I’ve been reading and enjoying the work of Eric Trautmann and Brandon Jerwa for some time now. I’ve also been quite fond of Steve Lieber’s work. When I found out that the three were doing a graphic novel together, it made the pull list immediately. I expected a good read. I expected a fun, honest comic. It’s what those gents do, after all. They’re among the few I turn to when I want to know what I should do when creating a comic book for a reason, and their friendship has sustained me through much doubt of my own ability and simultaneously it’s given me the courage to forge on.
What I wasn’t expecting was nearly being reduced to tears multiple times. I wasn’t expecting such an amazing piece. I went in, as one often does with familiar faces, with the expectation of good or better. I got what had damned well better win an Eisner, or I’m gonna find me some judges and mete out justice.
My dad served in Kuwait. My grandfather served in World War 2. I grew up in the area where most of this book took place. I was born in a military hospital, Madigan. Fort Lewis was a place I spent a great deal of time cavorting around on in my youth. The military culture that is ever-present and a part of life in Tacoma, Washington, in the northwest in particular, gets into your bones and defines your culture. It makes us who we are even if, like me, you’re a relative pacifist and find war a last resort. Still and all, you know fifty soldiers and you almost never meet one who isn’t, to a man or woman, courageous. Worthy of a story. As this book illustrates, war and its ins and outs are neither good, nor bad. It’s not black, nor white. In point of simple fact the realities are almost impossibly complex, and dealing with it drives great men and women to their graves. Those who survive can come through numb, and even those on the periphery are touched by the brutality of war and our need for defense, a need that has costs. The book covers all of this and more, and without being on the nose or delivering a soapbox message.
Without attaching itself strongly to the heavy politics of the last decade (which played hell on formerly idealistic me), this story approaches the human side of the war without being preachy, in a strong, real, human way. Without giving away the punch of the story, the trade follows Terry Glass through a series of trials and travails that have him questioning himself, his role in the world, and the role of the military and private contractors. From the low pay given to soldiers to the perceived high life of private contractors, the graphic novel runs the gamut from the perspective of a central character you ache being close to as he gains and loses things that give his life meaning, fighting goalposts that move in sometimes severe, chaotic ways. We see the impact that loss, war, and bureaucracy have on the life of someone who, in almost every situation, just does their best to do the right thing. It’s a story of what happens when being the best man you can be isn’t good enough, and it’s also a story of finding out that even the best people, when confronted with the realities of war, can swerve on the path to righteousness.
Lieber draws as he always has, with a very human touch. Even the battle scenes are about the people, and when the shock moments come, when the brutal glorious crescendos hit, they punch you in the gut. Trautmann and Jerwa teach me (as they have since I started trying to write these here funnybooks) what it means to tell a story in pictures, and I sit here in awe, furious that they’ve kicked my ass at the craft yet again, because this isn’t just a good book, it’s a fucking great book, and if you don’t pick it up, it’s your loss.
You can find it here.