Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Graphic Lit: Iraq satires

While comics are by no means immune to the influence of current events, few have dared to tread upon delicate subjects such as, for example, the Iraq war.

Until now. Recently, a number of books have come out offering satirical takes on the war. Here's a run-down on three of them:

"Army@Love Vol. 1: The Hot Zone Club"
by Rick Veitch and Gary Erskine, Vertigo, 128 pages, $9.99.

In this new series, the Army, faced with dwindling recruitment and an entrenched war in "Afbaghistan," hires marketing men from the business world to solve the problem.

Their solution? Pitch the war as the ultimate experience for adrenaline junkies, a thrill ride where men and women looking for kicks can engage in orgies on and off the battlefield. Even the mentally handicapped get the chance to serve, though they don't get to use a cell phone.

While a satire of callous Americans getting their thrills at the expense of hapless Third World residents has its merits, I'm not entirely sure the depiction matches the situation on the other side of the globe right now.

The satire also can be too obvious and forced at times. (A band that performs for the troops is called Paco Lypsinc. Ho ho).

But if some of the broader jokes fall flat, Veitch has a rich and varied cast to draw upon here, and the soap opera elements -- particularly dealing with the spouses stuck on the home front -- are smart and engaging, suggesting that the series has the potential to be much richer than the sort of one-note satire you might initially expect.

Veitch's work ("Brat Pack," "The Maximortal") has always dealt cynically with how greed and selfishness tend to undermine our better natures. With "Army@Love" he's seemingly created the means to explore that theme in a variety of ways.

"Special Forces"
by Kyle Baker, Image, 32 pages, $2.99 per issue.

Like Veitch, Baker has been involved in comics for a long time. And like, Veitch, he has often displayed a gift for biting humor and satire.

"Special Forces" doesn't so much parody the Iraq war as it does modern action comics. More specifically, modern action comics by Frank Miller (author of "300" and Sin City").

Baker nails Miller's clipped, tough-guy monologues and love for overly dramatic, cheesecake poses perfectly.

The plot, meanwhile, mirrors "Army@Love's" to a degree: desperate for recruits, the military enlists anyone it can find, including a severely autistic boy and a teen-age female troublemaker who can't seem to be bothered to wear body armor.

The first issue varies widely in tone from farcical to melodramatic, and thus it's hard to be sure where Baker's going with this. Still, he's rarely faltered before and the notion of using the war to make fun of Miller's oeuvre is too delicious a concept to ignore.

"Shooting War"
by Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman, Grand Central Publishing, 192 pages, $21.99.

Originally published as a Web comic, "Shooting War," like "Army," is set in the near future, and follows the adventures of a celebrity blogger who finds himself covering the increasingly worsening war for a big TV news organization.

Unfortunately, Goldman's art frequently comes off as awkward and seems incapable of displaying any subtlety of emotion. The satire also comes off as awkward, not to mention ham-fisted and obvious.

Ultimately, "Shooting War" isn't nearly as revealing and penetrating as it likes to think it is. The war has been badly bungled. Big media care more about ratings than conveying the truth. That's not exactly breaking news.

The Patriot-News, 2007

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