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Wednesday Comics: Sgt. Rock & Easy Co.

Earlier this week I reviewed Wednesday Comics, a rather spanking anthology from DC Comics. I kinda figured, however, it might be worth my while to break out some of those fifteen stories on their own (but not all of them) and discuss them, as it’s easy to lose sight of a particular writer/artist’s work in an anthology. Now we’re going back to a “new” old bunch of pulp characters.

Sgt. Rock & Easy Co. is an interesting choice for the anthology. Although it’s a war comic, it was only introduced in 1959, long after the end of the conflict and in the twilight days of the newspaper strips that this anthology is meant to reproduce. It’s inclusion arguably speaks more to the desire by DC to create a nostalgia for a long legacy that never quite existed than it does to the character’s popularity or place within DC continuity. Sgt. Rock & Easy Co. is one of only three non-superhero strips included – the post-apocalyptic adventures of Kamandi and the Strange Adventures strip, following Adam Strange: Space Hero – and it seems a logical fit if the goal was to create the impression of a large interconnected tapestry of DC history. After all, the only thing as pulpy as a superhero story is good old fashioned war yarn.

That's the closest you'll come to a splash page in this storyline...

The series collected here seems to be written very much as a tribute. The author and artist are Adam and Joe Kubert, adding an almost generation appeal to the project. Joe Kubert, worked as the artist on the original run of comic books, so – given the script was written by his son – there’s a very familiar and respectful tone to proceedings. Perhaps even too respectful.

There’s very much the sense that the storyline is paint-by-numbers, banal even. It see Sergeant Rock himself captured and tortured by Nazis while his colleagues try to figure out a way to rescue him. It can’t help but feel more than a little bit simplistic, even when offered up in only twelve pages. One might have expected a pulpier or trashier throwback to the good old days of comic books during the war – it might have been a bit much to see the character sock Hitler in the jaw (although Inglourious Basterds suggests that such an approach might work), but there’s certainly room for a lot more creativity than is on display here.

Yes, this is from the front page of the hardcover and it features Adam Strange, but - in my defense - there aren't a lot of images of this strip on the ole inter-web...

Despite the fact that a lot of space is devoted to interrogation (traditionally a forum for writers to dig into character exploration of both interrogator and captive) or that there’s a quite frankly weird personal note which closes the story (and seems to come out of nowhere), there’s very little hint of character in the pages here. I wasn’t familiar with the characters going into this story, and I don’t feel much wiser coming out. Hell, the most I now know about Sergeant Rock himself (the lead) is that he’s a badass – a fact I could have easily implied from his name or rank.

The pacing isn’t exactly anything to get excited about either. For example, all we learn in the first page is that the Nazis want the character to talk and are beating him to make it happen. It isn’t exactly a huge cliffhanger – as if we were waiting to find out that they wanted him to “loosen [his] tongue”. Similarly, not a lot really happens over the course of the story, which is a bit strange as the narrative isn’t bogged down with character work, or being stressed to fit into a twelve-page serialised narrative.

It's not gonna get an Easy-er...

The artwork is fascinating, just by its sheer commitment to form. As opposed to the more radical approaches of other stories, or even the standards of modern comic book writing, Sgt. Rock & Easy Co. consciously favours a more traditional style – one arguably far more reflective of the original page layouts for these types of stories than any other examples contained within these pages. The default pattern is a nine grid (three-by-three) square – although occasionally two of the panels will merge to give you a twice-as-long panel.

The impression is interesting. It’s basically the most conventional comic book you can imagine, just blown up several times. In a way, it’s rather bold and exciting – it makes the strip easily distinguishable from virtually any other in the collection and manages to seem faithful to the original source material at the same time. And it simply looks good – this sort of rigid structure suits the military material down to a “t”.

Sgt. Rock was going to have to spend a while in makeup before he was ready for his photoshoot...

Joe Kubert’s artwork is beautiful and works very well in the context of the strip. It feels old-fashioned, which lends itself well to a story about conflict in the Europeran Theatre. Indeed, his work is arguably more entertaining and engaging than the script turns out to be. Very simply, it’s great for the project to have someone of his skill on-board.

Sgt. Rock & Easy Company is a project designed to hammer home the retrospective nature of the project. It’s interesting that – rather than picking an icon which is actually older (like the very first Green Lantern or Flash, for example, or the Spectre or Doctor Fate) – the company picked a set of characters who seem older than they actually are, even if they were only really introduced in the Silver Age. It feels like an old comic, which is a major part of what DC are selling with the project – they’re building themselves up a rich sense of cultural memory, by associating their iconic (and sometimes more modern than they appear) characters with old and nostalgic touches.

It’s not anything close to an essential read – it’s also not bad in any sense of the word – but the strip is arguably most interesting as an attempt to “date” the project and make it seem somewhat older and more mature than it actually is. Because, the truth is, in a book like this, those of us unfamiliar with the characters would assume that their roots could be traced directly back to the war, rather than over a decade after it. It’s a wonderful piece of carefully-sculpted nostalgia, formed with nearly military precision.

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