Unknown Soldier

Unknown Soldier 25 (December 2010)

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For a moment, I thought Dysart had lost his mind and was going to do some kind of Inglourious Basterds wish fulfillment kind of thing.

Instead, I suppose… he makes Moses’s failure a success for his personal humanity. It’s hard to say. I estimate Dysart had about twenty more issues before coming to a conclusion like this one. The series ends with the lovely news Christian fundamentalists in the United States are bankrolling Uganda–I mean, Dysart never got around to the problems with anyone but Kony in Uganda… I imagine he would have.

It is a depressingly real comic book and I write this response with teary eyes.

Dysart and Ponticelli haven’t just succeeded overall, they also but together a really nice cap to the series. There are small measures of happiness and of hope, which is about all anyone can ever get.

Unknown Soldier is a major accomplishment.

CREDITS

Beautiful World, Conclusion; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Alberto Ponticelli; colorist, Oscar Celestini; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.

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Unknown Soldier 24 (November 2010)

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I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but it appears Dysart might take the series in a wholly different direction than I assumed to finish it off.

Here, Moses (or whoever Moses was) meets the Unknown Soldier (I really didn’t expect the series to tie in to the original character, but Dysart does it nicely) and the series takes a sharp turn into the unexpected. Dysart’s filled the series with impending doom, for the protagonist, for the situation in general.

Now, he’s introducing the idea of personal hopefulness… previously we just had Jack playing basketball and smiling or flirting with girls. Here there’s the idea, whether it’s fulfilled or not, even Moses might be able to have hopefulness–what’s interesting is how Dysart introduces that idea in the same issue he reveals the reader has never and will never know Moses. Moses also will never know Moses.

It’s a bold close.

CREDITS

Beautiful World, Chapter Three; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Alberto Ponticelli; colorist, Oscar Celestini; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.

Unknown Soldier 23 (October 2010)

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Yeah, this is not going to end well.

If for no other reason… Joseph Kony is still alive.

Of course, whether Unknown Soldier went on as long as initially intended (I think all Vertigo series have a finite intention, don’t they?), Kony would still be alive. So, even though the series was cancelled prematurely, Dysart’s still got to be taking a different tact… it’s not action movie wish fulfillment, it’s going to be something else. It was always something else.

This issue says goodbye to the three principals who have been with the series since the beginning. Sera gets her last scene with Moses, though hopefully not her last scene because, in a lot of ways, she’s Dysart’s strongest character. Jack gets his farewell scene. And it says goodbye to Moses too, even though he doesn’t get a farewell. Though, hopefully, we’ll find out enough about him he will eventually.

A 

CREDITS

Beautiful World, Chapter Two; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Alberto Ponticelli; colorist, Oscar Celestini; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.

Unknown Soldier 22 (September 2010)

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A strange issue.

It’s Sera’s issue, maybe the one I’ve been waiting for since she showed up again a few issues back. It’s also the first issue of the series’s final arc, so it’s interesting to see how Dysart’s going to handle it. Ponticelli takes a new approach, mixing his old and new styles of artwork–the countryside is more lush, the towns are the old, hard reality.

But even though Dysart is wrapping things up–prematurely–he still manages to make the book operate on a few levels. It’s still a look at modern Africa through the outsider’s eyes, though this issue, he’s able to do it closer–Sera, being native to a different region than a wedding party, brings the Western reader to that celebration. It’s a nice move, since it also informs the reader about her.

It’s a touching, sad issue; I’m going to miss this comic.

CREDITS

Beautiful World, Chapter One; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Alberto Ponticelli; colorist, Oscar Celestini; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.

Unknown Soldier 21 (August 2010)

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This issue, which Dysart tells from an omniscient first person point of view of an AK-47, might be the perfect example of the comic book medium’s narrative potential. I cannot think of any other medium where such a story could be told.

Without the visuals, it would not work, so prose is out. As a narrated film, it would not work because there’s the problem with the narrator. In writing, the reader can give the piece some leeway, but I cannot think of a single film narrated by an inanimate object.

What Dysart does is tell a focused history lesson. Where this particular weapon came from and where it goes. Dysart’s able to tell jokes, to show horrific events, to give a history lesson, all in twenty-two pages, all without leaving the context of a commercial comic book.

