Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rock versus Iron

I know I’ve done a post about Sgt. Rock comics fairly recently, but Russ Heath is yet another artist whose superb work needs to be celebrated.

The various characters from DC Comics’ various World War II-themed books didn’t collect arch-enemies the way most superheroes did. But there were occasional exceptions to this. Sgt. Rock, for instance, would go up against the Iron Major from time to time.

The major’s first appearance (I don’t think we’re ever told his actual name) first pops up in Our Army at War #158 (Sept. 1965) as the commander of the garrison occupying a castle. With his right hand replaced by an artificial iron hand, he has been regulated to a non-combat command.

Rock is brought to the castle as a prisoner, but soon escapes. 

In OAAW #251-253 (Nov 1972 – Jan 1973), the major finally makes a return appearance. Once more commanding troops in combat, he manages to force Rock and Easy Company to retreat out of a town. But he prevents a sniper from killing Rock—he considers the American to be a worthy opponent that he intends to one day take on personally.

He gets that chance sooner than he thinks when Rock sneaks his men back into town for a counter-attack. While the two forces blast away at each other, Rock and the Major have a really, really, really cool one-on-one fight.

Rock wins, but refuses to finish off the helpless German. That sets things up for a re-match when Rock’s men attempt to capture a bridge guarded by the major’s men. The two men go at it one-on-one again, but circumstances will bring them together a third time soon after that—a confrontation that takes place in an ancient warrior tomb.

It’s a strong, well-written story, with strong characterizations. There’s a powerful sequence in which the major, afraid he’ll be pulled out of combat again, allows an SS officer to talk him into slaughtering some wounded men.

Heath’s art work making it all work beautifully. I love the detail Heath puts into every panel. His visuals force you to examine each page carefully, picking out every little item of the perfectly composed battle sequences. 

The early and mid-1970s are, I think, where the best Sgt. Rock stories can be found. Bob Kanigher put more effort into characterization on this book than he did on the other war books, while a combination of Joe Kubert’s covers and Heath’s interior art gave us a one-two punch of DC’s best war comic artists.
 Next week, we'll be returning to our chronological look at the Marvel Universe. Remember, I'm happy to take suggestions regarding what other comic books to look at in future posts.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tim, I agree... Heath's artwork was superb, and he was at his best on the Sgt. Rock stories. Great examples of his clear, crisp storytelling. I just wince when I see the WAAAY overdone "modern" style of comic book art, and appreciate craftsmen like Heath all the more.

    Jim E.


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