During the research and writing of my Sgt. Rock article, “The Longer Shadow,” which will be published this month in Back Issue #37 (December, 2009–on sale November 18), something funny (and downright annoying under the circumstances) happened. Another, Sgt. Rock article began to take shape. At first I was able to put it on the mental backburner, but the more Sgt. Rock stories I read, the more this other article crept to the forefront–to the point where I started to consider sending two Sgt. Rock articles to Back Issue editor Michael Eury.
However, as I drew closer to deadline, I knew “The Longer Shadow” was the article I had promised and was all I had time to write, so I let the second article (tentatively titled “The Storyteller”) go. For months now I’ve kept it out of my mind. Then, the other day, I looked at the notes I had composed for it, and I decided to shape what I had into a “Comic Effect” column (plus it’s a great excuse to spotlight some awesome Joe Kubert covers).
I had only fleshed out about a third of the article before I put it on the backburner, so what I have here is not my completely developed full-length article. However, something of greater length may not see print for some time since I have other contracted articles to research and write over the next two years. Thus, I’ll call “The Storyteller” a work in progress, and this column is a sample of what will hopefully be more to come somewhere down the line.
“I’m Sgt. Rock of Easy Company! The best outfit in the army! There’s nothin’ we won’t do! Nothin’ we won’t tackle! That’s why our motto is: When you’re in Easy–nothin’s easy!”
With those words, written by Robert Kanigher and published in Our Army at War #85 (August, 1959), Sgt. Rock began an almost thirty-year, monthly routine of introducing and narrating the World War II battle-action exploits of Easy Company.
Chronologically, Easy’s missions began in the deserts of Northern Africa in 1942, where Rock earned his sergeant stripes (purportedly). They ended in the outskirts of Berlin in 1945, where, according to Kanigher but never depicted, Rock and Easy met their final fate. In-between, Easy landed at Anzio, Italy and marched into Rome, then trudged north, landed at Omaha Beach in Normandy, and slogged across France into Germany while also participating in the failed invasion of Germany through Holland.
Rock also traveled to Burma and served briefly in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Certainly, Easy Company got around more than any other outfit, fact or fiction, during WWII.
However, as far as historical continuity goes, Rock and Easy didn’t just get around; they got around, then back around, then looped around in time–slogging through French farm fields in one issue, taking a bombed Italian town in the next, and battling Rommel’s forces in Tunisia in the next issue after that. While Kanigher wrote scores of character-driven Rock tales, he did not approach historical events in a linear fashion.
Continuity served its purpose within each individual story, but not in the big picture. Rock’s progressive history through World War II, frankly, is a jumbled mess. Compounding the confusion were the multiple “origins” of Easy Company members, multiple explanations of Easy Company nicknames, multiple first landings at Omaha Beach on D-Day, multiple first missions in the North African desert, and multiple additions to Rock’s family tree.
To Kanigher’s credit, all recurring events and themes had their own unique slant–Kanigher was that gifted of a storyteller. However, from a historical perspective, it is extremely difficult to connect the dots of Rock and Easy’s WWII journey on a single path.
Nevertheless, as I read through my issues of Our Army at War and Sgt. Rock, I began to try to connect the dots of Easy Company’s history while I was working on “The Longer Shadow” for Back Issue #37. I decided it was better to try to connect those continuity dots than to just keep thinking about it–which was proving a huge distraction.
There are three events in Rock’s WWII history that explicitly drive the continuity confusion home:
- The loss of bazooka man Zack’s left arm (then it became his right arm, then it was back to his left arm).
- Exactly when and where Rock got his stripes.
- And the death and return of Ice Cream Soldier, which I’ll discuss in more detail.
According to Rock’s narration in the story “Doom Over Easy” from Our Army at War #107, “Ice Cream Soldier was another vet who’d fought with Easy from African sands to Normandy beaches.” By the end of the story, Ice Cream Soldier had been killed in battle. However, reader protest would force Kanigher to bring the character back.
Of course, the members of Easy Company were not as prone to resurrection as other characters in the DC Universe, and Kanigher explained–and would always maintain–that the subsequent stories that included Ice Cream Soldier were tales that occurred before the character’s death in Our Army at War #107.
However, from what I’ve gleaned in my re-reading of “Doom Over Easy,” Ice Cream Soldier was killed shortly after Rock and Easy left the Normandy beaches. Thus, it would have been impossible for the character to slog across most of France and into Germany–but that’s exactly what he did in scores of Sgt. Rock stories published well after he died in battle.
As far as I’m concerned, all continuity mishaps can be attributed to Rock being a consummate storyteller. He introduced and narrated the majority of the stories, and I don’t feel he was narrating them to just the reader. I believe that as Rock and Easy marched toward Berlin in early 1945, his combat antenna, which always alerted him to grave danger, picked up a new frequency: The war would soon end.
Thus, as he and his men advanced, he looked back on what Easy Company had been through, and he began recounting their “adventures” to everyone he came across be it weary soldiers, civilians, or even the enemy.
This accounts for why Kanigher didn’t chronicle Rock’s war exploits in chronological order–because Rock wasn’t telling his own exploits in chronological order–and Rock’s memory didn’t always serve him correctly, which is understandable. After years of enduring the sounds and stress of machine gun fire, grenade blasts, and tank shelling, a good portion of his memory had probably become confused, so he can be forgiven some inaccuracies (I mean, how else does one rationalize Rock’s classic team-up with The Viking Prince?).
Anyway, that’s it. I have about eight pages of notes that I hope to one day incorporate into a full-length article. However, if I don’t get around to it, that’s okay. At least I was able to pursue it here just enough to get it out of my system.