Take a Good Look at My Good Looks, by Martha Thomases
It’s not a secret that I worship Kyle Baker. Perhaps his wife, Liz, is a bigger fan, but that’s debatable. So it’s no surprise that I looked forward to his new series from Image, Special Forces. It’s even less of a surprise that I like it so much.
The surprise is the subject matter — the war in Iraq. We’re nearly five years into this war, and there have been very other few comics about it (notably Rick Veitch’s Army @ Love). I can’t think of another war in the modern media age that hasn’t inspired comics. Wars have been the springboards for some of my favorites in our medium, including Harvey Kurtzman’s Two-Fisted Tales and George Pratt’s Enemy Ace.
Special Forces is hilarious and terrifying. In the tradition of war comics (and movies), it follows a troop of lovable misfits. These are modern misfits, however. Using actual news stories as springboards, Baker casts his unit with the type of people being recruited for this war: felons, the mentally ill, the physically unfit. That’s what makes these forces “special.” And the most special is Zone.
Zone is autistic. He doesn’t look people in the eye. He doesn’t talk. He carries a small plastic toy soldier with him at all times. And he’s a perfect soldier: he follows orders precisely. Nothing stops him from doing what he’s been told to do, not teasing, not pain, not enemy fire.
Zone briefly went to high school with Felon, our narrator. Felon is a beautiful woman with anger issues. She enlisted in the army to avoid a prison term. Felon and Zone are the only two characters to survive the first issue.
This comic is totally rock’em-sock’em. Things blow up on nearly every page. Felon loses quite a lot of her uniform in battle, exposing more skin than one tends to see in the average news report. Color saturates the page, with sound effects in neon shades and blood-red silhouettes. A scantily-clad woman with a gun, lying next to a severed head? War is hell, baby.
Every situation in this series will be inspired by actual events, according to Baker. The recruitment of people who previously were not up to military standards, in this issue, for example, with more to come.
Compare this to Marvel Comics, where rumor has it that the Army is using product placement to encourage enlistment.
If you listen to most of the people in the Administration who support the war, you might notice that none of them served in combat (with the notable exception of John McCain, who is often criticized for being soft on torture). On the other hand, many vocal critics of the war – off the top of my head, I can name John Kerry, John Murtha, Wesley Clark, Eric Massa, Jim Webb – are decorated veterans.
It will be interesting to see if the book gets noticed by the political pundits of all stripes. There’s no denying the courage and sacrifice of the soldiers, but it’s easy to criticize those who sent them to war, with insufficient training and weapons and equipment. The soldiers we see in this episode did not enlist to spread democracy, but to get jobs, to make something of themselves. For them, this war is not a glorious adventure but a matter of life and death. Messy death. The kind that looks like it hurts.
Martha Thomases, Media Goddess of all things ComicMix, urges everyone to support equal opportunity for counter-recruitment efforts.