Friday, September 7, 2018

Retro Review: DC Comics Presents #10 – Superman & Sgt. Rock (1979) Review and **SPOILERS**

Never Forget the Man Who Didn’t Remember

Writer: Cary Bates 
Penciller: Joe Staton 
Inker: Jack Abel 
Colorist: Adrienne Roy 
Letterer: Ben Oda 
Cover By: Ross Andru & Dick Giordano 
Editor: Joe Kubert 
Cover Price: 40 cents 
Cover Date: July, 1979 
Publisher: DC Comics


A lot of people know about the Batman team-up vehicle, the Brave and the Bold (from issue #59 on, that is; before that it was another Showcase-type title.) But you don’t hear a lot from people waxing nostalgic about DC Comics Presents. It was a Superman team-up vehicle that ran from the late 1970s and into the 80s, and it was great! Here, I’ll prove it and review issue #10 from 1979, right now!

Explain It!

Superman is in Paris receiving an award from the French for…being an extra-cool dude, I think. Once Superman grabs the solid gold award, however, he notices that the weight is off by a couple of grams, and it sounds like a coffee can full of beans when shaken. Spying a bomb inside by using his X-ray vision, Superman tries to throw it away—but it’s got some kind of super-sticky adhesive on it that won’t let him toss it! This must be some adhesive, folks, working only on Superman and not on the dozens of human beings that probably handled this award before today. 
"And they said I'd never learn anything trafficking cocaine."
Superman takes off, to the chagrin of the French, prepared to let the bomb blow his junk away. This is one of those comic book pages, I think, that really displays the capabilities of the medium, and how it’s different. You could write this scene in prose, you could certainly film it believably with today’s computer graphics special effects. But you wouldn’t get the same impact, the same timing. Only comics can do this, and I like seeing it. 
I'm still falling, over yooouuu
After the smoke has cleared and the French make some begrudging apologies to no one in particular, it turns out Superman has vanished! Where has he gone? We shift scenes to the French countryside, seventy-five miles northwest of Paris. Some Nazi soldiers, disguised as American soldiers, are rolling to a rendezvous point to meet other Nazis. Along the way, they’re discussing what happened previously: they were part of a bunch of Nazis faking it as U.S. soldiers, but then some real U.S. soldiers busted all of them and only these two guys got away. Once they make it to the woods, they take off their U.S. Army coveralls and continue on in their Nazi uniforms—this way, the folks they’re about to meet don’t shoot them on sight. 
"I am keeping der Hames™ undervear, though."
Nearby, Superman is lying on the forest floor, unconscious! He wakes up groggily with some real questions. One: where is he? Two: who is he? Three: did those French really accuse him of being curt when he was saving their city from a massive explosion? Ingrates! 
"I'm also finding my credit card debt a little fuzzy."
Superman start cottoning on to the fact that he’s traveled back in time, but curiously doesn’t remember that he’s Superman, despite wearing Superman’s costume. He thinks he’s just American white guy, without any special powers or abilities. He’s able to hear some soldiers creeping up in the distance and seems shocked by this inconsistently. This implies, to me, that Superman’s “default setting” is Clark Kent; that when his contextual memories are wiped away, he believes he’s an Average Joe from Earth. That sits with my understanding of the character just fine. 
Creeping in the distance, incidentally, is Sgt. Rock and his Easy Company. From his captioned narration, they’re the U.S. soldiers that outed all those Nazis in the last town, and Rock notes that two of their roster got away. This is why they are moving very carefully, figuring the two that escaped might set up and ambush or something. I said, they might set up an ambush or something. 
:everybody break dances:
Before long, they find Superman, who threw on the discarded U.S. Army uniform that one of the Nazis hopped out of seconds ago. Sgt. Rock asks him is name, rank and serial number, but Superman hasn’t a clue and is very up front about it. He doesn’t even have dog tags, which means that his child is going to be very disappointed when they enter junior high school. No sense taking any chances, figures Rock: better shoot this fella dead. But when he takes aim, the Sergeant notices some movement in the brush behind Superman! 
"We're more combat aficionados!"
It’s Nazis! They’d been tracking Sgt. Rock and his crew for a long time, waiting for the opportunity to strike. And strategically speaking, this probably isn’t the best time. But sometimes you gotta roll with the punches! 
You got the drop on the Americans, and you still got routed. Lames.
Every Nazi is shot dead, and there are no casualties on the Americans’ side. Even stranger, Superman hasn’t a scratch on him, despite standing directly in the crossfire. Rock explains it away by blaming a tree for soaking up all the bullets, but everyone agrees that maybe they’d just better bring this handsome fella along for the march to whatever is the next bullet-ridden hellhole town. 
"I've also forgotten all of the lyrics to 'America the Beautiful!'...wait, I never knew all of them anyway."
To test his loyalty, the fellows in Easy Company quiz Superman on various American things—really silly stuff, like who won the last World Series and what caliber gun is the best to wear to your cousin’s wedding. Figuring he’s American enough, Sgt. Rock eases a bit and reveals his first name is Frank. I’m not so sure that I knew that before this issue! 
"What is the best episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? How many cans of beer in a suitcase?"
Feeling comfortable with this Rock Hudson-looking dude, Sgt. Rock introduces the rest of the squad, using their ridiculous nicknames because fighting in World War II was just like playing skelly in the clubhouse as a kid. They give Superman a nickname, Tag-Along, I guess because he loves those Girl Scout Cookies. 
