Sgt. Rock is a long-running DC Comics war feature, set in World War II. The titular character first appeared in "Our Army at War" #81 (April, 1959), created by writer Robert Kanigher and artist Joe Kubert. Rock became DC's most prominent recurring war character, in a genre where one-shot stories with non-recurring characters were the norm.
The character of Frank Rock himself developed in fits and starts, with his first appearances essentially being prototypes for the character who would ultimately be developed. The character continued being featured in the Our Army At War series. By the late 1960s, Rock's logo on the cover had become much larger than that of the comic book itself, which was finally renamed to simply Sgt. Rock in 1977. That series continued until 1988, but DC continues to publish occasional graphic novels, miniseries, and one-shots featuring Rock.
The series wasn't just about Rock, but Sgt. Rock and the "Combat-Happy Joes of Easy Company," and their adventures in the European Theater of Operations. A lot of guys went in and out of Easy Company, but a few prominent repeating characters include:
- Bulldozer: A corporal, and Rock's second-in-command. Usually the company machine-gunner.
- Wildman: Notable for his bright red hair and full beard, and for living up to his nickname in combat.
- Jackie Johnson: An African-American soldier and ex-heavyweight boxing champion.
- Little Sure Shot: An Apache sniper who wears a feather in his helmet.
- Ice Cream Soldier: A diminutive soldier who prefers cold weather and is known for "coolness under fire."
- Four-Eyes: Known for his spectacles, and ironically one of the company's best sharpshooters.
During the Silver Age, Sgt. Rock often had Crossover stories with DC's other recurring war features, including The Haunted Tank, Johnny Cloud, and Mademoiselle Marie. Inevitably, Rock eventually met Batman, Superman, and other DC superhero characters - sometimes in stories involving time travel, but sometimes with a "present-day" Rock. He even appeared in DC's trope-codifying Crisis Crossover, Crisis on Infinite Earths.
According to co-creator Robert Kanigher, Rock died "from the last bullet fired in the last battle on the last day" of fighting in the European Theater of Operations. This "Last Sgt. Rock Story" has never actually been told (Kanigher, alas, died in 2002), but a 2010 story in DC Universe: Legacies established it as Canon for the first time.
Prior to that, some continuities showed Rock surviving the war, going on to do things such as becoming a general and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, teaming up with Batman to fight Satan, and even teaming up with his own writer and artist (and Batman, again) to fight terrorists.
Sgt. Rock appeared in animated form in the Justice League episode "The Savage Time". While a live-action film version has often been discussed (both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis were attached at various times), no project ever made it out of Development Hell. However, Rock did appear in his own DC Showcase short in 2019 in which his Easy Company was lost in battle and he is assigned to lead the Creature Commandos instead.
Sgt. Rock provides examples of:
- Arc Words: For the series as whole, "Nothin's ever easy in Easy." There are also often arc words within one story, repeated like the chorus of a hymn.
- Arch-Enemy: The Iron Major.
- Armchair Military: One issue of Sgt Rock had him attached with The Captain who espoused the values of logistics and advanced weaponry until he was shown the violent nature of war.
- Artificial Limbs: The Iron Major's iron hand.
- Badass Bandolier: Rock is frequently depicted carrying a belt of .50-caliber machine gun ammunition over his shoulders...despite the fact that Easy Company seldom actually carried heavy machine guns. Kanigher eventually established that he considered them his "lucky charms".
- Badass Teacher: Wildman is the most fearless and ferocious combatant in Easy Company. Back in civilian life, he was a quiet and mild-mannered high school history teacher.
- Battle Couple: Rock and Mademoiselle Marie. One recent story even hints that Rock was the father of her son.
- Beard of Barbarism: Wildman’s thick, flaming red beard fits his reputation for fighting like an animal.
- The Big Guy: Bulldozer.
- Braids, Beads and Buckskins: Little Sure Shot wears feathers on the back of his helmet, in case you couldn't tell he was Native American. Hey, he earned 'em, he's gonna wear 'em.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: This occurred routinely in Our Army at War, where Sgt. Rock (and sometimes the secondary characters as well) would narrate the story for the reader's benefit.
- Breakout Villain: The Iron Major died at the end of his first story, but was popular enough to bring back several times.
- Canon Discontinuity: Now, any story that does not have Rock dying "from the last bullet fired in the last battle on the last day" of fighting in the ETO, including the Haney The Brave and the Bold issues (though many people will say they only take place in Bob Haney's wonderfully wacky sub-verse) and "General" Rock acting as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Luthor Administration. (Of course, General Rock wasn't Rock in that series either. It was ultimately hinted to be the still-alive Unknown Soldier).
- Cold Sniper: Little Sure Shot.
- Continuity Snarl: Don't think too hard about "Zany" Bob Haney's The Brave & The Bold issues where Rock (apparently the same age) meets Batman in the present day, and how they fit into Rock's broader continuity.
- Crisis Crossover: Easy Company was involved in Crisis on Infinite Earths. The scene of the Joes attempting to size up Swamp Thing on the Monitor's satellite was priceless.
- Dead Person Impersonation: In Our Army at War #146-147, Sgt. Rock impersonated the mortally wounded Brigadier General Bentley, and rallied a company in order to fend off a German attack. Fortunately for him, he succeeded without getting caught, and gave the now-deceased Gen. Bentley all the credit.
- Desk Jockey: Gen. Bentley. Throughout his career, he longed for a combat assignment, but was always relegated to Supply. Probably for the best, because the one time he saw combat, he messed up and Sgt. Rock had to save the day.