It’s not even anti-war really, just matter-of-fact.

CREDITS

A Gun In Africa; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Rick Veitch; colorist, Oscar Celestini; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.

Unknown Soldier 20 (July 2010)

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It’s sort of a mellow issue.

It’s an all action issue, with Moses on the run from some cattle raiders. He meets up with this family also on the run from them and the family gets stuck helping Moses try to fend them off.

What’s mellow about the issue is Dysart’s approach–it’s told from the disabled son’s point of view, like a folk tale. Dysart even works in a traditional folk tale disguise element, which is really neat–he’s able to produce an action-packed issue, but told in a really creative way.

In other words, it’s no such Unknown Soldier didn’t sell well. It’s way too smart.

The end of the issue, which returns to Moses and the voice, is somewhat jarring. The last page might be the biggest “action” moment the series has ever had.

Ponticelli’s art is simply wonderful here, giving the story a mystical feel.

CREDITS

A Battle of Little Note, Conclusion; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Alberto Ponticelli; colorist, Oscar Celestini; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.

Unknown Soldier 19 (June 2010)

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Once again, Dysart does the unexpected. This issue picks up exactly where the last one left off, only the last issue made it seem like he wasn’t going to concentrate on showing the big battle scene. But he does. In fact, there are three two page spreads in this issue. It’s the most action I can remember the series ever having; there are explosions everyone.

But the reader also gets some back story on Moses in regards to the Unknown Soldier, the voice. Dysart’s narration is a CIA report–referring to Moses as “Subject 9″ (a little V for Vendetta homage there?)–walking the reader through not just the battle, but the way arms trading works in Uganda.

Necessary or not, Dysart jump-starts the series’s tone a little bit. There’s a concentration the action, but without jeopardizing the political discussion. Not to mention the readers finds out about Moses experiencing suicidal urges.

CREDITS

A Battle of Little Note, Chapter One; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Alberto Ponticelli; colorist, Oscar Celestini; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.

Unknown Soldier 18 (May 2010)

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Huh.

Dysart finishes the arc without giving the action payoff I was expecting (I was also expecting another issue of the arc).

It seems he’s saying goodbye to Paul too, after giving the kid a really rough lesson or two this issue in futility. Moses learns a similar lesson and ends the story in a far worse place than he started it.

Sera doesn’t make an appearance here, which confused me a little bit.

What’s most interesting about the story is the time Dysart took with it. In modern series, with their trade-ready arcs, there aren’t as many asides anymore–certainly not ones running enough issues for a trade of their own. Dysart basically took six issues to tell a story about what happens when Moses and Paul go to Paul’s old village.

It’s bold and artistically solid and great.

I can’t believe Vertigo let them make the trip.

CREDITS

Dry Season, Conclusion; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Alberto Ponticelli; colorist, Oscar Celestini; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.

Unknown Soldier 17 (April 2010)

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Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting that ending.

I think this arc runs five issues and Dysart is three in–and wrapping up some of the revelations–so I was wondering how he was going to keep it going. He’s keeping it going by turning the entire comic on its head.

Turning Moses into an unreliable narrator–who isn’t reliable to himself either–isn’t an unprecedented narrative move, but it’s completely unexpected. For sixteen issues, Moses has been utterly reliable.

This issue has a little of the return to action, but it also has a bunch more character stuff. Dysart’s bringing Sera–Moses’s wife–back into the comic as a seen presence, Paul’s making decisions contrary to Moses’s orders. I never think of the series as having a cast, but it does.

This story–especially after this issue–is shaping to be a lot more important than the first issue suggested.

CREDITS

Dry Season, Chapter Three; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Alberto Ponticelli; colorist, Oscar Celestini; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.

Unknown Soldier 16 (March 2010)

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It’s kind of a mystery story and kind of not. Moses is very active this issue, but not in his usual way. Instead, he’s back to being a doctor, back to letting his concern for people effect his actions. I know this arc isn’t the last one, but it feels like Dysart is trying to get the character to a new place.

