Comics Ate My Brain

December 9, 2008

Looks like I’m a Good Critic; plus Joe Kubert and Sgt. Rock

Filed under: meta, sgt rock — Tom Bondurant @ 2:47 am
We got back last night from five days and four nights in Lexington, for a two-day seminar and an afternoon party so that our old Kentucky friends could see Olivia. Without going too much into it, I was technologically limited, so I spent those five days with a pretty minimal connection to the Internet. I also didn’t have an opportunity to see Thursday’s new comics until this morning, which meant that I couldn’t check about 80% of my Bloglines subscriptions until then (no spoilers!). That left me with some 400-odd comics-related posts to skim, read, or just check off.

Probably the nicest surprise — and I was surprised to be in such excellent company — was being included on plok/pillock’s “Critic’s Canon” list. That’s a pretty high standard of criticism, me excluded. It makes me think plok hasn’t read my Bottomless Belly Button review, which was hardly a model of the form.

Then again, I have never been good at accepting compliments. Thus, before I forget, thank you plok, thanks to the commenters who approved of my inclusion, and thanks to whatever silent majority/minority/plurality has similar feelings. If you like this stuff, who am I to argue?

* * *

In other news, I found Man Of Rock, Bill Schelly’s biography of Joe Kubert, to be a quick and entertaining read. There’s not much in the way of controversy. Kubert didn’t lead a “Behind The Music”-esque life of triumph, tragedy, and redemption; and neither, apparently, was his work exploited egregiously. For example, he was able to move his prehistoric hero Tor from one publisher to another without too many problems. Kubert’s disappointments, as MoR sees them, include such things as being replaced on Hawkman by Murphy Anderson, and failing to sustain newspaper strips for Tor and Tales of the Green Berets.

More numerous, naturally, are Kubert’s successes: Tor, Enemy Ace, Sgt. Rock, Tarzan, Fax From Sarajevo, and of course the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. Man Of Rock argues, fairly successfully, that Joe Kubert was indispensable to the growth and development of modern mainstream comics; perhaps even on a par with Will Eisner or Jack Kirby. I don’t mean this to be quite as obtuse as it sounds; but I approached MoR from the perspective of Kubert as the consummate craftsman, and came away with an even greater appreciation of the man’s place in comics history.

* * *

Then, of course, I read Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock Volume 2, written entirely by Bob Kanigher with only a few non-Kubert stories. (It reprints Our Army At War nos. 118-148, May 1962-November 1964.) Last year, discussing Volume 1, the stories were, by and large, about object lessons taught by Rock to the men under his command. While this book contains several of those as well, after a while Kanigher and Kubert start telling stories about Rock himself, as well as building up a regular supporting cast (the by-now-familiar Bulldozer, Ice Cream Soldier, Wild Man, Sunny, and Little Sure Shot). There’s even a story narrated by our heroes’ weapons, which for me recalled the Spirit story of Rat-Tat, The Little Machine Gun.

It’s not all fun and games, to be sure: death seemed to come more readily to Easy’s men, and even a regular is both blinded and deafened (temporarily) by an exploding shell. Men of Rock mentioned that Kanigher and Kubert had to be careful about what they showed, but the sight of a makeshift tombstone — fashioned from a rifle and an empty helmet — is unmistakable. With regard to Volume 1, I thought that the stories were meant for grade-school kids, but lead-out captions for many of the stories in Volume 2 talk about Easy’s exploits being “aimed at your heart.” Apparently, readers of Our Army At War wouldn’t have been blamed for shedding manly tears (or “actin’ like we had cinders in our eyes,” in Rock-speak) at the end of an issue. Indeed, with this volume, Kanigher and Kubert seem to be settling into a nice groove.

The book ends on a two-part story from OAAW #s 147-48, which involves a deskbound general whose lack of combat glory has disappointed his two sons. Naturally, Rock ends up impersonating the general, and you can guess the rest. Although the story is driven by their sentiments, the general’s sons come across as unsympathetic (one’s eager for reflected glory; the other is passive-aggressive). The plot also has to contort itself in order to avoid a court-martial for Rock. Nevertheless, “Generals Don’t Die” is effective on its own terms, thanks mostly to Kanigher and Kubert’s concise,direct storytelling. The whole book is like that; and like its predecessor it’s highly recommended.

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