Conservative Comic Book Pundit

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Weekly Review - Combat Zone

Well, this comic finally came out. Originally solicited as several single issues by Marvel, it eventually came out, many months after it was supposed to, in trade paperback/graphic novel form.

This comic set off a firestorm - Rich Johnston over at Lying in the Gutters declared that this was the beginning of a neocon take over of comics (or something like that). In any case, his rabid hatred of conservatives came out in his reviews and message board posting over this comic. See - its okay for liberal world views to appear in comics by Mark Millar or whoever is writing Captain America at the time - but have a somewhat conservative journalist attempt to write a comic about the actual Iraqi conflict, and suddenly that's out of bounds.

Well, let's get past all the controversy and stuff and see whether this comic is any good. I may disagree with the politics of Alan Moore or Frank Miller, but I can agree their work in comic books has been (mostly) brilliant - even their overtly political works. For example, Moore's V for Vendetta is a sharply written and engaging piece of comics art. The politics are rather simplistic and unnuanced (i.e. - conservatives are evil and will take over the country so they can rape women without restraint), but I still like the comic because it’s so well done. Moore is a master of the comics form, and can tell engaging stories. On the other hand, Rich Johnston seems to like V for Vendetta because its simplistic politics fits in with his rather simplistic liberal world view.

As for Combat Zone? It's actually quite good. Dan Jurgens art is outstanding - gorgeous, detailed and sharply executed. In fact, the only complaint I might have is that at times the art is too "clean" - I would have liked more of a sense of the dirt and grime the soldiers had too deal with.

The story, at first seems slow (something this reviewer criticized it for, though that reviewer was, as seems usual, mostly upset that a conservative actually got a comic published). However, this represents the reality of war, especially in the early stages. Generally, most wars are lots of waiting around, planning, moving and scanning, interrupted by brief periods of conflict. Extended periods of fighting generally don't occur until later in the game - as with this comic. Most of the fighting occurs in the last chapter. This comic takes its time getting there, but there's a rhyme and a reason behind it all. This comic represents what the soldiers really did, rather than just showing the "exciting parts."

Combat Zone does what many war comics have never done before - it humanizes the war. The soldiers come across as real people, not just brainless shock troops doing the evil will of the warmongering leaders.

This comic will likely anger those who opposed the war, as it portrays the soldiers as attempting to avoid civilian casualties, and in some cases dying to avoid endangering defenseless women and children (that the Iraqi soldiers use as human shields). This is the version of the war that most liberals don't want you to see.

Over at the Wall Street Journal's website, James S. Robbins said that "Combat Zone is closer to the somewhat propagandistic comics produced during World War II that also depicted actual battles." There is some truth to that statement. This comic does feel like propaganda in how it portrays nearly every soldier as noble, nearly every action as justified, and the entire war as worthwhile. But compared to what I read in the headlines every morning, this is a refreshing new view on the war that we just don't get anywhere else. If that's "propaganda" than we need more of it. However, this comic is NOT propaganda. It may share some features with the old propaganda comics of WWII, but it transcends that genre distinction.

This comic is highly recommended. Just don't expect non-stop action - instead expect a well done character study of soldiers in combat. The action just spices things up a bit.


  • I was delighted to read this review of Combat Zone for least three reasons.

    First, I am glad to have discovered this blog. I am a conservative-libertarian think tanker who happens to be a comic-book fan, too. I’ve mixed the two interests only occasionally, but think more would be better so I’m glad to see someone doing it well.

    Second, I am an old friend of Karl Zinsmeister. Good to see his work honored and thoughtfully critiqued. I hope the comic entertains, informs, and accomplishes the author’s goal (which I share).

    Third, I am also an acquaintance of Orson Scott Card (we live not too far from each other in NC) and was glad to see his take on Trek clarified vs. Peter David’s screed in an earlier post (though I am also a Trekker and probably wouldn’t agree with OSC on some particulars).

    Good work.

    By Anonymous John Hood, at 9:48 AM  

  • Cool!

    I've met OSC a few times at conventions/book signings/etc.

    Anyway, glad you found the site. I started it because I was rather tired of the domination of a liberal world view among most online comic reviewers. I don't try to turn every post into a political one, but with political tensions at an all time high, it happens more and more often.

