The evolution of technology over the last 60 years has brought countless changes to society.
But those advancements have also affected the art of warfare.
And for DC Comics, that means updating its many war-related intellection properties. Among them, the hard-hitting, gritty Unknown Soldier, which will be modernized and introduced to DC's relaunched universe in the new comic, G.I. Combat.
Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, with art by Dan Panosian, the Unknown Soldier will be one of three war-related stories that fill the pages of May's G.I. Combat #1. The other two will be the main story, The War That Time Forgot by J.T. Krul and Ariel Olivetti, and The Haunted Tank by John Arcudi and Scott Kolins.
The Unknown Soldier originally appeared in DC Comics in 1966 as a World War II secret agent, but later interpretations of the character in the '80s and '90s showed a more cynical, gritty version of the Unknown Soldier. In 2008, Vertigo introduced yet another interpretation of the soldier, winning critical acclaim for the author, Joshua Dysart.
But now the property is back in the DCU, and Palmiotti and Gray are trying to do for this character what they've done for Jonah Hex in All-Star Western: giving him a character-focused update while also bringing on the action and excitement.
Newsarama talked with Palmiotti, Gray and Panosian to find out more about their Unknown Soldier stories for G.I. Combat.
Newsarama: What interested you about working on the Unknown Soldier property, and were you guys familiar with it before?
Justin Gray: For one thing, we’ve always wanted to do a war comic in some form or multiple forms. We’ve worked in a number of genres, but for me the war comics have been one of the most interesting that we haven’t yet explored. I really liked what Josh Dysart’s interpretation of Unknown Soldier. I think that book deserved a much bigger audience. What we wanted to do was go back and look at both the original work by Kanigher and Kubert and the 12 issue series by Priest and Gascoine.
Jimmy Palmiotti: Another genre that I can’t get enough of, and a very interesting character. I grew up on a heavy dose of Joe Kubert war comics and was thrilled to be offered this book. I have read many takes on the character and we decided to “ do our thing.”
Nrama: Who is the Unknown Soldier of this modern story?
Gray: You’ll have to read the story to learn that. It deals with modern themes, but does so in an allegorical and comic book way. The worst thing we could do is pretend to be in the shoes of the soldiers that have fought in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It would be a fraud and disingenuous to pretend otherwise. Like so many who have been here at home wondering, missing and praying for the brave men and woman that fight, we have ideas and emotions about it, but we can never truly know what they know. Unknown Soldier represents a domestic frustration with the loss of life in a way that is in tune with the war comics of the past. Our focus is the war on terror and tackling real events with the wish fulfillment of a summer blockbuster.
Palmiotti: Justin hits on the very thing I think a lot of people think about and I agree. We haven’t been in these places and fought a war, but I remember clear as day when I was old enough to ask my father about World War II and what it was really like for him and remember him simply saying that is was a bad time and a lot of good men died. He never really wanted to talk about it. And it wasn’t until he passed that I found his diary the army made soldiers keep, and it was eye opening for sure.
Nrama: How would you describe the approach you're taking to this story?
Gray: We blended the ideas and patriotic nature of Captain America with the cynical reality of a nation unsure of where the future is – so we must find a way to heal and guard against the reality that war is vastly different now.
This isn’t World War II or even Vietnam. The lines are blurred and the enemy is capable of hiding in a way that would be viewed classically as cowardly and without honor.
Unknown Soldier is the byproduct of the same victimization that survivors of terror attacks experience, the rage and desire for not only justice, but also understanding. Through the medium of comics, his anger can be elevated to superhuman levels. A terror attack can sometimes strip a person’s sense of humanity, their understanding of the basic principals of how the world works. As a result, we’ve envisioned this man as the most extreme result of modern warfare.
Palmiotti: Everything about this story reflects the world we live in and how war has changed and how it changes people as well. The approach is to first entertain, so I will say that there is a lot going on here within the story.
Nrama: How long is each issue's story, and is it a challenge to tell the story in few pages, or have you guys been warming up for this in your All-Star Western back-ups?
Gray: We’ve been working in the short form for years. And by that I mean we’ve been delivering single-issue stories in a way that hasn’t been seen with such consistency since the early years of comics. There is very little fat on our stories. We don’t write for trades. We simply write compact and hopefully engaging tales.The real challenge is writing a 3D blockbuster style tale that is both explosive and very human in such a limited number of pages. That’s what we went for with Unknown Soldier, and I fear poor Dan Panosian is the victim of it. We’ve asked so much of him in terms of compact storytelling that the fact that he’s approached it all with a smile is a testament to his professionalism and talent.
