Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion - Billy Tucci

My fondness for the comics character Sgt. Rock has been discussed here before. I recently picked up a trade paperback reprinting a mini-series called SGT. ROCK: THE LOST BATTALION. If you know your World War II history, you already know how the 141st Infantry – the T-Patchers, a unit assembled and trained at Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas – was surrounded and trapped by the German army in the Vosges Mountains in the fall of 1944. Vastly outnumbered, low on supplies and ammunition, the members of the 141st, who dubbed themselves the Alamo Boys because of their Texas background, held out for a week against overwhelming odds until the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (made up of Japanese-American soldiers, the Nisei) broke through the German lines and rescued them.


That’s the bare bones of the history. In SGT. ROCK: THE LOST BATTALION, writer/artist Billy Tucci comes up with a feasible way for Rock and the other men of Easy Company to be trapped on that wooded hill with the 141st. With great historical accuracy, well-documented in the extra material in this reprint, Tucci follows the events of the next week, switching back and forth between the trapped soldiers and the Japanese-American GIs trying to rescue them.


The result is a well-written graphic novel that achieves a considerable amount of suspense despite the historical outcome being known ahead of time. Tucci’s portrayals of Rock, Ice Cream Soldier, Wildman, Bulldozer, and Little Sure Shot are consistent with the characters established by Robert Kanigher in decades worth of stories. I also enjoyed the cameos by other DC war comics characters such as The Unknown Soldier, Lt. Jeb Stuart and the crew of the Haunted Tank, and Johnny Cloud. For a long-time fan like me, this is great stuff.


I like Tucci’s art as well, with a few quibbles. Everybody in Easy Company looks right except Rock. I had trouble picking him out from all the other GIs. In fact, too many of the characters looked too much alike, so that I had trouble following the story at times. I’d think that a particular character had been killed, but then a few pages later he’d still be alive, so I had to go back and try to figure out what happened earlier and who really got killed. The fact that much of the story takes place in rain and fog probably doesn’t help this problem, but that’s historically accurate so I can’t blame Tucci for that. And a lot of the individual panels are outstanding. I guess being the old codger that I am, any artist would have a hard time living up to the standards set by Joe Kubert.


So if you’re a fan of war comics or a student of World War II, SGT. ROCK: THE LOST BATTALION gets a high recommendation from me. Billy Tucci’s done a good job on an iconic character, and I’ll certainly read anything else he wants to do featuring Sgt. Rock and the combat-happy joes of Easy Company.

6 comments:

Evan Lewis said...

Cool! Too bad it wasn't Sgt Fury, but Rock will do.

Richard R. said...

I don't think you should be so quick to forgive the artist's inability to draw characters that are easily distinguishable from one another, especially the main one. A lot of current comic and graphic artists have come to rely to heavily on the costume and coloration to identify the character, rather than doing the work required to draw distinct faces. Then with one like this, with the uniform and helmet, they can't quite do the job.

Charles Gramlich said...

I always liked SGT Rock too. I'll hae to pick this up.

Troy D. Smith said...

I'll have to check this one out. Although like Evan, I'm more of a Howler...

James Reasoner said...

As much as I like Rock and Easy Company, if I had to choose I'd go with Nick and the Howlers, too. Those early issues by Lee and Kirby are classics, and the rest of the run is consistently top-notch.

Duane Spurlock said...

Thanks for the info on this, James. I wasn't aware it was at large in the world. I love Sgt. Rock.