What’s this? ANOTHER war and military styled comic? Welcome back to WHttDCnU? where The Plague Doctor is on the field again, this time joined by The Archivist, ready to march into a series of stories once already visited by DC Comics in concept and title. And luckily for them, more issues are dedicated at a time to each story, meaning this time the report doesn’t need to be split in two! We hope you enjoy this review on GI Combat here on:
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE DC NEW UNIVERSE?
Oh this synopsis is going to get long. In the eight issues of G.I. COMBAT collected in THE WAR THAT TIME FORGOT, only half of the issues were actually directed towards that particular story. So how it’s being broken down is by subject.
THE WAR TIME FORGOT
In the Sea of Japan, aboard a US carrier, a soldier is saying goodnight to his family as his friend, Elliot comes in and they showcase classic “we’re best buds” behaviour. They then go to their mission briefing: a section of North Korea is unable to be seen via satellite so they’re just going in for a visual ID. They mount up and as they approach the drop zone on helicopters, pterodactyls attack. With the obvious WTF moment before shooting, the helicopters crash, leaving only Elliot and Stevens (we don’t even get his name until the second issue) alone in a mysterious jungle where they stumble upon the North Korean army fighting dinosaurs! They join up with the Koreans, as they all scatter into the forest while being chased by good ol’ feathered raptors (I want to say the Utah Raptor due to its size but you know how these things go) until another Korean leads a T-Rex towards them while fleeing. Elliot pulls some pins and blows the damn things head off. As they clean off a bit by a brook, a Korean soldier comes through and we learn that nobody has any idea why there’s dinosaurs. Stevens gives the Korean a gun since there’s survival in numbers! Elliot gets a minor touching scene to show that the dinosaurs aren’t all bloodthirsty all the time. But enough of that, time for even more dinosaur terror, and the Korean gets eaten. Stevens, having ran out of ammo, charges the dinosaur with his KABAR in a badass display that topples him and the dino over a cliff! Elliot begins to wander and reminisce about his friendship with Stevens but oh wouldn’t you know, another dinosaur attack, draining him of all his ammo. He gets “clever girled” by another dinosaur but garrotes it to death. Resting a moment, his ear piece begins to squelch, finally within range of the aircraft carrier. Which is being attacked by a giant squid. However a couple survivors from the carrier drive up in an emergency raft, but Elliot hops in saying there’s no hope on land. Yet, elsewhere, Stevens, clad in a pterodactyl hide cloak, kills a dinosaur with a makeshift spear! The Zero Issue shows what happens with Stevens, after his tumble and how his life before is gone and only the survivor remains!
THE HAUNTED TANK
An old WW2 tank vanishes and goes on a rampage through town while Jeb Stewart, and aging man clad in an American flag cape, re-enacts his old army days in his dilapidated house. Colonel Steve Trevor sends ARGUS agents to get the man, as he was the last person in the tank but the tank is on his lawn, saving him from the agents. Colonel Trevor is on-site, clamping the tank with magnets and is about to shoot the old man but the tank just bamfs out of there, with the old man. They appear in Afghanistan to save a small squad, including great grandson, Scott, from being executed! They storm out of the cave, yet all but Scott die on the way. Reaching an oasis, Scott reluctantly leaves the bodies of his fallen friends there, while Jeb recounts the history of the Haunted Tank, where the General (that’s the name of the ghost tank) and his crew were searching for Hitler’s chest of magical items and the ghost tank was the least weird thing they saw. Yet, as Scott is growing more annoyed and angry with the old timer’s rambling, the General bamfs again this time to the North Pole, where they land right on top of the Fourth Reich’s secret bunker. Now it’s time for the General versus a damn War Wheel! The battle against the War Wheel is intense, as Scott breaks his way into the tank. At the heart of the War Wheel is the Desert Fox himself, Erwin Many German Middle Names Rommel, and his grandson. The Desert Fox is a vegetable, hanging from the ceiling by tubes. Grampa Jeb stabs the Desert Fox but Grandson Rommel shoots him! Scott stabs Rommel the Younger and gets his grandfather to the General. The tank bamfs through the roof of Jeb’s old, decrepit home as they are finally home. After Jeb’s funeral, Colonel Trevor presents Scott with his grandfather’s sabre, which was left in Rommel. Scott agrees that there’s no need for the tank right now, but there is definitely a bond still between the bloodline!
