Men of War #1
Writer: Ivan Brandon
Artist: Tom Derenick
Colors: Matt Wilson
“Navy SEALs: Human Shields, Part 1 of 3”
Writer: Jonathan Vankin
Artist: Phil Winslade
Colors: Thomas Chu
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover artist: Viktor Kalvachev
Editor: Joey Cavalieri
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US
Everyone likes to root for an underdog, and that’s why I had some interest in this title. I admit I’m not the biggest fan of war comics, but I do like the genre when it’s done well. But the reason this comic had my attention was that it’s something of a long shot for DC. While some of the creative teams on the New 52 are doing some unconventional and innovative things with certain DC characters, reviving and updating this war-comic title was a big gamble on the publisher’s part. This comic has a lot going for it: a striking cover image, an iconic name in the history of war comics and a connection to the more popular super-hero properties of the DC Universe. I think the problem with the book — and specifically with the main story — is that I really don’t know what it’s about yet.
Oh, and on the subject of that striking cover, it’s a shame the dark, eerie of a soldier about to strike is marred by a Photoshopped pair of dogtags that look out of place and completely unconvincing. I get that someone wanted to get a reference to the new Sgt. Rock on the cover, but that was a mistake. The tiny dogtags intrude on the cover and serve as a cue to the reader about the artifice the comic book really is.
Rock: The main story — about Cpl. Joseph Rock, grandson of the legendary Sgt. Frank Rock — sees the young, smart infantryman recruited for a special assignment, and the first mission is essentially a black-ops rescue operation. It’s also clear Rock and his fellow soldiers exist in a world in which superhumans exist, namely the DC Universe. Writer Ivan Brandon certainly captures a convincing tone in the dialogue; these characters sound like military men. Furthermore, despite his stoicism, the new Rock is presented as a thoroughly likable character. We learn right away that he’s all about saving lives, about fighting the good fight, but it’s really his willingness to defy his superiors in the name of what’s right that makes him appealing. One could argue that a war comic shouldn’t feature a subordinate, rebellious soldier as its protagonist, but it’s that quality that allows the reader to connect with him s readily.
Tom Derenick is a capable artist, and given his participation in DC’s Trinity series, I assume he’s also good with deadlines. As such, I understand why he was given an assignment with DC’s New 52 lineup; the company has made it clear meeting deadlines is a major priority for its new direction. Derenick manages to convey the tough, bulky frames of the two main characters, Rock and Sgt. Torisi, and he does well with the military gear and vehicles as well. Still, his style isn’t what one would call realistic or even gritty, and I think the story calls for some of that. Furthermore, he needed to provide more visual cues as to which characters are which in the mission scenes. Everyone’s suited up the same, so it’s a bit difficult to follow the action as a result. It’s also unclear what happens when Torisi dives headlong into a raging fire. I did appreciate colorist Matt Wilson’s efforts, which add a bit of that grit I was looking for. His technique almost makes the art look as though it’s presented in a stark, two-tone motif, even though that’s not the case.
Linking the new Sgt. Rock to the super-hero action of the DC Universe is a smart move, at least from a marketing perspective. The demand for DC’s war comics certainly isn’t as great as interest in its super-heroes, and it’s noteworthy that a similar connection is being made in All-Star Western, with Jonah Hex operating in Gotham City in the 19th century. It’s unfortunate pure, well-done war comics don’t garner the same interest, but if DC is going to try to boost sales with a link to its more recognizable super-hero figures, you’d think it would actually make the link more overt. There are two superhuman figures in this story, but they’re only depicted in silhouette. They go unidentified, and it’s a bit frustrating. I realize the point is to convey the confusion of Rock and his men, and to distance the superhumans from the regular men below. But if they’re not going to be clear about the god-like beings flying overhead, I don’t really see the point in including them in the first place.
Navy SEALs: Unlike the main story, this eight-page backup feature — which accounts for the higher cover price, as compared to most of the New 52 line — seems to set aside the super-hero genre elements and remains set in the “real world.” Like Brandon’s script, Vankin’s dialogue boasts a genuine sound; these Navy SEALs sound like soldiers under fire, and I appreciated the footnotes that clarified the military acronyms and such. The only thing missing from the script is the cursing, and that’s not something one will find in a non-Vertigo title. It takes a while for the story to grab my attention, but it does by the cliffhanger. Still, there’s a slightly generic tone to the plotting here, but it could definitely improve in the subsequent chapters. On the other hand, it’s too bad the backup didn’t offer a done-in-one plot.
If I didn’t know this story was illustrated by Phil Winslade, I wouldn’t have known it until the last couple of pages. His usual style isn’t apparent at first. In fact, it looks more like Chris Samnee’s work at first, and then a bit like Carlos Ezquerra’s. He also captures the military uniforms and gear adeptly, but there’s definitely a more realistic tone at play. Part of me thinks the art should be darker overall, but the daylight, Middle Eastern setting certainly calls for light.
Overall, the material here shows promise, even if the execution of the main story is a bit off. The backup feature definitely felt as though it was worth the extra buck. I’m not sure the stories will bring readers back for a second issue, let alone the long haul, which makes me think this might be one of the first entries in the New 52 that will fall victim to the axe. 5/10
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