Men of War #1 review

I was going to open this review with the qualifier that I’m not a big fan of war comics, not having read any regularly since DC’s last entries in the genre were cancelled two decades ago. Then I remembered that there haven’t really been many mainstream war comics since then. I know there have been GI Joe books from Marvel and IDW, but they’re set in modern times. And star dolls. For me, a war book is best set in the First or Second World War.

This book isn’t. I knew that going in, but heck, the headliner is Joe Rock, grandson of Sgt Frank Rock, star of some of my favourite DC war comics. How could I not give this a go?

There are two stories in this debut issue, one of DC’s handful of New 52 comics priced at $3.99, with 28 pages of story. The main feature here shows how Corporal Joe Rock earns a battlefield promotion – basically, by not getting killed. Unlike his superior officer, doomed the minute Joe thinks: ‘That’s when I learn how much I like Sgt Torisi.’ I’d say, that’s war, but really, it’s just comics. Joe himself is a boor, taking pride in disobeying orders … but his actions always result in a win, and his fellow soldiers love him for it. I think we’re meant to like him.

Torisi, Rock and their unit are sent to Afghanistan Or Somewhere to rescue a Senator who’s disappeared while trying to negotiate a ceasefire. Everything goes tits up when a superhuman starts burning the air. Torisi dies, Joe becomes Sgt Rock.

Ivan Brandon’s script is best read through gritted teeth. Everyone is very tough. And very cliched. Jargon such as S.A.W. and ‘Goose’ bring verisimilitude, but they immediately throw us out of the story and into the realm of the accompanying editorial note.

Tom Derenick’s artwork is muscular and dramatic, just right for the story, but it’s a shame something – the quest for realism? – demands that the soldiers wear identical uniforms (click on image to enlarge). OK, Sgt Torisi has facial hair, but it’s not a huge help. There’s a reason that the men of Sgt Rock’s Easy Company had feathers, flowers and other bits of customisation on their kit. And any beards were massive and ginger.

The colouring is excellent, as Matt Wilson sticks to muted tones, except for the blaze scenes and Rock’s piercing blue eyes.

This is an odd duck. The testosterone on display, the constant military jargon, it had me thinking, not for me, but it may appeal to new readers, the kind who don’t try comics because they don’t ‘get’ superheroes. But suddenly we’re in a superhero book, and this superhero fan, who quite fancied reading a war comic, loses interest. I suspect my imaginary readers will too.

It’s as if DC wanted to revive the war genre but bottled out, winding up with a comic that’s neither a war book, nor a superhero book. They’re going for the DC Universe fan who wants soldiers vs super-people, and I doubt that’s a large enough crossover audience to make Joe Rock a star. DC lost its nerve.

Sgt Rock would be ashamed.

The back-up strip is a pure war story, again set in the present day, as Navy S.E.A.L.s run around a city in Afghanistan Or Somewhere (again) and shoot lots of bullets and lots of expository dialogue. The latter is a tad contrived, but it at least imbues the soldiers with a little character and background (Ice and Tracker recall Easy Company’s Ice Cream Soldier and Little Sure Shot).

I like this much more than the feature strip. Jonathan Vankin writes an efficient script, while Phil Winslade provides beautiful art, though again, it’s hard to tell who’s who at this stage. Thomas Chu’s colours are, like Wilson’s, realistic and thoughtful, with the bright colours saved for gunfire and sound effects.

The cover is by  Viktor Kalvachev, and while the contrast between black and red is striking, it’s confusing too – what is that red bird? A fiery phoenix? A bloody bantam? If it’s explained in the comic, I missed it.

I know I’ve read just one issue, but I’d like to see this book retooled. Dump Joe Rock and turn the pages over to Grandad Frank and the ‘Combat Happy Joes’ of Easy Company. Leave the S.E.A.L.s intact, to make good on their promise, but tell us where their missions are taking place … I doubt America’s enemies are going to take offence at being represented in a comic book – and if this book takes on board the tradition of DC’s earlier entries in the genre, they’ll at least be presented with humanity.

And one more thing – no super-people. Ever.

