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52apolooza: Men of War

Written by Brad Thomson, Porcelain38 and Aly Abbas on Thursday, September 29 2011 and posted in Reviews

Men of War enters the fray as our latest 52apolooza Entry!  How does it do?  Click and find out!

Welcome to 52apolooza, the Outhouse feature focusing on DC's September Relaunch.  All of DC's 52 titles will be reviewed by our pool of reviewers to point out the best and worst that DC's new comic book line has to offer.  To see how this book ranks among the other new DC titles, be sure to check out our 52apolooza Rankings!

One of the surprises to come out of DC's line relaunch was the announcement that DC would run two war genre comics in September.  The first is Men of War, by Ivan Brandon and Tom Derenick, with a backup story by Jonathan Vankin.  How is it?  Read on and find out!
Grab Bag Reviewer:  Brad Thomson

Main Story: Joseph Rock Part 1:

Opening text-- Think I'm blind at first.

Sgt. Frank Rock first exploded onto the comic scene in Our Army at War #83 (June 1959) as an army soldier during World War II in the DCU. Rock's tales were told by comic icons Joe Kubert and Robert Kanigher until the character was quietly dismissed from service in Sgt. Rock #422 (July 1988).   The good sergeant made an appearance from time to time in the DCU proper with notable limited series by Kubert (Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy, March 2006) and another by Bill Tucci, (Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion, November 2008.)

With the launch of the new DCU and the book Men at War, Ivan Brandon not only brings you the Sgt. Rock of old but also the grandson for the World War II hero, Corporal Joseph Rock and his war in the Middle East. The story opens at a nondescript military base. It could be in the Middle East or at Fort Bend, Indiana, for once again details about the setting are lacking. For a book where the core them is not just the character but the armed services Brandon does a poor job keeping readers in the scene. I felt this lack definitely took something away from the story. It is minor complaint, sure, but if this is book focuses on the military then make it feel like it - keep the tone to even the smallest of details.  

Standing at attention in a plain office room, Cpl. Joseph Rock is questioned by two officers, his commanding officer Sgt. Schiff and Sgt. Torisi. Rather briefly, Rock's life is dissected by these two men, leading to the big question: why doesn't he want an officer commission? His reply: "I'm an infantry. I'm not trained to 'want'."   Next his military life is scrutinized. As a soldier he has multiple records of insubordination, but is spoken of with reverence by his peers. By ignoring orders Rock has brought victory after victory, mainly doing things his way.

Ivan Brandon, I feel, overdoes this scene with Rock and the sergeants by forcing the readers to take in that Rock is a troubled, yet a brilliant solider who just does not have the desire to become an officer.   And with the final piece of dialogue you get the hint that Rock does not care for the heritage his last name brings. We have seen this cookie cutter setup countless times before in television, movies and novels, the ending is clearly telegraphed - a man will be a sergeant and be the hero he is meant to be, all the while overcoming a strong dislike of his heritage.

At the end of the interview, despite Rock's lack of ambition, the sergeants recruit him to participate in a rescue mission. While on a transport plane for parts unknown, Torisi briefs Rock and the other troops. It seems that a senator has disappeared while trying to negotiate a cease-fire, and the U.S. government wants him retrieved, hopefully alive. With the final orders given (be invisible and fire a single shot) the troops parachute over a city in. . . well, somewhere . . .but once again we are left to create a Middle Eastern setting for ourselves.

The setup does not feel in any way original. The mission sounds like it came from the first draft of the Predator movie. But at least in Predator the other troops had a brief moment of characterization; here Brandon does waste any effort to give them names or personalities. In other words, Brandon sends a clear signal to the reader that these troops are going to be cannon fodder very soon.

mow2Among the more unbelievable moments was when Corporal Rock fired a bazooka while strapped to a parachute in the air. I get that Brandon means to show us Rock's cool under fire, literally and figuratively, but I found this to be a head-shaking moment. I had a problem with Joseph Rock's character in general - mainly that we have seen his type before and there is nothing original too him. Frankly he seems more like a secondary character in his own book since all the focus was on Torisi. Even then Torisi's eventual death was signaled based on Rock's growing respect for the man from the beginning of the story to the end when he is handed the dog tags and new rank. I think a has to do with that the Joseph Rock is not the only story in Men at War, so potentially more development could have been done with the character if Brandon had a full book to write his opening story.

You should have the impression by now that I was not a fan of this story. I felt that Ivan Brandon did just enough to make it feel like this was an Army theme story, but it was missing those finer details that could have enhanced the atmosphere and tone. If this story was in the hands of someone with military thriller cred, like Chuck Dixon or Greg Rucka, I'm confident the story would be been strong. Brandon just seems like he is out of his element with this setting, which is a shame since I think the he is a talented writer (as can be shown with his Image Comic series Vikings and The Cross Brox). Unfortunately with Men at War there just does seem like there is much energy, almost like he is writing a by-the-numbers Army comic.

Writing: 10/25
Art: 20/25
Accessibility: 10/25
Enjoyability: 10/25

Total 50/100

Backup: Naval Seals: Human Shields (Part 1 of 3): 

Jonathan Vankin brings us part one of a three part, eight-page tale of a team of Navy Seals. The reader is brought to an alley in a city somewhere in the Middle East. A battle is raging and four Navy Seal troopers (Ice, Reno, Tracker, Trachsel) and hunkered down, planning their next move to take out a major ammo dump. Stepping out from the ally to make their move, Reno takes a bullet to the shoulder from some unseen sniper.

Vankin puts the reader boots down in the group and sets the tone for this story right from the beginning. Though I cannot help but wonder if this story could have been a mission plot form a Modern Warfare game. The story moves at a brisk pace, since Vankin is limited to only eight pages; he has a lot to tell and packs it in tight, but does not take anything away from the action. He give each of his four Navy Seals a chance to talk and define their personalities, which is good character development. Though I'm sure the amount of chatter that was going on may not be the norm during a real engagement, it still helped the story move and give some identity to the characters.

I enjoyed Naval Seals more than Men at War. It felt more accessible and brought readers right into the story. Most of all, it did not let you go until the cliffhanger ending.

Writing: 20/25
Art: 25/25
Accessibility: 25/25
Enjoyability: 20/25

Total: 90/100

Book Total: Average

Writing: 15/25
Art: 23/25
Accessibility: 18/25
Enjoyability: 15/25

Total: 70/100

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About the Author - Christian

Christian is the exasperated Abbott to the Outhouse's Costello. When he's not yelling at the Newsroom for upsetting readers or complaining to his wife about why the Internet is stupid, he sits in his dingy business office trying to find new ways to make the site earn money. Christian is also the only person in history stupid enough to moderate two comic book forums at once.


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