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The Rock of Easy

by John Wells

Franklin John Rock was no stranger to death even before he joined the army. His father, Sgt. John Michael Rock, had been killed by a sniper's bullet in France during World War One while his stepfather, John Anderson, perished during a mine cave-in. Even a surrogate father that Frank had come to admire while working at a Pittsburgh steel mill had met an untimely death.

Sgt. Rock's complex family tree comes by way of creator Robert Kanigher, who added new (and often conflicting) branches throughout the character's original 29 year run (1959's OUR ARMY AT WAR # 81 to 1988's SGT. ROCK # 422). Rock's father was variously described as having died in a mine cave-in (OAAW # 231), in World War I (# 275 and 419) or in a Pittsburgh steel mill (# 347). Robin Snyder (in a letter mistakenly attributed in # 353 to Mike Tiefenbacher) suggested that one of the deaths occurred to Rock's stepfather and his existence was confirmed in # 400. As things currently stand, it was father John Rock who died in combat and stepfather John Anderson who perished in a cave-in. The third death, as theorized above, probably occurred to a father figure that Frank Rock worked with at the steel mill.

Of Rock's other siblings, Ann was confined to a mental institution (# 400), Eddie died in a motorcycle accident (# 231), Josh was killed in a plunge off the Golden Gate Bridge while training to be a paratrooper (# 158), Larry was left a vegetable after his WWII injuries and was cared for by his sister Amy (# 421). Bill was in the Marines (# 141) and hopefully escaped the family curse. ("Saving Sgt. Rock", anyone ?) Issue # 347 had Rock mistakenly recall Josh's death as having occurred to Bill. (Rock's WHO'S WHO entry mentioned a fifth brother, Mickey (also deceased), and failed to note Amy, Ann, Bill and Josh.)

Further flashbacks would establish Rock as a graduate of Pennsylvania's Hillside High School, where he was a far better athlete than scholar. After John Anderson's death, Frank tried to support the family as a prizefighter but soon took a more secure position at a Pittsburgh steel mill.

Rock's days at the steel mill had been established in the introductory OAAW # 81 but his origin wasn't detailed in depth until 1963's SHOWCASE # 45. This account had him gaining his Sergeant's stripes after the 1944 D-Day invasion. The back story would later be revised to establish that Frank had enlisted on December 8, 1941. Frank left behind a girlfriend named Mary Walsh, who sent him a "Dear John" letter in OAAW # 175. Rock's only serious love interest during the war was French Resistance fighter Mademoiselle Marie, who crossed paths with Frank in (among others) OAAW # 115, 140, 294, BRAVE & BOLD # 52, DC SUPER-STARS # 15, SGT. ROCK ANNUAL # 2 and SGT. ROCK # 412 and 421.

Rock routinely turned down offers to be promoted further, gaining the nickname of "the General of Sergeants" in OAAW # 256. That issue, incidentally, launched a serial in which Frank saw action in the Pacific apart from Easy Company and ended up lost at sea and stranded on a desolate island (# 257-260). Upon his return to the European Theater and the death of his replacement, Sgt. Decker, Rock took his proper place in Easy Company once more (# 262).

In 1965, a member of the Rock family briefly staked out a claim on the Japanese end of World War Two, with Frank's brother Lieutenant Larry Rock fighting on Bataan with the Marines. Kanigher and Irv Novick's "Fighting Devil Dog" survived a mere four issues in OUR FIGHTING FORCES (# 95-98) before being bumped for the contemporary adventures of Captain Phil Hunter in Vietnam. After follow-up appearances in 1966's CAPT. STORM # 13 and 1977's UNKNOWN SOLDIER # 205-207 (a solo trilogy written by Steve Skeates), Larry was killed in 1982's SGT. ROCK ANNUAL # 2. Kanigher later changed his mind and had Frank's sibling return as an invalid in SGT. ROCK # 421, the penultimate issue.

Although readers often joked that Sgt. Rock and Easy seemed to possess a super-human capacity for survival, Kanigher's only overt concession to the booming popularity of super-heroes was a Nazi officer with an iron hand. The Iron Major (Franz von ?) debuted in OAAW # 158 (1965), returning in # 165, 251-253, BRAVE & BOLD # 162, SGT. ROCK # 342, 345, 359 and SGT. ROCK ANNUAL # 2 & 4. After a final bow two issues before the end of the series (SR # 420), the Iron Major returned as a ghost in the present-day WAR OF THE GODS # 4 and HAWK AND DOVE ANNUAL # 1.

