Monday, 30 July 2012

Books: Special Forces


Special Forces
By Kyle Baker

Available now from Islington Libraries
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Is the War in Iraq still a thing that's going on?

According to the wikipedia page (which offers the following synonyms: "The Occupation of Iraq", "The Second Gulf War" (or as me and my friends sometimes refered to it: "GW2"), and "Operation Iraqi Freedom" (that ones from the United States military obviously)) it ended in December 2011 - but - I dunno - I mean: I checked the wikipedia just to get a few facts in order to help plump this out and was kinda surprised to see that it had been given an official end date [1]: it kinda feels like it never ended and it's just going to keep on going forever - always there as a backdrop to our lives and sometime to skip over when it shows up on the news ("Latest estimates say that casualties may be up to..." click) [2]

But the main question that everyone's dying to answer is - when is there going to be a definitive GW2 movie? I guess since Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker won all those Oscars in 2010 and seemed to settle things once and for all [3] - but: well - I guess I must have been one of the few humans on the planet that didn't think it was all that (I mean - yeah - I liked the slow motion explosions - but the whole troubled-tough-guy-with-a-death-wish thing as been done before and been done a lot better - and I'm always a little bit "gimme something new" so yeah). But come on - Vietnam had loads and loads and loads of great movies made about it (you wanna list? Because you can email me and I'll give you a list) and World War 2 isn't too shabby when it comes to all the stuff people have made about it (plus - you know: the best book (aka my favourite book) ever written: Joseph Heller's Catch 22 [4]). And yet with GW2 we have a conflict that's longer than - what? - both of them put together? (I dunno - can't be bothered to check the dates and do the math - but still - it's been a pretty long war/occupation/conflict - right?) and so far all everything we've been given has seemed a little bit - I dunno - poorly made and disappointing (hell - maybe that's on purpose - and it's like a meta-comment on the war/occupation/conflict itself? But then again - maybe not). When one of the best films you've got was actually made before the war even started (that would be David O. Russell's Three Kings - which isn't perfect - but is still kinda entertaining) then you know that something's wrong. And apart from The Hurt Locker - what have you got? Jarhead? Please. Green Zone? (That was Jason Bourne goes to Baghdad and was supposed to be a breakout hit - but hell - I'm surprised it anyone has actually seen it) and then - what? I dunno. Just a bunch of trash.

Of course - yeah - I sympathise with the argument that - come on - how are you supposed to tell a story that sums up an entire war/occupation/conflict? Isn't that like saying - how comes no one's made a definitive film about - summertime? Or sandwiches? Or some other neblous concept? And I guess that's about right - but then I read Special Forces and I realised that people have been looking for their definitives in the wrong medium and that sometimes - there are stories that can encompass big ideas - and (what's more) make it look kinda easy.

Written and drawn by Kyle Baker who previously I'd only known through his book Why I Hate Saturn [5] and Truth: Red, White and Black (which I don't think I've actually read all the way through - but have been meaning to give it another go and do a write-up on here - because - you know - it seems sorta prestigious and stuff) my hopes weren't really that high for this book when I first picked it up. As recommended by Tam (thanks Tam!) I was hoping it was going to show me a good time - but due to my previous encounters with Mr Baker - I was kinda expecting something a little bit more "refined" and "smart" (which I'll admit now my brain kinda tends to translate as "dull" and "boring" and etc - "thought-provoking"? = "sleep-inducing"; "sophisticated" = "so what?" ; "asks questions" = "why am I watching this?" and so on) but then - well.

For the first few pages - this book comes on like it wants to be join the same sorta club as the more mature Garth Ennis war stories stuff (Battlefields and - erm - well - War Stories): the gritty underside of life as a troop: you know - compromises and bitter truths and all that stuff and how life in the military isn't anything like how it is in the movies. And then. Well: there's a page of our main character - Felony - lying in around in a state of almost-undress that would make Lara Croft balk (I can imagine her offering the advice: "You need to have a little bit of self-respect and wear something a little less skimpy.") and I started to think - either this guy is a bit of pervet or maybe this book isn't what I was expecting (in fact - if we're being honest - it was much more the former than the latter that was going through my mind: and seeing how I'd prefer not to spend my time oogling drawings of women in sexy poses (yeah - as hard as that may be to believe) I was almost ready to give up) and then - with a slow creeping realisation (and I mean this as a big compliment) I started to realise that this is just the type of comic book that Frank Miller would love (in fact I could almost imagine that he wrote and drew it - if he wasn't spending his time on dross like Holy Terror [6]).

