DC New 52: I finally read MEN OF WAR #1

27 Sep

Well, I actually read this a while ago, but it took a while to have the time to write about it (especially since I injured my hand a few days ago)…

It’s safe to say there will be SPOILERS.Men of War 1 cover

I was impressed that DC was willing to publish a war comic. Except for Garth Ennis’ brilliant work on titles like Battlefields and War Stories, war comics haven’t had a lot of success in the last 20-30 years (minus Sgt. Rock and ‘The Nam). It took balls for DC to take a chance, so they deserve props for that.

Check out that amazing cover art. It looks like either a descendant of Sgt. Rock is getting superpowers, or the bloody eagle (or phoenix?) is symbolic. Either way, it promises some serious badassery. Sign me up!

Unfortunately, the interiors fail to live up to the promise of that sweet cover. There are two stories in the issue, and both have some things going for them and some serious problems.

THE MAIN STORY features Joseph Rock, grandson of the famous Sgt. Rock, whose legendary battlefield awesomeness is putting him on his way to becoming a sergeant himself. The 20-page story, like most of the New 52 #1s, is strictly Act One stuff, all setup with no payoff. Writer Ivan Brandon structures the story like a TV action drama, with the first two pages wasted on Rock in the middle of the action that we see at the two-page cliffhanger ending. I’m sure that Brandon was given some editorial guidelines on this introductory issue, but it’s a missed opportunity to use the story space for more characterization or action.

There’s a short sequence where Rock is told by superior officers that he deserves a promotion, whether he likes it or not, and then he and a group of soldiers are sent to what Rock’s sergeant cryptically refers to as “a bigger fight.” But there’s no real payoff to that hint: the team drops into… somewhere, fights insurgents, sees a mysterious flying figure smash through the enemy town and then get attacked itself, and then it’s over with the sergeant’s death. The art is serviceable, but dull: Penciller Tom Derenick’s figures look like a sketchy Darick Robertson (with less consistent line weight), and the faces are Kubert-esque but inconsistent from page to page, with the range of facial expression one would expect from Rob Liefeld. It’s so ordinary and by-the-numbers that there’s nothing to get excited about: this plot could have been covered in half the pages (with probably the same number of panels: the 20-page story has three splash pages). If we saw the mysterious superbeings, or Rock taking charge after his sergeant dies, or Rock facing his destiny (whatever it is), or any kind of resolution in this chapter, it might have been enough for me to want to see what happens next. As it stands, the story reads like it’s written for a book collection, and I haven’t been given enough reason to stick around for more.

THE BACKUP STORY features a team of Navy SEALs in an apparently Middle-Eastern town trying to take out a sniper. It’s a simple, but potentially interesting premise: the reader gets dropped in at just the right point in the action, and writer Jonathan Vankin does a good job with the plot, building the tension as the team is divided and two SEALs try to get to the sniper before their unseen teammates are killed. Where Vankin goes wrong is in the dialogue: the exposition is forced and out of place in certain moments, so instead of getting to know the SEALs through their choices and personalities, their words spell out who they are, and it’s pretty cheesy. Instead of looking at ’70s-’80s DC war comics, Vankin should be looking to Harvey Kurtzman’s Two-Fisted Tales or Garth Ennis’ War Storiesto see how to make the characters interesting and memorable.

The 'Nam

War comics done right. Artwork by Michael Golden. (Image via Wikipedia)

The main reason I was excited to pick up Men of War was because of Phil Winslade’s art on the backup story. Winslade did incredible work on Goddess (again, by Garth Ennis) and Howard the Duck MAX, as well as a fun (but unfortunately uncollected) run on Daredevil around a decade ago. Here, Winslade feels rushed and cramped, with almost no backgrounds. His figure work is good as usual, but appears sketchy and unfinished. Again (probably due to editorial insistence), the final page of this 8-page chapter is a splash page, wasting space that could have been much more effectively laid out.

If you’ve never read a war comic in your life, you might enjoy Men of War #1 (if you read it with at least one more issue). Since I have a large stack of much better war comics, I’m not tempted to try another issue. This kind of book might have worked in the late 1970s, but Comics has gone through a lot of growth and innovation since then, and there are too many ways this could have been better for me to want to stick around. I hope DC keeps publishing war material, because it’s a rich genre: Men of War just doesn’t live up to the genre’s potential.

Several New 52 #1s have good storytelling the same way this is a good heavy metal song.

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5 Responses to “DC New 52: I finally read MEN OF WAR #1”

  1. The Hook October 24, 2011 at 10:39 #

    At least one person read this book!

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