by KEVIN KNODELL
War comics rarely get it right.
Just like with movies, TV and books about soldiers and war, there are so many varied ways to get it wrong. Wrong equipment, soldiers not carrying themselves as professional soldiers would, stereotypes and incorrect notions of what duty and patriotism mean to soldiers, making it too frivolous or making it overly serious.
All the same, here at WIB we’re a fan of our comics. Hell, our name is derived from David and Matt’s very own war comic. This why I want to direct everyone’s attention to Shooters, the new graphic novel from DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint.
Shooters follows the story of Chief Warrant Officer Terry Glass, a Special Forces soldier who is wounded in action during the early days of the Iraq war in a friendly fire incident. The story follows his physical recovery, his struggle readjusting to civilian life and his return to Iraq as private military contractor. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a comic that gets it right.
The creative team behind Shooters includes writers Eric Trautmann (who worked as a writer on video games such as Halo and Gears of War and runs on the comics Checkmate and Action Comics) and Brandon Jerwa (GI Joe, Red Sonja), and Eisner-winning illustrator Steve Lieber, best known for his work on Whiteout. Lieber also draws Alabaster Wolves for Dark Horse Comics. It’s a series about an teenage albino girl who kills monsters with a kitchen knife. It’s awesome.
Few works have the feeling of authenticity that Shooters exudes, which is surprising coming from writers who worked on the game Gears and on GI Joe comics, two of the most gung-ho masculine military fantasies in existence.
The authenticity arguably comes mostly from Eric Trautmann, who married into a military family and whose brother-in-law in part inspired the protagonist Glass. The brother-in-law, a Blackwater employee, died in Mosul when he intercepted a suicide bomber meant for a State Department official he was protecting. Trautmann said one of his main motivations was to provide something more nuanced than the overwhelmingly negative portrayals of contractors.
However, he does not glamorize anything or anyone. There are good contractors and bad contractors, good companies and bad companies. Even the good guys in this story are deeply flawed, and our protagonist Glass is no exception. Though a loving husband and father, he isn’t necessarily a great one. He’s an angry man being consumed by his mental and physical wounds and haunted by his past. Despite his flaws, or perhaps because of them, he is immensely sympathetic.
Though flawed, Glass is a truly heroic figure, always trying his best to do right by his comrades, his family and his country. He will risk anything and pay any price to see justice done, to ensure the fallen are remembered and to protect those he cares about. To anyone who’s ever been around soldiers, the characters in this book are instantly familiar.
The book isn’t perfect; the first act is a little rough. Also, early on Lieber makes a few mistakes in terms of military authenticity such as ACU uniforms being worn in 2003 and soldiers wearing garrison caps with their Class As long after berets became the norm. These are minor quibbles, Once you get to the image of Terry in a wheelchair looking up at the Iron Mike statue at Fort Lewis with Mt. Rainier in the background as the rain of the Pacific Northwest falls around him, it becomes clear that this creative team that understands its subject.
Ultimately it’s the emotional authenticity of the military experience that truly stands out — something arguably harder to get right than gear. Already I’ve heard stories of soldiers and military spouses and dependents who couldn’t finish it in one sitting because they got too emotional.
Though a work of fiction, it is a profoundly truthful story about the impact war has on people, and showcases the best and worst aspects of soldiers in a way that is as authentic as it is respectful. Shooters is a masterpiece of the genre, and proves once again that a comic can tell meaningful stories.