When I was a kid, it was impossible to get into comics. I loved watching Tim Burton’s Batman over and over and I couldn’t wait for a new episode of Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series to air, but this was all I had.
In South Boston, the neighborhood that I grew up in, there were NO comic book stores. NONE. If I was lucky I could find a comic in the magazine stand of a local grocery store. If I picked up an issue of Batman 20, there was no guarantee I could find issue 21. If I bought a comic, that was the only one I’d have to read for months. I read and reread the same issue over and over. I knew the issue intimately, but never knew what the next chapter was. I was only getting pieces of the story, and it was infuriating.
On one occasion, while my father and I were on an afternoon drive, we came across an actual real life comic store. My little eight-year-old heart almost exploded from excitement. I will never forget the experience.
They had a statue of Superman lifting a car over his head, posters of my favorite heros including Spider-Man swinging from a thread, and a even Green Goblin hung from the ceiling on a glider. And of course – comics. To my little eyes, the shelves stretched for miles and miles.
I remember being able to pick out a few, even if some were above my reading level. I’ll never forget one of the issues I held in my hands: Sgt. Rock #19 “Trick or Treat,” featuring Batman.
BATMAN and SGT. ROCK! As a kid, I didn’t even know who Sgt. Rock was, but the idea of Batman fighting alongside a solider blew my mind. This comic combined the fantastical journey of Batman with someone I’d see in the news, a solider – a man with no powers, but with training and perseverance…like Batman.
To me, seeing these two together in the same story created a new depth to the comic book realm that hadn’t existed before, and it was all thanks to Joe Kubert.
The cover of the comic featured Batman leaping into action from the left side with his cape billowing behind him. In the middle, kneeling on one knee, gun in hand, was Sgt. Rock with torn clothes and exhausted face. This was the combination of two worlds I never thought could coexist. I could recognize just how different and similar these characters were and how they were uniting to confront a demonic but common enemy.
In my hands, I could almost feel the threat of this enemy – it could be a threat to the world that held Gotham City, as well as the world I lived in. I could also recognize the grim mortality that surrounded them; tombstones framed the comic book cover. I was only in grade school, but so much was conveyed in just one picture. I’m not saying I was child prodigy, but a child who was captivated by a talented visual storyteller. As usual, I read the comic cover to cover, over and over, and to this day I couldn’t tell you what the story was about, but that cover continues to blow me away. I still feel a small shudder when I look at the bleak grave yard, the menacing monster that could threaten worlds, and two heroes that would stand resilient against it.
This cover defined comics to me as a small boy and continues to remind me how powerful a comic and a story can be. We have lost an amazing talent and his absence will be felt for years to come – but the art lives on.