Straight Shooter

We all saw the State of the Union address, so let’s not kid ourselves. Between the call for new troops and the proposed civilian reserves, I’m guessing you and everyone you know will probably be drafted very soon. Not me though — my services as a comic-book reviewer will be much too valuable stateside to send me off to war. But it should be exciting for the rest of you. To help you get in a fightin’ mood, I’m reviewing war-related comic books in a very special Straight Shooter.

Just when you thought Vietnam couldn’t have been any worse, Kidwell decides to drop some zombies in the rice paddies.

We don’t really need another zombie story these days, but the idea could’ve been interesting. The story might’ve worked as a metaphor for the transformation of young men into heartless, mindless killing machines, or mankind’s tendency to dehumanize enemies, but it doesn’t. Instead we get stiff-armed staggering and an unquenchable hunger for brains. ’68 steals every zombie cliché in George Romero’s notebook without attempting any social commentary, or even accomplishing anything particularly noteworthy.

Kidwell deserves credit for trying to revive the old Comics-Code-skirting euphemism “zuvembies,” but it turns out a zombie story set in ’Nam is really no different from one set in a mall or a barn. America’s military, comic readers, and especially the hungry undead, deserve better.

Unlike ’68, Brubaker’s Captain America run continues to restore dignity and awesomeness to soldiers, and shows how patriotism in obedience or dissent can still be totally freaking sweet. Winter Kills, a standalone that works with or without extensive knowledge of the Civil-War storyline, doesn’t quite equal some of Brubaker’s best work with the Cap’n, but the story of Bucky, Captain America’s former sidekick turned Soviet assassin turned Nick Fury agent turned covert bodyguard turned oh-my-God-just-read-it-already, promises to get cooler. Plus he has a robotic arm and shoots a lot of people with guns. And whether he eventually offers any insight into real life, Brubaker knows how to write some sweet-ass heroes. Maybe Winter Soldier doesn’t have anything much important to say about life in wartime, but he’s got a shiny mechanical arm to distract you until you get your Selective-Service notice.

Apparently all that stuff you learn in social studies about the media being like a fourth branch of government is more literal than you thought. In the world of Nightly News, journalists are on the CIA payroll and politicians use FCC regulations to keep network heads in check.

One group, the HAND, is fighting to stop the media conspiracy with some good old-fashioned sniping. For these few guys, recruited by an unseen person called the VOICE after their lives are ruined by bad reporting, the cure for corrupt journalists is simple: assassinate the shit out of them.

From embedded journalists to missing WMDs — and with Bill O’Reilly’s shameless Bush-boosting and dirty-commie comic-book reviewers criticizing our foreign policy — the media’s wartime coverage is completely FUBAR. So far, Nightly News does a great job of explaining why things have gotten this bad, but it only offers simple solutions in the form of bullet points. (Ha ha. Get it? Maybe someone really should shoot me.)

As a sort of journalist myself, Nightly News should probably scare the poop out of me, but this is the freshest, most exciting book I’ve seen in years. Hickman’s artwork is beautiful and unique, and his disjointed minimalist writing reads more like Chuck Palahniuk or Steve Aylett than I would’ve thought possible in a comic book. As an added bonus, if you read it on the bus to boot camp, you’ll probably either be assigned to some sweet-ass sniper duty or get sent home on a mental-health discharge. Either way you win, right?


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