Friday, October 31, 2014

Sgt. Rock Day: The Prophecy

Once upon a time at some Southern California con I picked up a Sgt. Rock mini-series dubbed The Prophecy.  As I plunked down to read them, I realized I was missing the final issue.  I'm sure I meant to find it from another vendor at the show but here I was, 5/6 of the way into an engrossing tale of World War II with no end in sight.  Cut to a while later and I finally grabbed issue 6 and of course, had to sit down and reread the entire series.  Introduced in 1959 by editor and writer Robert Kanigher and artist Joe Kubert, Sgt. Rock has long been one of my favorite non-superhero comic characters.  Written in a punchy, realistic tone, Sgt. Rock follows the title character, a dependable Sergeant and the "get shit done" motley crew of Easy Company who have fought the war from Africa to Italy and into Germany.  Unlike Marvel's Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos, Rock stays a bit more grounded versus the fun, over the top machismo and derring-do of the 1963 introduced Commandos.  Running until 1988, Sgt. Rock would pop up occasionally before returning in 3 mini-series in the 2000's, Between Hell and a Hard Place, The Prophecy and The Lost Battalion.

In 2006's Prophecy, we find our guys dropped into Lithuania in 1943, north of the Allied lines and smack dab in between Germany and Russia's daily back and forth bombings and attacks, to receive a package and deliver it to a rendezvous point.  Joining Sgt. Rock this go around are Ice Cream Soldier, Bulldozer, Wildman, Shorty, Curly, Four-Eyes and Sure-Shot as they meet a scary, local civilian army leader nicknamed Bear who introduces them to David, a young Jewish rabbi known as The Prophet due to his devotion to God and ability to see the horrors of Hitler's plan to eradicate Jews and "lesser peoples" under the Aryans.  It is believed that David will be able to share his visions and give hope to those under Hitler's heel before a Holocaust occurs.  With 100 kilometers to walk to the extraction point in Estonia, Rock and company trek their way across the war ravaged country filled with the dead bodies of innocents and witness the brutal savagery of war.  Along the way they encounter tanks, retreating German soldiers, merciless Russian Calvary, a concentration camp filled with the ashes of the dead, a mine field and an untouched town where locals gave up their Jewish neighbors in exchange for money and local authority among other obstacles.

Written and illustrated by the then 80 year old Joe Kubert, The Prophecy is a terrific and quick read as well as a visual feast.  From the opening splash pages to the drab locale to the quick bursts of violent and explosive action, Kubert creates a somber yet realistic account of a horrible time in our history without depressing the reader.  His crisp lines, weathered faces, expansive backgrounds and simple yet dynamic style mixed with a no nonsense, unglamorous portrayal of the war seamlessly blends the history and horror of the time.  Having just seen the hardcore WWII flick, Fury, I further appreciated Kubert's straight forward approach rather than sensationalizing or adding more spectacle. The action comes out of nowhere and happens fast and furiously in a raw and messy fashion with knives, machine guns, grenades and close quarter scraps.  Not all of our guys make it to the end and are killed suddenly and without a glorious moment, friends and enemies show up and disappear and we're never quite sure if the man is worth the mission but there's no doubt they'll die trying. The characters aren't given much background but you get the sense of who is who as big ox Bulldozer shows his heart when he adopts a little puppy, Wildman challenges a loud mouth local to duke it out rather than argue, tribal nations member Sure-Shot is cynical towards the flag waving Americans who tricked his people, etc.  Sgt. Rock of course is unflappable as usual, not questioning the mission, just doing his best to accomplish it and keep his men safe.  While David believes in a higher power or being, Rock believes in himself, his company and the men it's made up of.

The comics are given a nice, heavy stock cover and a matte finish.  I don't read a lot of DC Comics but I distinctly remember an issue of Batman where only 2 pages were laid out sequentially as every other page was an ad.  Here, the inside front cover is an advertisement but then we get 22 pages of Rock before several DC ads in the back and a few for video games and cars.  Sadly, no cool time capsules like Arnold selling workout courses or Hostess Cupcake ads that were included in some 60's and 70's issues I recently picked up.

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