Each weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: MEN OF WAR!
The Concept and Characters: Sgt. Rock, the tough-as-nails military man leading his Easy Company through World War II-era conflict, debuted in a 1959 issue of Our Army at War. It’s difficult to separate the character from his creators, Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert. They are so closely associated with Rock, the character is so closely bound to the events of the second World War, that it’s been impossible for DC to revive the character for a contemporary audience. They’ve tried, and the closest thing to a success story was 2003’s Sgt Rock: Between Hell and a Hard Place, a Vertigo graphic novel written by Brian Azzarello, and the advantage that comic had was the artistry of Joe Kubert, whose return to the character showed his typical inky flair. Like all “true” Sgt. Rock stories, it takes place during the war, and doesn’t try to do anything more than tell an emotionally vivid tale of tough decisions and characters in conflict.
There have been other attempts to bring Rock into the modern day, such as a poorly-received Suicide Squad revival from Keith Giffen and Paco Medina in which Rock assembled a new Squad to combat the terrors of today, but they have either been written out of continuity or explained away as imposters playing the role of Sgt. Rock. Even that Giffen/Medina series ended with the words “Frank Rock died in 1945.”
This new Men of War series was originally announced as “Sgt. Rock and the Men of War,” but even in the original announcement Frank Rock had no part in the series, at least not as a still-living character. No, this series stars the grandson of Frank Rock, carrying on the family tradition of military action.
Men of War tell about modern-day warfare, in which Joe Rock leads, according to the solicitations, “a team of crack ex-military men financed by a covert military contractor, as they brave the battle-scarred landscape carved by the DC Universe’s super-villains.” Based on what we know about the first two issues, it seems that the opening story arc will be a tale of the high-tech-military vs. the sorceress Circe, with the new Rock and the new Easy Company leading the way.
Writer Ivan Brandon has been tight-lipped about the contents of the series, but he has repeatedly expressed that he wants it to be the kind of series that pays tribute to the actual soldiers around the world, and a comic that would be accessible to anyone. It seems to be in the tradition of the new Blackhawks series, but with a stronger focus on the grunts, the men on the front lines of combat.
It’s also a kind of anthology series, in the spirit of the classic DC war comics. It looks like the main story in Men of War will always focus on the new Sgt. Rock and Easy Company, with a rotating team of writers and artists working on back-up stories set in the modern battlescape of the DC Universe.
The Creative Team: Ivan Brandon has had his fingers in the comic book industry for almost a decade, working as a writer and editor for diverse projects for every major company in the business (and plenty of minor ones as well). He’s probably best known for his creator-owned Viking series from Image, which features gorgeous Nic Klein artwork, but he’s also done a nice job salvaging the new Doc Savage series, crafting a two-part Nemesis mind-twister spinning out of Final Crisis, and pulling together an exciting group of writers and artists for the 24Seven anthology volumes.
If Brandon has a weakness as a writer it’s that his ambitious ideas overreach his allotted page count, but that’s not such a bad trait to have when he’s trying to update the classic DC war tropes for a supervillain-filled modern day world. He’s an exciting choice to helm this project.
Artist Tom Derenick joins Brandon on the new Sgt. Rock stories, and while so many of the artists involved in the DC relaunch seem to have honed a 1990s-influenced, post-Jim Lee style, Derenick’s work shows him to be a child of the 1980s. He looks to have learned at the foot of John Byrne, with all the Neal Adams-lite that he could wedge into his pages. He’s a clean, easy-to-read superhero artist, though he’s apparently going to be using an edgier style for this series. I’m curious to see what it looks like, but I haven’t been overly impressed by any of his work in the past, though his art always does the job in service of the story.
The back-up features are still somewhat of a mystery, but it looks like former Vertigo editor Jonathan Vankin and artist Phil Winslade will have the first stab, with a spotlight on a couple of Easy Company soldiers. They aren’t reason enough to pick up the series, but they have both produced vaguely interesting work in the past. It would be nice to see the back-up slot used for some really innovative approaches to modern-day war stories or a stage for young writers and artists to do something new, but that doesn’t seem to be the case this fall.
Recommendation: Wait for the collected edition on the Brandon/Derenick Sgt. Rock tales. I’m not sure how this series will be collected, but the single issues of Men of War will cost more than the average DC comic because of the extra pages for the back-up features, and if DC’s past behavior predicts its future collections, they will probably collect the Rock stuff separately from the back-up material. That way, you’ll be able to avoid the less-interesting stuff and stick to what’s potentially good about this series: Ivan Brandon putting a new spin on old archetypes, with some sinister supervillains sprinkled in for flavor.
Tim Callahan writes about comics for Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.