Unknown Soldier

Very cool to have war comics branching off into this kind of territory. Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli create a compelling portrait of Uganda. They are clever with it too. The first trade is all about the hero's emotional and intellectual journey from pacifism to lunatic gun-clapping. Neither extreme is an adequate way of engaging with Uganda's problems, which the book seems to suggest are insoluble. The lead character is also rather interesting -- he lashes out at westerners fetishizing charity work, only for his wife to point out the hypocrisy buried within that attitude. As the girlfriend he leaves behind in the States says, he's no more African than she is. The idea that selflessness can have a selfish root is fascinating, and the comic could have made more of it.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be heading that way. For all of its painstaking research into the Ugandan problem, Unknown Soldier remains a pulp war comic. It looks like our hero has been engineered by the CIA to be a killing machine. Interesting in its implications, sure -- his psyche (and that of his country) is buggered up by external forces. But it is also a pulp staple that reduces the scope of the character. The script itself suffers from the same problem. One awkward moment to illustrate: 'clense the filth and sin from my goddamned soul through pain'. Sounds a bit too much like overwritten cliche, doesn't it? Can't really overcome its own silliness. I should say that the script also has brilliant moments that counteract the slips somewhat. But the slips remain.

You need to be able to accept this marriage between pulp and serious political commentary in order to enjoy this comic. I couldn't fully, because the pulp side of the bargain wasn't doing its bit. A comparison with Queen & Country springs to mind. In Greg Rucka's series, pulp is made subordinate to reality. Here reality is put in the service of pulp, and the characters do not have enough individuality (aren't real enough) to carry you through that divide.

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