Robert Kanigher’s stories were all about simplicity and intensity. Simplicity of theme, intensity of presentation. That fact becomes clear when reading the ten tales collected in this wonderful digest-sized volume. From the introduction of Sgt. Rock in “The Rock” to the intense battle to the death in “Calling Easy Co.!” to the story of Rock’s drive to get his sergeant’s stripes in “3 Stripes Hill,” readers get a steady diet of repeated themes, combat intensity and the kind of two-fisted man-sized action that is seldom seen today.
Take the first story, “The Rock,” a kind of pilot for the Sgt. Rock series that would launch soon after this issue. The climax of the story is Sgt. Rock facing down a tank. A man versus a tank? Sure, one man can face down a tank, if he’s the Rock, a tough-as-nails boxer whose mantra is “I won’t stay down.” Rock is a fighter. A boxer who always gets back up, no matter who knocks him down. What better metaphor for the US Army is there than the Rock?
It’s fun reading an old story like “The Rock” because it’s so straightforward and honest in its intensity. Writer Robert Kanigher always knew that war was a great equalizer, and that the constant backdrop of instant death was the most important element to his stories. The Rock is just a man, pushed to his limits, who somehow managed to fight on. This drive, this intensity, is necessary to keep him alive. Without the drive, the war would have ground him down to dust.
“The Rock” ended up being a kind of template for a whole Sgt. Rock series that ran for around twenty years. In that time, Kanigher’s scripts became a bit ossified and stale. But earlier on in the game, they were exciting and interesting. “Gun Jockey”, for instance, shows the military man as nothing but an extension of his gun, by showing an army man, air force man and submarine captain as warriors whose only job is to protect their weapons more than they protect themselves. The story is an interesting idea, well executed. “The Rock and the Wall” tells the story of a more experienced man joining Easy Company, which should run Rock the wrong way. However, Rock knows better. He never gets angry or jealous; instead, Rock is tough and simply soldiers on.
This book is a heck of a bargain at $9.99 for 128 color pages. War comics are pretty much a dead genre today, so it’s fun to spend time reading them today.