Written by Eric Trautmann and Brandon Jerwa
Art by Steve Lieber
Published by Vertigo Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Shooters is a deeply personal tale of the cost of heroism, the consequences of service, and the trauma of abandonment set against the most active period of the war in Iraq. By nature, war stories, especially those based on personal truths, can be some of the most exciting and agonizing to experience. I may not have a relationship with the part of our world in which Shooters takes place, and — thanks to men and women like those depicted in the story — I will probably never have to. But co-writers Eric Trautmann and Brandon Jerwa craft a narrative so impacting, and so powerful, that it's impossible not to be swallowed by it completely. It's the kind of story that can shake someone on either side of the fence to their core, raising questions that have no easy answer, or, really, any answer at all.
Shooters follows the life of Chief Warrant Officer Terry Glass as he is deployed to Iraq at the beginning of President George W. Bush's military campaign, is wounded, and attempts to readjust to life as a civilian while still wrestling with the ghosts of his time "in country," as the men and women of service refer to Iraq, and his lingering sense of friendship and duty to his fallen friends. From the get-go, the air of familiarity between Glass, his best friend Eddie Mawae, and the rest of their fellow soldiers is palpable. There's a lot to be said for crafting the kind of dialogue that can adjust you to a place and time, fill you in on the details of the story, and still feel natural and engaging. The sense of camaraderie extends into the rest of the story, as the tension very quickly ramps up as the troops are sent on what is meant to be an easy mission. There's an incredibly effective use of Chief Glass's inner monologue as it quickly becomes apparent that things aren't what they seem, and as the book devolves into the chaos that is war, it's immediately clear that the lines between friend and foe aren't always cut-and-dried.
That's a theme that continues throughout the story, as Glass, now the only survivor of a particularly devastating friendly-fire encounter, seeks justice for his fallen friends, and solace for himself. It's hard not to feel every aching shift in the narrative as Glass's journey through PTSD, survivor's guilt and physical rehabilitation runs counter to his failing marriage, his breaking psyche and his loss of self. Glass finds himself forcibly at odds with his sense of duty to his family and his country, as he seeks justice for the friends he lost in the "blue on blue" attack that ended his military career. Trautmann and Jerwa cleverly weave bits of news broadcasts depicting events familiar to almost anyone who could be reading this book, which immediately frames the time and place in which the story occurs, and invokes many of the feelings and attitudes at work in the country at those moments. Is an elegant and effective way to draw the reader into the story, and succinctly frame the issues at play. When Glass finally finds the answers he's looking for, his sense of purpose is shaken to its very core. By the time he finds solace in one of the least likely places, the events that unfold are, as with anything related to war, almost completely unpredictable, and entirely confrontational.
For his part, artist Steve Lieber is brilliant, turning in almost flawless pages that are a treatise on clear, character driven storytelling. Somehow both stark and inviting, Lieber's work here is equal parts Tony Harris and Alex Toth, building on clear, expressive line work and a sense of detail and authenticity that is absolutely crucial to this type of grounded, emotional story. It's not perfect — the work fares better in long-shots, and character interaction than the facial close-ups — but it's beautiful, carefully rendered and always tasteful. The lack of color is never a problem, and in fact probably only enhances the impact of the story, as almost manga-esque gray tones fill in the details of the pages.
I'm honestly not clear on which side of the aisle Shooters creator Eric Trautmann falls on when it comes to the war in Iraq. Frankly, it's unimportant. What I do know, from his introduction to the novel, is that he has a connection to the characters, the environment, and the events of this story that put him as close to that world as I am far from it. Elements of the story of Shooters, and its protagonist Terry Glass, are based on Trautmann's brother-in-law, who served in Iraq and ultimately gave his life fighting for a cause in which he believed very deeply. The personal connection of Trautmann to this book is felt from the first panel to the last. It resonates throughout, and it's absolutely clear that Trautmann's collaborators, Brandon Jerwa and Steve Lieber, are equally invested in the work whether they have Trautmann's connection to the time and place or not. It's that personal element that makes this story so powerful, so visceral and so affecting. I am not ashamed to say that there were times during my reading of this story that I was moved to tears. The emotion and intensity of this story are palpable, and while I am thankful that I've never had to know what these characters are going through, thanks to Shooters I feel, in some small, selfish way, that I understand. Shooters is an important, resonant and timely graphic novel from two overlooked writers, and will leave even those with the strongest convictions questioning themselves in the way that only true art can inspire.
