Saturday, December 26, 2009

A few thoughts on Unkonwn Soldier Vol. 1: Haunted House

—It's just brutal. The eventual Unknown Soldier, Dr. Lwanga Moses, returns to Uganda, where a crazy Christian rebel group has amassed an army of boy soldiers to terrorize the Ugandan people, visitors from other country who came to help and to fight against the army. Rape, killing and torture—of soldiers, innocents and children—occur rather commonly but writer Joshua Dysart and artist Alberto Ponticelli don't pull their punches. They're not afraid to call a spade a spade, and if someone gets killed, it's not made to look fast, easy, cool or aesthetically pleasing—it's generally gross, messy and slightly terrifying. That can make the book somewhat hard to read, especially depending on your sensitivity to such topic, but shit, that's the sort of thing going on in Africa and other places in the world right now—if you're going to go to the trouble of setting an action and intrigue story there, better to do it honestly than to somehow make it glamorous (The main fantasy element Dysart ads is having a seemingly unstoppable soldier there to kill some of the bad guys who most seem to deserve it—although the good guy is just as brutal as the villains...his brutality is simply more justifiable, in an Old Testament sort of way).

—Artist Alberto Ponticelli is a force to be reckoned with.

—Vertigo trades still make plenty of use of blurbs. I only very rarely see blurbs on DC's super-books (or Marvel's, for that matter), but they seem to be on most every Vertigo trade paperback I pick up, and they are all over this one. There are some testimonial type ones from Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis on the cover, another from Brian Azzarello on the back and a whole mess from various, mostly comics-covering media: IGN, The Onion, Ain't It Cool News, G4TV, Newsarama and Comics Buyer's Guide.

—I love Vertigo trades. This volume contains six issues worth of the monthly comic book, which sells at $2.99 a pop, and it only costs $9.99—probably even cheaper through Amazon or some place like that. So the trade is almost exactly 50% of the cost of the monthly...? That's an insanely good value. This one doesn't use the pulpier paper that some Vertigo trades use, but it's not super-slick and highly reflective either.

—I was surprised to see a certain amount of continuity between this and past versions of The Unknown Soldier. He was originally a DC character, somewhere between a war hero and superhero (in that he had a unique visual hook and incredible skill set approaching the more-than-human), although Vertigo has made use of him before (In a four-issue, 1997 Garth Ennis/Kilian Plunkett miniseries). The character has appeared since in the DCU though, and, rather surprisingly was just in Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #1, while this new Vertigo ongoing was being published. What happened to that "wall" between the DCU and Vertigo properties (Personally, my theory is that the Vertigo editors are protective of the DCU editors screwing with their characters more than anything else).

Often times when Vertigo decides to relaunch a DCU property, there's a pretty radical reinvention process, but this is simply a more violent, graphic, mature and swear-word heavy version of what a new DCU take on the character might be.

Midway through, there's even an appearance by the original (or at least a previous) Unknown Soldier, who seemed to have played some role in the creation of the new one. So even if this doesn't necessarily flow from the original comics or the previous Vertigo miniseries—that is, it's not meant to be the next installment in one long, ongoing story—at the very least the premise has changed rather little and at least allows itself to be read as a continuation of those stories in a way that many Vertigo reinventions do not.

—This Unknown Soldier isn't a master of disguise, which is somewhat strange in that the premise of the original character was his ability to adopt the face and identity of just about any soldier or actor on any side in the war. The original Soldier was eligible to train for that ability because he didn't have a face of his own—it was blown off, giving him a blank canvas of sorts to work with. This Soldier also loses his face—in a fit of rage, he beats and scrapes it with rocks until it's a gory mess that insects and scavenging birds continue to ruin once he loses consciousness—but seemingly only to adopt the bandaged look of the original (and, perhaps, some sort of metaphorical destruction of his old identity).

At any rate, if you think of the Unknown Solider in terms of being a superhero, being a master of disguise was sort of his superpower. So this Soldier wearing the bandages and doing all the fighting and killing but not disguising himself is a little like if they made a Spider-Man movie and gave him the name, costume and sticking-to-walls powers, but he never shot webs.

This may change in the future, of course, since this Soldier shares elements of his origin with the original and seems to have been trained by the original, but it was one of the significant differences (Perhaps also significant is that this Soldier doesn't seem to be working directly with or in behalf of the U.S. military—he's not fighting with troops in Afghanistan or Iraq, but on his own in a country the U.S. isn't publicly at war with).

1 comment:

LurkerWithout said...

Vertigo trades vary in price from what I can remember. Any time this comes up I grab a bunch to compare. From what I remember its mostly vol.1s that are priced at 9.99 and then they shift to the 12-15 dollar range for paperbacks...