Soldier Zero #1
Writer: Paul Cornell
Artist: Javier Pina
Colors: Alfred Rockefeller
Letters: Ed Dukeshire
Cover artists: Trevor Hairsine, Dave Johnson, Phil Noto & Kalman Andrasofszky
Editor: Bryce Carlson
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $3.99 US
Back before Eye on Comics went on hiatus a few months ago, one of the last pieces I wrote was an editorial in which I expressed some scepticism about Boom! Studios’ plans for a new line of super-hero comics spearheaded by Stan Lee. Well, the time is almost upon us for those comics to see publication, and first out of the gate is Soldier Zero. At first glance, the premise is derivative… far too familiar in several respects. It’s comparable to a wide variety of other projects, from Avatar to Blue Beetle to X-O Manowar. Fortunately, there’s some character-driven content in the script that helps to set it apart. Writer Paul Cornell’s exploration of the experiences of a disabled person rings true and makes for some strong interpersonal moments in the story. That’s enough to hold my attention and for me to see how the whole alien-armor riff plays out.
Astronomy lecturer Stewart Trautmann is rebuilding his life after sustaining a life-altering injury during his service in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. Trautmann has adjusted to being in a wheelchair surprisingly well, but to his dismay, the same can’t be said for everyone around him. As he contends with a community that’s far from wheelchair accessible and the awkwardness of the people in his life, he also struggles with his feelings for a co-worker. As he finally gets a moment alone with her, another explosion brings another dramatic development into his life — in the form of a futuristic suit of power.
Javier Pina seems to take a two-pronged approach to the art for this inaugural issue, and it’s quite effective. The slick, sci-fi elements boast a bold, sharp look, and the action is choreographed quite well. But for the more down-to-earth moments, there’s a lighter touch at play. I was reminded of Jesus (The Brave and the Bold) Saiz’s realistic, soft style repeatedly during the Trautmann scenes. There could be more variety in the body types, and I found his choice to make two minor but spotlighted characters look almost identical to be briefly distracting. But overall, the visuals here are solid. Colorist Alfred Rockefeller merits special mention for his contribution to the opening sci-fi battle sequence. He conveys the power of the alien suit with brilliant colors that make the energies of the armor really pop. Ed Dukeshire also does a great job with the lettering, notably in creating a font that convincingly represents an alien language.
While the interior art is satisfying, I find what’s on the outside of the comic a bit frustrating. To be fair, the cover art is fine, if generic (though others might argue the various cover images are iconic). What bothers me is the sheer number of variant covers. There are three regular covers, three retailer incentive covers, a “Stan Lee signature” cover and, according to information listed in the inside front cover, two variants designed for specific comics retailers. I would imagine that the bean counters at Boom have indications that these multiple covers are good for business, but I don’t think they’re good for comics. I prefer it when creators let the work itself sell the book. Perhaps that’s naive of me.
Stan Lee is listed as the creator of this property, and I assume that means he provided the broad strokes of the premise and perhaps the initial plotline. Certainly, the foundation here is a simple one that’s in keeping with Lee’s Silver Age leanings. Cornell’s script handles a couple of the basic elements a bit awkwardly. How the main character came to be a paraplegic isn’t explained just once but twice — and really, beyond a single word balloon referring to an IED in Afghanistan, what other explanation is needed? I was also struck by the disconnect between Stewart’s military career and what he does in civilian life. Sure, I acknowledge that an astronomer or university lecturer can easily serve in the armed forces, but it’s a shame the script didn’t bring these two disparate aspects of the man’s life together in a cohesive, which would have likely added to the character’s appeal. I hope Cornell addresses Stewart’s divergent life paths in another issue in the near future.
Though there were aspects of the story and script that didn’t quite sit right for me, there were a number of elements that really drew me into the story. The tech talk during the dogfight in space that serves as the opening scene showed an inventive take on sci-fi language that brought some credibility to the impossible. But the stuff that really won me over was Stewart’s subtle conflicts with the people and obstacles around him. My younger brother, a law professor, is in an electric wheelchair as a result of his cerebral palsy. Over the years when I’d be out with him somewhere and I’d encounter a friend, sometimes that person would take me aside and whisper, “What’s wrong with your brother?” Invariably, my answer would be, “Nothing. He’s just lazy.”
While I don’t buy into the notion of a storefront that posts a “no wheelchairs” sign out front (that’s blatant illegal and discriminatory and isn’t the sort of thing that would be tolerated by anyone), the awkwardness, defensiveness and other reactions that others have around Stewart all rang true. That people would accidentally exclude him from group activities rings true. Cornell has tapped into something most disabled persons and others with various challenges face everyday. Lee and Cornell don’t present Stewart as embittered; it would be valid but it’s also becoming something of a cliche in popular culture. He’s not portrayed as a driven man on a mission, determined to change people’s hearts and minds or to improve the world for others in similar circumstances. No, he’s just trying to live his life normally, but the world just isn’t co-operating even though there’s no valid reason that it shouldn’t. 7/10
Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.