The Hidden S in Phone Booth

The Return of Rock... A couple of years ago I was doing a story on a place near where I live on Long Island called The Bayport Aerodome. This is an organization dedicated to the preservation and piloting of historic aircraft. While there I met Billy Tucci, a relatively well-known comic creator best known for his female warrior creation Shi. Most of the members were older gentlemen, many of whom had been pilots in Korea, Vietnam and even a couple of real old timers who flew during WWII. Billy was by far the youngest guy there and I was surprised that a young comic guy would be interested in military history. As I remember, some of his family were in the military and he was interested in preserving this part of his own family history, besides being interested in military aviation. Knowing Tucci's interest in military history, it is of no particular surprise that he is heading the resurgence of the great DC war superhero Sgt. Rock with his fine series Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion. Tucci's work is not the only work recently released to chronicle the great character. The Showcase Volume (2) on Rock features the major names associated with the Rock Character; Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert. Kanigher is not a household name even to the hardcore fanboy, however, Mr. Kanigher is one of the most prolific and almost certainly underrated creators in comics history. His early career as a writer was noteworthy for his work on Wonder Woman, whose scripting duties he took from the heroine's creator William Moulton Marston and work on such stalwarts as the Blue Beetle and Captain Marvel. He also had a hand in creating several of DC's most enduring characters in the 40's and 50's, including the Black Canary, the Silver Age Flash (Barry Allen) and the Metal Men. Kanigher really made his mark in DC's War Comics Genre. In 1952 DC had 5 major war comics titles including GI Combat, Our Army at War, Our Fighting Forces, All American Men of War and Star Spangled War Stories. During this time, Kanigher created one of DC's most memorable characters in SGT. Rock (with the much more well-known artist Joe Kubert). Rock made his first appearance in GI Combat in 1959 where he was known simply as "The Rock." His name goes through a couple of versions including "SGT. Rocky," until finally it settles on SGT. Rock about six months after his initial appearance. Rock's origin is clouded in mystery (probably carelessness on the writer's part as opposed to a genuine desire to make the character more interesting) and there seems to be some debate and genuine ambiguity as to whether Rock survived World War 2. The character built a strong following for almost twenty years until he finally got his own title in 1977. This title had a decent run until the late 80's (the last and most recent point at which there was a romanticism of the US Military). Despite not having a regular series for 20 years, the character has retained strong name recognition with comic fans. Indeed, Rock exists in the superhero universe of DC and was featured in a memorable Brave and the Bold Story with Batman in the 70's, and Rock and his unit "EASY Company" were featured in an equally memorable episode of Justice League Unlimited. With DC's recent release of DC Showcase Presents SGT. Rock Vol.2, Rock's legacy is well-represented. These stories cover some of the early SGT. Rock tales from '62-'63 and there is a sense of the impending drama of Vietnam to gives these stories a real sense of narrative urgency. Many of the stories have elements of surrealism with hallucinations, weird landscapes that look to have been cooked up from Dali's sketchbook and a kind of gallows humor which had easy company always at the brink of annihilation. A favorite kind of story from this time has Rock going mano-a-mano with his Axis "other" like a German Sargent. The writers and artists typically would play up the physical and emotional contrasts of SGT. Rock who was emotional, tough and indomitable (read: American) and his German counterpart who was callous, arrogant and cruel (Read: European). One of the Hidden S' favorite parlor games with regard to comics is what is the source of this character's popularity? With Sgt Rock, I am honestly not sure. He doesn't have the Dash of Blackhawk; nor does he have the panache and anti-hero cache of Enemy Ace; he doesn't have the weirdness and mystique of The Unknown Soldier (to name 3 of DC's big war hero types). Another problem with having a character like Rock now is the same problem with other characters like Captain America, in that an American war hero seems unfashionable at this point in history. Also, a lot of the guys who created the war comics or worked on them (like the Glanzmans and Jack Kirby) had personal experiences in the military which translated well to their work on these titles. Now, it is probably fair to say that most comic book artists aren't as interested in these kind of characters and scenarios as the previous generations of comic artist were. I think Rock's appeal is in the everyman quality that he has, combined with the sense of indomitably that he represents. He is a superman that is easy to relate to (not a common thing in mainstream comics). This indomitable quality and his image has been very influential in modern American Popular Cinema. Specific influences? How about Bruce Willis in Die Hard, Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan (whose character's mysterious background mirrored Rock's), Arnold in Raw Deal, Predator (especially) and True Lies; Tom Berenger in Platoon; Stallone in the Rambo films? When those guys open up with machine gunfire you can be sure the spirit of Rock is somewhere smiling. The hidden s