Our Army at War #220 cover

Our Army at War #220, June 1970

See, even the redoubtable Sgt Rock wasn’t immune to the odd bout of sci-fi battling. True, he wasn’t often to be found fighting alien hordes, but there were occasions when Robert Kanigher or Joe Kubert decided to expand the parameters of Rock’s world. Hence this tale. Beneath a cover that could almost be an attempt to blend Rock with Kubert’s stone-age hero Tor, we find Easy Company in big trouble. Surrounded by Nazi tanks, the odds look grim. But Rock has an unusual plan to gee his troops’ morale.

Even as the shells explode around him, Rock tells a tale of how warfare hasn’t changed much over the years — not even from prehistoric times. He speaks of how primitive man must have fought against the might of marauding mammoths, and somehow found a means to win out. Pterosaur attacks from the sky would have troubled the cave-dwellers, and yet they would no doubt have used their cunning to succeed in bringing the air-borne creatures down to earth as food. Why, even faced by the wrath of a mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex they wouldn’t have given up: they’d have faced their fears and done their best to succeed.

As he finishes each vignette, Rock suggests a way for Easy Co to use what they’ve learned to take the battle to the enemy. The Cavemen used a decoy to beat a pterodactyl, and so Easy fill out a uniform to fool a fighter pilot into coming in too close — and take him down with conventional arms. After several rounds like this, the surviving Germans surrender. As prisoners are taken, Rock lights a nonchalant cigarette. Wildman asks him if those cavemen always won their fights (Rock left the story of the Tyrannosaurus open-ended).

“Well, I tell ya,” says Rock, a wry smile playing across his lips, “You win a few… and you lose a few!”

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Written, drawn and edited by Kubert, this is something of a tour de force. Kubert brings a touch of magic to everything that he does, and here he gets to play in his two favourite arenas: war and prehistory. While Tor doesn’t actually appear, it’s clear that he might well have done. The nameless cavemen do a fine job acting as metaphors for Rock’s madcap plans. If it seems a bit strange that a hard-bitten soldier with Rock’s exemplary record would have to resort to telling stories to get his men to do his bidding… well, that’s just comics! It’s great stuff.

Elsewhere in the issue we get Bob Kanigher telling a true sci-fi tale of future warfare as the last human battles overwhelming odds against an army of robots. This slight story, with a very downbeat ending, is drawn by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. Bringup the rear is a USS Stevens tale by Sam Glanzman.

They don’t make war comics any more, but if they did, and they were like this one, I’d be a happy man.

image ©2010 DC Comics