"Jackie wanted to call you 'Sexpot,' but we didn't think you'd go for it."
Now Superman and the Easy Company are thick as thieves, chumming along with a shared song in their hearts, when here come the Nazis with a Tiger tank! Luckily, they’ve got just the thing to take care of tanks: a bazooka. Unfortunately, it’s with the new kid, Tag-Along! 
Bulldozer is so shocked, his face shrunk!
Superman whips out the bazooka and, somehow, can load and aim it expertly. But he cannot pull the trigger! Because, as we all know…Superman…is…a NAZI! 
If only it was a Phantom Zone projector!
I mean, he’s a pacifist, who can’t take another life. In his frustration, he pounds the ground, opening a chasm that swallows the very slow-to-act tank. 
Luckily, Sgt. Rock has no compunction about taking lives. 
"I hope to make Sergeant First Class Schweinhund in the Fall!"
Having cracked open the surface of planet Earth, Superman takes off to collect himself. He knows that it isn’t something he shouldn’t be able to do, but it feels so good! Tag-Along thinks of the Nazi concept of the Übermensch, which translates to “Superman” in English, and then he remembers who he is and why he wears that ridiculous clown suit! 
"When I get back to 1979, I'm going to rethink this costume."
Superman zips into action just as a Nazi bomber bears down on Easy Company, releasing its payload! But Superman snatches it away. 
The ol' Statue of Liberty play.
Sgt. Rock and the fellas are pretty stunned by this development, which caused the Nazi plane to lose control and land. And now those selfish U.S. Army guys are looking for another miracle? The nerve of them. 
"Maybe the hand of God will come down and end this terrible war...NOW! How about...NOW! ...NOW!"
Well, they don’t get another miracle. Sort of. Superman freezes up the Nazi plane using his super-breath, which is sort of miraculous by itself. Then, he wonders how those soldiers were able to zero in on Easy Company, and figures maybe it has something to do with him!
"Mr. Liebowitz said I'm not supposed to be in this war!"
And it does! The canteen that came with those old U.S. Army rags is wired for GPS or whatever. Superman destroys it with his X-ray vision, which is pointless since he wasn’t even carrying the thing even more, and then decides he’d better skedaddle before skewing the outcome of the war—you know, he might accidentally save the lives of eight million Jews or something. But before he goes, he’s gonna do Sgt. Rock a solid. 
"...Tag-Along was just some kinda ghost or somethin'."
While Easy Company marches on, wondering whatever happened to Tag-Along, Superman heads over to the Nazis’ forward base, and says he was sent by Sgt. Rock—a total bad-ass—to get captured—because he is also a bad-ass! But not as big of a bad-ass as Sgt. Rock! Let’s just that get that straight! 
"The Army Generals are made of pure granite."
To show how tough he is, Superman busts out of his handcuffs and whaps the two attending guards in their faces. Then General Mack Schnell or whatever yells for his men to open fire on Superman! Which, writing it out, seems like a really dumb idea. 
A little Three Stooges action.
The bullets, as the soldier comments, they bounce off his chest. And then, in a neat piece of comic book storytelling, we get an outside shot of the house with several Nazis running up as someone inside exclaims that Superman is eating a gun. This is another case, in this issue, where comic book storytelling is used to great effect. 
"Ze bullets! Zey do nuhseeng!"
Later, when Sgt. Rock and his posse come up on the home, they find it is deserted…except for Tag-Along, who isn’t breathing. Of course, they don’t know that Superman doesn’t need to breathe, but we don’t need to tell them that. They assume, weirdly, that Superman sacrificed himself and scared away the Nazi battalion in one fell swoop. It seems like you just come to accept any old crazy thing that happens when you’re involved in a war. 
War is hell, in that it is supernatural and paranormal.
Easy Company gives Superman a proper wartime burial, which is to jam his gun in the ground where his corpse is buried, and then they walk away slowly while Sgt. Rock sputters the requisite commentary. Hey, can’t some kid find that gun? Seems like an important piece of equipment to just leave jammed in the ground like that. This issue has the best ending of any comic in history, where Superman busts out of his own grave like a nonchalant zombie and flies off, prepared to tackle the next team-up!
"They're coming to get you, Barbara..."

This comic book was, on a fundamental level, exquisite. As bizarre as the story is, it’s plainly told in nicely laid out pages, with a few stunners here and there to make your comic readers’ eyes pop. And, of course, I don’t think many would complain about a book drawn by Joe Staton and Jack Abel. The overall tale, however, is the real trick shot here. It’s such a dumb premise, from beginning to end, and yet we develop real feelings for Superman, Easy Company, and all the things happening in the story. It’s not tough to feel sympathetic for people fighting against Nazis, but the humanity of the titular characters, as could best be expressed in the limited space, is much more profound. I wonder what people would think of this comic book today, considering that Superman allows Nazis to live due to his core beliefs—and considering, as well, that these are not the jingoistic gung-ho American soldiers of the Golden Age. There’s a lot more to this story about Superman traveling back to World War II to scare Nazis by eating guns.
He still took a bath in Divorce Court.

Bits and Pieces:

This is a terrific comic book that any enthusiast should read. Politically sensitive people might read layers into it, but that's dumb. Just enjoy a superbly-made comic book for once.


1 comment:

  1. I love DC Comics Presents! Great review of an excellent issue.