Monday, September 26, 2011

Men of War #1

DC Comics, 28 pages, $ 3.99

Writers: Ivan Brandon, Jonathan Vankin
Artists: Tom Derenick, Phil Winslade
Colorists: Matt Wilson, Thomas Chu
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover artist: Viktor Kalchev

Men of War—which revives a title that last ran from 1977 through 1980—is one of those odd hybrid books that you’d have expected from WildStorm, if the imprint were still around, at least as far as the 20-page lead story by Ivan Brandon, Tom Derenick and Matt Wilson is concerned.

It’s a war comic, for all intents and purposes, but superheroes are also part of the concept. The creators establish a new “Sgt. Rock” character for the modern-day DC Universe, who appears to be a descendant of the World War II hero introduced by Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert in 1959. Rock is your typical unfaltering John Rambo hardass who keeps doing extra tours of duty, because that’s all he knows. “I’m not keeping track,” he says. “There’s always work. This is my job.” And Rock gets the job done, which is why he’s recruited for “a bigger fight” before too long.

The creators do the action routine pretty well, and the art in particular is a pleasant surprise. If you doubted veteran superhero artist Tom Derenick’s capability of laying on the grit and getting down in the trenches, worry no more. Derenick and colorist Matt Wilson turn out to be a good team, and they succeed at putting a face on the story’s hellish setting.

The superhumans are basically called in like air strikes here, always remaining at a distance. They are as threatening to their allies as they are to their enemies: If they come, you better get away, and there’s no guarantee that you won’t end up as collateral damage. If you have to do a war/superheroes genre mash-up, then this is a smart way of handling it. It gets mileage out of the more unsettling aspects of superheroes and, more importantly, avoids the logical pitfalls that come with them. They’re called in for the shock-and-awe part, but they don’t seem to be the kind of people that you’d want to trust with the more delicate tasks on the ground.

The 8-page “Navy Seals” back-up by Jonathan Vankin, Phil Winslade and Thomas Chu is a straightforward war story about U.S. soldiers in an urban-warfare situation, without any fantastic elements to jazz it up. It’s less successful than the other story, mainly because the writing seems hellbent on letting no bit of researched terminology go to waste by leaving it out of the dialogue. The fact that there are four footnotes in eight pages could have been a clue that we’re laying it on a little thick, but apparently not. The art is nice, but as a story, it doesn’t add up. Vankin aims for realism, but I just don’t buy the characters. The dialogue reads like somebody commissioned a comics version of some Army handbook—there’s no authenticity to it, and the timing is awful.

As far as the main story is concerned, though, Men of War is a pleasant surprise. Brandon doesn’t just shoehorn the superheroes in, but actually finds a way to make them work without undermining his main character or the book’s concept. If he can keep it that way—which is a challenge, surely—, this should be an intriguing series. The back-up strip drags things down, unfortunately. It’s not clear what it’s doing here, either, for that matter. Its sensibilities seem completely different from those of the main story.

Grade: C+

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