Monday, March 24, 2014

Four war stories

So, the Spring Break Bargain Box Bonanza included a few more of those 2010 One Shot comics, and four of them were classic DC War titles: Our Army at War (featuring Sergeant Rock), Star-Spangled War Stories (featuring Mademoiselle Marie),  Our Fighting Forces (Featuring The Losers), and G.I. Combat (featuring The Haunted Tank).

I am going to declare a bias up-front here. Back when I was buying everything the Big Two shoveled out the door, that everything included all the war, horror, and western stuff as well as the superheroes, and these series were some of my favorites: they were consistently well crafted, had superior artwork, contained historical facts and technical information, and provided emotional insights as well as adventure and action. One of the reasons I liked these four One Shots so much is that they were close to pitch-perfect in capturing the sense and sensibility of those earlier stories. If that makes me a curmudgeon living the past, so be it, but these books are damn fine nonetheless.

Let's start with Mademoiselle Marie. (The old logo styled it "Mlle. Marie" and I spent some years calling her "Millie.") It was great to revisit an old friend and a character whose only rival as my first crush is Honey West. This story is pure Marie - it's a tiny bit James-Bond-ier than I remember, and certainly a little sexier, but the cat-and-mouse game of maquis vs Milice in occupied France is classic. Leafing back through it, I see that none of the scenes takes place in daylight - it's a moody, tight story of intrigue and betrayal.

Do not mess with the woman in the red beret.

The Haunted Tank and Losers stories both could easily have been lifted from my youth.

The Haunted Tank is such a wonderful concept: tank commander Jeb Stuart gets advice and supernatural help from the ghost of his namesake, the Civil War general. Or does he? The perfect HT tale leaves us wondering whether the ghost is just a figment of Jeb's imagination - does he actually get tactical assistance from the beyond, or is it just that, as his crew thinks, "he talks to himself for a bit and then he goes and does something totally loony"? This story of a stand-off in deserted town does not disappoint, and the meticulously rendered period scenes keep us firmly grounded in a sometimes brutal reality.

That little M3 tank has seen a lot.

The Losers series has the most recent pedigree: it took characters who had been appearing separately for some time - Navajo Ace Johnny Cloud, Capt. Storm, and Gunner and Sarge - and formed them into a special operations unit assigned to what would frequently wind up being suicide missions. But somehow the Losers persevere, through brotherhood and sheer willpower, and manage to survive - if not always completing the missions precisely as planned. This story captured that flavor precisely - the futility not only of battle, but of war itself, and the struggle to find honor in it somewhere, somehow.

 And of course Capt. Storm gets his wooden leg shot up.

The last of the four is the most incomplete success, but then it had the hardest act to follow and took the biggest risks. Sgt. Rock of Easy Company is DC's war comic icon - the paradigmatic reluctant warrior, stoic and heroic, protagonist of a thousand stories. This one uses the device of two overlapping stories - one set in WW2 and one in the contemporary Afghan War - that dovetail and diverge and converge again to tell the story of soldiers and the ones they left behind.

While ambitious, the story is less than completely successful for two reasons. First, the constant switching from Nazi-occupied Europe to the Middle East becomes a bit jarring. Perhaps it's just that the rhythm is off; to sustain such a conceit takes a deft touch, and the slightest bit off-balance can throw the whole thing awry. The parallel was compelling but needed a bit more to maintain it.

The major flaw in the story is just that there is no way to parallel Rock. He is such a bigger-than-life figure - even the characters in the story refer to him as a "god of war" - that his modern-day counterpart seems like a little kid playing soldiers. I couldn't find any information on "Capt. Duncan" - I thought he might have been from a newer series or something - but whoever he is, he is just a generic badass mercenary, a cardboard cut-out compared to Frank Rock. Without a touchstone like Rock to ground it, the moral weight of the present-day story has nothing to press against, and the story is the lesser for it. That said, it was still a lot better than 90% of the recent comics I have seen.

Make war no more.

No comments:

Post a Comment