G.I. Combat 0

Alternating Currents: G.I. Combat 0, Shelby and Lawton

Today, Shelby and (guest writer) Lawton Hall are discussing G.I. Combat 0, originally released September 5, 2012. G.I.Combat 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.

Shelby:  When I started reading comics a year ago, I never thought I would be reading and enjoying a soldier title. But when Jimmy Palmiotti tells you at a convention to read a book because “dinosaurs,” you have to at least give it a try. This title is really two titles. The War that Time Forgot is the story of a black-ops group investigating issues in North Korea and finding DINOSAURS; a fight ensues. This book also includes a back-up/additional story of The Unknown Soldier, and it’s this story the zero issue focuses on.

The Unknown soldier is a man found in the battlefield in Afghanistan. His dog tags are missing, his face is almost completely destroyed, and he was technically dead when he was found. After being resuscitated, he demonstrated the skills of an elite soldier. He was given a few enhancements a la Deathstroke; increased speed, strength, healing abilities, superior tactical skills, etc. After busting a major terrorist plot, he’s got some questions for his handler about the whole unknown soldier project. Turns out, there has been an Unknown Soldier in every major conflict…ever, I guess. Using the power of science, The Soldier can access the subconscious memories of those past soldiers, and does so in a trippy, non-linear fashion. While this is going on, a new terrorist plot is hatching, with hacked nuclear facilities and exploding commercial airplanes.

The War that Time Forgot story is a little more straight forward. One soldier has been left behind with the dinosaurs in North Korea. He fights to remember who he is, his family, his life, but he ultimately comes to realize this caveman life he has is who he is now. It’s all he’s got. Now, I’m not totally certain how the format of this title is going to work. The end of the dinosaur story is jut that: it says “The End” right in it, and teases the next issue, “The Haunted Tank.” I suspect that Unknown Soldier is going to be the meat of this title, and that this book will just include little serials of other stories. Honestly, I’m not sure, but I do know the Unknown Soldier is intriguing enough for me that I will keep reading.

The idea of there always having been an Unknown Soldier is really interesting, especially considering how long this country has been at war. As the Soldier is reliving the memories of all the Soldiers before him, he talks with his wife, daughter, and young son (they were killed in issue 1, and since they were his life, without them he resigned himself to being Unknown). After insisting he is not her father, his daughter asks, “Will you let him go when the war is over?” He is now realizing that, for the Unknown Soldier, the war is never over, he will never be able to go home. I think that’s a sentiment we can all relate to. Palmiotti has been really smart with this title. He’s delivering a message to us about the nature of war, and that message is housed in a reality we can all believe, a reality that we all know. Furthermore, he does so without being preachy, a difficult feat to be sure.

Staz Johnson is a new artist to the Unknown Soldier title, and I think it’s a good fit. His style is aggressive and dynamic. There’s a little more hash-mark shading than I usually prefer, but it doesn’t muddy-up the action: an important distinction for a title with so many large-scale battle scenes. I really like what he did with the multiple memories sequence; he did great work with showing the Soldier in so many different eras of battle dress, and then mashing things together as the memories started to blend. My favorite panel has got to be the Unknown Viking Warrior (I wasn’t kidding when I said ‘every conflict ever’).

It looks like something from an old fantasy movie without looking nearly so dated. I love the red wash, and the gross corpses and crows; it’s just so badass!

I like this title. It’s an action-y, fun read; I like it for a lot of the same reasons I used to like Deathstroke. The two are very similar, actually: elite, meta-human supersoldiers with tragic histories who just want to do what they do best. The major difference is The Unknown Soldier is grounded in my reality, which adds a little more depth to the story. I’ve also never read a title set up with multiple stories within the book; it’s something new, and I like it. I’m glad I got Jurassic Parked into reading this title; if I wasn’t so intrigued by the dinosaurs, I never would have picked it up. Lawton, what do you think? I don’t know what kind of experience you have reading comics, where the soldiers and dinosaurs enough to keep you entertained?

Lawton: Hey Shelby — first, thank you for letting me be a part of this blog and this review. To respond to your last question — I have little or no experience reading comics, but I check in at Retcon Punch every once in a while (usually at work) because the writing here is so engaging and examines the comic book medium in a much broader context than I’ve ever considered it. You’ve set the bar high and I’m honored to be a part of this.

