My brother Ken was still buying and reading the occasional war comic, and so here’s another one that eventually came over to me. That’s a pretty dramatic Joe Kubert cover on it–Kubert was the undisputed king of DC’s war comics, having drawn so many of them over the years, and edited them as well. His rough-hewn brush style seemed particularly fitting for capturing the grittiness of combat. And here, the color really makes the piece, those bold oranges and yellows making a spotlight on Rock’s triumphant form.
Unfortunately, the artwork on the opening story on the inside wasn’t anywhere near as dramatic. Frank Redondo’s pages are open and bright, and wile they’re not badly drawn, they lack that extra element of drama to them. They tell the story, but often it feels like they’re diagramming the story. The war books could be a mixed bag, as they were often run like the mystery titles: with several shorter pieces in each issue and no regular creative team in evidence. Sometimes you wound up with better, sometimes with worse.
The story concerns three separate hills that Easy Company is tasked with capturing in three different campaign. It opens with the Combat-Happy Joes fighting in North Africa to claim Fryin’ Pan Hill, which they do–but not without a ton of casualties on both sides. Then, they’re in Italy, charged with taking Santa Claus Hill in icy terrain on Christmas. Once again, they’re victorious, but not without the snow being stained by blood–and one wounded Nazi gets off a last shot that wounds Sgt. Rock himself.
Getting out of the infirmary and back to his unit, Rock and Easy are assigned a third hill to take–this one No-Name Hill. But when they arrive at the coordinates, all they see is a flat, barren patch of land. The Germans throw troops and tanks at them, and even planes, but Easy Company fights its way through them all–and when the dust settles, there is a new hill on that spot: Graveyard Hill, made up of all of the corpses of the fallen soldiers. Honestly, it’s not much of a story, and far from writer Bob Kanigher’s best work.
This is followed up by a single page comedy feature, a regular fixture in the Kubert war titles. This particular page is by Dave Manak, and it’s a simple enough gag. Clearly, Kubert thought these pages were of interest to his audience (or he simply liked Manak and wanted to kick him some work) but I don’t know if that was truly the case. I seem to think that the readers would have preferred to have the page devoted to a longer Rock story. But especially since the issues were all being produced and assembled concurrently, having these one-page fillers made for greater flexibility.
The back-up story carries no credits, but it’s a lot moodier and more atmospheric. The Grand Comics Database lists the artist as Tom Yeates, which makes sense–Tom was a graduate of the first class at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. This story apparently represents his first published work.
The story is a rote one. It’s the final days of the war, and a group of Marines are ambushed and pinned down by the Japanese. The only man who can be spared to try to break through and get word back to H.Q. about their plight is the company’s Preacher, who has been sneered at as a coward for his reluctance to fight. But of course, the Preacher winds up counter-attacking the enemy soldiers, liberating his unit and proving his valor–and then he kneels to pray over the bodies of his fallen foes.