PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Sgt. Rock was a gruff, hard-charging Army soldier who fought his way across Africa and Europe during World War II. Blackhawk was an aerial daredevil who led a team of international aviators fighting Axis powers.
That was then. Now, the characters have been revitalized and given a modern flair more amenable to readers who've spent the better part of 10 years exposed to real stories about fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It's part of DC Comics' relaunch that this month sees 52 new series focusing on familiar — but decidedly different — characters ranging from Superman to Jonah Hex. Dubbed "The New 52," the relaunch is part of the 76-year-old publisher's efforts to stoke new readership.
"Men of War" and "Blackhawks" are hard restarts of DC's famed war comics that, in their heyday in the 1960s and '70s, included tales about Sgt. Rock, the Haunted Tank, Blackhawks and others in comics like "GI Combat" and "Our Army At War."
Those books, said Ivan Brandon and Mike Costa, the writers of "Men of War" and "Blackhawks," are nothing like the new breed.
For one thing, the new series will see a tacit involvement with superheroes, something that was not done in the past.
"It's been interesting for me to play with," Brandon told The Associated Press. "If you exist in this real army and try to keep all of that real as possible, what, realistically, would the addition of superheroes to that world, what would that mean? How would you react to that?" he asked.
"The answer, in a lot of cases, is not in a positive way," Brandon said.
"Blackhawks" is a makeover, with a new cast and characters, said Costa.
"It's a daunting kind of proposition, being a book that is one of the very, very few that has, exclusively, a brand-new cast," Costa said of the series, which will be released Sept. 28. "It's closer to a war book than it is a super hero book. This is a group of people, when there are crises of a certain nature, are scrambled to respond to it."
"It's like Seal Team Six in the DC Universe," he said, referring to the Navy team that killed Osama bin Laden four months ago.
In "Men Of War," which was released Wednesday, Rock is a corporal, decidedly younger and the grandson of his World War II namesake, Frank Rock.
For the new Rock, going to war is the family legacy, Brandon said.
"Out in Brooklyn, a lot of kids he went to school with — their dads, their uncles — everyone around them was a cop or a fireman. Rock's family? They all went to war. It's a legacy his family holds proud, but it makes for lonely Christmas dinners," Brandon explained, reluctant to give away too much of the story line. "Rock's dad is dead. ... His mother's indefinitely hospitalized. He's alone. Rock married a military girl, who could maybe understand his lonely life, but the war took even that away."
The story details Rock's career as a soldier — not quite a sergeant thanks to insubordination — and his advancement to something new, more detailed, as part of a team of ex-military. But he's no soldier for hire, and the team is not a group of private military contractors.
"They're an organization that is going to interact with the landscape in much the way a government or a branch of the military would. For all intents and purposes in terms of the work they do, they are the equivalent of a smaller offshoot of the U.S. Army," Brandon said. "They are dealing specifically with the sorts of missions that Rangers would be tasked to do."
The Rock name is legend in war comics, and Brandon is cognizant not only of it, but war comics, too.
"The war genre is called the war genre because of the content that was produced from that era. It is a revered era," he said.
The new Rock lets him "serve that purpose and, in a way that hopefully was not already being served and on a DC line that has been fairly unified in the kinds of stories that it tells."
Matt Moore can be followed on Twitter by searching (at)MattMooreAP.