Kanigher had established Frank's post-war survival in OAAW # 168, wherein he had Rock visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and Bob Haney picked up on that fact in THE BRAVE & THE BOLD. In issue # 84, he'd had Rock and Easy cross paths with Bruce (Batman) Wayne during the war (in an episode obviously set on Earth-Two) and followed up with a present-day sequel in B&B # 96. In that one, Bruce arrived at the United States Embassy in South America and was introduced to "our Military Attache and Chief of Embassy Security ... Sergeant Rock, U.S. Army." Two subsequent present-day episodes found Rock tracking a Satanic figure that he believed was Adolf Hitler (B&B # 108) and an Easy Company "ghost" that he'd been ordered to execute at the Battle of the Bulge (B&B # 117). In the bizarre B&B # 124, Bob Haney and Jim Aparo actually guest-starred as Rock and Batman trailed a terrorist organization called the 1000.

In World War Two flashbacks, Rock crossed paths with Earth-Two's Batman once more (B&B # 162) as well as Wonder Woman (WORLD'S FINEST # 248-249) and a time-displaced Superman (DC COMICS PRESENTS # 10). BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS # 2 and WORLD'S FINEST # 300 placed Easy Company in the European nation of Markovia, also seen in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS # 3-5. Rock was also tossed into cross-time affairs such as 1978's SHOWCASE # 100 and 1992's ARMAGEDDON: INFERNO # 2 and 4.

All of the super-hero crossovers were more than Kanigher could take. In the letter columns of 1978's SGT. ROCK # 316 and 323 and 1980's SR # 347 and 348, he announced that his hero had not lived past 1945, blunting most of Haney's BRAVE & BOLD episodes if nothing else. "It is inevitable and wholly in character that neither Rock nor Easy survived the closing days of the war," he proclaimed.

Apprised of the fact that Bob Haney had written the first two Sgt. Rock stories in OAAW # 81 and 82 (with art by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito and Mort Drucker, respectively), Kanigher retroactively declared the first episode that he'd written (OAAW # 83's Joe Kubert-illustrated "The Rock and The Wall") as Rock's true debut. A number of fans have argued passionately on Kanigher's behalf, accurately citing numerous Rock prototypes that appeared in the four years leading up to issue # 83 and noting that the character in # 81 is called "Sgt. Rocky." In the end, though, popular opinion seems to have fallen in favor of the Kanigher-edited "Rock of Easy" as being the inaugural episode and it was OAAW # 81 that was recently selected by DC as a Millennium Edition.

SGT. ROCK ended in mid-1988 with issue # 422 (the ironically-titled "Rehearsal For Death" with Joe, Andy and Adam Kubert collaborating on the art and color) but was revived almost immediately as a reprint series for a 21-issue issue run from 1988-1991. A pair of brand-new SGT. ROCK SPECIALs were published in 1992 and 1994. Chuck Dixon followed up the latter's "Battle of the Bulge" theme with a second Rock story set in that period as part of Christmas 1997's DCU HOLIDAY BASH II. Six months after SGT. ROCK # 422, Rick Veitch had penned an unusual Sgt. Rock episode for SWAMP THING # 82, set on May 1, 1945. It seemed that Frank had survived the war in Europe though whether he and Easy were shipped to the Pacific remains undocumented.

The modern successors to Easy Company had first appeared in BRAVE & BOLD # 108 and 117 (the latter also checking in on some of the surviving WW2 vets) and returned during DC's 1988 "Invasion!" sequence with a role in FIRESTORM # 80 and STARMAN (first series) # 5. The legendary sergeant's fate would not even be hinted at in the modern DC Universe -- until General Rock reappeared in 2001's SUPERMAN # 166.

The closest that Kanigher ever came to a last Easy story was in 1987's "Sons of Easy," an Andy Kubert-illustrated two-parter in SGT. ROCK # 417-418. In a prophetic dream, Frank found himself and Easy surviving both World War Two and the Korean War only to have their offspring perish in a veritable bloodbath in 1968-era Vietnam. Profoundly shaken, Frank confessed to Horace "Bulldozer" Canfield that the nightmare was "so bad -- I can still taste it."

"What could be worse than this war ?"

"Maybe it's not learnin' a lesson from this killin', Bulldozer, I don't know. I don't remember. Maybe it's just as well. Maybe there are some dreams we're lucky not to remember. This is our war. The one we're stuck with. The one we've gotta fight to a finish. Let's go -- Easy!"

John "Mikishawm" Wells, the pride of Batavia, Iowa, is a lifelong comics fan, working his way forward from Disneys in 1969 to newspaper strips in 1973 to SHAZAM! and the rest of the DC Universe in 1974. During the 1980s, he began compiling a lists of DC character appearances, a massive database that he's tapped into when writing articles for publications such as the DC Index series, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer’s Guide, Comic Effect, Comic Book Marketplace, It’s A Fanzine, The O‘Neil Observer and, of course, Fanzing. He is Kurt Busiek's unofficial reference guide, as the keen-eyed may have noticed in Power Company #2.

 
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