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The Losers

I remember watching The A-Team when I was younger and wondering how it is that with all the explosions and gunfire, no one ever seemed to get killed. So this brought up some questions as to whether The A-Team was really as good as it pretended to be. Sure, Face could talk his way into any woman's bedroom, but the slick bastard was almost never in a firefight. Hannibal was supposed to be the leader and tactician, but ended up just punching the bad-guy-of-the-week and picking a fight. Murdock was…Murdock. And B.A. was just muscle that spent most of his time drugged into unconsciousness due to some phobia that escapes me at the moment.

Suffice it to say they were more like a C or D-Team.

The reason I bring up this very bad television show is because I've quite recently discovered an A-Team deserving of the grade in the form of The Losers from DC/Vertigo.

The Losers were an A-Team ("Alpha Team") Black Ops unit for the C.I.A. until someone within the agency, the mysterious "Max," decided that they had become a liability and placed them on the agency death list. After blowing up a helicopter which was supposed to contain the team, the Losers became Killed In Action. If only it were that easy, you wacky Central Intelligence Agency.

Clay, Roque, and the rest of the Losers are alive and itching to get back their lives. The only way to do that is go to war with the CIA and find a way to get their names off the death list. When that opportunity arrives in the form of some sensitive information that the US does not want the American public to know, the Losers go after it. But even knowledge of the CIA's Black Ops drug pedaling may not be enough to get the Losers what they really want: Max's head on a plate.

I've been told that The Losers existed in some other comic book incarnation at some point (editor's note: most recently in The New Frontier #1 you ignorant Sparling, you) and this version by Andy Diggle is a revamp or update or some such thing. For once, my youth serves me because I have no idea what that incarnation was, so I can evaluate the work without a preconception.

The story stands alone rather well and Diggle manages to strike a great balance between the action elements of the script, the characterization of the team members, and the engrossing plot. The action itself is superbly done and, coupled with the panels by Jock, makes for some great visuals. Diggle injects the script with energy everywhere, even in the dialogue, which manages to make the talking head scenes faintly kinetic. He also knows where to pause a scene for a chapter break (or for the individual issues rather), creating palpable suspense for the reader. I've been reading comics for over a decade now and it has become pretty difficult to keep me rapt with anxiety over what will happen to the characters, but Diggle pulled it off. He even managed to throw a surprise into the script that I did not see coming, though in re-reading the graphic novel I realize I really should have caught it.

Also of note is Diggle's character work. In a book like The Losers, I don't expect an overabundance of characterization or even truly distinct personality, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a healthy does of both. Each member of the team, while not deeply defined, is distinct. Despite generalized character classification that goes along with a team book, (the technie, the muscle, the mysterious nnja-like person, etc.) Diggle makes sure that the skill the character brings to the team doesn't define the person. Jensen, while the obvious techspert of The Losers, is also just as deadly with a pistol and nothing to lose as Cougar with his laconic speech pattern and high-powered sniper rifle. Pooch, the mechanically inclined of the group, is a family man with a faintly softer temperament than his teammates, but no less willing to shoot someone in the face if it will accomplish the objective.

And oddly enough, we know more about the background of Aisha, the stealthy scary woman, than about any of the others. Diggle also paints an interesting picture of the leader Clay; while he has the tough-as-over-cooked-steak gruffness to him, there's also light sense of moralism that seems to color his character that I think will affect the team in later volumes.

The artwork by Jock (seems like every comic book artist nowadays has adopted the singular name a la Cher) is decent and fits the story and pacing perfectly. All his pages have a sketchy quality that echoes the frantic and rapid movement of the script, sort of like a less heavily inked Mike Mignola on speed.

Other than his good panel work, Jock composed the covers for the original issues which separate the chapters of the story. These are some of the best covers I've seen in the last few years as far as composition goes, which cements for me the fact that Jock knows how to put together really good visuals. Lee Loughridge's colors add great dimension to Jock's line work, and Loughridge knows how to light and color different scenes well. I was particularly impressed with some of the dusk and nighttime scenes, where just the right coloring added a lot to the story.

There has been a revival of the spy/espionage genre in recent years with titles like Queen & Country and the more recent Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, but a book purely about Black Operations and secret government strike teams is more rare, and Diggle's ongoing series is much appreciated. And in yet another stroke of marketing intelligence, DC/Vertigo gives the reader the first six issues of the story for only $9.95. It's cheaper than a DVD and probably better.

The Losers

Robert Sparling

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