It’s a Trap! Kyle Baker’s Special Forces

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!

special-forces-tp-2010-06 Collects issues #1-4
Story and art by Kyle Baker
Published by Image (2007)

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 special-forces1-2010-06 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.

special-forces-panel-2010-06

– 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.

special-forces3-2010-06 – 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’.
tsoiker@panelsonpages.com

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Comments (5)

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  1. Ben Gilbert says:

    For a better, more realistic variation on the themes brought up by “Special Forces”, check out Rick Vietch’s “Army @ Love” from Vertigo.

    • Tomer Soiker says:

      I had Army@Love on my pull-list back when it started and I was still reading monthly books regularly. I stopped reading it after about five issues because I couldn’t get into it. While I didn’t like that either, in a retrospective it was much better than Special Forces. At least Veitch was consistent and not pretentious, going all the way with the sexual themes. in Special Forces, it just feels like Frank Cho’s Shanna the She-Devil getting moved from MAX to the regular imprint.

  2. TheJLD says:

    I have to agree that “Special Forces” is probably Baker’s worst work to date. I bought the single issues of the series and, although somewhat one-note, the first 2 issues were pretty strong and issue 3 was forgivable for it’s shortcomings. Issue 4 however, was such an ugly mess of a book that felt to me like he was just trying to end the damn thing so he could continue his other projects. Not to mention the book was later than late. Not to mention that this was originally supposed to be longer than 4 issues I believe? (Somebody back me up here?) Yeah, unfortunately “Special Forces” sucks balls.

    However, DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE Mr. Baker’s skills based solely off his more recent efforts! This dude has been around for quite some time and his earlier works are AMAZINGLY good. Check out Vertigo’s “I Die At Midnight”, “You Are Here” and “King David” to see his beautiful Disney-animation-for-adults artwork with razor-sharp wit. His even earlier black-and-white work on “Why I Hate Saturn”, “The Cowboy Wally Show” and a little gem by now-defunct Pirahna Press called “Family” are examples of some of the best indy comics work by a writer/artist that I’ve ever encountered. I also personally enjoy his “Plastic Man” run and his family-inspired work on “The Bakers”.

    But yes, sadly the man is just not bringing the goods lately. From what info I’ve gleaned, I think he has been trying to adapt some of his short gag cartoons (found in his humorous “Undercover Genie” and “Kyle Baker: Cartoonist” books) into animation? Seems like that is his passion project and he keeps doing these Photoshop-heavy comic gigs to pay the bills. Oh, how I long for another of his graphic novels!

    http://thebakersanimationcartoons.blogspot.com/

    Oy! It’s a bit worse than I thought. Apparently he’s moved on from his 2D animation projects (which lend themselves to his style quite well) to a 3D animation style which looks just dreadful…

    I am saddened.

  3. tool486 says:

    I adore that Mickey Mouse cover!

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