Posted by Don MacPherson on May 3rd, 2012
G.I. Combat #1
“The War That Time Forgot”
Writer: J.T. Krul
Artist: Ariel Olivetti
“The Unknown Soldier”
Writers: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Dan Panosian
Colors: Rob Schwager
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover artists: Brett Booth (regular)/Ariel Olivetti (variant)
Editor: Joey Cavalieri
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US
Of all of the entries in DC’s second wave of New 52 titles, this was the most curious. When G.I. Combat was announced as one of the six replacement titles, it seemed an odd move to move this title into the slot of the cancelled Men of War. Furthermore, the two features DC planned for the revived G.I. Combat — “The War That Time Forgot” and “Unknown Soldier” — had both been the subject of scuttled reinventions in titles of the same name. Nevertheless, I went into this debut issue with an open mind, as it features the work of some creators — notably Ariel Olivetti and the writing team of Gray and Palmiotti — I normally enjoy.
War That Time Forgot: Decades ago, DC offered up a war comic set on a mysterious island populated by dinosaurs, and the creators who developed the feature struck on pop culture gold. Military action with the chaos of carnivorous, extinct reptiles? Who’s not going to enjoy that some level? Writer J.T. Krul resurrects the concept here, but really, he doesn’t do much more than bring it into the present day, with modern soldiers and their conventional weapons. Despite setting the story in the 21st century, nothing much has changed. It’s still bullets versus biting. Maybe Krul has something a little different in store in episodes to come.
Not surprisingly, the greatest strength this story has going for it is the artwork. Olivetti’s richly textured, realistic style is intense in tone, and intensity works nicely with soldiers and dinosaurs. His style, which has always had a strong painted look, is a little stiff as a result, so the action doesn’t necessarily flow strongly. His dinosaurs are fierce and cool, though, and he brings a dark, tense mood to bear.
Where this opening episode goes astray is its failure to offer much in the way of plot. Krul just throws the soldiers at the dinosaurs, for the most part, so aside from the action, there’s no clear sense of what the story is meant to be about. This felt too light, too quick. Furthermore, the opening scene in which a special-forces soldier Skypes with his wife and newborn daughter comes off as terribly cliched. The same scene was in the first Transformers movie and any number of other flicks. I realize it’s meant to get us invested in the character, but it really tells us nothing about him other than his motive for getting home. And while a strong motive, it’s not terribly special or original.
Unknown Soldier: This is definitely the stronger of the two stories in this issue. I’m really not all that familiar with the original incarnation of the Unknown Soldier, but I suspect this is a significant divergence from the original concept. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting one. This Unknown Soldier is the product of damage — damage to his memory, to his soul, to his face. He’s the perfect assassin, driven by grief. Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s concept is essentially the Punisher, but with a focus on foreign terror rather than domestic crime. There’s a convincing tone in the dialogue, and the main character is a nice bit of badass fun.
Dan Panosian’s work here is gritty and extreme in tone, which is obviously an appropriate choice for the subject matter. While the hero is an unreal tank of a man, other characters are portrayed more realistically, so he keeps one foot in the real horror of war and another in a pop action riff. His work here exhibits the influences of such artists as Bill Sienkiewicz and Walter Simonson.
The end of the story promises an early shift in the character’s status quo that concerns me a little. I liked the notion the Unknown Soldier seems to have adopted a U.S. unit in Afghanistan, but the last page makes it seem the military is going to sever that relationship and use him as a weapon. Presenting the hero as something of a guardian angel for a bunch of regular grunts was a solid concept, and it would be a shame if the writers abandoned it so soon.
Overall, I’d have to say this was a mixed bag. There were a number of strengths and the weaknesses in the comic were, for the most part, minor in nature. But the other problem was there wasn’t much about it that came off as particularly special. Nothing in particular really grabbed me, really struck me as novel or impactful. There’s some solid craft to be found in G.I. Combat but little that’s particularly dazzling or memorable. 5/10
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