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Rock's Prize Battle Tales
Written by: Robert Kanigher
Art by: Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, Russ Heath, Joe Kubert, and Irv Novick
Review by David R. Black
This is an 80 page giant that reprints the 1964 title of the same name. The issue features seven stories of varying lengths and varying degrees of quality. In addition to being a somewhat inexpensive (compared to the cost of some of the Silver Age stuff, anyway) look at works by some of comicdom's most legendary artists and one of DC's most prolific writers, the book also features two new pieces of Joe Kubert artwork. The front inside cover is a black and white drawing of all the creators and Sgt. Rock, and the back inside cover features a b & w pinup of sixteen of Easy Company's finest Combat Happy Joes. In the center of the book, there's also a two page spread of DC's most memorable war characters, such as Jeb Stuart, Johnny Cloud, and Gunner & Sarge.
In reviewing each of the stories individually, I found it hard to rate them. All of the stories are a byproduct of the simpler, less sophisticated era in which they were produced. By "less sophisticated," I don't mean bad or anything negative, but I think it's totally unfair to compare stories written in the Silver Age to the more complex tales of today. I gave it a shot, as you'll see at the article's end, but be warned; If you're looking for an involved story along the lines of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, you won't find it here. Here we go .
"The D.I. and the Sand Fleas"
This is an average quality story, about par for the course for this compilation. The Sand Fleas are a bunch of new recruits that are turned into soldiers by the nameless drill instructor. The Sand Fleas moan that "the D.I. made us do everything in double time," but lo and behold, once the sand Fleas face their first combat situation, they're sure glad the D.I. taught them all the things he did. It's somewhat of a cornball story, but there's some nice Joe Kubert artwork.
One of the best stories of the bunch. A Navy frogman (that's scuba diver for those of you who don't know) must square off against an enemy gun battery, and later, an enemy submarine. While the frogman is doing all this, he must keep a watchful eye on the shark that's been trailing him the entire time he's been in the water. Every type of conflict is woven into this story brilliantly by Robert Kanigher. Man vs. beast, man vs. man, and man vs. his own fears. Russ Heath draws one vicious looking shark, which adds a great degree of power and credibility to the story.
"Out in Front"
This three page quickie will either leave you scratching your head in confusion or thinking Kanigher is a genius. Basically, the plot features one soldier alone in the woods who must come to terms with his own nervousness while doing reconnaissance for Easy Company. I had to read this a couple of times before I finally realized what was going on.
"Island of the Armored Giants"
All right! It's Dinosaur Island time boys and girls, as we head off into the "War that Time Forgot!" Here's the deal; a six man patrol is sent to investigate a mysterious island that two prior patrols have yet to return from. Well, why haven't they reported in yet? The dinosaurs got 'em! This is the best story of the bunch, and as the six man patrol keeps losing members to various types of dinos, you begin to wonder if anyone from this third patrol will survive either. Ross Andru and Mike Esposito draw some OK dinosaurs, but the red colored T-Rex looks funny.
"What's the Price of a B-17?"
A brand new B-17 with a brand new crew is sent on a bombing mission to destroy the Rhinesfurt oil refinery. As the plane loses various parts, pieces, and crewmen to the attacks of German war planes, Kanigher keeps drilling into the reader's head that the new B-17 is becoming second hand rather quickly. As various crewmen die, you get the feeling that the answer to the title's question is going to be an old cliche like "the lives of brave and valiant men." However, Kanigher refrains from preaching and just lets artist Joe Kubert show the wreckage and damage left behind in the B-17's wake. What's the price of a B-17? Draw your own conclusions, dear reader.
Every 80 page giant has a clunker, and this is it. An airman, a submarine captain, and an infantryman take their turns convincing the reader that they're all "just gun jockeys." Frankly, there's probably a deeper meaning to this story (i.e. Do guns kill people, or do people kill people?), but it's obscured by the bad dialogue. The phrase gun jockey is said in just about every panel! Ouch! Skip this one.
"Calling Easy Co.!"
Hey, Sgt. Rock finally makes an appearance in the title bearing his own name! Well, not really. This last tale is about the bravery of three combat happy Joes in the face of an insurmountable obstacle. These three soldiers must hold off an entire German platoon, complete with tank, long enough for Easy to take control of "No Return Hill." The story is passable, but my major complaint about it (and the rest of the book, I suppose) is the non-use of Sgt. Rock. Rock is used as the story's narrator, and readers never get to see him in action or as the character that became DC's most famous soldier.
I know this was a reprint of a previous compilation, but I feel that we should've seen more of DC's more popular war characters. Where was Johnny Cloud? The Losers? Mlle. Marie? The Haunted Tank? We did get a story from the excellent "War That Time Forgot" series, but everything else was just generic material with generic characters. Sure, "Silent Fish" had a no-name in the lead role and was still an excellent story, but I still feel DC should have gone with its more popular characters. Even the Sgt. Rock story didn't have much to do with Rock himself. Oh well.
Bottom Line: Two excellent stories in "Silent Fish" and "Island of the Armored Giants" can't make up for the rest of the mediocre group. And at $5.95? Ehhh .
My ranking: 5 out of 10
David R. Black is Fanzing.com's magazine editor and chief archivist. A big fan of "The Warlord," he has a cat named Shakira and is looking for a girlfriend named Tara....
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