In Afghanistan, a soldier with no dog tags, a mangled face and no memory kills a bunch of people. In narration, which is a letter from a different soldier explaining things, we see that the bandaged Unknown Soldier was killing a sniper nest that had been pinning that unit down for several days. Then he slaughters a Taliban rat hole… and apparently he had a helmet cam this entire time because the brass takes him back. We learn about his backstory, about the tragic loss of his family in the third 2005 London bombing, his inability to join the Army, and his eventual joining up with a PMC group. We also see the assault that left his mangled and scarred. But of course he gets recruited to be a special project for the military! As with any comic book, they take him for some genetic reconstruction, leading to having some typical nightmares. He eventually gets cleared and sent to Mexico City for his first easy mission, where we get a run through of his new body powers, like regeneration and uber-strength. Then it’s time for his big target, a super-evil terrorist who has a super-virus ready to be dispersed with agents that look just like ordinary Americans! But what’s this? With all those updates, he also had sensitivity training. It could conflict with his programming. We then get some of his deep war-brooding as he infiltrates and then decimates the super evil terrorist camp. Yet, even though he captures the lead terrorist those covert agents are already on their road trip to New York City! Unknown Soldier uses a memory-extracting machine to get the head terrorist’s plan. Homeland security arrests the covert agents before they can infect a subway of people. Unknown Soldier, however, heads to where the head terrorist was going to meet the designer of the super-virus, who is holding a sale for the virus. He slaughters everyone there, getting horribly wounded in the process. But they save his life, only to reveal he isn’t the only Unknown Soldier they’ve had! Here’s the Zero Issue, where we get the history of the Unknown Soldier, from Viking times to Vietnam, it’s kinda weird. The next mission takes him to Detroit, to find out who’s been smuggling guns around. But as always, it turns into him killing everyone in the room. He learns that the arms deal with just something small in a very large machine, before hacked missiles blow up the block he’s on! After the incident in Detroit, Unknown Soldier and his handler and talking over what’s going in, which is basically a revolutionary group that is in fact revolting. Unknown Soldier tries to infiltrate the group but there’s a turncoat that knows its him. Unknown Soldier gets shot point blank in the freakin’ head! But come on, it’s the Unknown Soldier. He kills everyone, even someone he was trying to simply capture, though plus that he ended the revolution. And so, disguised as an old man, he goes back to his old home and sees the new family that lives there…
I know, I didn’t end the Unknown Soldier with an exclamation point. But that’s because it was actually a deep ending that didn’t have some big wink or Dun Dun DUNNNN moment.
The Unknown Soldier:
Although not quite as grimy as the art in “A Last Full Measure,” the sketchy, messy style of “The Unknown Soldier” is a perfect counterpart to the comic.
The action is mostly easy to follow, with a couple of exceptions, in which one has to wonder just how the eponymous Soldier managed to accomplish the feats that are being depicted on the panel. Using the heads of Muslim extremists as stepping stones springs immediately to mind here.
There are also a few inconsistencies in character design, with the Unknown Soldier sometimes changing size, and characters like Agent Gronkowski going from having relatively realistic face-shapes to almost cartoonishly elongated heads for no apparent reason.
The War that Time Forgot
The art style is something I’ve never seen before in the DCU, or any other comic that I can remember. It features ordinary-enough comic book art painted over the top of partially photographed backgrounds. Not every background is like this of course. The interiors of man-made buildings are drawn conventionally. But trees, the ocean, sand, grass and mountains in the background all look like low-resolution photographs that have been chopped and pasted in to fit the needs of the comic.
Not only does it look – at times – like someone assembled the comic using Microsoft Paint, but the use of photographic backgrounds isn’t even consistently done. At the beginning of the comic, the sky was painted like the characters and their vehicles. In the final scene with the giant squid, the sky was a photograph.
I don’t care if it’s supposed to represent how out-of-place the modern characters are in this setting. I still don’t like it. It’s ugly, inconsistent and unnecessary.
The Haunted Tank
This is another comic with a fairly unique style, and plenty of inconsistencies. While I do like the way that a character’s facial features and other details can be filled in with slightly messy lines of a darker colour than whatever’s around them, rather than the standard black ink, it’s not consistent between panels, between two characters in the same panel, or even between two facial features on the same character.
Sometimes, this is useful. If one character is detailed in black and the other in colour, the former will look like they’re in the foreground, and the other in the background. But when the characters aren’t actually arranged that way, or when the rule applies to some facial features but not others on the same character, it’s a little jarring, to say the least.
The action is also easy to follow, most of the time, but in the very last issue, it does become a little confusing. When Scott tries to get inside the War Wheel, the Tank saves him from something that I’m guessing is supposed to be a turret, but because of the perspective, it’s impossible to see the threat clearly. It’s also not clear how he managed to get inside without being crushed as the Wheel rolled around on the ice. Likewise, when Scott gets shot in the shoulder, it’s not even clear what happened, much less where the shot came from. This isn’t a problem for most of the comic, but the climax of your story is not a good place for the flow of the action to break down or become unclear.
