Sunday, September 11, 2011

Review: Men of War #1

One of the most interesting things about a universe as extraordinary as DC's is what it must be like for ordinary people to live in it. The point of view of regular joe who shares a world with near demigods is a fascinating one, but it's one that's rarely explored. Many a non-powered supporting character joins the world of superheroics sooner or later, and books that feature these characters struggle to find an audience.

The first issue of Men of War looks to explore what the DCU looks like through the eyes of a soldier while remaining a compelling war comic in its own right. Priced at $3.99, the comic actually features two tales. The book's main story, Joseph Rock, follows the grandson of iconic DC character Sgt. Rock, while its presumably rotating back-up feature showcases a group of Navy Seals.

Ivan Brandon's main story has the feel of a classic war movie. It's clearly much more grounded in reality than your standard DC title, but there's a feeling of something epic brewing, and I suspect Brandon already has some big stories planned for these characters. His dialogue is peppered with military slang, with translations in boxes at the bottom of the panel. For some readers, this might be a distraction, but for me, things like this help make a world more immersive. It gives conversations a more natural feel, and I like learning little details as I read about something that's fairly alien to me.

Tom Derenick's work is a strong fit for the title. His backgrounds are stark without lacking detail, and his smooth, sharp lines make the panels in which all hell breaks loose more visually effective. I especially like the muted tones with pops of color utilized by colorist Matt Wilson. Several of the pages are divided up by angular lines, sometimes giving the appearance of shattered glass and always adding a little more movement to the page. Other pages feature a single panel that's much wider than the others, creating a very cool effect that gives the comic a cinematic feel.

The glimpse we get of metahumans is brief, and mostly from a distance. While the second issue cover makes me think they'll be getting up close and personal pretty quickly, I really liked the way it was handled. The focus is never on metahumans themselves, but instead on the soldiers, and how all of this looks to them. I think it's easy to make any character with superpowers front and center the moment you use them in a story, and I'm very grateful Brandon didn't go that route.

I was a little less impressed by the back-up story, Navy Seals, by writer Jonathan Vankin. The characters seemed likable, and the story was fine, but I didn't feel especially excited by or invested in what happened. Similarly, artist Phil Winslade's work is perfectly good, but not all that interesting from an aesthetic standpoint.  Instead, it feels like a very by the numbers war comic. Pairing this with the more unconventional story told in Joseph Rock is probably a wise choice, as it allows the comic to appeal to a broader range of readers. Still, I'm hoping we get a Haunted Tank tale somewhere down the road.

Looking at this week's releases alone, it's clear DC is making a big effort to diversify their offerings, something I find very cool. While this comic probably isn't going to interest people who don't like war stories, it has the potential to attract new and different fans, and to build loyal readers out of the people who are starved for this sort of title. On several occasions, I've been in a comic shop and overheard a customer asking for war comics. There's not a lot out there for them, and I'm thrilled DC is doing something to interest those readers. If you know someone who likes these sort of stories but who doesn't read comics, I'd suggest gifting them this issue. This is the sort of thing that can expand the ever shrinking comic readership, and I think having a wider variety of tastes in the comics fandom can only be a good thing.

There are clear parallels to be drawn between Men of War and GCPD, a comic that focused on Gotham's police department. While I definitely think this is going to appeal to a lot of GCPD fans, I also think it's more of a genre story than that comic was, and people who don't want to read a comic about soldiers shouldn't expect to have their minds changed by this. Readers who are looking for a good military story, however, should be very satisfied, and I think Men of War is only going to get better from here.

By Marceline with 3 comments


one of the best of the week, IMO.

Yeah, I'm glad I didn't have to review this one. I'm a bit biased against these kind of books. Just not a big fan of war books really. But I understand where DC was coming from trying to cater to the people who play Call of Duty and nothing but.

See, I don't really think it's aimed at that set. I wouldn't be surprised if DC published an actual Call of Duty comic somewhere down the line- they seem big on getting those video game license- but I think DC is trying to grab fans of classic military stories and stuff like GCPD here. When I see people looking for war comics, it's usually older men. I'd bet a lot of them are veterans.

On the other hand, I do think DC is trying to jump on the vampire bandwagon with I, Vampire, and I also think that it's starting to look like a legitimately good comic. Trying to attract a specific audience doesn't preclude you from telling a good story, and I need to remind myself of that sometimes!

Ultimately, I think it's really cool that DC is diversifying their line like this, and I hope it attracts some different readers! Most of the new readers I've talked to seem interested in the books with characters they're familiar with, but I'm definitely going to gift a couple comics and hope they can appeal to non-comic fans. I love this medium and I want to see it grow again.

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