By Rick Veitch and Gary Erskine
Depending on how susceptible they are to Fox News, readers will doubtless either be shouting “Too soon, too soon!” or “Not soon enough, not soon enough!” when they’re assaulted by the premier issue of Rick Veitch and Gary Erskine’s sharp new black-humor comic from Vertigo, Army@Love. Veitch rubbishes the idea of maintaining dignified front on “something as catastrophic as a misconceived war,” and turns a viciously satiric pen on the “Afbaghistan” conflict, imagining just how absurd it’ll be five years from now.
The formula for satire–as Veitch quotes Lenny Bruce, in the afterward to the first issue–used to be “tragedy plus time.” Not any more: There’s no more waiting twenty years for a M*A*S*H that uses one war (The Korean War) to comment on the absurdity of another (The Vietnam War). In the era of the Internet and epidemic ADD, this war is already so old most Americans (including those who started it, apparently) are already hazy as to why we even invaded. So Veitch uses this war to comment on itself.
Five years in the future, the Afbaghistan conflict is pushing the end of its first decade, and the army has had to come up with some creative troop-retention and recruitment techniques, courtesy of MoMo, the Office of Motivation and Morale. Crazed Grunts Gone Wild style “retreats” (complete with motivational guest speakers like Jenna Jameson) are a key part of MoMo’s strategy. The result is a serious attitude change, with troops treating the war more like a cross between a PS3 game and an extreme vacation, complete with a Hot Zone Club (a Mile High type club where the pointy end of the spear…makes use of the pointy ends of their spears. So to speak).
We’re only one issue into the story here, but it looks like a key factor of the ongoing series is going to be MoMo’s attempts to keep the more fun parts of the war secret from a public that “just wouldn’t understand,” and the conflict between spouses misbehaving at home and soldiers misbehaving on the front line–and the inevitable collision of these two stories.
There’s a flipflop of expectations in the first issue…the main soldier character, Switzer, is a gung-ho female national guard sharpshooter (and incidentally, the inventor of the Hot Zone Club), and it’s her husband Loman who’s stuck back in the World having an affair with Allie, the wife of MoMo official Healy; Allie is supposed to spying on Loman for Healy to see if he (Loman) knows Switzer’s cheating on him. If it all sounds a little Desperate Housewives, that’s exactly what Veitch is going for. That in itself might be a nasty little commentary that might reflect on the audience as much as on the future of the war, since it’s dollars to donuts that it’s the book’s sexy covers (and contents) that’ll sell the book to many readers—not the whole, you know, absurdity of war thing.
The real challenge for writer-penciller Veitch (and Erskine, who supplies the inks) is going to be to satirize the actual war itself. It’s unclear so far how Veitch is going to top such classic scandals as the naked Pyramid of Iraqis, the naked pictures of Lynndie England, or the naked desperation of an Army that has to double the amount of bottom-of-the-barrel dropouts, criminals, and just plain not-so-bright people it takes in, just to make its recruitment goals. What we’ve seen so far in Army@Love doesn’t seem that far-fetched a version of what the real-world war might look like in five years. In fact, except for the Desperate Housewives soapyness, it seems less ridiculous than a lot of what’s already happened. It’s unclear just what Veitch can do with a war that seems intent on lampooning itself.
Still, we’re only one 32-page book into the store so far, and Veitch is an old hand at stories that just keep building, as anyone who read his run of Swamp Thing can tell you. I’m reasonably confident he’ll get there. In the meanwhile, Veitch and Erskine’s the story and art are sharp and paced to move–fast. The first issue is mostly action, but Veitch squeezes in a good bit of exposition without being too obvious about it; I’m confident that the main plot will start unfolding (or should that be unraveling?) pretty quickly in issue two. This is definitely a series I’m going to follow.
If you like Veitch’s work and get frustrated waiting for the next issue of Army@Love to ship, you might also take a look at the long-awaited, self-published reprint of Veitch’s classic early 80s graphic novel Abraxas and the Earthman, which was serialized in Marvel’s Epic Illustrated magazine. This psychedelic take on Moby Dick is available now, and Comicon.com has a preview.