    Welcome to the site!

    By Blogger John Phelan, at 3:48 PM  

  • (something this reviewer criticized it for, though that reviewer was, as seems usual, mostly upset that a conservative actually got a comic published)

    I'd say you're either reading things into my review that aren't there, or didn't actually read it all the way through. I couldn't care less about the slant of a particular comic book - I've criticized left-leaning works that were similarly badly constructed - only whether it's well-done or not.

    In this case, Zinsmeister doesn't understand sequential art well enough to tell a compelling story. He doesn't "humanize" the war at all because all of his characters are underdeveloped, thinly drawn ciphers on which he pins bland anecdotes of the build-up to the war. If anything, my primary criticism of it is that it could have been so much more than it was, regardless of which side of the political spectrum you come from.

    By Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, at 8:09 AM  

  • Guy -

    Your criticisms were too often weak and betrayed a distaste for anything conservative. For example, you said: "Zinsmeister opts to change names and combine events "for a more condensed read," undermining the credibility of the "True Tales" aspect of the story"

    That is something every somewhat fictionalized history does. Any movie, TV series, etc. "based on a true story" or "relating true events" that is still somewhat fictionalized will condense events. It's a standard feature of the genre.

    And then you followed it up with a cheap shot at the Army over Jessica Lynch, indcating your distrust and inability to believe in the military's good intentions.

    I could cite other instances from your review, but you held Combat Zone up to standards that were impossible to meet and that you have never held a liberal leaning comic book up to.

    By Blogger John Phelan, at 8:48 AM  

  • Your assumptions about my political leanings are filtering your reading of my review apparently. How my criticism of his condensing the story "betrayed a distaste for anything conservative" escapes me. I can kind of see where the comparison to the initial Lynch story might suggest that, but only if one takes the myopic viewpoint that conservative=pro-war, anti-conservative=anti-war. Is your personal ideology really that simplistic?

    And to this:

    you held Combat Zone up to standards that were impossible to meet and that you have never held a liberal leaning comic book up to.

    I offer this, a review for which I was, ironically enough, called a conservative over. Seven paragraphs down, if you're in a rush.

    Overall, I think many conservatives' embracing of Combat Zone comes more from the understandable excitement of a rare comic book [theoretically] reflecting their own POV than its actually being any good. Which is a natural, though probably unfamiliar to conservatives, feeling for any underrepresented minority. Certainly explains things like the popularity of UPN comedies in non-white households.

    By Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, at 9:17 AM  

  • You're kinda ducking the issue. I liked it because it was good. IF we want to toss out contrary examples, I could list several conservative leaning comics I don't care for, but this isn't a numbers game, it's a rhetoric game.

    Your still ducking the issue of why you held "Combat Zone" up to an impossible standard - i.e. criticizing it for having compressed some details and people, something that in intrinsic to the genre he was writing in. That criticism alone speaks volumes.

    [The criticism of the army's handling of Lynch just proves the point further.]

    But if you want to toss up red herrings, go ahead. The other review you linked to is clearly liberal in tone - it criticizes a liberal comic, yes - but within a liberal framework. That's fine - dialouge within a group is always healthy - but it doesn't prove your balance.

    Your criticisms of Combat Zone were unfair, pure and simple. Based on how you reviewed it, only a work of Alan Moore like genius would have been able to get a higher grade than C from you.

    By Blogger John Phelan, at 9:30 AM  

  • How am I ducking the issue? I clearly state in the review that my problem with the amalgamation of the stories is in their being labeled "True Tales." My point was that it "undermines" their credibility, a valid concern when the author is such a polarizing figure. Simply titling it "Based on True Tales," instead of coyly burying that fact in the introduction, would have probably lifted my grade to a C.

    Bascially, it's the difference between "docu-drama" and "documentary," and there's a reason that there's separate labels. Documentary implies unfiltered truth. Subtle as it was, Zinsmeister's combining of these stories moves Combat Zone into the realm of docu-drama. Plain and simple.

    Imagine if somebody that's considered a liberal had wrote this - say Mark Millar, a writer I personally despise - and had instead decided to focus on Abu Ghraib, conservatives would be up in arms about it being fictional, and yet another liberal attack on the war, even if the soldiers portrayed vouched for every word.