Palmiotti: We believe a reader is entitled to a good, solid, entertaining read, and with these chapters, we think everyone gets their money worth and more. Dan has been doing some amazing work and we are so proud to have him and Rob on our team. If you are looking for a book that has a ton of pages with character heads acting snarky to each other, you are in the wrong place. This book moves like a freight train on fire heading towards a warehouse full of explosives.
Nrama: How long does the Unknown Soldier story last?
Gray: Four issues at 14 pages each.
Palmiotti: We hope for more if people like it. Feedback is so important to us.
Nrama: Dan, can you describe the visual tone you're creating in Unknown Soldier?
Panosian: Sassy? I think the combat world needs more sass and I hope I'm the artist to make that happen. Kidding, of course. I generally like gritty art, but I wanted to set an even darker and more brutal tone to this book. I'm having fun with the brush — keeping everything alive and moving. I'm trying to infuse a raw, visceral feel to the work. Especially the action. It's a comic book with the name "Combat" in the title and I'm working on a story with the word "Soldier," so I've got to deliver!
That said, it's not all chaotic action. There are some very intriguing subtleties in the story, and I want readers to recognize those nuances.
Nrama: Justin and Jimmy, how would you guys describe the tone you're hoping to achieve with Dan?
Gray: Dynamic action with deep personal resonance. That, and some bizarre dream sequences. The reality is that Dan is bringing a unique feel and style to Unknown Soldier that is worth picking up the book regardless of what we contribute. He uses some of my favorite techniques, he understands the pressure of delivering a solid Unknown Soldier story and the importance of getting it right. War comics are an important genre, but because we’ve been so distanced from the mythology created in the 40’s it is hard for people to embrace it. I feel like every line of Dan’s art is telling people that this is something they have to see to believe.
Palmiotti: Dan and I have been friends since the early nineties and watching his evolution, as an artist has been so impressive. I can honestly say I knew him when he was a fellow inker…but those days are gone. This is a classic example of someone taking the time to learn a craft and then showing everyone that he not only mastered it, but also is taking it to new levels.
Nrama: Dan, were you influenced by any past incarnations of the character?
Panosian: I've always been intrigued by the character and I really enjoyed Dave Johnson's recent covers. They were amazing. This new incarnation is pretty different - except, of course, for the iconic bandages.
Nrama: How did you develop the new look for the character?
Panosian: When we were developing the "costume" [ I hate to call it that ], Viktor Kalvachev sent me some amazing reference and really helped to nail down a very real combat outfit. Everything he wears and the guns he uses have been meticulously thought through. Thank Viktor for that and enjoy his covers! The man knows his stuff!
Nrama: How has it been working on the story with Jimmy and Justin?
Panosian: I gotta say, and I'm sure everyone says this about the writers they work, but their work is amazing. They're able to cram so much story into 14 pages. When I read the scripts, there aren't any pages that I don't look forward to drawing. Kind of like a movie where every scene is fun to watch. Their pacing is unmatched.
Nrama: Jimmy and Justin, you guys are very active in the New 52 now, between The Ray and ASW and this. What's it been like working within the framework of the New 52?
JG It has been great! We welcome every challenge and every opportunity. This is a great time to be working in comics and DC allows us to expand into so many different genres that there’s no way not to be excited.
Palmiotti: I think the whole 52 project has been one of the most successful projects ever and Its so exciting to be a part of this whole endeavor and to be considered for these amazing characters. We lucked out on so many levels.
Nrama: Will we see more stories from you at DC?
Gray: I hope so. We’ve had such an amazing working relationship with DC over the years and been a part of, in our own small way, continuing an important cultural mythology. You can’t beat this job or the people we get to work with. The most important thing is to love what you do and respect the people you work with. Not a lot of people have that opportunity and DC has helped make that possible for us.
Palmiotti: You will be seeing more and as long as the fans are receptive to new ideas, we will always be back for more. It’s a great time to be doing comics.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about Unknown Soldier?
Palmiotti: Two things. First, if you never read or know nothing about the character, you will have no worries…this will be a perfect time to jump on…and second, those who love the character will be very pleased with our take on the legacy. There is something for everyone here
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