A Sgt. Rock comic without the artistic presence of Joe Kubert is likely doomed to failure — or at least doomed to constant comparisons — and Billy Tucci is smart enough to deal with the Kubert situation in the first panel of page one. He gives us a character drawing a picture of Kubert’s Rock, immediately signaling to the reader that Kubert’s version may be the “fictional” one, and Tucci’s is the “real” story of the World War II hero, complete with digital painting and plenty of photo-reference.
That Kubert-looking Sgt. Rock is the best thing in the comic, sadly.
Tucci, who apparently wrote and illustrated this series as a tribute to the real men and women who fought in World War II, gives us an achingly sincere story here, about the burden of leadership and the sacrifice of war, but his digitally-colored pencil drawings make the whole first issue appear far too light and ephemeral. While Kubert’s Rock may be the fictional version within the reality of “The Lost Battalion,” Tucci’s Rock is the one who seems insubstantial and ill-defined. He pales next to the stark humanity and vibrant brush-strokes of Kubert’s best work, and though part of the charm of this series is that we’re seeing a very different take on a classic character, it’s not an interesting take at all. Tucci’s Rock is a limp, Hollywood movie version of a tough military guy, spouting cliches and taking us on a tour of Omaha beach as if we were on a middle school field trip. Sure, there’s bloodshed and violence, but even that is sanitized and reminiscent of an earlier John Wayne era of wartime media representations.
Well, all except for the panel on page six that recalls the famous cover image of Oliver Stone’s “Platoon,” an iconic pose that was mocked repeatedly in this summer’s “Tropic Thunder.” Such connotations do little to help Tucci’s cause here, since all it does is call attention to his own penchant for photo-reference and reminds us that the whole comic is little more than a collection of retread war scenes. A bit of “Saving Private Ryan” here, a bit of “Band of Brothers” there.
And throughout the issue, Tucci insists on text-heavy narration from the point of view of correspondent Joseph Kilroy. Kilroy’s not much of a writer, with phrases like “the most holocaustic piece of earth that brought me face to face with death” and “the grizzled sergeant’s transmission was lost to me amid the deafening roar of battle.” His inability to write less-than-turgid prose doesn’t prevent him from writing a lot of it, and the comic suffers under the weight of the poor narration. Maybe Kilroy’s writing is supposed to be terrible, but if so, why include so damn much of it?
If there’s a bright spot here it’s that Tucci has set up this series to be as much about Sgt. Rock’s struggle with the systems of war — the commanding officers and their petty narrow-mindedness seem to be the primary antagonist, even in the aftermath of a German-led slaughter. That’s not an uncharacteristic approach for a war story, but it’s the only interesting thing going on here, and such conflict might allow Tucci to provide new shades to the Sgt. Rock character. But that’s pure speculation, as there’s little in issue #1 to indicate that the remaining issues will be worth your time.