Guest post by: Tom Tomorrow
Men of War is the DCU’s first ongoing military comic in quite some time, and it’s a part of DC’s laudable effort to expand their main line beyond the superhero genre. In addition, it represents (along with All-Star Western, according to solicits) a quiet return of the Second Feature initiative, to give readers a little more bang for their (extra) buck. So after Ivan Brandon and Tom Derenick tackle the primary story, Jonathan Vankin and Phil Winslade give us the first part of a Navy SEALs tale.
I love it when comics explore the ramifications of superhumans, whether it’s the construction work of Dwayne McDuffie’s Damage Control or the superhuman law of Manhunter. Men of War’s primary story fits nicely into that trend, purporting to show what life is like for human soldiers in a world where men fly without planes, shrug off bullets without armor, and level whole cities without explosives. It’s a concept with a lot of untapped potential.
But it sure takes awhile to get there. Most of this first issue is devoted to setting up Corporal Joseph Rock, grandson of the original Sgt. Rock. The character work on Rock and his commanding officer, Sgt. Torisi, is pretty well done, establishing the former as an independently minded infantryman and the latter as a badass. The other characters we encounter are mostly set dressing at this point, there to serve plot purposes or talk about guns.
The action is, not surprisingly, where things get interesting. Torisi and Rock lead a team of soldiers into enemy territory, but as they’re parachuting in, a superhuman darts out of the sky and sets the whole place ablaze. Throughout the action, we never actually get a good look at the metahumans, which is a great choice. To the soldiers, the metahumans aren’t people so much as unpredictable destructive forces, living weapons with no precision and copious collateral damage. Despite the promise of the story, the dialogue leaves something to be desired; there are places where the military lingo reads less like “how soldiers talk” and more like “look how much research I did.” And the last bit of speech — meant, I think, to be portentious and important — comes across as hollow and forced.
The art is generally good; Derenick’s pencils handle both the action and talking scenes well, though there are some places where faces look a little amorphous or lifeless. The real star here is colorist Matt Wilson. The soldiers are colored in desaturated grays and sepia tones, which provide a nice contrast against the bright colors of battle, and the bright red streak that represents the invading superhuman. It’s a nice visual disctinction between the realistic soldiers and the four-color superhero fantasy, although there are places where the desaturation threatens to wash out the soldiers entirely.
The Navy SEALs story isn’t quite so praiseworthy. It shares a lot of details with the reports about the action in Abbottabad this past May, which suggests that it may have been rushed into production. As a result, the characters are largely one-dimensional and talk almost entirely in character exposition and military terminology. The story is fairly straightforward, and a political twist makes for some added drama, but there just isn’t much here. It’s clear that Vankin is trying to evoke classic war comics teams like the Losers or the Howlin’ Commandos, with nicknames and clear-cut personalities, but it feels like it could have been accomplished with just a little more subtlety.
Penciller Phil Winslade has an old-school style reminiscent of Joe Kubert or Curt Swan, which makes for generally clear action. Too often, though, the backgrounds are missing entirely, and many faces are really rough. The last couple of pages get the worst of it, with a sketchy young insurgent girl whose eyes are crooked, and a crackshot sniper who appears to be firing his rifle directly at the floor. From the script to the art, this second feature feels like a first draft.
I like the idea of Men of War. I think the premise of soldiers in a superhuman world has a lot of potential, and I’d like to see where Brandon and Derenick take it. I even like that DC is branching out to more straightforward military action with the second feature. But there are enough little things to dislike that I still feel cautious about where it’s all heading. Cautiously optimistic, but still cautious.
First Feature: B-, Second Feature: C-
Pull List Verdict: ON PROBATION.
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more