I do love the way that the Tank is drawn in this comic. The placement of the Tank on the panels, the angles chosen, all make it seem as though it’s a living character in its own right, which I suppose it is. And the flow of action in the rest of the comic is generally good enough that I’m willing to forgive the last issue its flaws.
For THE WAR THAT TIME FORGOT segment, the art by Ariel Olivetti is simply beautiful. The colours are vibrant, the ink lines are almost non-existent and all works out primary for the ‘oohs and ahhs’ that come with the allure of dinosaurs. The only problem I could think of with it is that, the story doesn’t really match the art. While the art is brilliant, the story is very basic and could have actually gotten a boost, at least atmospherically if there was a bit more edge to the work, like if the art style was the top-tier yet rough inked that MEN OF WAR had.
As for THE HAUNTED TANK, the art is very good in a standard sort. You can tell that while there’s some moments that are exceptional spreads, it ultimately isn’t about the art but the story being told.
And my personal marriage of art and story has to be the UNKNOWN SOLDIER section. While the art is very basic, it works. The action is straightforward in the panels and the art is not clean enough to take out the gritty nature of the piece. However, I will say that does mean you’ll get some silly faces or awkward framing sometimes but overall the best mixture.
I enjoyed the fact that this comic was created as a counter to what Men of War was ideally supposed to be. Rather than sticking to mostly realistic stories featuring ordinary soldiers, G.I Combat is much more traditional comic book fare. Each story is ridiculous and proud of it, and while this isn’t a bad thing at all, it does mean that the ordinary soldier no longer has a place within the pages of the DcU.
The Unknown Soldier
The biggest problem with the story of the Unknown Soldier is that the mysteries surrounding his reincarnation and subconscious memories are actually much more interesting than any of the combat or infiltration missions that he’s put through. And yet the latter is where all of the emphasis is, with the former relegated to Issue #0, and hardly even mentioned anywhere else.
It’s a fact that in this comic, US Intelligence can implant false memories into a person’s head. They used the technology on the Unknown Soldier, making him believe that he had a Muslim friend as a child, for “sensitivity training” before his mission against the Red Jihad masterminds. This raises a very important question. His memories of past lives – his dreams of weird other-realms with talking crows and mountains of corpses – are they real? Or are they simply a tool of control, meant to create a compelling mystery that keeps the Unknown Soldier interested in working for them?
If it’s all trickery of course, it raises the question of how he acquired his mysterious combat skills in the first place, but the point is that this would have been a great idea to explore in more detail. Instead, we get a very rushed ending that forgoes the reincarnation theme in favour of the Soldier visiting his old home in disguise, which implies some kind of closure, but just feels underwhelming.
The War that Time Forgot
The War that Time forgot seems like it’s going to be an adrenaline-soaked tale of unstoppable, manly men fighting the most dangerous animals that ever walked the earth. And of course, returning home, victorious, to their respective women afterwards.
By the end, it becomes obvious that this is not that kind of story. At best, the characters can be said to have had bittersweet victories. At worst, they end up as shells of the men they used to be, with Elliot having little hope of returning to his former life, and Stevens having no hope at all.
Neither ending feels especially complete, but maybe that’s the entire point. Maybe an ending would feel too much like a victory – too much like triumph, even if the characters end up dying, because then at least then, they would have some kind of closure. Unfortunately, even if this is the case, it left me as a reader wondering, “Wait, that’s it? Where’s the rest of it?”
The Haunted Tank
In terms of structure, this is probably my favourite story. Out of the three in this collection, it actually feels complete, and still manages to leave a potential opening for future stories.
The ending is wonderfully satisfying, with Jeb receiving an honourable burial, and his great-grandson not only recognising the truth of his “crazy war stories,” but actually being proud of Jeb’s deeds.
It’s not an especially new or original story, at least if you describe it in broad strokes. Hell, The Simpsons did something similar with the Flying Hellfish episode. But it is well-done, with some touching moments, and enough originality that it feels fresh and different.
The writing for all three of these stories are very straightforward in their approach. THE WAR THAT TIME FORGOT has roots to show brotherly bonds and how war can strip away humanity. THE HAUNTED TANK is a romp with a heart with an undertone of bloodline both familial and comradery. THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER is about what drives a man to war. Of course with all those loose themes, there’s the bigger hassle that all of them are hidden under ‘weird tales’. The dinosaur vs. tanks mentality of the War that Time Forgot really means there’s two pages of that theme versus thirteen of pro-violence against dinosaurs. The Haunted Tank, meanwhile, spends more time with the absurdity of the tank and bringing in a Fourth Reich in the North Pole so it boils down to pro-violence against Nazis. Of course, Unknown Soldier really loses its mass because it becomes a generic super-soldier murder spree with pro-violence against anyone who doesn’t work for the US.