In fact - it's proof of this book's specialness in that - what would constitute a mistep for other books - in manages to utilize as a strength. It's super obvious that Kyle Baker has lots of drawing style talents - and yet - there's patches of this book where it looks a lot like he uses computer generated models: and not in a fancy way like Futurama - but more in a cheap and nasty dirty style that (and this is the only parallel that comes close) reminds me of the long running football cartoons in The Mirror and The Sun (Scorer? And: (will have to google this): Striker [7]): if you've never had the misfortune to know what I'm talking about - it's like looking at mannequins as rendered by an 8-bit computer: and just makes everything look fake and artifical in a really disgusting sort of way (so that it feels like if you touched it - you hand would come away sticky [8]). But yeah - for whatever reasons: it suits the tone and style of the story really well and kinda makes things feel like they're degarding at the same time as - well - I don't wanna spoil it - so I'll let you read it and find out for yourself.  

[1] I double-checked the source and got this Timeline from Reuters which makes for some pretty depressing reading: "Almost 4,500 U.S. troops have been killed since 2003." - and well I guess we all know that's only the tip of a really bloody iceberg.

[2] I think that is supposed to be the obligatory part (that following everyone else who's ever written about the Iraq War ever) I talk about how I remember watching all that Shock and Awe stuff on the TV and eating popcorn with my friends: but then I realised just how much of a cliché that would be - and so decided that I would spare you all - so be thankful.

[3] It's best not to get me started on how little I rate The Oscars or - well - the idea of award shows in general. Let's just say that I don't think that they're anything like the final word (or - hell - even the first - or anything inbetween - gah) about whether or not a film (or book or piece of music or whatever) is worth paying attention to.

[4] Altho - man - I don't know if I could recommend the follow-up to that: Something Happened. Which took me about six months to finally get through and was a trying to swim through porridge. Like - imagine if Radiohead had followed Ok Computer with an album of half-hour jazz freakouts instead of - you know: Kid A (which despite it's rep is still an album with songs on it - so quit your complainings already).

[5] Which came out all the way back in 1990 (which at this point is practically prehistroic) and like I said back then it didn't exactly blow me away (my exact words were: "a  little bit meh" - ha!).

[6] In fact - having written that I realised that Special Forces is - in a roundabout sort of way exactly the sort of book that Holy Terror should have been and if someone had swapped the titles before they were published then people would have been proclaiming Frank Miller's return to form.  

[7] And - wow - don't those names just overflow with limitless imagination? (And - god: just looking at The Striker wikipedia page makes me feel unclean: not only was it in The Sun but it also appeared in that bastion of taste and decency: Nuts magazine. Also: I didn't realise it was possible for a newspaper comic strip about a football player to have a political alignment - but it proudly flaunts the fact that it was "Right wing" between the date it was founded and the day it ceased publication - I wonder what's replaced it? Adventures of a Racist TV Personality maybe? I dunno).

[8] And speaking of Frank Miller - if you dig the style of this book then I very much recommend his Dark Knight Returns sequel: The Dark Knight Strikes Again (which - by the way - is absolutely mega).

Links: Comic Book Resources Interview

Further reading: War Stories, Battlefields, Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Hard Boiled, Elektra: Assassin, Why I Hate Saturn

All comments welcome.


Tam said...

Glad you enjoyed it! The only issue with the collection is that it misses out one of the best jokes in the original comics

'Disclaimer : The Greywater Mercenaries in this book are entirely fictional and not meant in any way to represent the employees of Blackwater or their massacre'

I thought Three Kings was amazing and it's one of my very favourite films, with enough good humour and action in it to make it very rewatchable.

The only sort of issue I have with it is the usual Americans being tortured by foreigners in the opposite of reality although to be fair the film predates all that stuff and does it very sensitively so it's not too bad.
Here's a very interesting GW2 film you won't have heard of though...

Islington Comic Forum said...

Wow. You really love The Exile huh?

Checking it out on our system seems that Islington currently doesn't have a copy of Valley of the Wolves: Iraq - but will see if I can get one added to our stock (sounds interesting - and I've always loved Billy Zane since he did this: )

Another lesser known kinda-Iraq-war film: Essential Killing (which Islington DOES have a copy of!) starring Vincent Gallo (who I don't like anywhere near as much as I like Billy Zane):

But yeah: Special Forces - it really tickled me in quite a special way. Thanks for the recommendation.

(Any idea why they took out the Greywater joke? Pressure from Blackwater? Reminds me of this: )

Tam said...

Alas, the reason the joke got omitted was utterly prosaic, it was on the letters page of the comic!

I doubt the 'Valley of the Wolves' film's worth watching, but I just found the review interesting for making me realise I've NEVER seen a film with the US as the Bad Guys and another country as the Good Guys. And I've seen a LOT of films...

Islington Comic Forum said...

That's a good point. Been racking my brains to think of other counter-examples but (for once) my mind's coming up blank...

Behind Enemy Lines maybe? I mean - the US are supposed to be the good guys in that - but they overpower the baddies SO obviously that it's sorta like reverse propaganda: like watching a film made by Galactic Empire blowing up the Rebel Alliance ("Yeah! Take THAT you REBEL SCUM!")