Review | Men of War #1
Written by Ivan Brandon
Art by Tom Derenick
Aside from James Bond, Sgt. Rock might be the trickiest government hero to modernize. It seems easy. Warfare and espionage are as part of human nature as lying, bowel movements and kicking leather balls around. A writer could just throw Rock into Afghanistan and call it a day. After all, Bond has been updated countless times. The villains just now come from the southern parts of Asia rather than the north.
It's the context and purpose that are harder to handle well. What are these rugged men fighting for? The world is no longer black and white, and an Army tale tends to read as jingoist or dovish. Odds are, some reader is going to be pissed off. Which is why war comics fare best when sticking with Nazi villains (Captain America is still fighting Baron Zemo and Red Skull) or to historical fact (like Chuck Dixon and Gary Kwapisz's brilliant and gory Civil War Adventure).
I enjoy war comics. They've been few and far between in recent years, as the issues become trickier to juggle, not to mention market to a polarized nation. Jason Aaron's wonderful The Other Side simply showed the parallels between the G.I.s and the V.C. sucked into the hell that was Nam. DC's kicked it up a bit, too, with Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion and the zany, yet touching Haunted Tank. I was hoping for something of that calibre with Men of War. However, it smells like G.I. Joe (burning plastic and Old Spice, if you're wondering). It's more the Rock than Sgt. Rock.
Sgt. Rock's grandson, who must have gotten his blonde hair from his mom's side, is a stubborn grunt who wants to stay that way ("A wolf don't wanna be a fox"). He's brilliant, natch, but savors the noble work that comes with not being in a position of power. Wussy. He's put onto some shadowy ops team and sent to some unnamed and arid land. And that's where (spoiler alert) an unidentified metahuman zips above the fray and ruins the battle. So this Rock is going to encounter some super powers, it seems. Which means this isn't exactly a war comic. And who wants that? Besides the producers of Battle L.A.
The beef jerky dialogue is riddled with military acronyms and jargon. The colors stick to a war palette of drab olive, sand, ash and fire. You can still see the graphite of Tom Derenick's macho pencils under the heavy inks, which makes the characters look both strong and erasable. An unrelated bonus story, "NAVY SEALs: Human Shields," is a delightful throwback to propaganda comics of the '40s. Up to a point. Phil Winslade's kinetic figures are an homage to Joe Kubert's vintage Sgt. Rock drawings. But when a keffiyeh-clad Arab crouches behind a young girl and fires an AK in the last panel, things get itchy. I suppose we'll have to wait another couple decades until we get The Other Side to that story.
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