THE NEW 52, Week 2:
Men Of War #1
Let me be clear: I’m not optimistic about our chances of success here. The region we’re headed into is run by an insurgent force. We don’t know how big they are or what they’re packing. And we have old maps. We have no modern intel on this place.
- Sgt. Torisi
It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark... and we're wearing sunglasses.
- Elwood Blues
War comics have always felt obscure. A weird hold-over in an industry focused on super-hero exploits. Sure there have been recent high-points, most of them by Joe Kubert, and most of those featuring either the WWI Enemy Ace or the WWII Sgt. Rock. With few exceptions, war comics have focused on “Good Wars,” especially those where we fought clearly evil opponents.
Today’s war comic continues to distance itself from the mythical crop of new comic readers. Growing the readership here isn’t just an issue of subject relevance, there’s also the competition from video games that sucks up the demographics’ time and money. The potential new comics buyer is otherwise occupied and satisfied with that occupation.
So when a comic company revamps their entire line, their entire universe, how do they lure these new young readers into buying comics every Wednesday afternoon? Should they eliminate the War comic? Or should they try to turn the genre around?
The cover of Men of War #1 could easily be the cover of the next installment of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare video game franchise. We’ve got the obvious black-ops looking guy coming out of the darkness with night vision goggles and an eagle that’s formed from some form of blood mist in the air before him. This has video game and Soldier of Fortune magazine written all over it, and the graphics set it apart from every other cover in the New 52.
So the cover might grab the reader who isn’t interested in those super guys in their new collared pajamas or the kid who’s waiting patiently for the next Black Ops video game. But will it keep their attention and make them want more?
The new Sgt. Rock is the focus of the first of two stories. It starts in the middle, with a lone wounded soldier hunkered down while the local scenery goes up in flames. Of course we’re going to spend most of the book learning how he got there. Got where? We’re never quite sure where we are, just that we’re in a locale where there’s a “big insurgent force” and a US senator who was negotiating a cease-fire has gone missing. Orders have come down from “the men upstairs” and the grunts must jump into danger uniformed and ill prepared.
Well sign me up, gonna go fight some insurgents. Queue the flashbacks.
This is the new Sgt. Rock, descendant of the long-time DC hero from WWII. He’s a career soldier who for some reason finds a way out of advancing rank even though his accomplishments would otherwise merit his promotion. There are several pages of macho repartee, Rock’s superiors trying to figure out his motivation, but he eventually stops dodging and satisfies them with “I’m not done fighting.”
Pretty standard stuff, but you have to admire that writer Ivan Brandon at least examines the question of why the hero hasn’t gotten the standard rewards for his successful exploits.
Tom Derenick’s art is serviceable, his detail on the weapons and equipment better than most. He illustrates the special ops mission that goes almost instantly bad in a manner that is not too dark, but still evokes the confusion and hell that these soldiers have fallen into. Indeed, many pages are so full of flames it’s surprising the paratroopers could land and weren’t carried away in the updraft.
So far, we’re not breaking any ground. But this is the New 52, and there’s a rule written somewhere at DC that your story that will at least leave the reader scratching his head if not exactly wanting more.
In this case, the soldiers marvel at a strange missile that makes sharp turns while tracking an objective and ram-rodding through a village like a man-sized bullet. In fact, this missile has a human silhouette and eventually stops to pose in front of the moon, hovering quietly in the night. And then there are two of them. And they’re fighting. In the sky.
Why? Because this is the New 52 universe. These soldiers are fighting in a world where superheroes and super villains have battles that make the military conflict look almost pointless in comparison. It might be interesting, but personally I’m not holding out too much hope that this is going to develop into something better or even equal to good-old Sgt. Rock in WWII fighting Nazis.
While we might expect the story line could emulate Dynamite’s The Boys and examine a military off-shoot that is chartered to deal with super-problems (but without the kinky sex and twisted violence), that’s probably not in the cards.
So we end where we started, soldier in a fox hole waiting for this all to make sense, much like the reader who has already put the next Call of Duty video game on pre-order.
One More Thing: Men of War is apparently an anthology book, and there’s an eight page Navy Seals back-up story that advertises it’s part one of three. Written in the vein of a “here’s how we operate in a war zone” story, it was fairly engaging for its short length. However, after a quick first read-through of both stories I had trouble recalling what parts of the action, which faceless soldiers belonged with which story. That’s not a good thing.