That way, Men of War might just find a niche audience, and a large one at that.

6 thoughts on “Men of War #1 review

  1. You're probably right as far as the structure of this book goes. I haven't read this particular one mind you, but yeah the could at least present some old Sgt.Rock adventures in here, along with some of the Unknown Soldier too for kicks.

    I also agree that there should not be any superheroes here; after all, I thought the “new 52” was all about diversity right?

    Thanks for saving me and countless others from buying this Martin.

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  2. So far this is the only book I've read in the new DCU. I disliked the first story, but for the opposite reason than you. I thought the first story was decent enough, but I didn't like the art *at all* and the coloring didn't do it any favors. Making hard to distinguish characters that much harder by the coloring.

    I too enjoyed the second part more that the first

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  3. the thing is, do kids today want to read books set in WW2? i'm not so sure they do. having a modern day setting is something that's real to a lot of Americans, Canadians, and British young people. they know friends who have gone off to fight, and perhaps even to die.

    here are some tweets by Ivan Brandon, the writer, about some popular misconceptions about the “super human” in this story:

    “i didn't write a comic about soldiers sent in to control a villain.”

    ” they aren't there to fight superheroes or supervillains.”

    someone asked him, “It's supposed to be Powers or Gotham Central but with military instead of cops, right?” to which Brandon replied, “not really.”

    so i think you're jumping the gun just a bit on what is meant by this super human appearing in MoW. Rock and Easy company have always been a part of the DCU, and so is this current book. how about seeing what the story is actually about before passing judgment?

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  4. Hi Dale, glad the review gave you an idea as to whether you'd like the book, but of course, I'm not actively trying to put anyone off. Have a flick through if you get the chance!

    Travis, I was reading that the book is aimed at the Call of War(or something) generation, which immediately means I'm not the audience, as I don't DO video games. But they must have been talking about the first story, as the second was pretty traditional, while updated and, yeah, good.

    Great point about what today's younger readers might wish to read about, Joseph – certainly the Afghanistan-ish setting has more immediate relevance (my brother was in the RAF for 25 years, and often in war zones). For me, though, World War Two has more, not romance, but appeal to read about. Bigger, more easily dintifiable hate figures, for one thing. But as I said, it looks like I'm not the target audience, which is fair enough.

    I don't get those quotes from Ivan Brandon about him not writing fights involving super-types, when there's patently one in there, DC has pushed the book as being about soldiers in a superhero universe, and he's taking part in interviews such as this:

    http://uk.comics.ign.com/articles/119/1193299p1.html

    I'm not too fussed about the subtleties of what is, or isn't, 'meant' by the inclusion of a superbeing; I don't want any in there at all.

    And I've given the book a chance, I bought it, I thought about it. Sorry, I'm not made of money, and don't have all the time in the world, and with 52 new books from DC, some have to get dropped. Also, having tried a couple of issues of Ivan Brandon's Nemesis book, I think he's just not a writer whose work I enjoy. but best of luck to him, and the book.

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  5. hey, i re read my comment, and i didn't mean to sound like an ass. apologies, as i wrote it on the fly.

    really enjoy your reviews, even when i don't agree with them.

    i certainly understand not every book is going to be everyone's flavor. i'm not fond of books like Deathstroke, Red Lanterns, and Suicide Squad, either. those types of stories have never been my cup of tea. villains don't interest me.

    i re-read the IGN interview, and Brandon doesn't say there are going to be direct interaction between the new Easy Co. and super beings. i think it will be more of a study of how do ordinary people fight wars when gods walk the earth?

    anyway, i get your point that you'd prefer a more straight forward war book. i'm a little perturbed that the upcoming All Star Western takes place in Gotham, myself.

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  6. It's all good, Joseph, I just love to hear opinions of whichever hue. I really appreciate the time you take to respond. Heaven knows, there are always other opinions and ideas I've missed or not considered. And sometimes I'm just plain wrong.

    I never picked up Red Lanterns or Deathstroke either. Suicide Squad, well, you may have noticed that I succumbed. More fool me!

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