By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
April 24, 2012 -- Shooters is a new graphic novel that puts the emotional journey of its warrior protagonist at the center of the story. As such, it’s a “war book” that takes us into places few other war books ever have.
Shooters (DC/Vertigo, $22.99) follows Terry Glass, a chief warrant officer serving with U.S. forces in Iraq in the early 2000s. A dedicated soldier, Glass’s world explodes – literally – in a way that wipes out most of his unit and leaves him terribly injured. We follow a traumatized Glass during his rehabilitation, during which his marriage disintegrates and the rest of his life falls apart. He even resigns from the military, for reasons I will not spoil.
Which makes him a ripe recruit for a private military contractor named Steel River (read: Blackwater). We all know Blackwater did a lot of things in Iraq, but we’re all a bit fuzzy on exactly what. Authors Eric Trautmann (Checkmate) and Brandon Jerwa (G.I. Joe) do us all a favor by taking us into this world, and even though Shooters is fiction, their view inside Blackwater feels eerily plausible, even likely.
But, despite all the jargon and detail, Shooters isn’t a military procedural. Nor does it stand on a soapbox; it neither glorifies war nor decries it. It takes no positions on the politics of the war. The Iraq War – it really could be any war – is simply the environment in which Glass’s character is forged.
So Shooters is, very specifically, Chief Warrant Officer Terry Glass’s story. And it is a hard story about a hard war and a hard man who has to come to grips with that war has made him. It is a painful story of conflict, but not just the outer conflict that shapes Glass. It is the story of Glass’s conflict with war, the military, PTSD, injury and recovery, his wife, his own emotions. As his name implies, he reflects all these conflicts so that we may see them, just as he furiously deflects them away … until the climax, where he must face them all at once.
Is that a war story? I think it is, although it bears almost no resemblance for what passed for war stories in comics for a long time, like Sgt. Rock or The Haunted Tank. There’s a place for jingoistic war books, one where the super-competent American always wins, or one that dwells on the cool equipment and jargon to the point of fetishism. I’ve read more than a few of those myself.
But for me, the best war comics are the ones that focus on the human element, like Harvey Kurtzman’s 1950s stories for EC’s Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat, or Garth Ennis’ current Battlefields for Dynamite. Shooters falls into this paradigm, and it’s a powerful story, even though the ending was pretty much what I expected. The trip to get there is worth it.
Strangely, I was less impressed with the art, although I generally love Steve Lieber (Whiteout). Lieber seems to be going for a minimalist approach here, which is usually the sign of a maturing artist. But here it had the effect of looking rather bare and plain. Still, Lieber’s storytelling is impeccable, and he never resorts to any tricks or effects – his work is smooth and clear.
At first, I wasn’t sure I liked Shooters – I didn’t know what to make of it. But the fact that I was still thinking about it the next day is a testament to its emotional impact.
Dark Horse has given us the Crime Does Not Pay Archives Volume 1 ($49.99), which is the first in a series reprinting the entire run of the most notorious crime comic book in American history. But let me warn that what was scandalous in 1942, when the four issues reprinted in this book first appeared, is pretty weak tea for today’s audiences. Secondly, the comics’ claim of “all TRUE crime stories!” is manifestly false; whatever truth there is in these stories is wildly exaggerated to maximize violence and sexual titillation. And my third warning is this: This is a book for the hard-core fan who wants the whole series, like me. For those who just want a sample, let me steer you back to Dark Horse’s first plunge into these waters, Blackjacked and Pistol-Whipped: A Crime Does Not Pay Primer, which contains the best of the CDNP stories.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Shooters is the story of a U.S. serviceman's emotional journey. Copyright DC Entertainment.
2. Crime Does Not Pay Archives Volume 1 reprints the first four issues of the notorious comic book from 1942. Copyright Dark Horse Books.