Bruce Campbell On Reviving Sgt. Rock & Nazi Zombies In New DC Horror Comic [Interview]

Since 1981, horror legend Bruce Campbell has played an integral part in crafting Sam Raimi's Evil Dead universe. Aside from portraying the franchise's beloved face as the boomstick-wielding Ash Williams, Campbell has also produced every film installment in the deadite-starring franchise, Starz's beloved "Ash vs. the Evil Dead" television series, and the 2022 video game "Evil Dead: The Game." Suffice to say, Campbell has worked alongside his fair share of undead creatures. Paired with his ability to direct killer action scenes — as fans saw best in Campbell's cheeky and nuanced feature film "I Am Bruce" — it feels like a no-brainer that he'd be hungry to write a uniquely ravenous horror tale of his own.

Campbell has channeled his love of battles into reviving one of DC Comics' forgotten heroes, Sgt. Rock. Created by writer Robert Kanigher and artist Joe Kubert, Sgt. Rock hasn't starred in a solo series since 1988. Written by Bruce Campbell and with artwork by Eisner-winning Eduardo Risso, "Sgt. Rock vs. The Army of the Dead" resurrects Sgt. Rock's Easy Company infantry unit back into the spotlight this September to fight zombie nazi soldiers. Ahead of the mini-series debut, Campbell sat down with /Film for an interview about his year full of undead projects, including HBO Max's upcoming "Evil Dead Rise" film.

He grew up reading Sgt. Rock comics, and his excitement for how this title might spawn future adventures — in the Evil Dead Universe or the larger DC Universe — was contagious.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

'It's everything evil this year'

Today's also the "Bubba Ho-Tep" anniversary date today, as well as your DC Comic announcement. It's like an unofficial Bruce Campbell day!

"The Evil Dead: The Game" is out, "Evil Dead Rise" is coming out. Yeah, it's everything evil this year [laughs]. It's an evil year.

What led you to work with DC Comics to write "Sgt Rock vs. The Army of the Dead?"

They heard that I was sleeping in ditches and they felt sorry for me [laughs]. Honestly, they tracked me down because I think they wanted to take some DC characters and put them into the horror world. They said, "Hey, let's see what Campbell's up to." [DC Comics Editor] Katie Kubert tracked me down and said, "Are there any DC characters you would enjoy dragging into a horror world?" I said, "Send me or encyclopedia of the characters that you have." I was thumbing through and I just stopped dead on Sgt. Rock because I read Sgt. Rock. I wasn't a huge comic book guy. I read sad sack comics when I was a kid.

Sam Raimi was reading Spider-Man. I read other stuff, but I did read Sgt. Rock. His whole persona fascinated me. When I saw Sgt. Rock, I said, "Hey, what about Sgt. Rock?" Katie laughed because her grandfather is Joe Kubert, who drew Sgt. Rock. I don't think she wanted to lead me on or bait me ... she was very quiet about it. But then afterwards she was very happy ... she was all over Sgt. Rock like a cheap suit. So it was a good fit.

'He is basically the best soldier in the world'

What about Sgt. Rock's character attracted you to bring him back into the spotlight? You're right, he was a huge character in DC Comics' universe, but he's been out of the spotlight for some time.

He has. Well, he's so old school. He's incredibly old school. He's very low tech, but the same attributes apply. He is basically the best soldier in the world. Loyal, smart, tough as hell, gritty, fearless, yet he's terrified. We have a lot of commentary throughout the six issues where you get into his head a little bit while they're heading into missions and stuff. So it's a chance to keep fleshing him out. He's not just the cigar-chomping, grenade-throwing guy. There's more to him and managing his men and trying to create the universe again.

I pitched a story to DC based on that, and they bit. I didn't know what amount of work they wanted out of me ... I assumed it was a one-off. They said, "Okay, we'll do six issues." I was like, "Huh?" So [I'm] very happy to jump on board and refine the world of comics. I'd only written one other comic for Dark Horse years ago. Different mindset, different format, different process. You're working with different types of editors and how they've done stuff over the years. It's a great learning curve.

'War and horror are not that far apart'

Speaking of Sgt. Rock's Easy Company, they're such a rag-tag group and fun characters. Was there any character in that group that you most wanted to develop in this mini-series and spend more time with?

