In 2006, longtime Sgt. Rock vet and co-creator Joe Kubert returned to his iconic character for a six-issue miniseries, which he wrote and drew. Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy takes us back to 1943 during the days of World War II, as the Nazis, having occupied Lithuania, have set their sights on Russia. It’s up to Rock and his fellow Easy soldiers to stop them – but their Russian contact, Roskoff – who they promptly nickname “Bear” – has a plan that shocks them… and a completely different set of morals than their leader, which leaves them questioning the nature of war and honor. For Blastoff’s month of war comics, I took a look back at the first issue of this series.
When we catch up with Sgt. Rock and his boys, it’s clear they’ve been on the mission for a long while. They all have been given nicknames – we never, in fact, learn their real names. Rock is joined by Ice, Wild, Shorty, Bull, Sure Shot, Curly, and Four Eyes. It’s an expansive main cast, but readers will have no problem remembering each of them… because literally every time a character addresses one of his brothers in arms, he says his name. It was odd, and grating at first. Just pulling from a single scene, here’s how it sounds:
“I guess we got nothin’ else t’do ‘cept sit ‘n’ wait, Wild.”
“That’s okay for you, Shot.”
“That’s for sure, Wild.”
“Maybe if’n I had my own pup t’pet, I’d be more relaxed, Bull.”
“Aint’ no wonder pups avoid you, Shot.”
“That’s funny Shorty.”
“Stay loose, Wildman.”
However, after a while, I started thinking about this choice. It didn’t make sense that they would say each other’s names so often at first, but then I thought about the nicknames. They’re constantly using these nicknames, to the point that Roskoff hadn’t uttered two sentences before they dubbed him “Bear.” Perhaps it’s their way of bonding further with each other, reaffirming their closeness each time they say each other’s names. In a genre driven by masculinity and violence and death, I began to read it as a way of casual, masked affection. It went from a bizarre repetitive tick to something that added an undercurrent of depth and humanity to the characters and the group.
While the main draw here will undoubtedly be Kubert’s unparalleled depiction of warfare. From surprise attacks to fiery explosions to the almost unsettling silence of hand-to-hand combat, Kubert’s distinctive pencils make art out of war without glorifying the violence. What, in other hands, might closer resemble superhero action pieces rather than actual combat, Kubert’s washed out greys and flatly colored explosions avoid adding cinematic sheen to the action scenes. As good as all of that is, though – and maybe this says something strange about me – it was the damn dog that got me.
The comic opens with a stray dog emerging from the wreckage of war. The dog eventually finds Rock’s squad, and Bull picks him up, carrying him in his jacket. It’s a small part of the story, but it speaks volumes about Kubert’s overall message. War is rife with atrocious violence, and it’s easy for men of war to lose their humanity… but those who recognize the inherent value in life, whether it be in their fellow soldiers, a captured enemy, or a lost dog, will be able to hold onto who they are.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Family Pets, Robyn Hood, Charmed: Season Ten) and pop culture journalism (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). He can be found blogging about things of next to no value at patshand.tumblr.com.