Originally title “Sgt. Rock and the Men of War,” it’s fairly apparent early on in “Men of War” #1 why the title was changed: there’s no Sgt. Rock in this comic. Instead, the book stars Corporal Joseph Rock, grandson of the famous Sgt. Rock, and a respected soldier who’s doing his best to make sure he doesn’t reach the rank of sergeant. It’s one of the rare books of DC relaunch that doesn’t star a superhero, although superpowered individuals do play a role. More a military book in the new DCU than a superhero book, it offers up something different while maintaining ties to traditional fare.
We’re introduced to Corporal Rock when he’s questioned by two superior officers for reasons unknown at first. It’s a smart way to both introduce the character and the story. We’re both told what others think of Rock and see how he acts and what he says. The resulting impression is one that’s more complete than most introductions. He’s respected by the men he’s served with, hasn’t advanced as far as his skills suggest he should have because he has a habit of disobeying orders (and being right in the process, which is even more annoying to those in charge), and prefers to think of himself as just another grunt doing his job. There’s also a chip on his shoulder regarding his hero grandfather. The scene is only four pages long, but feels like more because of the amount of information Ivan Brandon packs in.
From there, it’s a mysterious mission where Rock finds himself second in command and dealing with a situation where the unit needs to extract a hostage, ideally without being seen, which includes using their weapons. Things become messy quickly and the introduction of a superhuman makes things messier. What’s really smart is how the superhuman in question remains a mystery, presented more as an unstoppable force of nature than anything else. The horror of living in a world where an invincible blur can destroy so much is introduced effectively.
Joining Brandon on art is Tom Derenick, whose style works well with this material. He uses shadows quite a bit without losing clarity, drawing Rock as a hulking figure. Matthew Wilson’s colors bring out Derenick’s smooth, textured line work, especially in the questioning scene where everything is colored in a faded sepia tone, aside from Rock’s blue eyes. It’s a color tone that stays with the comic throughout, allowing for brief moments of brightness to pop and Derenick to really show what he can do with chaotic action scenes.
Also in this issue is the first part of a three-part back-up story by Jonathan Vankin and Phil Winslade. It’s a more generic story than the lead feature, focusing on a squad of Navy SEALs in combat in a world that reflects ours more closely. The characters are a bit more broadly drawn, almost clichés, while Winslade’s art is lacking in its usual detail, often dropping out backgrounds , while his figures aren’t as tightly composed. It’s not the sort of thing that will make anyone pick up a comic, but you don’t mind as a bonus feature.
Mostly an introduction to Corporal Joe Rock and his new mission, “Men of War” #1 does a great job of making sure we know exactly who Rock is and what kind of man he is. It also makes sure to give lots of combat, while raising the question of what effect superhumans have on combat zones. Judging from this issue, it could prove to be one of the more interesting books in the DC relaunch.