Cartoon Alley: Reviews and commentary #6… by Leo Hupert

Unknown Soldier.

Publisher (Vertigo)
Price : $NZ7.95 ($US2.99).
Unknown Soldier Easy Kill Graphic Novel (reprints comic Nos.7-14 $NZ39.95 ($US17.99)
Reviewed by Leo Hupert

If you are going to stoop to reading a mainstream title this week or month or (even) this year then – if you haven’t already – you have to read Vertigo’s Unknown Soldier. The last issue available from specialist comic shop book stands is #17 and I’m told the title is fully ordered in Wellington, so No.18 won’t get onto the stands.

It is one of those rare titles that’s got caught up in a retailing conundrum where the few extra copies of a title that reach the book shelves are spotted and recognised as quality stuff, and so orders are placed. The shelf copies of the next month’s issue then don’t make it onto the shelves, because retailers order far in advance and it’s difficult to increase orders for succeeding issues. Anyway it’s all going to come out in a graphic novel before too long.

That’s what’s happening with Unknown Soldier at the moment. Currently the storyline features a mini-series within the series called Dry Season. Chapter One started in issue 15. Set in the IDP (internally displaced persons) camps of Northern Uganda, it draws attention to one of Africa’s longest running wars.

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been waging a so-called spiritual war against the Ugandan Government. The LRA, led by Joseph Kony, has abducted an estimated 25,000-30,000 children and forced them to fight for the LRA, and commit atrocities including the rape of thousands of women and children, and assaults and killings of civilians.

The Ugandan army (Ugandan People’s Defence Force or UPDF) have forcibly moved more than 1.7 million northern Ugandans into IDP camps on the grounds that it was necessary in order to fight the LRA effectively and distinguish civilians from fighters.

However camp conditions are appalling and more than an estimated 1000 are dying every week from preventable diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, dysentry and other preventable diseases.

It is in this present-day horror scenario that writer Joshua Dysart has placed the Unknown Soldier character. The Unknown Soldier originally comes from an early 80s DC title featuring the missions of a US intelligence agent whose face was so badly disfigured that his entire head was always heavily wrapped in grubby bandages that were forever on the verge of unravelling – but magically, not doing so. Nevertheless, he was a master of disguise but was prone to losing his cool in fits of outrage directed at the enemy.

The collected issues Nos.7-14 have already been printed in book form. It’s still under the title Unknown Soldier with the sub-title Easy Kill. Easy Kill won the the IGN Best of 2009 award for best series of the year. Haunted House collects Nos 1-6 and also tells how the Unknown Soldier (except we do know who he is) becomes who he is. It is worth noting that DC states the stories, characters and incidents featured in these publications are entirely fictional.

Dysart draws on personal experience having visited camps in northwestern Uganda, and spending over a month researching the conflict in the area for this comic. We may feel that we are far removed from Uganda, Acholiland, the Lord’s Resistance Army and the UPDF – but when you find refugee children in your son’s cricket team or see kids from Uganda at your local school, it brings those horrendous events from across the world uncomfortably close.

Alberto Ponticelli’s art is remarkable. Ponticelli doesn’t appear to have done much comic work but you wouldn’t know from his work. Everything is there. I haven’t been to Africa but he’s got me convinced that he has been there. The detail in architecture, interior design, vehicles, city panels, animals, hairstyles, clothing, village scenes, IDP camps, action scenes, weaponry, page construction, angled views, it’s all brilliant and, from what little I’ve seen of Dry Season, he appears to be getting better. It needs to be mentioned that the whole package has been beautifully coloured by Oscar Celestini. Normally colouring goes unmentioned but in this case it would be inexcusable not to mention it.

The Easy Kill graphic novel collection includes a two-issue story, entitled The Way Home, drawn by Pat Masioni born in Democratic Republic of the Congo. He gave Ponticelli a much needed break when he drew on his own experiences to produce The Way Home. His work, while not as beautiful as Ponticelli’s, exudes emotion and authenticity and of course is ‘entirely fictional’.

Dysart says it wasn’t easy finding Masioni and it took some time to convince him to contribute.

He says that though his art freed him from poverty it also brought him a great deal of trouble. While living in Kinshasa he was arrested numerous times, sometimes by child soldiers. Because of his drawings he has been beaten, people he had known had disappeared or been killed and in 2002 when he received serious death threats he fled to France.

It is hard not to be stunned by this title. It is the mainstream equivalent of Joe Sacco’s Palestine or his work on Bosnia, Ted Rall’s graphic travelogue To Afghanistan and Back or Keiji Nakasawa’s Barefoot Gen, and – dare I say it – Art Spiegelman’s Maus.

DC has got to be congratulated and supported for finally having regained a social conscience. When was the last time? Was that way back in the 70s when Neal Adams wrote Green Lantern’s and Green Arrow’s Searching for America series?

