leaves Rock seriously wounded. So much so that the members of Easy Company think he is dead. They are hesitant to go on, and risk everything to move Rock into a safer position. But then anger takes over, and the group resume their attack with a vengeance, literally. They are determined to get the Nazis who "killed" their leader.
Of course, Rock proves not to be dead. He doesn't even seem to be terribly injured by the end of the story. One might almost think he was faking it, just so that the men of Easy would learn that they are capable of going on without him.
Our Army at War 105 introduces another new recruit. Junior, as he comes to be known, is William West, a very underage boy who has lied his way into the armed services. Rock does not want the boy around, and orders him to return to the main base, but then the unit gets attacked. Bulldozer gets a significant supporting role in this story. He and Rock manage to take over a Nazi tank, but both get knocked out.
When they wake, they discover that Junior has taken the control of the tank, and is trouncing the Nazis with it. Even so, at the end of the story, after the enemy has been beaten back, Rock is still prepared to send Junior back to base, until he notices the boy has grown his first facial hair. This, I guess, impresses Rock immensely, and he allows the boy to stay with Easy.
Ice Cream Soldier gets killed off in the Sgt. Rock story in Our Army at War 107, which might be a surprise to readers who know the character was around in later stories. The tale in this issue centres on a new recruit, Everett, who has precognitive powers. He foresees death for members of Easy Company, and tries to take their places, and die instead. Rock does not believe in any of this, and refuses to humour the guy. Ice Cream Soldier is one of the men who wind up getting killed after Everett has a vision of it, the only one who is an actual recurring character.
This makes his death far more powerful than that of Buster, who was only introduced in this story. Ultimately, Everett gets a vision of Rock dying in battle, and by now the other men, including Bulldozer, believe in his forecasts. But this one does not come true. Both Rock and Everett survive the assault, but a blast injures Everett's head, and he loses his precognitive powers.
Ice Cream Soldier returns, a mere three issues after being killed off, in the Sgt. Rock tale in Our Army at War 110. Ice Cream Soldier does not play a major role in the story, but is mentioned, as is a new member of Easy, Wee Willie. Bulldozer has the larger role, once again having a problem obeying orders. And obeying orders is what this story is all about. An incompetent lieutenant gives some really bad orders, and Rock obeys them, to prove a point. But Rock can only go so far with this, and eventually disobeys the man in order to save his life. So the lieutenant plans to demote Rock, but before he can more Nazis attack. There is pretty much an endless stream of Nazis in Sgt. Rock stories. Anyway, Rock orders his men to leave him behind, but both Bulldozer and the lieutenant disobey him, and save Rock's life. The lieutenant also changes his mind about demoting him. So the clear moral of the story is, obey orders, unless you think of something better to do.
Sunny, the ever cheerful soldier with a permagrin, makes his debut in Our Army at War 111. Although Sunny gets the focus in this issue, winning over the hearts of the other members of Easy Company, and becoming considered their good luck charm, the recurring cast is mostly around as well: Ice Cream Soldier, Zach, Bulldozer, and Wee Willie. The last of those is the only one with a significant part to play in this story, when he comes back from a mission to let the rest of the team know that Sunny is trapped and surrounded by the Nazis.
This is really bad news for the men of Easy, and they eagerly set out to rescue him. Which, of course, they do. Sunny's ever cheerful disposition is almost creepy. Is he just wasted all the time, or is he some dangerous psychotic who really gets off on the violence of war? The series would never really answer that question.
Two new members of Easy Company both make the cover of Our Army at War 113, which introduces Wild Man and Jackie Johnson (although the latter's last name is not mentioned in this tale). Unlike the other major new supporting characters, these two are treated as though they have been part of Easy Company for a while. And despite each one having, in his own way, a very distinctive visual difference from the other members of Easy, neither race nor redneckiness are an issue in this story.
Instead, it's a darn good, suspense-y tale, as the two men get cut off from the rest of the unit. Jackie Johnson has been temporarily blinded, and Wild Man's hands get injured, so they have to work together to aim and fire the machine gun at the approaching troops. A very effective story.
Sgt. Rock gets established as an orphan, and an only child, in Our Army at War 115. The story has his fellow soldiers feeling bad for Rock, as they all have relatives back home, people who care about them, people to fight for, and he has no one. But Rock does not see things quite the same way. Of course, the easiest way to deal with this concept would be to have Rock consider his unit as brothers, but the story goes into some flashbacks, on how he aided an elderly couple in occupied France, and they treated him as though he were their son. And how he saved a woman with an infant, and was made that child's godfather.
The climax of the story has Rock coming to the aid of Mademoiselle Marie, finding the French Resistance fighter floating unconscious in a river. This was the first appearance of Marie since the cancellation of her series in Star Spangled War Stories a couple of years earlier, and the two hit it off, though in a fairly innocent way, sharing only a kiss.
Tin Soldier, probably intended as a one-shot character, makes his debut in Our Army at War 118. The Tin Soldier is Randy Booth, a famous actor. He has joined the army, but feels completely unqualified for duty, and behaves as if he is on a film set. A few of the regular supporting cast are around in this story, but the larger roles go to Zach and Sunny. Sunny gets critically wounded after Booth runs away from a grenade, and Sunny dives in to save him. The actor pretty much loses the respect of all of the unit by this point.
But at the end of the story, Tin Soldier redeems himself, grabbing an empty bazooka and acting as if the weapon was still useful, to divert a Nazi tank, and give the rest of Easy Company a chance to take it down. The final couple of panels sure make it look like Booth sacrificed his life to do this, although the character comes back the following year, so I guess he was just really injured badly. Or popular enough to warrant his return.
Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert delve into the backstories of three members of Easy Company in the Sgt. Rock tale from Our Army at War 120. The origin given for Ice Cream Soldier is quite different from the tale that was told in his debut story. It almost makes me think that there were two different men who were given this nickname, the first of them being the one who died a year or so ago.
In this version, set in North Africa, a freak storm freezes the land, and Ice Cream Soldier gets his name for cooly facing off against a Nazi tank in the snow. Wild Man is shown to be a bookworm, surprisingly enough. And considered lazy by the rest of Easy, as he refuses to shave or get a haircut until he has finished reading, which he never seems to.
This must go on for many months, based on the length of his facial hair, before he finally sees action, and impresses the unit with his fierce fighting skills, which earns him his nickname. Bulldozer gets his name after he single-handedly bursts into a house to take out the Nazi gunners stationed there. He has lost patience with combat, as his boots are too small, and hurt his feet. He just wants to take them off, but can't until the Nazis are dealt with.
Little Sure Shot makes his debut in Our Army at War 127, though he is far from the focus of the tale. There have been a few other new members of Easy Company introduced in this period, most of whom only make two or three appearances, and then vanish. Tin Soldier and Junior both stop appearing around this time as well. I tend to think they are among the unnamed soldiers who wind up getting killed in each outing. This story as Sgt. Rock shaving, while a new recruit, Benjy, talks about how he doesn't believe Rock ever shows any emotions.
This leads to a series of four brief tales, each told by a different member of the unit, of situations in which Rock showed fear, anger, surprise and sorrow. Little Sure Shot gets to relate the "surprise" story. His name, his skin colour, and the feather in his helmet all serve to make it clear that the character is a native, but that has no real bearing on the story itself.
Sgt. Rock gets to star in Showcase 45, in a story by his usual creative team, Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert. Unlike every other character featured so far in Showcase, Sgt. Rock was already starring in an ongoing series, so it's kind of questionable what they were really testing out with this issue. In truth, it seems to be more of a Sgt. Rock special. The story is dedicated to Rock's reminiscences, looking back on his training, his days as a private, and his encounters with a Nazi POW who calls him a wooden soldier. Some elements of the story are, indeed, drawn from earlier Sgt Rock tales, primarily the one in Our Army at War 90. That story detailed how Rock quickly moved up to becoming a sergeant when the other members of his brigade were killed in battle.
But this story places that as occurring during the D-Day invasion, rather than before it, as the earlier telling had. It also has Bulldozer a part of Easy Company during D-Day, instead of afterwards. Continuity was frequently a problem in Sgt. Rock's series.
The story really isn't anything special, but it's an enjoyable read, simply due to Kubert's wonderful art. In the end, Rock winds up having to fight against the former Nazi POW, who is now a commander. Rock proves that he is no wooden soldier.
Brave and the Bold 52 brings together three leading characters from various war comics: Johnny Cloud, from All-American Men of War, Jeb Stuart and the Haunted Tank from G.I. Combat, and Sgt. Rock from Our Army at War. The story begins with Johnny Cloud, who is assigned to fly into France to meet up with Martin, a French underground agent who has vital information. Johnny tries to fly Martin out of enemy territory, but his plane gets shot down. Jeb Start and the Haunted Tank take over the narrative at this point. When things begin to look bad for them, they come across Sgt. Rock and Easy Company, and together they defeat the Nazis attacking them.
Martin gets released from the iron suit, and turns out to be Mademoiselle Marie. While the three main heroes had never met before this story, Marie had appeared in a Sgt. Rock tale, her most recent appearance in fact, which is referred to.
Marie provides the Allies with the information they needed, and the men all get rewarded for their efforts. Johnny Cloud is promoted to Captain, and Jeb Stuart becomes a lieutenant. Sgt. Rock is offered a promotion to lieutenancy, but wants to remain a sergeant.
Our Army at War 140 follows immediately upon the conclusion to Brave and the Bold 52, which had come out a couple of weeks before. Johnny Cloud and Jeb Stuart, of the Haunted Tank, as well as Mademoiselle Marie, all have cameos at the top of this tale, congratulating Rock for his promotion to lieutenant, which he received for completing the rescue mission which teamed up the various war heroes in that story.
Rock is not keen on being a commissioned officer, and even his own men start to react to him differently. This all seems kind of weird to me, but perhaps it is based on a genuine dynamic that occurs within the military. Still, it's the same old Rock, whether he is a sergeant or a lieutenant. Rock's tale is contrasted with that of another lieutenant, the son of a general who demands all the men be clean at all times, ignoring the rigours of combat.
In the end, the other lieutenant manages to prove himself and gain his father's respect, while Rock saves the general, and as a reward gets what he asks for, a demotion back to sergeant.
Remember how it was established that Sgt. Rock had no living family? Well, get ready to meet Bill, Sgt. Rock's younger brother, in Our Army at War 141. Bill actually only gets a very small role in this tale, which is centred on an old high school buddy of Rock's, named Nate. Nate was a fairly meek and useless kid, who Rock had to look out for and protect during their youth. Now, Nate winds up stationed in Easy Company, and is still so timid that he gets the nickname Shaker.
For a few pages, the story details a letter that Rock receives from Bill, who is stationed in the Pacific, and recounts a recent battle there against the Japanese. This is it for Bill, who never gets mentioned again. Shaker doesn't fare too well, either. He does show some fortitude by the end of the story, bazooka-ing a tank as he dies. But he does die, after all.
Sgt. Rock continues in the next period, 1964 – 1967: the New Look.
Sgt Rock: Our Army at War 91 – 141 (Feb 60 – April 64)
Showcase 45 (July/Aug 63)
Brave and the Bold 52 (Feb/Mar 64)
Next up – Supergirl!
DC Comics History: Sgt. Rock (1960 - 1964: the Silver Age)
DC Comics History: Sgt. Rock
Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion # 3 (of 6)