Thursday, April 02, 2009

Fifty Years Ago Today: Gibraltar Man

Unlike most DC characters of the Silver Age, Sgt. Rock did not spring to life full-blown and ready for an action figure set. For most of the 1950s, DC's war mags had bucked the trend towards continuing series in favor of one-shot stories. But things were changing; DC had placed a tiny squadron known as Gunner and Sarge as a regular feature in Our Fighting Forces in May 1959 (the squadron did expand a few years later with the addition of "Pooch", a German shepherd).

Wikipedia notes the existence of a Sgt. Rock prototype in GI Combat #68 (January 1959). Our Army At War #81 and #82 both had characters that would clearly become Sgt. Rock; in the former he was referred to as Sgt. Rocky, and although they got his name right in the latter tale he was a subsidiary character to Walker (BAR) and Dugan (bazooka), who were the real stars of the story.

But with Our Army At War #83, the series was ready to kick into gear. Overstreet calls it the "first real Sgt. Rock". In The Rock and the Wall, we learn that the legend of Sgt. Rock and Easy Company is spreading throughout the armed forces:

But one guy isn't so impressed; Easy Company's new recruit, Joe Wall. Wall is no slouch as a fighting man himself as we see here:

Several days later, a flying fortress is shot down near Easy Company. Rock and Wall fight off some enemies attacking the plane, then (improbably) hop aboard to replace the injured gunners when the engine is quickly repaired. Joe's a skilled gunner and shoots down several enemy planes along the way, but when he's hit, the Rock coolly steps in an shoots down one enemy plane, then steadies the gun so Joe can kayo the last fighter. And in the end, Wall realizes:

Comments: Superb story by Kanigher, and dazzling artwork by Joe Kubert. There's another solid reason to consider this the first real Sgt. Rock story; the Sgt. Rocky tale in OAAW #81 was drawn by Andru & Esposito, while the OAAW #82 story was by Mort Drucker.

Rock was the most successful war comics character of all time; he outlasted all his competitors, even Marvel's Sgt. Fury. When DC decided to include a war comics annual in it's lineup, what did they title it? Sgt. Rock's Prize Battle Tales.

Although I won't discuss the other stories in OAAW, I did want to note this tremendous ad for an upcoming issue of Star Spangled War Stories and DC's war titles in general:

That is poetry.