A U.S. Army reconnaissance unit parachutes into Vilna in 1943.
Surrounded by the Nazi and Russian armies, under heavy shelling, the American soldiers rendezvous with a Lithuanian partisan, a bearded hulk of a man named Bear. Stepping out of the rubble, Bear declares "We got package for you, very valuable, very … breakable."
Then the soldiers overpower a pair of German tanks. Bear and the resistance fighters find refuge from the barrage in the shell of a building. Bear departs, and returns with his "very valuable package," someone covered with a cloak. Then…Then you have to wait a month to find out what happens next.
The wartime encounter is the storyline of "The Prophecy," a six-part series in DC Comics’ "Sgt. Rock" that just went on sale. It’s the creation of Joe Kubert, an iconic 79-year-old comic-book artist and founder of the Kubert School for Cartooning and Graphic Arts in Dover, N.J., who wrote and drew the entire series.
Sgt. Rock is Sgt. Frank, DC Comics’ premier war hero, leader of the fictional Easy Company, who has appeared in the DC pages on and off for some 50 years. The human cargo delivered by Bear turns out to be a young rabbi, who has to be smuggled out of Lithuania to tell the world about the Holocaust.
Kubert’s story is based on a true tale, the rescue of Rabbi Joseph Schneersohn, leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch chasidic movement, from Warsaw in 1940. It was the subject of Bryan Mark Rigg’s 2004 book "Rescued from the Reich: How One of Hitler’s Soldiers Saved the Lubavitcher Rebbe."
A friend gave Kubert the book last year. "I felt it was a real interesting story," he said. Sgt. Rock and the rabbi in Vilna (called Vilnus in the comic) were born.
"The Prophecy" comes out three years after "Yossel" (IBooks), Kubert’s graphic novel that ponders what would have happened to his family had his father, a kosher butcher and cantor, not brought them out of Poland in 1926. "Yossel" is set in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Kubert is not going through a late-in-life literary Jewish phase, he tells The Jewish Week. "I don’t want to be taken for a crusader." He doesn’t see a Shoah-in-graphic-novels trend, though several similar books have followed Art Spiegelman’s 1986 "Maus." "These are stories that are striking to me," he says. "They are exciting stories: things that should not be forgotten."
At the drawing board, Kubert pictures landsmen from Poland, refugees, he met at his parents’ home during World War II. "I see these tattoos on their arms."