Best Shots Extra: THE SHIELD #1 "Patriotic, Not Political"
How RED CIRCLE Will Add to the DCU
Written by Eric Trautmann
Art by Marco Rudy and Mick Gray
Coloring by Art Lyon
Lettering by Sal Cipriano
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
Considering you have a hero draped in the Stars and Stripes, and you drop him into a country that looks more than a little like Afghanistan, you'd think The Shield would be an inherently political comic.
Surprise: It's not.
Or perhaps I should rephrase. Eric Trautmann does have his fair share of insight -- and it certainly gives some food for thought -- but you never feel it's advocating for one side or the other. Whether you're for or against American troops abroad, The Shield's greatest strength is to put that debate aside, and focus on the hero behind the mask. But that ability to touch upon real-world conflict, without beating anyone over the head, is a delicate balancing act -- one that I'm sure more than a few readers may disagree with -- but one I feel Trautmann and his team pull off magnificently.
The premise is simple: U.S. troops have gone missing in Bialya, and the Shield has to get them back. With his superpowered, danger-detecting suit, you could certainly see some similarities with the Blue Beetle -- that is, until you start getting into the character of Lieutenant Joseph Higgins. Higgins is a far cry from today's military-oriented comics, whether it be the hardened warriors of Light Brigade or the cynical recruits of Special Forces -- instead, this is a guy who, despite having a trillion-dollar supersuit, just wants to talk.
But Trautmann particularly outdoes himself with a powerful moment in the book, when Higgins displays a gift for the refugee children: comics. "Something to show we're not just men with guns and bombs and tanks," Higgins thinks to himself. "Something to show we love children, too." Yet even Trautmann knows that fantasy is powerless against the complexities and hardships of today's realities, as the Mullah bitterly replies: "Our culture is in ruins... but at least the Americans have brought us comic books." It's just incredibly thought-provoking.
I could talk all day about Trautmann's work, but his collaborator, Marco Rudy, is also deserving of praise. His first double-page splash is almost reminiscent of Bryan Hitch, but then spins off with his own sketchier style. Considering this is just the first issue of the series, Rudy and his team are certainly hitting the ground running, as they experiment with panel layout and the cyber interface of the Shield's battlesuit. These little flourishes really keep the calmer pages interesting, but once the action kicks up, it almost has an Alan Davis-like energy to it all. Of course, there are still a few wrinkles to be worked out, in terms of pacing -- some of the pages, especially toward the end, are just a little crowded -- and I'm curious how another inker would have done details, especially on characters' faces. But the last page alone just totally sells me for the next issue.
I'm sure a lot of people weren't expecting much when they heard DC was going to be putting out its own "patriotic" superhero, but, surprisingly, DC seems to be taking a good hard look at some real-world issues that even their more traditionally realistic counterparts at Marvel hasn't scratched this effectively. Bialya could easily be Afghanistan, the refugees' anger at superheroes could be at Americans in total. But if you're looking for a judgment call on that, this isn't the book for you -- Trautmann and company deftly dodge the political bullet to deliver a strong story that I think is only just starting to ramp itself up.