Thousand Faced: Our Army At War-War Is War

Our Army At War: War Is War
Writer: Mike Marts
Artist: Victor Ibanez
Cover artist: Joe Kubert
Published by DC Comics

No month reviewing war comics is complete without the iconic soldier from my childhood Sgt. Rock and, of course, Easy Company. I think I liked Sgt. Rock so much because he looked just like my Uncle Bill except Rock is way beefier. The last time I saw my Uncle Bill he was pretty much withered away by exposure to Agent Orange (Dioxin). He was exposed to it during his tour of duty in Vietnam as a combat engineer. As you can see my ardent flag-waving gets a bit confused. As a man child in the “Promised Land” with father and uncles in the U.S. Army, Sgt Rock represented the reason why the infantry rules the battlefield. This is fiction. The American infantry man took everything the German Wehrmacht threw at him and fought their way through it with victory after victory. That is fact. While I read these books I watched Sgt. Rock and Easy Company slog their way through the European theater of conflict in World War II. The comics got my interest going and in time I read the contents of three libraries about everything connected to the history of warfare in this century. Issue after issue in the 60’s gave me insight into how the American fighting man could defeat a self-proclaimed army of “supermen”. The stakes were high. Throughout history there are countless wars which are little more than justified land grabs but this one came down to a fight against evil. We had to win that war. As far as the comics themselves, it helped considerably that many issues of Our Army At War were drawn by the god among illustrators Joe Kubert. With his weary eyes and perpetual three day stubble, Rock embodied the adversity our soldiers faced every damned day. Kubert also drew the cover of this issue and it was like recognizing an old friend when I saw it.

You want to say this is a “gimmick” comic, go ahead and say so. The story juxtaposes two story lines. The first is the story of a GI fighting Nazis in war torn Germany during the closing days of the war in Europe. The second is a present day GI in Iraq or perhaps Afghanistan. The circumstances in the present are less clear. Both tales begin with the events which galvanized the nation into going to war. Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Creepy isn’t it? The war of two generations ago is the name of a place and the second is digits, an antiseptic and snappy marketable way to refer to something which was anything but that. It’s just an observation folks. We’ll move on now.

The panels jump from era to era, back and forth, to sadness, to reaction and to the grim determination of two different young men in their moments of resolution. Then we see Corporal Anthony Sigliano. Infantryman. Enlisted. DOB 11, November 1923 and then Master Sergeant Kevan Jasper, Communications Expert. Enlisted. DOB 21,December 1978. And so it goes from this point on, one story played out across two different wars, the dialogue being the same as we flip from one to the other. This is so cool. A pair of GIs in each place talking about home and wondering about the next mission and their chances for survival of the next fight. A German town and a Middle Eastern village smolder in the distance ominously.

The reinforcements arrive to help get the job done. In World War II, Sgt Rock and Easy Company: Bulldozer, Little Sure Shot, Ice Cream Soldier and the rest. In today’s conflict we have Captain Duncan and his “gods of war”, a mixed band of mercenaries apparently. (Really? Mercs? C’mon! My kid was in Iraq and has bunches of unkind things to say about the grossly overpaid “cowboys” who screwed up constantly and our troops who fight and die at Wal-Mart prices. Blackwater can suck it!) Different wars…right? Sgt Rock is admired as a legend equal to Paul Bunyan by Corporal Sigliano. The mercs start dishing out shit about the competence of M Sgt Jasper because he is “enlisted”. Since when did volunteering to fight for your country become a pejorative? Oh right, since 2004 when Karl Rove came up with that one and a man (Max Cleland) who lost three limbs in combat got labeled “unpatriotic” to lose an election in Georgia and the ardent flag wavers bought it. You see things have changed a bit.  In WW II, Sigliano loses his best friend to enemy fire while in today’s conflict an asshole cashes in the check his ego has written. I’ll give Marts credit. The mercs come across as all the news and anecdotes from soldiers I have had the honor to know have made them out to be. They are for the sake of this story, cool and competent and when “go time” arrives the job is done and the day is won. They are, however, disrespectful and antagonistic and when the fighting is done they fade out of the story. The emotional kicker of the story though is what makes the sacrifice of the average soldier on the line that much more poignant. We understand what exactly motivated M Sgt. Jasper to be where his call of duty put him.

In great DC tradition, this is one or rather two good war stories.  Ibanez has drawn this very well and it was a delight to follow the story. His command of emotion on faces tell the story well and I loved how he rendered the two battlefields the same and yet completely different. Tanks lending support in WW II and drones firing Hellfire missiles in the modern war are two such images. We do get insight into what has put our soldiers in harm’s way and why they fight despite the horror and loss. The fact that America uses “professionals” in the field now is true also but ultimately saddening. Some Presidents worry about the fate of humanity and the overcoming of evil at any cost while other Presidents line the pockets of their political friends and go on book tours to smirk about their breaking of the laws and contempt for The Constitution. Going down those two different roads is what makes all the difference. Doesn’t it?

by Bill Hilburn

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