Review by C.J. Bunce
We reported earlier about the replacement of certain New 52 DC Comics titles that were launched last fall. Men of War was one of those titles on the cancellation list. If nothing else, low readership begs the question of whether war titles have a shot in the current state of the world.
Since the 1970s war titles seem to have had a rough time staying alive. I am not sure how much of it relates to the topic of war as opposed to the spark of great storytelling grabbing and keeping readers. Back in the 1980s I read Marvel Comics’ The ‘Nam series during Michael Golden’s stint as artist. The ‘Nam was a success by any measure, surviving for seven years. The stories were gritty and well done–they dealt with the daily trials of the foot soldier–and they survived almost miraculously despite dealing with no issues about drugs, and had no profanity because of the Comics Code. They barely discussed the politics of the day, too. But despite that, good stories caused readers to keep reading.
I also think readers will read anything good, regardless of genre category, and most regular comic book readers won’t shy away from any genre regardless of the subject, here “war comics”. That said, I read Men of War and it didn’t work for me. I think Issue #1 just featured too much action, too much sergeants yelling and the stereotypical movie “gung ho” vibe, and not enough character building. Basically we saw a descendant of the classic Sergeant Rock of decades past himself become sergeant in today’s world. It actually reminded me of the 1960s black and white TV series Combat! an ongoing series of the daily trials of men at war. The Sergeant Rock story was followed by a Navy Seals story, including an ending featuring a baddie who shockingly uses a woman as a shield. The stuff of real-life war and the evening news. If you like reality in comics then you may have liked that series. If you see comics as escapism, well, this was perhaps not the best place to find it.
So last week saw the launch of G.I. Combat, as part of the New 52 Second Wave, which included both an ongoing G.I. Combat story and a second story reviving the unknowable super-soldier, the Unknown Soldier, a character derived in part from from the tomb of the same name in Washington, DC. The character the Unknown Soldier has been around in various series for years at DC Comics, and he sees a short resurgence from time to time.
The first issue of G.I. Combat works for three reasons.
First, JT Krul and Ariel Olivetti sort of cheat here, because they added bacon. I’ll explain. If you ever watch competitive food shows like Top Chef or The Next Food Network Star, you often see judges jokingly tell contestants they cheated because they added bacon to a dish that may not have otherwise succeeded. Here, the bacon is dinosaurs. That’s right–if you can’t make your war comic succeed, throw in dinosaurs. After all, who doesn’t like dinosaurs? Frank Cho has been gearing up to release his own topic on the very same subject, Guns & Dinos, and his Shanna series also had military group taking on dinosaurs. It’s hard to miss when you mix these together.
But to be fair, the second reason is the book works on its own merits. JT Krul’s story is good, and Ariel Olivetti’s painterly style is just superb. The story, “The War That Time Forgot” begins with a secret corps soldier on a live video chat with his wife. The immediate focus on the personal creates a character that hooks the reader in quickly. Scenes of the soldiers on an expected routine mission that ends up with pterodactyls surprisingly works, too. Argentine artist Olivetti may be the next artist to keep an eye on. You can see both some Adam Hughes and Mauro Cascioli in his work. In fact, Olivetti has referred to fellow Argentine Cascioli, one of our favorites artists here at borg.com, as an influence on his style.
The second story, “The Unknown Soldier” is also well written and well drawn. I’m a little biased, however, as Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, the writers on the second story, are also my favorite current comic book writing team, telling the adventures of Jonah Hex and Amadeus Arkham in DC’s All-Star Western. Dan Panosian’s panels are classic Charlton Comics war images–the story just looks like a classic war series.
But my third reason to like the book comes from the Unknown Soldier story. Gray and Palmiotti’s hero is the type of timeless war hero that you would see played in the movies by John Wayne or Arnold Schwartzenegger. A phoenix of sorts, this soldier is strong and he is a survivor, something everyone wants in a soldier story.
Since there are apparently no real rules to building a successful new war comic, maybe expanding readers’ preconception as to what a war comic is will be the ticket to a successful ongoing series.