- Don't Call Me "Sir": Sgt. Rock is very proud of his enlisted status, and strongly resists any effort to promote him to officer. The one time he was (briefly) promoted to Lieutenant, he managed to get himself demoted to Sergeant pretty quickly.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: There are a handful of pre-Sgt. Rock stories featuring soldiers called "Rock" or companies called "Easy" which are not distinctly Sgt. Rock stories. They were also once referred to as the "Battle-Happy Buzzards" before their better-known sobriquet of the "Combat-Happy Joes".
- Elites Are More Glamorous: Averted. While Easy Company sometimes performs commando-type tasks, they're still just the "poor bloody infantry," and not a specifically designated elite unit.
- Expy: Jackie Johnson is more or less an amalgam of Joe Louis and Jesse Owens.
- Farm Boy: Farmer Boy, sometimes known as Flower. There's so much sacrifice in war, and he's more interested in making something grow.
- Field Promotion: How Frank Rock became a Sergeant.
- Fiery Redhead: Wildman.
- Guest-Star Party Member: Thanks to time travel and amnesia, Superman was briefly a member of Easy!
- Headgear Headstone: the graves of fallen members of Easy Company were usually marked with their rifle and helmet. This was featured the cover of the Between Hell and a Hard Place GN, and in the story itself Wildman instructs some new privates to do this for a fallen comrade.
- He Had a Name / That Man Is Dead: In Sgt. Rock: Between Hell and a Hard Place, after a soldier lost a comrade in battle, he is upset when Sgt. Rock gives everyone nicknames. He invokes this trope to all in Rock’s apparent callousness. ("He had a name, and worked in a steel mill!"). Rock then defies this trope it explaining that they are at war, and that war needs them to be other men than they were:Sergeant Rock: Look... who you were, you left stateside. You're lucky, you'll get to be that person again. In Easy, who we are now is all that matters. This war, you're gonna do some things the person you were might find damn hard to live with. So I'm doing him a favor, and leavin' 'im home.
- Hypocritical Humor: In Between Hell and a Hard Place, Wildman admonishes some of the New Meat for very mild swearing, then curses up a storm when startled by Little Sure Shot.
- Insert Grenade Here: A recurring tactic.
- Ironic Name: As is often noted, nothing's easy in/for Easy Company
- Made of Iron: Rock and the Iron Major.
- The Multiverse: During the Bronze Age, fans occasionally debated whether Rock's adventures took place on Earth-1, Earth-2, both, or neither.
- New Meat: A very common story hook, used in just about every possible variation.
- The Nicknamer: Sgt. Rock himself is the source of the nicknames born by nearly everyone in Easy Co. As noted above, the nicknames are used to distance the soldier's civilian identity from their duties in the war — and to soften the blow on Rock's own conscience in the event that they die in action.
- Obfuscating Disability: In Our Army at War #122, Sgt. Rock was temporarily laid up in a field hospital when a German offensive hit the nearby crossroads. Rock quickly rallied the walking wounded to counterattack the Germans, ignoring the nurse's orders to get back in bed.Sergeant Rock: Can't hear you, nurse—concussion from that blast!
Sergeant Rock: Start movin' in the other direction, nurse! That's an order!Nurse: Can't hear you, Sergeant! Concussion, you know! In case you haven't heard, a nurse's place is with her patients—even if they have flipped their lids!
- Ironic Echo: The nurse follows her patients out onto the battlefield, and even gives Rock a snappy comeback.
- One-Steve Limit: Averted. In the first dozen Sgt. Rock stories, there are at least four different members of Easy named "Nick".
- Out-of-Genre Experience: Between Hell and a Hard Place is a Noir Episode with the push toward Berlin as a backdrop, centered around the mystery of who shot three captured SS officers point blank, with Sgt. Rock playing detective and looking for the sole survivor. The dialogue is snappy and the morals are gray, and the killer even has a Motive Rant about his Dark Secret when faced with Rock.
- Pin-Pulling Teeth: Seen occasionally, as fits the setting.
- Print Long-Runners: The long runner of American war comics, with 30 years of continuous publication from 1958 through 1988.
- The Remnant: In Our Army at War #170, Easy Company is held hostage by a 2nd Lieutenant from WWI who lost all his men trying to take a hill and snapped from the grief. He’s been hiding out in a farm on the French countryside this whole time waiting for “reinforcements” to try to take the hill again. He’s mortally wounded in the firefight and buried on the hill.
- Stealth Hi/Bye: Li'l Sure Shot keeps sneaking up on the rest of Easy in Between Hell and a Hard Place to report on his scouting observations.
- Stupid Jetpack Hitler: Mostly averted. Sgt. Rock stories tend to be (relatively) "realistic" depictions of WWII combat.
- Trading Bars for Stripes: The Azzarello/Kubert graphic novel Between Hell and a Hard Place revealed this was the case for the Ice Cream Soldier, who killed a man in a bar fight and joined up rather than serve prison time.
- True Companions: Easy Company.
- Veteran Instructor: Rock has pulled this duty stateside, and he's good at it. However, Rock's loyalty to his unit is so strong that he takes his furloughs in the field.
- War Is Hell: A sentiment Rock and the Easy Company handily agree with as they endure their duty.
- Weapon Tombstone: The graves of fallen members of Easy Company were usually marked with their rifle and helmet. This is even the cover of Between Hell and a Hard Place!
- Weight and Switch: Ice Cream Soldier wants to try this to save Rin Tin Tin from a landmine, but Tinny thinks it wouldn't be worth it and deliberately triggers the explosion as soon as Ice is clear of the blast radius.
- Worthy Adversary: German officers who have learned about Frank Rock consider him this. For instance, when Rock & Easy Company were imprisoned by one such officer, the Sergeant and the officer have a discussion which ends with Rock precisely deducing the officer's plans. To that, the German officer replies, "They should have made you a General."
Sgt. Rock: Now get back to your foxholes, you combat-happy Joes! Don't you know there's a war on?