And yes, I agreed to this review the minute I heard “DINOSAURS”; I’m also really happy that “Jurassic Park” is a verb now.

I was a bit confused by having the two stories in one issue (The Unknown Soldier: A Deeper Mystery and The War That Time Forgot), and I wanted to assume that there was a connection between the two, or that the juxtaposition of the two stories conveyed something about the Unknown Soldier plot that neither story alone could, but I left feeling less than convinced. The War That Time Forgot was fun and violent and had DINOSAURS in it, but in the end, I felt like The WTTF (sorry, I couldn’t resist that acronym) almost undermined much of what was set up in the first half of the issue.

I was hooked by the Unknown Soldier story because of its connections to the real world and real wars. Like you mentioned, it seemed very topical. And seems like it will get more topical as the terrorist plot develops.  Even though The WTTF begins “Before…somewhere in North Korea” (presumably during the Korean War), the connections with the real word are tenuous in the first two pages of a G.I. soldier stabbing a purple DINOSAUR with a knife.

Later in The WTTF, there’s a scene about this G.I. soldier being a hyper-stereotypical family man that hearkens back to the goodbye scene in A Deeper Mystery, but the connections with “reality” end there, which made me feel as though the two stories were meant to be somehow contradictory, rather than compliment one another.

In The War That Time Forgot, the protagonist becomes more or less an “unknown soldier” because he is stranded in some sort of pre- or post-historic wilderness and gradually loses his sense of self and his connections with his previous life (and/ or sanity). Is this supposed to be a different possible explanation for the Unknown Soldier than the reincarnation story posited by A Deeper Mystery? I would be interested in that possibility, but The WTTF was presented in such an open-and-shut manner that it doesn’t seem like these two possibilities are going to develop alongside one another, which makes me feel like The WTTF is a bit incongruous with the bigger Unknown Soldier mythology that is being set into motion by ADM.

The artwork in The War That Time Forgot was slick and clean, which also presented a stark contrast to the grittiness of A Deeper Mystery. I generally enjoyed it, but a little more effort could have gone into a couple important frames. The alligator-like DINOSAUR and the purple DINOSAUR (who looks more blue now — maybe because of the blood loss?) below look like they were drawn separately and then pasted into the same frame — the ‘gator doesn’t even look like he’s biting into the blue/purple guy, which was a bit anticlimactic for me. Also, why is the soldier missing a face here when so much attention is given to all of the other details in this frame (water, reptile scales, background foliage, etc.)?

The way that the G.I. soldier’s memories of his wife and kid fading away were depicted with a cheap Photoshop smudge effect also made this half of the issue fall flat for me. I felt like this moment is central to The WTTF plot on its own and also draws the clearest connection to the Unknown Soldier we see in A Deeper Mystery. This was weak, especially compared to the dramatic angles and lighting of the subway station goodbye in ADM, which has much of the same effect (both the wife and daughter’s faces are obscured by the lighting or by the framing of the scene), but in a more subtle and creative way.

I’m probably being overly critical of The War That Time Forgot because I really liked A Deeper Mystery, especially after reading it for a second time. The trippy, nonlinear montage (not sure if that’s the proper term, but that’s what it felt like to me) of the Unknown Soldier’s memories or subconscious was definitely the highlight of this issue for me, too. Johnson did a fantastic job with these pages, which put the soldier in clearly-identifiable points in history while also driving home this overwhelming sense of constant, inescapable war and bloodshed. As an outsider to the comics world (a medium which, fair or not, has a reputation for gratuitous violence), these pages reminded me of Tarantino films or spaghetti Westerns, which, at their best, create a compelling, self-aware excuse to embrace the potential violence of a medium. This violence can then become both a commentary on the medium as a whole, or in the case of the Unknown Soldier, the seemingly endless wars in the real world.

I liked the visuals of these pages so much that I found the little bits of dialogue throughout this montage distracting and unnecessary. For my tastes, the world-weary, hunched-over posture of the Unknown Viking Warrior in the ¾ panel you pointed out conveyed his desperation much more effectively and artfully than his conversation with the Raven or his Revolutionary-War pleas of “Why are you torturing me like this?”