Written by Andi Ewington and Eddie Deighton
Art by Cosmo White, and Calum Alexander Watt (on excerpt from Forty Five)
Published by Com.X
Review by Edward Kaye
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Bluespear is a sequel to 2010's highly acclaimed Forty Five graphic novel. The one-shot focuses on the Japanese superhero Bluespear, and efforts made by the shadowy corporation XoDOS to take control of the legendary weapon that gives him his mystical powers. The tale that unfolds is an action-packed story involving yakuza gangs, super-powered battles, siblings reunited, and unexpected betrayal...
Forty Five was a high-concept graphic novel, written as a series of interconnected interviews with superheroes, as documented by journalist James Stanley. Having decided to forego the test that would determine whether his child is carrying the all-important Super-S gene, which differentiates the genetic makeup of a superhero from that of a normal person, James sets out on a quest to interview forty-five super-powered individuals in the hope that their experiences may better prepare him for the birth of a child that is potentially gifted with extraordinary abilities. The text of the book was written by Andi Ewington, and each one of the forty five pages of art that accompanied the interviews was illustrated by a different artist.
It goes without saying that Bluespear isn’t quite as original as Forty Five – going with the traditional sequential narrative format rather than the interview format of its predecessor. However, this isn’t really a bad thing, because frankly I think that Ewington took that format as for as he could with the original story, and to try and replicate the format for this sequel may have felt forced. It’s also worth noting that Bluespear does have the somewhat original angle of being the first of a planned trilogy of one-shots that aim to further explore the stories of three of the main characters featured in the original story. Through this trilogy of interconnected stories, Ewington plan’s not only to further explore the back-stories of these characters, but also provide readers with a more in-depth look at the rich world they’ve constructed, the role of superheroes in it, and the designs that the shadowy organization known as XoDOS has on the super-powered community.
Andi Ewington and Eddie Deighton do a great job putting together an intriguing story that follows up on plot points from the original story, but can also be read well as a standalone piece. The characters are all highly interesting, and the plot gives readers a tantalizing glimpse behind the scenes of the mysterious XoDOS corporation that was mentioned frequently in the first book. They tell the story through a combination of well scripted dialog, and light expository monologue that doesn’t distract too much from the artwork and flow of the story. There’s a fantastic part at the start of the book, where the artwork shows Bluespear’s origin story in parallel with his current crime-fighting life, highlighting similar scenes occurring both in his childhood and his adult life. Both scenes are overlaid with the same monologue, but the meaning imparted by the words changes with the context of the scene. It’s highly effective storytelling.
The artwork on the book is by British artist Cosmo White, who is a relative newcomer to the industry. In keeping with the Japanese locale of the story, White’s artwork has a strong Manga influence to it, which is exhibited in his very clean and dynamic linework, and a light inking job that serves mainly to highlight the outlines of figures and objects - there’s no shading or filling of blacks, which gives the artwork quite a light and open feel to it. Where his artwork really shines is in his bold use of vibrant colours, and clever use of light sources to create a halcyon, almost dreamlike quality in the final artwork. One of the prettiest scenes is a one-page splash where Bluespear emerges from the ocean, balanced on the nose of a Blue Whale that is cresting out of the water - the sun shines down on them through the parting clouds, and light rays bath the scene, altering the hue of the colors in subtle, almost imperceptible ways. It’s brilliant attention to detail.
Bluespear is a strong follow-up to the first Forty Five graphic novel, which expands upon elements from the original, while remaining highly accessible to new readers. While it might not have quite the same feeling of originality that its predecessor had, the core elements of what made Forty Five so great are still present, i.e. strong storytelling, an engaging premise, and spectacular artwork.