I read Joe Kubert and Brian Azzarello's Sgt. Rock book, Between Hell and a Hard Place, and while I enjoyed it I also noticed how it differentiates from your standard Sgt. Rock story. Having the Vertigo imprint should be enough of a warning that this will not be your standard war comic. What they managed to get right are the supporting cast that Kubert developed for Sgt. Rock, from Wildman to the Ice-cream Soldier to Bull to Sure Shot the regular cast is all accounted for. What is different, at least for me, is that suddenly Easy Company is thrust into a specific battle and well, they all pretty much get wounded. I have to admit I haven’t read all that many Sgt. Rock comics but I’m pretty sure Easy Company always managed to get out relatively unscathed. Not here.
This is the fictional WWII setting but a specific battle and while that’s about as detailed as it gets, it seems to be a departure from the formula in itself. Well, the formula as I’m pretty much making it up, regardless. This isn’t a tale of bravery or survival so much as it is the tale of the battle and their role in it, heightened by a murder mystery.
There is bravery and there is bloodshed and while I think this was a good comic I don’t think it was a great Sgt. Rock comic. I expect Sgt. Rock to, at least once, play dead then sock a ratzi in the jaw (then blow up a tank with a bazooka). This was more a mixture of fact and fantasy, and it is successful in its own way. I don’t think any comic character should be limited to one type of story and this is an example of how changing the comfort zone of both characters and reader can still result in good comics. Here we get a different take on fictional soldiers in a real war setting, and it is quite moving because the story manages to make these characters feel a bit more realistic for their harshness and reluctant acceptance of their own bravery.
I think the characters, because of their setting, readily lend themselves to a more serious story. At the same time, the soldiers here don’t need to be the Sgt. Rock crew. And yet I applaud Azzarello and Kubert for tackling a more serious story with characters that were created to get kids believing in the superhuman good of American soldiers. In this story we’re given broken and detached men who seem to keep fighting despite the odds (which really isn’t all that new to Sgt. Rock comics) but they actually have more consequences here for all the established characters rather than just the new meat.
I was expecting an easy comic about the toughest man in comics beating up Nazis but what I got was a brilliant story using established fictional characters in an unexpected manner, and liking the story all the more for it. This is a prime example of making comics more serious and grim, but in a way that works for me, albeit mostly because of the setting.