I would have been content to have this scattershot, nonlinear imagery fill the bulk of the issue, but I suppose these things need plots to keep moving forward (alas), which we get in the last few pages of A Deeper Mystery. It’s obvious that The Unknown Soldier is going to be involved in the aftermath of the plane bombing we see on the last page, and I’m sure we’re all excited to see where that’s going to lead. The transition to the nuclear reactor, etc. felt abrupt to me, and it wasn’t totally clear to me why the Unknown Soldier was suddenly being briefed on this terrorist plot when the last we saw of him, he was a psychologically broken mess (and who can blame him, after that bad acid trip?). And here, this might stem from my ignorance of the medium, but did A Deeper Mystery have to be so short because it shared an issue with The WTTF? I don’t mind the cliffhanger at all (this is Issue #0, after all), but the pacing seemed unnecessarily rushed at times, especially since I pleasantly lost all sense of urgency or forward motion during the acid trip (not mine, the soldier’s).

I hope that as the aftermath of this bombing unfolds, the writers don’t stop developing this Unknown Soldier backstory, because there’s the opportunity to build a lot of depth to the character that could come into play in important ways with the present terrorist plot. I would hate to see the psychological experiments simply be an introduction to a conventional war story, because they also raise an issue that could go in so many different directions: what happens to the Unknown Soldier (who has been involved in every major conflict… ever?) when he finally has the ability to become self-aware of his identity through modern technology? Will he resign himself to this cyclical reincarnation into more carnage and bloodshed or will he somehow try to fight back against his presumed destiny and become some sort of Soldier for Peace (or something)?

A Deeper Mystery benefited from a second reading, because there’s a depth here that I missed during my first cursory glance at the issue, and which I also lost sight of after the comparatively light, pulpy War That Time Forgot. It’s been fun digging into it with you, Shelby; thanks again for the opportunity to write about something that I have absolutely no authority on. I look forward to continuing this conversation in the comments.

Lawton Hall is a musician and multimedia artist from the American Midwest. You can see what he does at www.lawtonhall.com, a website which, at the time of writing, has a glaring lack of DINOSAURS.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

14 comments on “G.I. Combat 0

  1. I really like the idea that there’s some kind of supernatural consciousness that is somehow reincarnated over and over again in the body of fallen soldiers, but I think the claim that there has been one in every war actually undermines that a bit by getting caught up in the sticky definition of “war.” The issue kind of implies that what they really mean is “wars white people were involved in,” but that starts to get at the arbitrariness of the definition. Like, would a gang war count? Has there been an unknown soldier in every gang war? Should the Unknown Soldier be reincarnating in Syria right now? The UN recognizes 9 ongoing “major conflicts” (those that reach an annual death toll of 1,000), and a few dozen “minor conflicts.” Which of these will the Unknown Soldier need to be involved in if he wants to keep his perfect attendance record?

  2. Lawton, you make some really interesting points in connecting the two stories. Until this issue, there were zero similarities between the two. Also until this issue, the War that Time Forgot story was first, and the bulk of the issue. The fact that this issue focuses on the Unknown Soldier leads me to believe that will be the backbone of this book, and there will be other stories, not so much as backup, but just as other stories.

    • Also, Lawton, this is actually a pretty common practice in comics. It’s called a “back-up” – basically they serve to provide a little extra content in the same world as the main story. They are distractingly short and it’s the rare back-up that carries over any of the thematic material from the rest of the issue. We’ve gotten used to seeing them, but you’re right to demand that their juxtaposition means something. In particular, that theme of war-leading-to-identity-loss is present in each… though, as you point out, the Unknown Soldier almost gets extra identity from his presumed centuries of fighting.

      • It was inevitable that I’d miss some of these things as a total n00b to comics. The WTTF didn’t seem distractingly short, though. I’d have to re-count the pages, but I feel like it was given an equal amount of space as A Deeper Mystery, so maybe that’s why I emphasized it more, plus…DINOSAURS, right?

  3. How weird is it that he starts remembering his family as having smudges for faces? Like, it’s not that his memories are fading; it’s that he’s remembering smudges instead of facial features. “I forget, did Sally have a nose, or just a swirly smudge?”

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