When I first heard of STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Scott Hampton, I was hoping for something along the lines of Sergeant Fury and His Howling Commandos, or the classic E.C. books Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat. I can only assume that the series will eventually get into that, but the premiere issue, focusing on government intrigue and biker gangs and espionage isn’t what I was looking forward to, and it’s not what the cover art promised.
Maybe this is what war looks like for most Americans involved in it these days, but this is comic books and I was hoping they’d print the legend.
Anywho, the art, it’s not good cartooning. Scott Hampton’s command of lighting, of atmosphere, of anatomy are all inspiring, but the book doesn’t move. It has a very stationary, painterly look to it. It’s the kind of book that people hold up and say “See, comics can be art!” when what they mean is “See, comics can be serious, stuffy, and no fun!”
A panel where a woman is punched in the face is drawn at the moment of impact. It may seem like a silly thing to point out, but look at any classic action sequence in comics and you’re looking at panels drawn a split second after impact. When an arm is stretched taut across the foreground with a (super)human face recoiling in pain in the background, it carries some real impact. The best cartoonists, when it comes to action, draw energy, they draw power. Hampton is drawing real life, and real life makes for a fairly lifeless comic book.
The book is not without some nice panels, but very few of them show characters in motion. Overall, the book feels like an illustrator “slumming it” as a comic artist.
The mid-issue twist is predictable enough (the guy on the cover is named G.I. Zombie), but effective all the same thanks to how well the writing sells the brutal violence of the first half of the book.
There’s a part towards the end where G.I. Zombie has to eat a guy because that’s what zombies do, and it seems a little convenient that G.I. Zombie can find a guy who deserves to be eaten every single night just by wandering around lonely country roads. I don’t know how friendly the average comic reader would be to this, but I think I would have been more fascinated by the feeding scene had we not just watched the victim beating on his wife. What if Zombie wasn’t always lucky enough to find a deserving victim, but he still does more good than harm, so the FBI turns a blind eye to it?
Maybe I’m reading it wrong. Maybe he doesn’t feed on people, he feeds on lucky coincidences.
On that note, why is it always wife beating that makes it okay to kill a random guy when the writer really needs that guy to get killed for other reasons?
Anyways, I’ve seen a lot of domestic violence, and it never looks like it looks in movies, comics and TV shows. I get that a realistic, responsible approach to domestic violence would be a tough fit for most superhero comics, but maybe that’s why it shouldn’t be used so freely as a cheap trick to manipulate our sympathies.
And anyway it’s so cliche and blunt and obvious a move that you might as well write “BADGUY” on the asshole’s shirt and be done with it. That’s what you’re basically doing anyways when you show him hitting his wife just to say “Don’t worry about it, he deserves to get eaten!” He’s even got mutton chops and messed up teeth to let us know that he’s a redneck, the worst kind of wife-beater! Plus he tells G.I. Zombie to step off and calls him bro. Despicable.
It’s tough scoring this because the good parts, the torture scene, some of the dialogue, the concept, are really good, but the bad parts really bug me. I don’t regret reading it, but it’s the new series I was most looking forward to this year, and the one that’s most disappointed me.
Some clever ideas and atmospheric panels carry the book. The torture scene was one of the most brutal, nasty sequences I’ve seen in comics in recent memory. The feeding scene may be a little clumsy in terms of writing, but there’s some spooky artwork there.
At times, the art has a very “rotoscoped” look, like screengrabs from a Bakshi movie, which can look cool or lazy depending on the panel. Bakshi only rotoscoped because of budgeting constraints and limited staff.
The art rarely delivers solid, convincing action, and the writing is good at following a really satisfying scene with a really cheap one or a sequence that’s just kinda boring.
Plus it’s not really a war comic yet. I mean, not the kind of war comic you expect to read when the cover shows a guy in a graveyard of rifles and helmets, anyways.
Not bad, just disappointing. Some glaring shortcomings make the book feel a little C-tier when the concept is fun enough to make it the biggest sleeper hit of the year. Hopefully now that the groundwork has been laid down, the book will start digging into some good storylines and visuals. I’m going with a 3/5, but I gotta admit, it’s a pretty lukewarm 3/5.