The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 8 | “Sgt. Rock: Between Hell and A Hard Place” GN review

Leaving Proof 8 | “Sgt. Rock: Between Hell and A Hard Place” GN review
Published on Thursday, October 21, 2010 by

[Author’s note: The text in this article originally appeared on on 12 August 2010 and may have had its content changed or edited since its initial online publication]

Sgt. Rock: Between Hell & A Hard Place

  • (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2003; 144 pages)
  • Writer: Brian Azzarello
  • Pencils, Inks, Colours, Lettering: Joe Kubert
  • Cover Price: $17.95 US/$27.95 CAN

While I’ve been a near-exclusive TPB comics reader the past five years or so, I find that the format still has its issues. Chief among them is the often-stilted pacing, the result of more and more writers consciously trying to serve two formats (the monthly “floppy” and the inevitable trade paperback collection) with the same material. Sometimes it works, other times the TPB reader gets a lot of redundant exposition (as a related side-effect, “floppies” are also affected by the TPB trend, with single issues laboriously stretched out to meet the TPB page count requirements). Sgt. Rock: Between Hell & A Hard Place doesn’t suffer from any of those problems because it was never released in “floppy” form. Envisioned from the ground up by writer Brian Azzarello as a single volume 140+ page graphic novel, the narrative is a lot tighter, the exposition more economical than what many TPB readers might be accustomed (resigned?) to.

sgt rock 2The story takes place in late 1944, during the Allies’ attempt to break through the Siegfried Line, specifically in the period immediately before, during, and immediately after the Battle of Hürtgen Forest (a battle that saw the numerically superior American infantry struggle mightily against a combination of deathly efficient German artillery, inhospitable weather, and unfamiliar terrain). Set against the background of the longest ground battle of World War II is a homicide mystery, the type of thing Azzarello is best known for: a number of German prisoners under Sgt. Rock’s custody have been shot in cold blood, execution-style. Is a member of Easy Company murdering German prisoners? How does Sgt. Rock handle the internal investigation into the murders without alienating his own men?

sgt rock 3For many potential readers though, the draw here is the legendary Joe Kubert’s return to illustrating the character. Kubert, along with the late Robert Kanigher, created Sgt. Rock in 1959. Like many of the “old school” artists from the Silver Age, Kubert handles all graphics duties on the book, everything from the pencils, to the inks, the colours, and even the lettering. The graphic novel finds the maestro in fine form.

I can’t recommend this book enough, not just to military fiction and war comics buffs, but also to comics hobbyists looking for a break from the usual tights-and-capes stuff. Also worth at least a trip to the library for aspiring artists looking for examples of Kubert’s masterful use of the brush in inking and embellishing, a practice that’s slowly fading from the medium with the growing popularity of “digital inking” methods.

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