Friday, 4 May 2012

Project 52.1: G.I. Combat #1 (Alex v Michael)

...and we're back. 

You might remember Project 52, in which I gathered an elite group - Tim 'Tumbln' Maytom, Bret 'The Enigma' Canny, and Michael 'Special Guest Star' Eckett - in order to review every single one of the 52 #1 issues DC released as it rebooted its entire universe.

Now, switching out some of its less successful titles - farewell, dear OMAC - DC has launched six new #1s - G.I. Combat, Earth Two, World's Finest, Dial H for Hero, The Ravagers and Batman Incorporated.

So we thought we'd get the band back together and review the hell out of some comics, in a double-bill, Avengers-vs-X-Men style. It is, as comics publishers are so fond of saying, the perfect jumping on point. So join us for... 
Project 52.1


THE COVER OF THE COMIC
G.I. Combat #1
Written by J.T. Krul
and 
Justin Gray &  Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Nick Olivietti
and
Dan Panosian



                Michael Reviews G.I. Combat #1

It was only upon Alex requesting that I review G.I. Combat for the second wave of Project 52 that I realised I'm not sure what G.I. stands for. And so I've gone in to reading G.I. Combat hoping to find the answer. Good idea? Well let's get into it and find out.

G.I. Combat #1 contains two stories, Krul and Olivietti's 'The War That Time Forgot', in which the US army fights dinosaurs, and 'The Unknown Soldier', written by Gray and Palmiotti, with art from Panosian, about a scarred soldier of relentless malice, fuelled by revenge.

'The War That Time Forgot' goes by very quickly. After a very brief, rather bland character introduction, in which it's established that one of our protagonists has a family and the other is his friend, we follow the US investigating an area of anomaly in North Korea. When they spot Pterodactyls, the grossly incompetent soldiers think it's a good idea to shoot at the dinosaurs. This goes as well as one might imagine, leaving our not-so-gifted individuals stranded in the middle of a war between the North Korean army and dinosaurs.

Luckily, whilst the dialogue isn't to my liking, Ariel Ollivetti's realistic artwork works well in a book filled with vehicles of destruction, giant Indosuchus [Indosuchi? - Plural Ed], Tyranosaurus Rex and Pterodactyls. His digital colouring might be jarring to those not used to it but it's the best I've seen of his recent style. The characters' faces are smooth and expressive and whilst previously his photo-referenced objects, like guns or backgrounds seemed to stick out from the figure work, they now blend together more. I find it hard to complain about anyone who draws a fighter jet tearing through a Pterodactyl, guts, intestines and blood spurting out the other side.

'The Unknown Soldier' is a standard origin story told through two narrative devices which don't entirely mesh. We're introduced to the Unknown Soldier as he ruthlessly and effectively kills Al-Qaeda soldiers, told through a US soldier's letter home. A colonel then interviews the Unknown Soldier about his past, revealing his origins and the reason for his brutality. It functions similarly to a superhero origin and makes better use of its 14 pages than 'The War That Time Forgot', feeling more like a complete story. There's a really nice touch of black humour at one point and a genuinely intriguing ending.

Panosian's art is kind of scratchy during moments of conflict but cleaner during flashbacks to a happier time in the Unknown Soldier's life, making it quite effective. His action makes war chaotic but has few moments of depicted violence, often focusing more on the person shooting than who they're shooting at.

G.I. Combat #1 is a bit of a mixed bag, but there is something enjoyable there and it adds some diversity to the DC line whilst maintaining enough fantastical elements to stop it from feeling out of place. I still haven't learnt what G.I. stands for though. I'm going with Gun Infested.

FINAL GRADE: C+


Project 52.1 wide

Alex Reviews G.I. Combat #1

And it really is. From front cover - we'll get to that in a moment - to back, G.I. Combat is guns, guns, guns. Manly men with gunly guns. Also, as my esteemed colleague pointed out, some dinosaurs. And then more guns.

The cover is fairly lights on guns, though. FEATURING THE WAR THAT TIME FORGOT, it boasts, over images of the aforementioned dinosaurs crushing war machinery (hell yes). Tucked away in one corner, next to a scowly-faced bandaged marine, it adds ALSO: THE DARK AND VIOLENT WORLD OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER (ick). With those exclamations and its double feature , it's could almost be a comic you found at the bottom of a bargain bin, printed on yellowing paper with a great big DRAWING THE LINE AT 25¢ sticker peeling off the front. The cover makes a promise - comics like your grandaddy read.

Of the two stories, 'The War That Time Forgot' keeps this promise best. It plays its premise straight, keeping its men serious, musclebound, and with conveniently humanising families (and guns!), trading lumpen banter, and its dinos helicopter-chewingly lethal.

Unlike my comrade, I'm not familiar with Olivietti's art - however, it shines through that this it isn't the work of an artist/inker/colourist team, but a single hand. Everything is given a hard black outline, but the details are delicately picked out within that, in subtly differing shades of naturalistic colour. It's a little static, but all rather stunning - at least, as long as you're looking where the art wants you to be.

The fit between the painterly faces (and dinosaurs, which look like they've come to life from Mars Attacks-style trading cards) and the computer-generated everything else is awkward to say the least. Those guns, of which you see so many, helicopters and even scenery have all been amateurishly SketchUpped into life, their smooth textures pasted on top, behind and in the hands of the impressive figurework. It all reaches a horrible climax at, well, the climax - the double page spread we all paid to see, Koreans vs dinosaurs. It's all rather impressive, even if the jeeps and tanks look like cheap toys, but a series of computer-generated stegosaurs have been copy and pasted onto the landscape, all identical and stood in the exact same pose. Some of their feet aren't even touching the ground properly.

It looks like low-budget CG, something out of those B-movies you can catch late at night on Channel 5. And, really, the whole thing seems to wish it was a film. I suspect having finally seen The Avengers this week could cast a long shadow over all these reviews, but it really comes off as a Michael Bay-directed combination of Jurassic Park and Predator. The way it bows to the blockbuster films it's imitating is, ultimately, what gives it away as a modern comic. This isn't your grandaddy's comic, after all.

(After that, Unknown Soldier was the sterile mouthwash stuff the dentist gives you after he's scraped cold metal on the insides of your teeth. Not as bad, just kind of nothingy. The whole thing is framed as a soldier's letter home to his wife - a cliché apparently hardwired into the DNA of war comics - and never pays it off. There's too much show and not enough tell (a whole character lives, die, and provides motivation in a few captions). It does manage to build a fine level of mystery around the titular Unknown Soldier and his origins, but the tale spills its load far too early, and not very satisfyingly. Once he's the Known Soldier, our hero turns out to be just a sort of jingoist Punisher, without the satirical verve that premise lends itself to.

Despite getting exactly half of the pagecount, it feels, frankly, like a footnote.)
FINAL GRADE: E

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Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.