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Sgt Rock: Between Hell & A Hard Place.

i generally don't go in for war comics. i generally don't go in for war novels, war films, or war recollections. it's just not my genre. that said, however, i think terrance malik's the thin red line is a fantastic, and i've a soft spot for oliver stone's platoon. for me, i guess, the trick is that i have to agree with the politics of in a particular piece of war fiction for me to enjoy it. for example, i don't think of the dirty dozen as a war film, not really, because it has no politics. i like the first, but i think of it as an action flick set in war. but, i absolutely loathe saving private ryan with it's right wing pro-war stance. so much depends on the politics of a piece, really, so i was a bit iffy about stg rock: between hell and a hard place, despite the fact that i've always admired joe kubert's work, especially fax from sarajevo, and brian azzarello's 100 bullets.

but then i found it for thirty bucks in kinokuniya (which for anyone in sydney, is easily one of the cheapest, if not the cheapest, place for graphic novels) and i was swayed by the creators and the cost.

i'm glad i was.

stg rock: between hell and a hard place is not a war comic. it's an action/mystery comic set in war. the politics, right and left, are virtually non existent, outside what sgt rock himself says at the end, but it's nicely tempered. for rock and the men of easy company, fighting in the war is a job, and yeah, maybe a patriotic one, but out there on the mess of a front line they have, that isn't a consideration. the morals concerning the front line are what worry the characters, and rock, and if it's left or right doesn't really matter.

with that said, the star of this graphic novel is joe kubert. at seventy seven, he has illustrated, lettered, and coloured the entire book, and it is a beautiful, fine thing indeed. he takes top billing (which in comics these days, is usually the place for the writer) but he does it rightfully so. kubert has such a majestic command over his art that the simple opening of a man walking through a ground of tagged bodies is a powerful, disturbing scene, done in a restrained, subtle way. his colours are washed out greens and greys for the most, and create the atmosphere of claustrophobia quite nicely. added to that, there are chilling scenes, such as the landmine, and the climax of the novel, conducted with music.

azzarello provides a simple story, but it's workable. i would have liked one that didn't hinge on the idea that out on the front line, the only men you can trust is your friends as it is a bit of a cliche. but, with kubert's pacing and art, there's not much time to stop and think about this fact until after you've finished reading. with 100 bullets azzarello has shown a fine grasp of dialogue, and it translates here, though the lack of swearing was something i did notice when the men were cursing. from what i've read, however, this was a request that joe kubert made, and really, it's not like i need to see the word fuck every couple of pages to make me feel warm and fuzzy. azzarello also does quite a good job with the characters, especially ice, who, in many ways, steals the show from rock himself.

but, in the end, it's kubert who is the star, kubert who makes the book rise above its problems, and who does it with the ease that someone of his skill and experience would be expected to bring.