Yeah, I like Hothead, the flame thrower. We made him so he's missing a tooth. He always has a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, never shaven, but one of these guys who never had a bad day. When he's torching stuff, he's just ... we put him on one of the covers, just doing his stuff and having a blast doing it. So he was a fun one that stuck out because he's a wiry little guy. I told the guys to make him look like a coal miner. He was great. He's a real working stiff soldier who has a very special, lethal skill.

I must say, I think we put him to very good use in these six issues. Again, it's horror. War and horror are not that far apart. The only thing I did was introduce a horrific component. Hitler is pretty well-known. His troops were on amphetamines. They won several big battles because these soldiers could keep going for three days. They said, "Our tanks could go for three days. Why can't our soldiers?" I just took that to the next level of these soldiers are dropping like flies, but can you get them back? Can you reanimate them? Put them back into the battlefield? You create the dilemma of, "How do you kill something that's already dead?"

Not [easily]. That's the answer.

'I'd be happy to have some winged-creatures come in and help out'

By the end of issue #1, the odds don't look good for Sgt. Rock.

You don't want that. You got to go in going, "Oh, Easy Company, watch your back."

In prior Easy Company tales, Superman even joined their infantry group — due to some time traveling adventures. Are there any DC Universe characters that might cameo in your run that you can talk about?

Honestly, in the first six issues, we're pretty pure.

Ah, cool, cool.

If it's a success, you'll send Sgt. Rock to New York City and you have to keep coming up with the new stories. So I think if we play our cards right, and this is well-received, then there's a lot of other adventures Rock can go on. And yeah, I'd be happy to have some winged-creatures come in and help out — especially if things get dicey, because once you start encountering the supernatural, you may actually want a DC character that can deal with that crap. Sgt. Rock's a ham-and-egger. He's not a shaman. So you may need help from a witch doctor-type character, or one of the weird characters that DC has.

'They're not demons. They're not possessed'

I'd love to know how you wanted your zombies to work within your tale. Were there any rules you had or any kind of feeling you wanted them to have?

They're not demons. They're not possessed. They're reanimated dead people. The idea was they still bleed. It wouldn't be green. It wouldn't be some strange monster color. They would have old wounds, still visible on their bodies. They're hellish-looking. They're dead. So they're gray. Their eyes are yellowish. It's imagining, "What if someone did come back from being dug up?", because they're grabbing all the war dead and they're putting them through this process to reanimate them. None of it's pretty, but it is effective. At one point, Sgt. Rock says, "We don't know how they're doing it, and we don't care. It just has to stop."

Rock doesn't need to worry about the technology involved. It's not his problem. Stopping it is his problem.

Of the artwork I've seen so far, Eduardo Risso has done a stellar job with the gnarly look of the undead. Was there a certain aspect of his noir-like style that really works for you?

I give DC all the credit, because they know these artists left and right. I can look at somebody's work and go, "Hey, cool work." I tried to stay out of the way in cases like that. DC knew they had relationships with certain folks and they thought he was a good fit. I agreed 100%. When you look at his work, he's got the contrast, lighting — things that you don't see are as important as things you do see. It's just great. It's graphic. The idea here was if it was a regular Sgt. Rock, it'd be kind of gritty. But because it's a horror Sgt. Rock, you actually have to tilt into the darkness. So, a good deal of it is at night in dark moody places, bombed-out places. So it's all mood all the time, and he's great at that.

'I like dicking with history'

Your story brings in some real world characters, like Theodore Morell, who was actually Hitler's doctor. How much did you lean into historical facts versus playing with the occult aspect of it?

I like dicking with history because you never [know]...


[Laughs] There's only rumors of what Hitler did. Supposedly, he committed suicide. The Soviets found his body, whatever, [a] week later, some crap. We've never seen the pictures. We've never seen the proof. The forensic stuff is all on the interweb. You can go down a massive rabbit hole. The point is, it's a little unclear. So I'm happy to take the mantle and clarify what happened. So we have basically the ultimate good guy, Sgt. Rock — if you want to do the good and evil game — versus basically one of the best villains ever, Adolf Hitler. He's always been, for decades, one of the most reviled people on the planet. That's who you want to put together, really, in dramatic tales. It's the story of light and dark. It's life or death. That's what's cool about doing it.

War movies always function because it's life or death. It's the ultimate dramatic scenario where you can get killed pretty much at any minute.

