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 Bob 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 Bob 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.
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.
- The Big Guy: Bulldozer.
- Braids, Beads and Buckskins: Little Sure Shot wears feathers on the back of his helmet, but they're commented on and justified in-universe in that, as a sniper, he needs to be identifiable from a long distance.note
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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 call in Rocks 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.
- Insert Grenade Here: A recurring tactic.
- Ironic Name: As is often noted, nothing's easy in/for Easy Company
- Kill 'Em All: Kanigher maintained that Easy Company "died, to a man" in the war, as did Madamoiselle Marie. Later writers would ignore this aspect, and "officially", of the major characters in Easy, only Frank Rock died in combat, while the others got to go back to their lives in the end.
- 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.
- One Steve Limit: Averted. In the first dozen Sgt. Rock stories, there are at least four different members of Easy named "Nick".
- Print Long-Runners: The long runner of American war comics, with 30 years of continuous publication from 1958 through 1988.
- 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.
- 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!