War comics had all but died out by the time I started reading DC and Marvel in the mid-1970s.
I was familiar with Sgt. Rock and Easy Company only through a time travel team-up with Batman in the original The Brave & The Bold comic, though DC did keep publishing Sgt. Rock’s adventures until 1988. But I kept hearing stories about most of the DC World War II characters, including Mademoiselle Marie, a French resistance fighter, the Haunted Tank, where the ghost of Jeb Stuart helps his World War II namesake the Unknown Soldier, an undercover operative, and the Losers, who memorably appeared in DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke. (The Losers have also been updated to the modern day, leading to the recent major motion picture.)
I purchased DC’s new trade paperback, Our Army At War, both for the Sgt. Rock story and the promise of an original story by Cooke. For the most part, the stories achieve the perfect balance needed to make a war tale successful. They acknowledge the horror of war but also the courage in the face of an impossible situation.
The collection is divided into an opening tale, “Time Stands Still for No Man,” three Weird War Tales that include supernatural elements, and feature stories starring The Losers, Mademoiselle Marie and the Haunted Tank. The section titles are a tribute to DC’s war titles: Our Army at War, Weird War Tales, Our Fighting Forces, G.I. Combat, and Star-Spangled War stories. They are written by modern writers and most were published in single issues last year.
Of all the stories, “Time Stands Still for No Man,” was the one that resonated the most and brought a tear to my eye. It blends the tale of two very different soldiers in two different wars, World War II and the present-day Iraq/Afghanistan War, and it’s a very personal story of what is lost during a war and why people fight at all. “Armistice Night” by Darwyn Cooke is one of his odder creations, populated by skeletons of lost warriors but well worth it for the art and the twisted sense of humor. “Winning Isn’t Everything,” featuring the World War II Losers is a great introduction to the characters and shows how easily lives can be thrown away in a war. Of all the stories, “Vivre Libre ou Mourir,” starring Mademoiselle Marie was the most straight-forward action adventure.
In all, a collection well worth having.
What Kids Will Like About It:
I would rate this as age ten and above, not because the artwork is gory–it’s not–but because this is serious subject matter and it’s handled in a serious fashion. People die, and it’s sad, and there are questions about why things happen. It would be a good book to read together with your children. Would they like it? I think so, the soldiers and fighters in the stories are compelling. My eldest is a morbid teenager–he liked Cooke’s skeleton tale the best. It’s certainly the most whimsical in the book.
What Parents Will Look About It:
Sequential art is a wonderful medium for war stories as visuals are so often needed to drive home the impact of the cost of war. Some of the stories in the collection are as good as some of the short prose stories that I’ve read. The artwork is consistently wonderful and underplayed. It’s not the kind of comic where there’s spurting blood. It’s the kind with quiet courage in the face of very bad situations.
To choose is difficult but it has to be the quarter panel in “Time Stands Still For No Man,” that ultimately connects the tale of the two soldiers together.
About the Creators:
I’ve mentioned Cooke already but there are many talented creators that contributed to this collection. DC Editor Mike Marts wrote “Time Stands Still for No Man,” with Victor Ibanez on art. Other writers include B. Clay Moore, Ivan Brandon, Jan Strnad, Matthew Sturges, and Billy Tucci, The artists include Nic Klein, Gabriel Hardman, Chad Hardin, Phil Winslade, Justiniano and Tom Derenick.