Just one last thing on Unknown Soldier. To date, the character has been an excellent vehicle to highlight the horrors of war. But in this particular case it seems he has, with his angst and personal nightmares, outlived his usefulness. Perhaps it’s time for him to take a back seat, and let events take over even more.


Click for big version


Click for big version


The Imposter – A Graphic Novel in Three Parts


L.S. Marquez
No.1 $6.95.
Reviewed by Leo Hupert

If you attended the Armaggedon Expo in Wellington recently, you would have seen at the New Zealand comics stall the first issue of The Impostor by L.S. Marquez. And if you are a supporter of New Zealand comics, I’m sure you would have bought a copy. It’s not too late. Copies are still available at comic shops as well as on the net.

It is rare to see a first up comic reach such a high standard in art, story-telling and production. It’s also backed up (for all you poor students and those out of work in these recessionary times) by a website with the entire issue being accessible on the net (www.theimpostor.me). But please don’t read it all on your computer – or on someone else’s for that matter. Go out and buy a copy. Marquez deserves your financial support.

Lucy, the main character in the story, gets rescued by a quiet, moody hunk when she gets into a spot of bother while hanging around a lamp-post in a seedy part of town. Just what she’s doing – or why – I haven’t be able to pick up on, but she gets rescued nonetheless. Lucy is on her way back after therapy ( and perhaps an operation) and is picking up where she left off before some yet to be revealed traumatic event took place.

She has the odd hallucination, does a bit research on a costumed vigilante character called the Pugilist, and meets the hunk again. They eat noodles together, go back to her place, he confesses to something that horrifies her and we have to wait for issue No.2 to out find more.

Good strong work. Lots of angles, shading and nice details. Marquez’s work exudes confidence, direction and purpose.


Saurian Era


by Cory Mathis
$5. 20pp covers included.
Reviewed by Leo Hupert

This is a cute little dinosaur fantasy tale that promises to develop and improve. Check out his site at www.corysaur.blogspot.com and watch the brightly coloured YouTube animation of the same name.

Mathis promises more in September and I’m looking forward to seeing it. I’m also hoping that we see less grey, perhaps more shading and maybe a tiny bit more spacing between panels. Just humble suggestions, in my unqualified opinion.

 

 

 

 

 


Luna Park


by Kevin Barker (writer) and Daniel Zezeli ( art)
Publisher : Vertigo
$US24.99 ($NZ55.95) HB 158pp.
Reviewed by Leo Hupert

Being Sydney born and bred, it’s hard not to immediately associate any mention of Luna Park with the one that’s a quick ferry trip from Sydney’s Circular Quay, past the Opera House, under the Sydney Harbour Bridge and over to the North Shore. As a child, I was always wary of walking through the huge clown’s mouth and into the park. An unavoidable sleaziness clings to amusement parks, night or day, open or shut, much like cigarette smoke clings to a woollen jersey. Even the new amusement parks on Australia’s Gold Coast can’t dispel the feeling that a good strong blast of wind would blow it, and all the rubbish, away.

Luna Park in Sydney has been there for donkeys years, but it still seems temporary, propped up by huge beams like a film set. Zelzelj’s heavy lines and exaggerated, Frank Miller reminiscent shading combined with muted, dark colours conveys perfectly that grubby, dirty, smelly amusement park Todd Browning scenario. Well, it works for me. Don’t get me wrong, I like the rides, particularly the roller coasters, be they the clattery wooden types or the souped up Superman ride, the ghost trains, the massive spinning wheels, the moving houses and the Devil Slide.

This is Baker’s first foray into the graphic novel genre, having written four novels and a number of articles and essays. Luna Park tells the story of a former Russian soldier who is haunted by events he has witnessed in Chechnya. He works as a heavy for a criminal gang which is being put out of business by a more vicious gang.

He and his girlfriend both have serious drug habits and know the end is near. Somehow they relive shared past doomed times and it appears that the pair will continue on the tragic treadmill. There is absolutely no hope for them. They are destined to relive their various lives again and again.

Zezelj has drawn heaps. Graphic novels include Stray Dogs, Small Hands, SPQR, Air Mexico at least 20 in all. His comic work includes X-Men Unlimited, Metropolis, Gangland, Batman, Weird War Tales, El Diablo and my favourite Loveless.

Maybe I had difficulty getting around the Luna Park thing, I don’t know. But I had trouble maintaining interest. I’d fall asleep or I’d get distracted or even found myself skipping ahead. It took a number of attempts and some determination to get through and eventually finish Luna Park – despite the fantastic art and the more than competent writing, and I can’t see myself picking it up and having another go. At times I felt trapped in the book having lost my place only to end up re-reading sections to find it again. There are too many other more exciting titles coming out these days.

ENDS