    Politics aside, by purely objective standards, Combat Zone is a sub-par example of a comic book. If you don't think so, then I'd suggest you haven't read enough "good" comic books to properly judge it. (And no, there's plenty of good comics out there that don't have Alan Moore's name on them.) Everything else is simply smoke and mirrors because you want so badly, I daresay NEED considering your blog's mission statement, to like it.

    I do appreciate the civil dialogue, though; something that doesn't happen nearly often enough in these types of debates.

    By Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, at 11:32 AM  

  • Hey there,

    You were linked on NRO's The Corner today. As a conservative and avid comic book reader, I have read quite a bit about Combat Zone and the viscious backlash it has illicited. That said, given your review, I think I'm actually going to go out and read it!

    By Anonymous gopsithlord, at 12:22 PM  

  • Well, I never claimed it was perfect, merely that it was good (or at least better than your review indicated it was).

    And the issue was still ducked. You keep reverting to the logical fallacy of "attacking the person" (I forget the fancy latin term "ad homineum" or soemthing). Rather than take the issue head on, you ascribe deep dark motives to my review (I somehow have deep psychological needs that require this to be a good comic).

    But that's fine - I'll bite. I have no need for conservative comics to succeed. I would personally like to see more conservative comic book creators out there, but I honestly don't need to have it happen. There are enough good comics out on the market that I could personally be satisfied with things as they stand.

    I just mention Alan Moore a lot because, IMHO, he's the best writer comicdom has ever produced. However, I have read tons (that might be literal) of comics, so it's a bit odd to suggest I haven't read enough to recognize what a good comic is or isn't. You'll just have to take my word for it, though.

    I still think your standard for "true tales" is a bit unrealistic. For a paper I'm writing, I've been listening to old time radio shows from the 20s to the 50s, and a lot of those claimed to be "true tales from the old west" or "true tales fron the front lines" and the like, despite their clearly fictionalized nature. Combat Zone was doing nothing that hasn't been done before and nothing that wasn't already a well established part of the genre (check out old WWII comics that claimed to be "true tales" and I'd doubt they were 100% accurate). But I see you are determined to not like the comic, so I'll chalk it up to different strokes for different folks and realize not everyone will have the same tastes as me in comic books.

    Sidenote: Funny thing is, I mostly like Mark Millar. His Ultimates series is a bit weak, but I liked his run in Spider-Man and the current one on Ultimate Fantastic Four. He's a hit and miss kinda guy. Usually its when he gets too political that his work falls apart (as in Ultimates).

    By Blogger John Phelan, at 1:19 PM  

  • Here I thought I was the only conservative comic geek out there - I'm glad to be wrong! I was leery of buying this graphic novel, given the left-leaning tendencies of so many in the comic field, but now I think I'll plunk down the $20 for it.

    By Blogger Captain-Yesterday, at 1:20 PM  

  • > Here I thought I was the only conservative comic geek out there

    I doubt that seriously. There's a reason the all-volunteer army isn't having that much of a problem with re-enlistment (despite portrayals to the contrary by the MSMs). Lotsa libertarian-conservatives out there. (small-l, note, please, the Big-Ls tend towards isolationism and side with the liberal twits)

    By Anonymous Greps No Kapootie, at 2:27 PM  

  • Thanks for the review of this book. I hadn't intended on getting it, but now, I will be buying it.

    I didn't know that it was by an embedded journalist. Just seeing this book described as being set in today's Iraq had me worried about it being based on what the author suspected was going on, and not on reality.

    That, and it will be interesting to see Dan Jurgens' art outside of the super-hero genre.

    By Blogger Shawn L., at 8:10 AM  

  • lord, its sad to see guy try to defend himself.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:27 PM  

  • Given that conservatives outnumber liberals 2-1 in self-identification in every Pew poll, Guy will need to defend that "underrepresented minority."

    Given the sad history of white liberal comic book creators in this regard, I suppose they'll now attempt to rectify it by producing a couple of third-rate superheroes called "Conservative Lightning" or somesuch.

    By Blogger Teflon, at 3:58 PM  

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