Shooting War by Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman

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Shooting War
By Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman
Grand Central Publishing

Anthony Lappe and Dan GoldmanFrom Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd, to Network, to pretty much all of The Onion and Jon Stewart’s collective schtick, the media has long proved fertile stomping ground for satire. As it continues to grow ever pervasive in our lives, via 24-hour cable news feeds, the nearly ubiquitous phenomenon of subliminal advertising, and the self-proclaimed revolution of user-generated content perpetrated via the world wide Web, the fodder for—and, consequently, the necessity for—effective satire grows as well.

However, as even the most casual observers media’s evolution can tell you, the more powerful media organizations (and their corporate controllers) become, the more power they chose to exert of their chosen medium. As a result, the more our age seemingly cries out for satire, the less the methods most capable of delivering it are likely to accommodate it.

Shooting War, much to Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman’s collective credit, is a rather effective satire. Much of the credit for its success—beyond the standard, and largely deserved commentary on its creators’ skills—can be attributed to two important aspects of the story’s delivery method.

First, there’s the fact that the work was initially serialized on the Web. At least for the time being, the Internet can still be harnessed as an effective means for disseminating subversive media. Second, was the decision to produce the story as a work of sequential art—Lappe’s first foray into the format. Shooting War is a story whose proper execution demands a visual medium, with much of it unfolded embedded in a war torn nation—an Iraq still in the throws of the US-lead occupation. An effective adaptation of the source material, however, would have likely required the sort of funds that studios aren’t especially eager to throw at first time authors.

Fortunately, however, Lappe found a kindred spirit in Goldman, whose gritty style utilizes actual photographs as backgrounds, lending a good deal to the hyper-realism and immediacy evoked by the cable news networks that form the story’s backbone. Goldman happily harnesses the barrage of graphics, slogans, and news tickers that constantly barrage viewers’ eyeballs, distinguishing little difference between them and the corporate Starbucks and McDonalds logos that dot the skyline of the Baghdad of the year 2011, in which the story unfolds.

It’s a world where television is monopolized by empty-minded talking heads, and national newspapers are little more than tabloids—which is to say that, at least in those respects, little has changed four years (save for the NY Post, which has doubled its cover price to a whopping $1, and global warming, which has bumped the temperature to 105 degrees in Manhattan in May).

To their credit, the corporate news of the future has gotten a bit savvier, however, making a star of a counter-cultural video blogger, in a spiritual homage to those two films mentioned above. Unfortunately, the terrorists have, as well—take Abu Adallah, seemingly self-styled after Che Guevara, who delivers the seminal expository monologue, like some Bond villain, proclaiming, in part, “The promise of 70 virgins in the next life cannot compete with the pleasures of the modern world.”

Of course, one of the sign posts of truly effective satire is the ability to properly skewer all sides, and in this respect, Shooting War doesn’t let the reader down. Jimmy Burns, the hotshot antiestablishment blogger who assumes the role of the protagonist, while largely a sympathetic character, is never above falling victim to the arrogance cultivated from success as a DIY journalist. Nor is he ever allowed to forget that his success is dependent on the corporate media outlet that made him a star.

That final point is perhaps the ultimate lesson to walk away with from Shooting War, which, for its own part, while born as a comic syndicated on the independent site, Smithmag.net, is now being published Grand Central, the former moniker of the Time Warner Books Group. Which is to say, sometimes it’s necessarily to harness traditional media to help spread subversive messages, but without the proper level of self-realization, it’s not too difficult to become co-opted by the machine.

For its all of its moments of near-future dystopia, Shooting War is less a message of what the media and the Iraqi quagmire could be than an allegory for what they–and by extension, we–already are, and while it happily embraces moments of levity and violent fetishism (it is a piece of entertainment, after all), its lessons still cut like a knife.

–Brian Heater

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