Speaking about Sgt. Rock's adventures, it sounds like if the title goes over well, you're down to keep writing more issues? More adventures with him in different settings?

Oh, yeah! Sgt. Rock is my kind of guy. I really enjoy the world that you could put him in because he is fascinated by weird [and] different things. Doesn't relate to them, can't always relate to them, but he's willing to take on anything. That's the type of hero you want. I also am a big fan of people who don't have superpowers. Rock's superpower is courage, daring, smarts, fly by the seat of your pants. These guys are parachuting into a bombed-out city in Berlin at night. It's the most perilous type of drop that you can ever do, dropping into a hostile territory that you don't really know. It's before GPS, before all the mapping systems, before Google. You're just going into the abyss ... they have to go behind enemy lines, obviously. That's the most dangerous place you'll ever want to be.

'You have to care about those jokers, or you're doomed'

Given that there are some undead here ... so, DC Horror previously came out with "The Conjuring: The Lover" comic tie-in, which played into the plotline of "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It" film. Would you ever be open to tying in or expanding any of the stories and characters from "Ash vs. Evil Dead," "Evil Dead Rise," and the big universe of Evil Dead with Sgt. Rock? Or do you want to keep those plates separate?

Yeah, honestly, it's all so new. We're playing by the rules right now. But in success, you can get as fancy as you want to get. But because writing has always been an alternate career for me, it's something that I want to continue to do. Comic book writing is so new [for me] that it's something I'd really love to explore. I love telling stories. I love movies. I understand the hero paradigm. I've played heroes under different scenarios. I understand what's at stake. I understand what it takes to potentially make a character likable and relatable. Relatability is important for me, because even in a fantastic story, you have to care about those jokers, or you're doomed.

100 percent. Are there any other characters that you'd want to play with outside of Sgt. Rock now that you're expanding your comic writing career?

I don't have that answer yet. It's a big world out there. I'm just glad that comics are going strong and comical characters are going strong. It's a strong period for that in movie history. So I'm happy to grab onto the bumper and go for a ride.

If you had to pick one panel or scene that you can tease readers with about in regards to the action in "Sgt. Rock vs. The Army of the Dead," what would you pick?

In the first issue, there is a sequence in a laboratory where they capture one of these creatures alive and they bring them in. There's an opening sequence where you get a hint that there's something really bad and weird out there, but this is the chance to look at it up close and personal. It's like bringing Frankenstein['s monster] into a lab and trying to observe it. Then he freaks out and attacks the guys and there's a horrific fight scene in the lab. It takes a good portion of these guys to subdue and destroy the one zombie. It's like the point in "Jaws" where they go, "I think we might need a bigger boat." If it was this hard to kill one guy, if there's an army full of these, Sgt. Rock, in a classic understatement, is like, "We're going to have our work cut out for us, boys."

'That darn book, the Book of the Dead, there's three of them'

What's something that you wish people asked you more about during interviews about either your career or yourself as a human?

Well, as an actor, I would say no one ever wants to know how you memorize your lines. It is one of the most fundamental things of being an actor and actually one of the most critical is knowing your lines cold when you go to work so that you can have fun. You can play with it. If you don't know your lines, you're dead. You're dead in the water and you can't really do your job. But it's something that no one really seems to care about. If you have pages and pages of dialogue, you better figure out a way to learn that.

Did you pick up any tricks along the way? Or do you just run them over and over?

If you have a big speech, just ask yourself, "What is the speech about? What am I trying to convey?" Don't micromanage right away. My memory always remembers a line of dialogue more complicated than it really is, for some reason. I'll have to go back and go, "Oh, it wasn't even that complicated." So, now you know.

I'm really excited about HBO Max's "Evil Dead Rise" and seeing some fresh faces enter the universe. What can you tease us about the upcoming film?

They're going to drop a trailer really soon.

Oh, that's great!

And [the trailer] going to tell the story. It's urban. There's no cabin anymore. There's no Ash. Ash wasn't in the 2013 remake. The story is it's about that darn book, that Book of the Dead. There's three of them, turns out. It's wherever this thing surfaces. It gets around. It travels in time. It goes to different places. So this is the next chapter. It's about a single mom with her family. It's about a family turning on itself, so it's pretty gnarly.

Sgt. Rock vs. The Army of the Dead #1 debuts in September 2022 from DC Comics.