Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Looking into the eyes of the man you just killed

Cover by Joe Kubert

I know it's only been a few weeks since I've reviewed a Russ Heath-drawn war comic, but I want to do another one. So you'll all just have to live with it. 

A year or two ago, I talked about a Sgt Rock comic that dealt with the theme of cowardice--with how anyone, including experienced soldiers, might break and run under the right circumstances.

Just two months prior to that issue, writer Bob Kanigher touched on a similar subject. Our Army At War #246 involves a rookie soldier who runs the first time he find himself under fire.

The rookie and Rock are both captured. The Germans strip them of their uniforms, making escape across the snow-covered countryside impractical. But, despite the young soldier being too scared to help, Rock manages to take out their guards. The brief but brutal fight scene Russ Heath provides for us at this point is nothing short of magnificent.

The two Americans don the German uniforms to stave off the cold. But it's not long before the young soldier panics and runs AGAIN when a German machine gun opens fire on them.

Rock rather graphically expresses his displeasure with the soldier when they both make it back to their own lines, but he still keeps the guy in Easy Company. Rock knows anyone can run under the proper circumstances.

It's an idea that is raised in several Sgt. Rock stories during the early 1970s. Natural fear was not condemned and--though a man was expected to eventually find courage and do his duty--the stories were sympathetic to those who were sometimes overpowered by fear.

But that's actually not the best part of this particular story. The best part is a scene that comes right after Rock and the young soldier are separated. Rock is found by a lone German soldier and uses a bandage on his throat as an excuse for not talking. The German is kind to him, but a moment later spots a couple of Easy Company soldiers. He's about to open fire when Rock yells a warning.

The German is shot. His shocked and confused expression as he looks into the eyes of the man he had just helped and who had apparently betrayed him is one of Heath's finest moments. The imagery has a palpable emotional impact.

I'd be hard pressed to pick the best issue of Our Army at War from this time period, but this one would definitely be in the running.

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