Monday, July 18, 2011

War Stories

There's just no place for war comics nowadays. First, the reader base just isn't there. We're now generations separated from the last big armed conflict and the smaller military actions that have cropped up since WWII don't make for good mainstream comics fodder. Either they're too morally ambiguous (Vietnam, Iraq II), too quick (Iraq I), or way too depressing (Afghanistan) to be the subject of a comic that, in theory, kids would want to buy.

Plus, if you think about what war looks like in a world populated by superheroes, you end up with a quite different beast than what we're used to. Soldiers take on more a support role as Captain Atom or August General In Iron assume their places on the speartip. There are no doubt great stories that could be told from the perspective of a common grunt, but I'm not sure how well a title could sustain itself if there are heroes doing amazing things always just off panel. The temptation to give the main characters superpowers is just too strong. Think about the "Cops in a World With Superheroes" genre - Powers et al - and then think bout how it didn't take long before Deena ended up with powers or Walker regained his own. Even Gotham Central ended up with a few of the detectives becoming heroes.

And the less said about the Blackhawks' one time reboot, the better.

I guess this is why mercenaries are so popular as a subject matter. With mercs, you get a small cast of characters, each invariably the best at what they do, fighting using conventional weapons. By sticking with smaller conflicts, mercenaries avoid the problem of "Why not just call in Superman?" that larger battles have. Mercenaries also feature more of the anti-heroes modern comics seem to love.

Problem is, they're boring. They've been done before in both comics and in movies (and in movies based on comics which were in turn based on movies). Gee, will this ragtag band of anti-heroes draw a line in the sand and make a stand for something? Whoops, three o'clock, time for the employer's inevitable betrayal. The steps required to make a bunch of hard-bitten mercenaries sympathetic characters are almost ritualized at this point. Also, I've never understood why governments who have put so much time and money into training a particular soldier would let them go into business for themselves.

Still, DC has a legacy of war comics and I feel obligated to fit at least one in (the Real Reboot has two - Blackhawks and Men of War aka Sgt Rock Returns). My requirements are pretty high, though.

  1. Good guys must be good guys, not anti-heroes forced into doing good by circumstance.
  2. No betrayal by overseers/employers.
  3. Team cannot take a support role to superheroes.
  4. Conflict must be ongoing and take place in modern day.

It's circumstances like this that make me miss Marvel. There, at least, you have a bunch of totally silly military outfits who can battle away at each other no problem. SHIELD vs Hydra? Why the hell not?

As for the rest of the historical DC war comics lineup, we have Enemy Ace and Haunted Tank in addition to the Blackhawks and Easy Company. Problem is, in my mind, characters like Sgt. Rock or Hans von Hammer are just so tied with their particular wars (WWs II and I, respectively), that they don't fit my requirements above. This is not to say that I wouldn't consider a mashup of the two, an Enemy Ace featuring a pilot haunted by the ghost of Sgt. Rock, but I figure by the time you get to the point where the ghost of Alexander the Great is commanding the last man to die in World War Two to help out his granddaughter who has just become the first pilot of an experimental superplane, you've passed the whole point of having a conventional war comic in the first place.

So I guess we're going with Blackhawks (#27/52). In the Drewniverse, the Blackhawks are a specialized taskforce of the United Nations peacekeeping force. Though they operate under the aegis of the UN, they also have private funding of their own (if a country wants to help out, but can't commit troops due to international politics, slipping a few buck to the 'hawks goes a long way). Their main function is the supply, protection, and extraction of non-combatants in war torn areas. So if there is a civil war going on in some country, the Blackhawks are the people called in who make sure the civilians not involved in the fighting are protected, not forced into joining the conflict, have adequate medical supplies, and if things are too dicey, able to get out. As to be expected from a Blackhawks title, the team is equipped with cutting edge technology and features an international cast lead by Polish-American Bartholomew Jastrzab.

Looking over my requirements, that takes care of #1. However you may feel about the United Nations, I don't think they are the type to betray one of their own peacekeeping forces, so we should be okay for #2 as well. Superheroes can appear in cameo roles, but I don't see many getting involved in a support role of caring for refugees on a full time basis. Combine this with the Blackhawks' cutting edge planes and other tech obviating the need for superpowers, and we're all good for #3.

Now, we just need a war.

Starting a fictitious war is not as easy as it looks. Given the freakouts over Muslim anything in DC lines, that rules out the middle east. Though the Blackhawks are an international team, I am a bit uncomfortable sticking them in a Darfur situation in Africa - too many connotations of Western imperialism. So the best bet will be amidst the crumbling remains of the old Soviet Empire. Belarova is a fictitious country that emerged out of the ashes of the old USSR. Despite the early promise of freedom and liberty, the young country was simply too rich in natural resources to let develop on its own. It didn't take long for a dictator to come to power, a former communist general who ruled with a fair, if iron, hand. However, the general died recently under suspicious circumstances and without his presence keeping a lid on things, different factions within the country have emerged. After a scandalous election featuring wide-spread corruption, these factions have burst into open war. Unfortunately, these factions don't have a geographical aspect, so you can't just carve up the country and call it done.

So while the elite of Belarova struggle, the common people suffer. Into this theatre fly the Blackhawks, tasked with not only trying to limit civilian casualties as much as possible, but also to keep the conflict from spilling over the borders. It seems that there is some outside influence at work in Belarova and shadowy groups are providing the factions with funds for arms and mercenaries. So not only do the 'hawks have to worry about conventional conflicts, but there's also a Black Ops aspect to this fight as well. Other nations are hesitant to get involved in the struggle, so it's pretty much just up to the UN's Blackhawks to keep order, operating off an aircraft carrier dubbed "Blackhawk Island."

Blackhawks itself will feature episodic stories interwoven into a larger narrative (think Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts) with multiple POV characters from Bart "Blackhawk" Jastrzab all the way down to new recruit Buddy Blank. Stories will include air combat, Black Ops sniper duels, Alamo-style last stands, and all that good stuff. Because of the day and age, we'll have to focus on the human cost of war as well, which will be a common undercurrent to the stories, ala Band of Brothers. I doubt the end of the Belarovian Conflict will be a clean one and I'm sure we'll see some fallout from what happens here elsewhere in the Drewniverse.

1 comment:

  1. I am suddenly struck with the idea that it becomes something of a group sport to make puns out of the names of new members. For Buddy Blank, this becomes *easy*.

    If his dad was a cop:
    "Did you hear about the crook that got Buddy's dad in the leg? His wife left him because he was shooting Blanks!"

    Depending on his nationality:
    "Hey guys, HQ sent us a Blank Czech for our new recruit!"

    and so on.