Today, Patrick and Michael are discussing The Old Guard 3, originally released April 26th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Patrick: Stories about immortal characters tend to skew cynical. And why not? On a long enough timeline, the sheer volume of atrocities a character would witness would have to obliterate any naiveté we mortals cling to. That goes double when your undying characters are also warriors. In the first two issues of The Old Guard, the perspective sticks pretty close to our narrator and protagonist, Andy. She’s maybe even too bored to be classified as cleanly as “cynical,” but she fits into that “I’ve been alive so long, nothing really matters to me anymore” mold. Issue 3 broadens that scope to both extremes, proving there is more than one way to live a life that doesn’t end.
First on the somehow-even-more-cynical side: Booker. When the issue starts (and, indeed, when the previous issue ended) it almost seemed like the character was finally dead. Artist Leandro Fernández leans into the grizzliness of the wounds that would lead both the reader and Andy to this assumption.
Andy and Booker are so over this, they’re cracking jokes about how bad it looks. Nile, on the other hand, can barely even function in this scenario. She’s our way into this world, and a reminder of how outwardly terrifying it can be. But it’s the inward terror that Booker is all about. Where issue 2 gave us some insight into Joe and Nicky’s shared backstory, Booker’s origin is both more sadder and more lonely. Hell, Booker is actively trying to desert the French Army when he first “dies,” and has to hang lifelessly from a tree until his unit moves on. It’s a solitary act, but one that he pointedly accepts on his own, and as a consequence of separating himself from his peers. I mean, “peers” might be generous — writer Greg Rucka makes the point that Booker didn’t consider himself a soldier at this time. He was already alone in that unit, even before he knew he couldn’t be killed.
That’s sort of Booker’s original sin: extremely anti-social behavior. We’ll loop back around to his slightly-more-modern backstory later in the issue, but it’s crucial that the narrative moves away from this theme for the mid-portion. Up until this point, writer Greg Rucka appears to be making the case that an endless life leads to endless suffering. Rucka and Fernández are all to eager to bring that same suffering and violence right up to the present as Andy takes out a whole squad of Copley’s goons. The whole sequence is scored with unpleasant shit — from the micro betrayal of the old woman that rats her out to the macro betrayal of Copley turning our heroes in. Not even Andy’s heroics are allowed to be graceful as she storms down the stairs amid a hail of bullets and explosions. Fernández makes this sequence as chaotic and gnarly as possible, crowding the page with violent sound effects and messy motion lines.
Check it out — it’s impossible to tell whether those abstractions are light and shadow, or expressing the motion of Andy’s blows, or showing the paths of bullets. It’s all part of one aggressively unpleasant stew.
The palate cleanser for all of this doom and gloom is Joe and Nicky. I’ve been singing Fernández’ praises for the majority of this piece, but Joe and Nicky’s relationship is expressed powerfully through Rucka’s written word. I think we all know what these sorts of expressions of love normally look like: a kind of “you complete me” cheesiness that feels both false and inadequate in the same breath. Joe’s soliloquy manages to embody the series’ crusty, antagonistic aesthetic while being the most sincere beautiful thing I’ve read in a long time. Most importantly, his speech plays as a consequence of immortality, suggesting that there is more than endless heartache in this equation. There is strength and love and bravery. Plus, Joe and Nicky can freak out their captors which a passionate kiss… before, y’know, murdering all of them.
See? Something good can come from living forever!
Though, I guess that discounts Booker’s story about his mortal family resenting his gift, and then souring their relationship forever. Michael, what do you think? Is there room for anything but pessimism in the world of The Old Guard? What perspective does Nile represent in all this?
Michael: It’s hard to say what perspective Nile represents in all of this because she’s still very new to it all. I suppose that is her perspective — our perspective, as you said — she’s the “freshman” of the group. Nile is the Harry Potter in the first book or the Rogue in the first X-Men movie: someone who’s discovered that they’re part of a larger world than they realized. Interestingly, as Nile’s world grows larger, Andy admits that hers has grown smaller.
The internet is in no short supply of commentaries on the pitfalls of smart phones, GPS and simplified means of travel. However, when the argument of “the world got smaller” comes from someone who’s centuries old, it gains some poignancy. We human beings in the 21st century practically keep a daily photographic record of ourselves online — we’re gonna notice when someone doesn’t age. Andy is the more pessimistic of the immortals but I wouldn’t necessarily label Nile as the optimist; she’s still too shell-shocked to have a fully-formed viewpoint.
Joe and Nicky are probably the closest thing “The Old Guard” has to optimistic immortals. The two warriors have reached a level of true understanding and selfless love that can only possibly be reached after a thousand years. Fictional romances are always destiny-based: Romeo and Juliet, Lois and Clark, Buffy and Angel. Having two people whose love has been building since The Crusades is something else entirely. In The Old Guard 2 Andy tells us that they “discovered they couldn’t die because they couldn’t keep the other one dead.”
It’s unavoidable that at some point or another we will hurt the one we love — but if that love is true, we’ll be the better for it. Imagine MURDERING your lover and them MURDERING you over and over again until you’ve both reached catharsis. That’s some next level love, you guys.
I think my favorite portion of The Old Guard 3 is Booker’s backstory — in particular the way he died. Leonardo Fernandez creates a desolate winter landscape as the French troops march away from Booker’s hanging “corpse.” The snow covers the panel, with a few differentiating textures from Daniela Miwa. Other than Fernandez’s inks of the troops, crows and outlines of trees and buried bodies, it’s all snow. The white of the snow is an overpowering force that takes over everything in its path.
Andy narrates that “the Russians “would cut their own throat — would starve their own children — rather than give a win to their enemy.” She also adds that she’s unsurprised by this particular stubbornness because they were her descendants. Is the Russians’ “scorched Earth” practice a glimpse of things to come for The Old Guard and Copley?
We’re not 100% clear on Copley’s employer’s plan, but it seems to me that they’re going with the “natural resource” route. I’m assuming that Copley & pals want to try to find a way to harness The Old Guard’s immortality and transfer it to Copley’s boss. This should come as no surprise — the bad guys always want to turn the super-powered folk into batteries!
Rucka already seems to be setting the bad guys up for a disappointment, however. After killing a whole paddy wagon full of goons, Nicky pokes fun at Copley by saying “What happens when your employer’s frustration inevitably outmatches his greed?” On the very next page Booker is teaching Nile the hard knocks of being an immortal: not only will your loved ones die, but they’ll learn your secret and resent you for not being able to share it. It would seem that if Copley & pals are after The Old Guard’s immortality, they’re going to be sorely disappointed.
Final thought: since this is a Greg Rucka book and the resemblance is uncanny, I’m saying that Andy is a stand-in for Renee Montoya.
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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?