After reading a couple of Men of War 1 reviews online, I decided to give it a shot myself. Reviews are mixed, but a majority are waiting to see what the future will bring with the Men of War series. I'm excited to see that DC decided to add this title to its New 52. Sgt. Rock is one of my fave vintage war comic heroes so it will be interesting to see how his grandson carries on his legacy in contemporary combat with super humans.
Ivan Brandon's story is nicely layered with character development and good 'ole fashioned combat action. At the beginning, Corporal Joe Rock finds himself in a semi-conscious state after a tremendous fight with a pair of super humans. We suddenly find ourselves back to before the mission where Cpl. Rock's character and deeply complex past is fleshed out during an evaluation by his superior officers. The scene goes on for four pages giving us a good insight into what kind of man Joe Rock is and how he contends with his famous grandfather's legacy.
Cpl. Rock along with his team members under the command of Sgt. Torisi, a hard-nosed leader, who presses Rock for undermining his own promotion to sergeant go on a mission to rescue a politician who has been kidnapped by insurgents somewhere in the Middle East. This is where the soldiers become swept into battle by two unknown flying super humans. The super humans are almost oblivious to the soldiers and civilians down below as they inflict great collateral damage. Sgt. Torisi is mortally wounded and as he lays dying in Rock's arms hands him his dog tags telling him he just got promoted to sergeant.
As far as first issues go, I think it does a good job at introducing the story for the reader. And, even if you are not familiar with previous Sgt. Rock books it still is a compelling read. DC is smart in giving this obscure war title a try in the New 52 as war comics are experiencing a renaissance during the past ten years or so. The ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have contributed to this resurgence no doubt.
The art in Men of War 1 is outstanding. Tom Derenick brings a substantial visual weight to the way characters are drawn giving them a heft and presence, but still realistic in physique. His line work brings amazing emotional depth to characters' facial expressions as underscored during Cpl. Rock's evaluation scene at the beginning of the story. Color is handled in an effective way as well. There's a predominance of sepia-tone and grays with awesome punctuation of color especially red. While the use of sepia-tone is somewhat of a staple choice in contemporary war comics, I think its use along with broad prominent line work in Men of War 1 gives it distinction. And, the cover art by Victor Kalvachev is dope! It mimics the tonal predominance and color punctuation present in the book, but without being derivative. The obvious "ROCK" on the cover soldier's dog tags is brilliant.
Men of War 1 also brings back a vintage touch through the second story motif common in most war comics back in the day. "Navy Seals: Human Shields" follows the combat exploits of a SEAL team somewhere in the Middle East. The artwork is reminiscent of the old war comic style of the 1970s and seems like an intentional homage. Even the storyline and dialog seems like it borrows a page from war comics of the past. It's full of cliches and stereotypes from a bygone era and may push some contemporary readers politically correct buttons. I can't decide if the intent is to pay homage with an ironic twist or just plain homage.
If Joe Rock's character development scene is any indication of things to come with Men of War, I think I'll be enjoying the ride. The new Sgt. Rock is deeply complex and full of self-doubt unlike his predecessor. Joe Rock is a product of contemporary times where soldiers often occupy moral gray areas when it comes to war and the meaning of mission accomplished. I hope they take advantage of this complexity and push reader expectations.