Let us here at PoP! guide you through a minefield of books that seem full of win from the word go, but which once you crack them open have you shouting… It’s a Trap!
I was never a fan of Kyle Baker. I didn’t read his acclaimed revamp of DC’s Plastic Man from a few years ago. His first actual comic I ever read was a strip in Bizarro World about Alfred Pennyworth, but in the end it was my least favorite feature in the whole book. I also read/saw his work in Deadpool #900 (terrible artwork, sadly) and Wednesday Comics (a Hawkman adventure that started interesting but ended as something… very awful). From all these reads I almost came to the conclusion that I don’t like Baker’s writing style and that he focuses too much on experimenting with his art. Then, earlier this year, came Special Forces and sealed the verdict.
Special Forces is the tale of a platoon of losers and useless kids who are tempted to join the US Army and fight in the Iraqi War, just so some asshole officer can fill his quota of recruits. In the spotlight stand Felony, a troubled young woman who doesn’t like wearing clothes in battlefield; and Zone, an autistic big guy who’ll do whatever is written on his list. His commanding officer uses this list to make Zone into an unstoppable killing machine, even after seeing his unit-mates die, his officer getting killed and being blown up beyond recognition. Felony, instead of going AWOL, goes after Zone in attempt to save him and on the way faces a brutal terrorist and some ugly truths.
So what are my problems with this book?
– There is no one full character, not even the protagonists. I didn’t like that Baker made Felony and Zone’s unit members flat and caricaturistic, from the always-eating fat guy to the flamboyant supposedly-gay dude; but then again, they don’t survive long enough to matter. Even the black guy dies first (right on page 1), though this actually makes a nice joke about these kind of stories. Felony is portrayed as a troublemaker in youth and… that’s it. Zone is a socially awkward kid with a fragile mentality that is abused by his superiors. The commentary on the abuse of young people in the war for nothing arrives by page three, yet Baker manages to spread for 197 more pages.
– After losing her pals, Felony spends the whole book hunting a vicious terrorist, the Desert Wolf, in order to save Zone. There are a few nice action sequences, but after awhile the explosions and running into freaky people (be it on her Felony’s side or the enemy) get boring.
– The story is so boring, blemished and shallow that I don’t have anything else to say about it. My biggest gripes are with the art, anyway.
– Baker uses both “classic” methods and digital effects in his artwork. The rough lines of his pencil/ink are very much welcome, but when he uses digital ink – so it seems – the result is horrifying. The best (err… worst) example is the last chapter, where Felony confronts the Desert Wolf on two occasions. It looks like Baker rushed to finish it and used every damn Photoshop trick he ever learned. Think CGI-animated films prior to Pixar’s Toy Story.
– The backgrounds in the last chapter remind me too much of Ariel Olivetti’s current output (I was pleasantly surprised to see his art style from the mid-’90s), and I hate his work, depending too much on his computer skills and the use of photos for backgrounds, vehicles etc. However, the whole book suffers from the background symptom, whether lacking any or using a picture of an Iraqi building stolen from the Pentagon. Just… yuck.
– I’m not a fan of Baker’s panels’ layout. There are full-color pages, but many others have big, wide gutters of white space. Baker doesn’t put a border around his panels either. I think I’ll ask my optometrist to send him the bill.
– At one point Baker realizes he can use the white space for good and ads bulks of text, which – with the small panels on that page – makes the ratio 80/20 for text vs. art. I’ve read comic books that featured bulks of text as opposed to art on some pages, but at least they had something to compensate for that. Here, looks like Baker just gave up and decided to throw on the wall every design idea he ever had.
– Felony is almost naked the whole story, wearing a skimpy top and shorts that get ripped by all of the explosions. Just strip her down and let’s get over with it. Yeah, yeah… this must be a commentary on the overuse of sex and violence in modern culture. Give me a break.
– Speaking of Felony, what the hell did happen to her anatomy in the final chapter? All of a sudden, her neck is long like a lama’s and her whole body looks like a smaller version of the Na’vi from James Cameron’s Avatar. I’m serious.
– The lettering. I f@#$ing hate it. Just see the cover of issue #3, to the left.
In conclusion – yes, I hated Special Forces. This trade is titled as “Volume 1” but it doesn’t seem like Baker is planning on continuing it. I hope he won’t, and even the end is wrapped so strongly that I doubt he’ll be able to do so. There’s not really a need to rate the book, but since everyone jump to this point anyway without reading the whole review, I’m giving Special Forces 1 out of 5 “Hello Kitty” mirrors.
Tomer Soiker’s war experiences are horrific, troublesome and nightmarish; all thanks to TV shows like ‘Band of Brothers’, ‘Generation Kill’ and ‘The Pacific’.