So while there’s the mystery and the character development–not to mention the continuing question of what’s going to happen to Paul–Dysart is implying things aren’t going to go well. There’s the direct foreshadowing of Moses realizing he’s probably going to kill the local army commander and a dying man telling Moses his redemption ritual didn’t work… but there’s also the voice.

The voice in Moses’s head can’t be gone–even though it’s not present this issue–and so it must return sometime.

Again, the most traditional arc in the series.

CREDITS

Dry Season, Chapter Two; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Alberto Ponticelli; colorist, Oscar Celestini; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.

Unknown Soldier 15 (February 2010)

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I’d heard about this arc. I’d heard it’s gradual and deliberate.

Ponticelli changes his style a little. His lines are muted. Coupled with Moses’s narration, Unknown Soldier feels very far away, very dreamlike. Moses’s narration brings the reader up to speed (it’s possibly a letter to his wife) and, basically, he’s loitered around the village where he found Paul a home.

Bad things happen, big and small, without getting much reaction from Moses. He’s dejected. Dysart and Ponticelli soften the focus on the grim realities of Uganda this issue… it’s grimmer because it’s about Moses. He’s running out of energy–there’s not a single action sequence in the entire issue–his quest has reached a lull.

In some ways, it’s the most traditional issue of Unknown Soldier–anyone could be experiencing the same mindset. It left me depressed in a different way than usual. Even Jack’s new life outlook depresses.

CREDITS

Dry Season, Chapter One; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Alberto Ponticelli; colorist, Oscar Celestini; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.

Unknown Soldier 14 (January 2010)

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In some ways, this issue is one of Unknown Soldier’s least depressing–Paul gets a good ending (at least for this issue) and Moses gets a chance at some relief. But it’s somehow even more depressing, because Dysart gives Moses this chance to reflect, to think about himself and what he has done and will do.

It’d actually make a great end to the series, because it’s so open. I know there’s another issue but even with that knowledge, the issue is still rough. Even with all the terrible things Dysart shows, the hardest parts of Unknown Soldier are when the reader gets to empathize with Moses, when the series becomes grounded in the reader’s reality.

This issue, in a few pages, is incredibly powerful. Without trying, Dysart and Masioni are pushing the limit of how affecting a comic book–which is comfortable in its artifice–can be.

It’s profound.

CREDITS

The Way Home, Chapter Two; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Pat Masioni; colorist, Jose Villarrubia; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.

Unknown Soldier 13 (December 2009)

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I think I was unprepared for Unknown Soldier after the lighter fare I’ve been reading lately.

Dysart’s doing a two-parter following up on the kid Moses brought to the school. Now, I’m assuming Dysart researched it, so when the school sets the kids loose on each other in a war game–which really messes some of them up–it’s real and terrifying. And then it’s tragic.

The art perfectly captures the lost childhoods; not just the child soldiers, but the child mothers. It makes the whole thing devastating, especially since Paul (the kid) has this girl he’s friends with and it’d be so easy to write them a happy ending in one’s mind.

But there’s no room for it.

Though Dysart makes a lot of room. The pacing in this issue is particularly strong–it follows Paul from school, to running, to finding Moses again.

It’s stunningly, horrifically brilliant.

CREDITS

The Way Home, Chapter One; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Pat Masioni; colorist, Jose Villarrubia; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.

Unknown Soldier 12 (November 2009)

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This issue is probably the most straightforward, action-packed thriller issue of the series so far.

And, wow, does Dysart really ruin any visceral thrill.

He manages to remove all the excitement from it, turning every success into failure, making every mistake a fated inevitability–Moses’s weaknesses doom him to those mistakes… and the issue ends with this startling image of the bandaged Moses downing some liquor from the bottle.

It’s a particularly strange ending because I have no idea what it means for the main character. Sure, Dysart’s established he and Jack work better as a team than Moses does alone, but there’s nothing else. It’s all, in the end, about Sera. She becomes the protagonist–Dysart moves her from subject to protagonist.

It’s a deft move and one maybe singular to the comic book medium. Like all the best work, Unknown Soldier makes one think about its form.

CREDITS

Easy Kill, Conclusion; writer, Joshua Dysart; artist, Alberto Ponticelli; colorist, Oscar Celestini; letterer, Clem Robins; editor, Pornsak Pichetshote; publisher, Vertigo.