The Unknown Soldier
The Unknown Soldier had the difficult task of trying to create an interesting protagonist, while withholding pretty much everything about him except the fact that he had a wife and children who were killed by terrorists. Because of his nature, we can’t even learn his former name. And the one thing that would have made his character really interesting – his reincarnations and the Unknown Soldiers of the past – is never explored.
I couldn’t care about The Unknown Soldier. I tried, I really did. But even by the end of the comic, I couldn’t become interested enough in what happened to him.
The War that Time Forgot
The two main characters are given a little backstory, which I guess is supposed to make us feel sympathy for them by showing us what they’re both trying to get home to. There is no focus on any of the other characters, because they’re obviously unimportant. The entire story seems to be about breaking Stevens and Elliott by putting them through as much as possible, including each character losing the other.
By the end, because of their respective losses, both characters have gone through obvious transformations. Stevens is of course the most obvious. The man who formerly hated killing is forced to rely on it multiple times per day as a means of survival, and though he loved his family, he eventually loses all memory of them. Elliott, brash and fearless, screams at the dinosaurs that there is no place for them on Earth anymore, but by the end of the story, wants only to get as far away from the island as possible, relinquishing victory to the dinosaurs. While I enjoyed their transformations, it still felt like something was missing from the story to make them really interesting protagonists.
Maybe it’s the dinosaurs themselves that were supposed to be the main characters, representing Nature itself, with all its harshness, brutality and complete indifference to human desires. If that’s the case, the writers succeeded – they were definitely more compelling than the human characters.
The Haunted Tank
At the beginning of the comic, Jeb comes off as your typical mad, old patriot – the sort who’s gone slightly senile and divides his time between reliving the Good Old Days and yelling at kids to get off his lawn. In the end, he not only turns out to be a great character, who has lived a full and incredible life, but also a fantastic advertisement for the older Haunted Tank stories. Assuming that this is the same Jeb as in the original comics, his old exploits are hinted at just enough to generate interest, while not giving anything away.
Contrast with Scott, who just seemed like a jerk until the pair reached the Antarctic, and is never really given much chance to show off his initiative (because it’s Jeb and the Ghost General who are giving all the instructions in this comic). Still, by the end of the comic, he’s developed enough that if there were another Haunted Tank story set after this one, I would read it to see how much he has changed since the end of this adventure.
The writing is very basic and the characters within reflect that. Elliot and Stevens from TWTTF are stock characters, with Stevens having a wife and a kid, and Elliot having a girlfriend and a puppy. In a full length book, their friendship would have been explored more than a page or two each issue, leaving both while not completely devoid of personality, more being propelled by the plot of getting back to their ship. The Stewart family of THE HAUNTED TANK are similarly characterized, though a bit more conflicting, with more pages devoted to Scott berating his grandfather and seeing the conflict of generations a tad deeper but still falling to getting the action beat and plot in there. However, there’s most definitely an emotional heart between the two. But both of those pale to UNKNOWN SOLDIER since he had every issue to expand the character. While the relationship he shares with his handler is very glossed over, it’s his own internal struggle that characterizes him has a tragic soldier character. The problem within that is that he’s never given a chance for his actions to reflect who we read about in his own mind. We know he’s tragic from them showing us his origin but otherwise, he’s a generic super soldier.
These stories were far from perfect, and I probably wouldn’t recommend them to people who demand closure from their fiction. That being said, I liked what the series was trying to do, and if there were more stories released in this series, I would definitely give them a chance.
What I’d enjoy doing a whole lot more is picking up an older issue of GI Combat and finding out how the original stories compare to their modern versions. Would they be longer-running, with more space to develop characters and plots? Or would their age just make them unpalatable for a modern audience?
The conclusion I can make is that MEN OF WAR was better. I know I should be looking at this in a void just as itself but G.I. COMBAT replaced MEN OF WAR and that is where the parallels are clear. While MOW focused more on realistic soldiers in the DC Universe, G.I. COMBAT focuses more on stranger and more outlandish tales, while basically any of the characters used could be interchangeable.
In all that, I can’t say that it’s a bad read. Oh I wouldn’t say it’s good either. It lands squarely in the indifferent category for me. While reading it, I couldn’t connect with the characters or feel anything for the events I was reading, it wasn’t a dreadful read. So if I had to recommend it, I would shrug and say “meh”. It is paint-by-numbers in its own way, but I don’t feel worse having read it. I mean it DID give me a panel of someone using grenades to decapitate a dinosaur so that’s something.