Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How to Cross a Minefield in Two Easy Lessons

Sgt. Rock and Easy Company won a lot more fights than they lost, but things didn't always go their way. In Our Army At War #263 (December 1973), Rock and his men manage to blow up a German fortification atop a hill, but then a Panzer gets the drop on them and they are captured. They're taken to a temporary P.O.W. camp run by a brutal S.S. officer.

Well, it's hard to keep Easy Company down. In the space of a few pages, Rock manages to launch a surprise revolt against the guards, winning freedom for his men and the other prisoners. The issue ends with the escapees splitting up as they try to make it back to their own lines.

It's a perfectly good story, though perhaps a little too condensed to be fully satisfying--though Russ Heath's
art work is magnificent as usual. It might have worked better as a two-parter.

Or, rather, a three-parter. Because OAAW #264 (January 1974) is a continuation of this story, following Rock and his five men, armed with a few captured weapons, as they attempt to return to their lines. This is
the more satisfying of the two issues--the action flows along a lot better and there's an emotional bite to it. At one point, Rock and his men see some of the other escapees in the distance, cornered by a Tiger Tank.

The men want to rush to the rescue, but Rock points out that they haven't any anti-tank weapons (ignoring--for the sake of this story--the gazillion or so times they've blown up tanks with small arms in past issues) and that one of them is wounded. The better plan is to get back home and send better armed help to save the other escapees.

But then they have a run-in of their own with a German tank. They manage to get away, but they've lost too much time. The other escapees are dead.

It's a very effective story that brutally reminds us the good guys don't always win in a war.

But separate from the quality or theme of the story is an interesting bit of trivia. Here are three pages from the sequence in which Rock and his men escape from the enemy tank. Trapped between the tank and a minefield, they toss rocks into the minefield to blow a path through.

Now here is a scene from the move Anzio, a mediocre film (despite a great cast) made in 1968. Here we find Robert Mitchum and a squad of American soldiers trapped between a German tank and a minefield. They blow their way through the minefield by throwing rocks into it.

{Sorry--the clip is gone. Universal Studios is particularly strict about its copyrights.}

So did writer Robert Kanigher or Russ Heath see the movie and borrow the action scene for the comic? I have no idea, but it seems possible. If so, I'm okay with it. Heath took a fair-to-middlin' action scene from a so-so war movie and made it look awesome.

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