A Tribute to the of

Sgt. Rock is 60! Our favorite soldier’s milestone nearly escaped my notice, but I stumbled across it somewhere and while Rock’s origins are a tiny bit murky, and I seem to remember covering the topic once before, according to Wikipedia, the recognized origin tale comes from Our Army at War #83 from June of 1959 with an on-sale date of April 2, 1959, hence the 60th anniversary. The story, by the rather screwy, but ever-prolific Robert Kanigher was “The Rock and the Wall!” It was illustrated, of course, by Joe Kubert with a nicely rendered cover by Jerry Grandenetti, but…that’s a tale for another time, because I’ve decided to review a more contemporary story of Sgt. Rock. Allow me to explain:

I was going through some of my surprisingly large pile of memorabilia when I came across an envelope I’d completely forgotten. It was from Sam Glanzman and contained a couple of comic books from his personal collection. If I recall correctly, he’d commented to me during a conversation that his wife was telling him he needed to clean some stuff up and that included piles of comic books. I think I casually mentioned he could send me some and I guess he took it to heart and generously did so. I don’t think I even read them, but I’ve remedied that. Each book contains a U.S.S. Stevens story, which would explain why Sam had them, but the older issue from June of 1975, has a headlining story about Sgt. Rock. It is again, Our Army at War, issue #281 from June of that year and while Bob Kanigher is still the writer on “Dead Man’s Eyes!” it’s Joe Kubert in the editor’s chair instead of Kanigher. Joe did the cover for this issue, but interiors are by Russ Heath. I had the privilege of writing up a short tribute to Russ Heath for this month’s issue of Alter Ego, #158, available now from TwoMorrows publishing and so by reviewing this story, I can honor both Russ and Sgt. Rock’s anniversary. So now you know the rest of the story, at least with regard to my convoluted thought process. Let’s see what Russ and Bob ginned up with “Dead Man’s Eyes!

It’s a somber opening scene in San Pietro as a caravan of mules is being led by locals with American soldiers over their backs. Casualties of battle. The bodies are carefully laid out by a makeshift medical facility and a couple of the members of Easy Company walk beside them. Ice Cream Soldier tells Bulldozer that one of the bodies is that of Sgt. Rock and Bulldozer remarks that he shouldn’t have let the Sarge go back out. Rock’s eyes are open, but unseeing when the tale segues back to another scene with Easy Company on patrol and happening across bound American G.I.’s. Rock orders Bulldozer, Wildman and Jackie to stand fast as he takes a few other men with him into the woods to try and find the enemy forces. Once at the edge of the woods, Frank Rock proceeds alone and walks right into a Nazi rifle butt to the throat that pole-axes him. The enemy forces then surround and capture the squad outside the wooded area.

Their leader instructs them to gun the Americans down, but one of the German soldiers protest that it would be slaughtering helpless prisoners. Rock tries to speak from where he is lying in the snow but discovers his vocal chords are paralyzed from the blow he suffered. The Nazi leader then addresses the soldier who had protested his order and shoots him dead with his Luger. He then instructs the rest to execute the Americans and the merciless reports of the Nazi riflemen echo through the snow-laden clearing.

Sgt. Rock rises from his place and attacks and kills the last departing member and grimly follows the Nazi squad. So focused and determined is Frank, that he doesn’t seek cover and when he is noticed he simply opens fire, killing several men as the rest of the squad runs for cover.

The game of cat and mouse is afoot and Rock leaves his battle helmet as a decoy by some fallen trees. It suffers a few rounds, but Rock has concealed himself a short distance away and quickly dispatches these soldiers. Retrieving his steel pot, he continues onward.

Later another small group comes upon Rock, who appears to be reloading, but it is an ambush as he yanks a string that detonates a cache of grenades, sending these Nazis to the great beyond. Still later, the squad leader himself is taken down by Rock as he lay in wait behind a waterfall. Rock takes him prisoner, but the crafty Nazi leads him through a minefield and Frank is again on his back in the snow, reeling from the explosion. As the leader advances to finish the job, Rock finds the reserves to use his legs to send the Nazi flying into another landmine, putting the war at an end for him.

Switching back to the present, where the Italian peasants have gathered the dead American soldiers and the men of Easy Company look on, abruptly Rock revives with shouts of, “Th-They’re dead…They’re all dead!” The final caption ends this sobering war story with, “No explanation is asked…no story is told…as Easy once more falls in behind their topkicker—Sgt. Rock!

Russ Heath’s flawless and detailed artwork were so strong for this 12-page effort that many of the panels contained no dialogue at all, allowing the artist to tell the story. This is another solid story in the long and difficult journey of Easy Company and Russ’ draftsmanship makes it a visual treat that I highly recommend.

We miss you, Russ, but thank you for all that you’ve left behind and happy 60th to the great Sgt. Rock!

You’ll want to come back net time, dear readers as we mark 19 years of the Silver Age Sage! The webmaster has selected a particularly intriguing story to mark the occasion and I look forward to your reactions as we mark a couple of other notable milestones at the same time. So, c’mon back on the 1st of May for the latest offering. Speaking of offerings, as long as I’m doing the shameless plug bit, check out my latest piece in BACK ISSUE #112 available on the 12th of May.

In the meanwhile, you know the drill. Comments? Questions? Feedback? Just tap out a message to me at: professor_the@hotmail.com.

Until we meet again…

Long live the Silver Age!

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