Monday, 18 August 2008

War Comics

Listen up ladies! You should read the following comics:

Special Forces


Storming Paradise

Three war books, two of which take a sideways look at the ongoing mess in Iraq and Afghanistan, and one which deals in an alternate history of the road to VJ Day. All three are excellent.

In a recent interview with John Siuntres on Word Balloon, Storming Paradise scribe Chuck Dixon alluded to the fact that he believes both the Vietnam war and the war in Iraq to have been righteous wars - an opinion which I can't agree with. But while I feel more comfortable with the politics of Army@Love's Rick Veitch and Special Forces Kyle Baker, I can appreciate Storming Paradise because Dixon isn't preaching, he's writing an absorbing story about a war which most reasonable people (including myself) consider to have been just.

Storming Paradise is set in a world where The Manhattan Project failed to reach fruition, leaving America with no choice but to mount a land invasion of Japan. So far it's been a gritty, well researched and exciting tale which sweeps between the military planners and the men on the ground on both sides of the conflict.

Dixon was keen to point out in his interview with Siuntres that it's a straight up World War Two story with no metaphorical nods to America's current campaign in the Middle East, but it's difficult not to draw comparisons between the tactics of the Iraqi insurgency and the Japanese in Storming Paradise. This is especially true of issue two which kicks off with a Kamikaze cameo that could just as easily be a study of a suicide bomber in Iraq. It makes for a compelling aside within the bigger story - one of a series of great moments that help to establish the platform for the grand epic which Dixon is clearly about to hit us with.

In that respect it's much more like a comics version of The Winds of War than either Baker or Veitch's books, both of which are designed to hammer home the pointlessness rather than the necessity of war. This and the fact that they are populated by an unhinged cast of weirdos and misfits, puts both books in the tradition of other great anti-war satires such as Doctor Strangelove and Catch 22.

The fact that both books are also drawn by their creators enhances their polemical feel and allows Veitch and Baker free rein to play with the whole war comics genre. Baker does this particularly well, throwing in visual references to Kurtzman's EC war books and Kubert's work on DC's war titles.

All this is not to say that Storming Paradise suffers for not being drawn by its writer. Butch Guice's detailed panels and grand splash pages are a huge part of what makes Storming Paradise such a great story. Whereas Baker's cartoony style is perfectly suited to the sick satire of the story he tells in Special Forces, Guice is at home detailing the real world. Whether it be the haircuts, the uniforms or the military hardware, he captures the spirit of the 1940s perfectly.

Army@Love has more of the feel of an HBO series about it than the other two tales. Essentially a story where corporate America has taken over the running of a war in the fictional country of Afbaghistan, it's an often surreal take on American militarism. But there's also a soapy quality to it particularly during the moments focusing on the folks back home. Like Baker, Veitch has plenty to say about the US military and the government which runs it, but he is equally concerned with the evils of globalization and the dumbing down of youth through rampant corporatism and commercialisation. This is important, because ultimately he sees those forces as being partly responsible for the mess America finds itself in abroad.

While Baker might agree with those sentiments, his Special Forces has more to say about the damage that America's military is doing, not only to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, but to the young American men and women who are sent off to fight in those wars. In that respect he shares something with Chuck Dixon and Rick Veitch. As far apart as they are politically, they all recognise that good war stories should be about more than guns, tanks and bombs. Good war stories are the ones that show us what war does to the people who get caught up in them. Storming Paradise, Special Forces and Army@Love all do that. I recommend all three.


mr wheatley said...

yeah a weird moment the other day when i realized my nerd sack was full of war comics. What next? horror?

Dom Sutton said...

yay war!