I have heard that funnybooks sometimes tackle "the politics."

Army @ Love #1

This is the latest ongoing series from Vertigo, the broad concept of which can be viewed as either fortuitous or detrimental in contrast with other recent Vertigo output. It’s, in significant part, a satire of American morals in the context of global struggle, a territory that was quite specifically mined in a recent prior Vertigo launch, American Virgin (let alone the more general War on Terror vibe permeating any number of recent comics, like Vertigo’s DMZ). That series is still ongoing today, though its subject matter may have changed since its initial storyline; I wouldn’t know, since I haven’t had the desire read any farther. That’s the crux of the little issue facing this new book - the subject matter seems awfully familiar, yet it truthfully doesn’t have all that hard an act to follow.

The newest project from writer/penciller Rick Veitch, Army @ Love does initially benefit from focus, and generally manages to keep its tone consistent, which seems like a small victory on the battlefield of lowered expectations. It’s set in the midst of America’s next big war, a protracted struggle for order in the nation of Afbaghistan, an awful slog that’s been turned around quite spectacularly through the intervention of Motivation & Morale (or: MoMo), a curious, surveillance-happy group that’s been tasked with bolstering the flagging spirit of the troops and attracting new recruits - they’ve done so by recasting war as the greatest entertainment the world has to offer, the ultimate in decadent, high-octane amusement for the bored denizens of an affluent society. It’s a comprehensive job, involving everything from soldiers yapping on cell phones while under fire to orgies on retreat, but it’s a great success, until the inevitable cracks in the armor begin to show.

Who knows how much of a series can be dragged out of this concept, which is both amazingly silly yet cruel enough to scratch some tender portion of my brain, especially when I think of those super-slick recruiting commercials. Still, in order for any of this to register beyond the abstract, Veitch is essentially forced to portray his characters as having moved entirely beyond any recognizable notion of morality or mortal care in combat, since one would naturally expect any of MoMo’s marketing schemes to dissolve once the blood starts flowing and the explosives go off.

This allows for some funny visuals of stark-naked soldiers dazzling the enemy with their nude bodies (having just fucked in the middle of a firefight), flexing their muscles as they fire their weapons in the way that only Veitch can quite draw it, but the artist is ultimately left in the position of characterizing entirely twisted adrenaline junkies, removed from most recognizable human characteristics. That’s a problem when your comic purports to be “a people book,” as Veitch deems it in a back-of-issue essay, although he does get a little mileage out of contrasting his young, sick soldiers with the old guard and the people back home.

Indeed, one of the core bits of conflict in the plot revolves around the notion that the American people, while willing to partially stomach something like Abu Ghraib, presumably as the dirty business of war, would go entirely apoplectic over the revelation that soldiers aren’t as much treating war as dirty business anymore but an excuse for sexy abandon, sort of a political car crash of moralities. Do I necessarily ‘buy’ that idea? Not really -- call me a sucker, but I just don’t have the apparent faith in America’s sex/violence morality divide that Veitch does -- but I’ll agree that as a broad platform for satire it has a potential for pinpointing targets and characters that the book’s even wider premise seem to lack, and it seems to make up for the evident characterization handicaps Veitch is going to have to work under. But is it really satisfying that the book already seems to be undergoing damage control before it’s even started?

I’d say on the whole Veitch’s visuals are more satisfying than anything. Which isn’t to say it’s sheer aesthetics I’m responding to -- some of José Villarrubia’s colors come off as uncharacteristically drab, and I’m generally not a huge fan of inker Gary Erskine’s work, although his melding with Veitch’s pencils does form a unique hybrid -- but that Veitch the visualist is served much better by the satire than Veitch the writer. Little details like a severed finger laying on the ground are scattered about to enhance the aura of ignored dread. Some of the smaller designs are cute and funny, like the rolling MoMo vehicle that resembles a metal monster grinning and opening its mouth when its hatch pops forward, or the Secretary’s very well-furnished aircraft. Even the soap opera Veitch dishes out on the home front is enhanced - keep your eye on all the stacks of money and the concealed weapon that one guy keeps handling. Oh, there’s a good cell phone joke too, although that’s not so visual.

So it’s particularly difficult to give this debut issue an evaluation. It's virtually all potential energy, having spent its debut getting its broadest premise out, one which didn't make for all that great an experience. But there's clearly room to work, and Veitch may yet build to a more affecting pitch in the future.