Obliterated Boundaries in Vs 1

By Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

While the concept of war is terrifying on its own, the actual reality of it is alien to a lot of us. Myself included, and I have a brother, a sister, and a brother-in-law that have served in the US Army and seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. What it really means to be “at war” is far enough divorced from my day-to-day life, that I can comfortably sort it into an experience that someone else has. Vs takes the “otherness” of war and smashes it into the everyday, making the reader question the separation between entertainment, spectacle, and violence.

I was literally confused reading this issue, which I believes serves the story almost impossibly well. We are introduced to Lieutenant Satta Flynn on the battlefield. The nature of that battlefield is something we’re meant to question, just very gradually. The first four pages take their time, carefully establishing opponents’ dreadnaught ships (or asteroids or space stations, it’s not totally clear) in orbit around a ringed version of Earth. The perspective is wide enough, and the slow moving action implies a grand enough scale, that the military actions that follow must be something important, right? The fight for survival of mankind or something! But then we start to notice a producorial force editing the foul language the combatants are using. And then, there are the graphics, fully revealing that there’s some kind of artifice above the violence.

“Mama” Martinez is penalized with a “technical foul,” and suddenly we have to re-evaluate what war is in this universe. Is it a sport? Is it a video game? It’s not totally clear. Vs has graphic designer Tom Muller among its roster to give these visual flourishes the kind of polish of a professional broadcast. The sleekness of Muller’s design is a marvelous contrast to Esad Ribic’s characteristically expressive artwork. Ribic’s every shape is contoured and lit (with help from colorist Nic Klein) as to set it apart from Muller’s aggressively flat design flourishes.

There’s a jump to a time outside of this combat arena, as Flynn is recovering from his injuries, and it happens with no explanation, and no chyrons to help orient the reader. Is he recovering from the battle we cut away from? Or from the battle we return to by issue’s end? Or is he recovering from a real injury while participating in a VR war-game? There’s sort no way to know, as every layer of this reality is interrupted by ads for made up products (again, kudos to Muller). It’s the intersection of war and commerce, and it’s unsettling how naturally the two fit together.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

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