Unknown Soldier 25 (December 2010)

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…

Unknown Soldier 24 (November 2010)

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…

Unknown Soldier 23 (October 2010)

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…

Unknown Soldier 22 (September 2010)

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…

Unknown Soldier 21 (August 2010)

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…

Unknown Soldier 20 (July 2010)

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.…

Unknown Soldier 19 (June 2010)

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…

Unknown Soldier 18 (May 2010)

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…

Unknown Soldier 17 (April 2010)

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…

Unknown Soldier 16 (March 2010)

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…

Unknown Soldier 15 (February 2010)

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…

Unknown Soldier 14 (January 2010)

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…

Unknown Soldier 13 (December 2009)

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…

Unknown Soldier 12 (November 2009)

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…

Unknown Soldier 11 (October 2009)

Well, the kid is definitely not Robin. He’s apparently gone for now. Eleven issues in and Dysart’s back to basics a little–it’s strange to refer to the return of the first six issue’s principal characters as “back to basics,” but I suppose it’s only natural in the era of story arcs and trade-waiting. Moses, Sera, Jack and Margaret Wells are all back this issue, all of them about to collide. Here’s also the return of Moses’s white fiancée, the one he tossed over to return to his roots. The scenes with her and Sera are fantastic. Dysart uses Sera to narrate the…

Unknown Soldier 10 (September 2009)

In this issue’s conclusion, Dysart juxtaposes the bickering of adults–sure, it’s dramatic and violent, but they’re arguing over ideas–with children making friends with each other. It’s a profound little moment, creation versus destruction. It might be the most profound moment in Unknown Soldier so far. There’s a lot Dysart can go wrong with this issue, a lot of things he sets up and none of them fail. The biggest possible failure is the face. He shows Moses talking to his wife. It’s a hallucination, but still… it’s possibly real. And Moses is fully healed, which raises the question of what is Dysart…

Unknown Soldier 9 (August 2009)

Dysart gives ex-CIA guy almost the entire issue. His name’s Jack, which I can’t believe I forgot. This issue is both prequel and sequel to the previous one, following Jack instead of Moses. What’s neat–I may have made this observation before–is how Jack is less easy for the reader to identify with than Moses. At least Moses has some mainstream to him. This issue fills in Jack’s backstory a bit–he’s been in Africa since 1965. Moses might have had an iPod (Unknown Soldier being set in 2002), but Jack has not. It’s actually a pretty quick read, since it’s almost all action,…

Unknown Soldier 8 (July 2009)

Hmm. I wonder if anyone’s told Angelina Jolie about Unknown Soldier, specifically the idea she’s help Africa a lot more by being murdered…. Jolie’s Unknown Solider stand-in shows up for a minute this issue, but the plot to kill her is introduced a little later. Moses has hooked up with some pan-African freedom fighters and it’s their idea. The issue isn’t just about that meeting. Dysart delivers an action scene, then spends quite a bit of the issue showing what happens to a child soldier as he attempts to rehabilitate. For Moses, most of the issue is spent moving, his “face” and…

Unknown Soldier 7 (June 2009)

This issue is something of a texture piece. While it does further the story (Moses gets a radio and a translator by the end while starting the issue with neither), it’s really about someone else. The issue’s protagonist is a college student who returns home, only he’s returning home to a war zone. He makes the trip because of a pretty girl, of course. The one issue aside is something of a Vertigo regular, something for between arcs. Dysart’s not recreating the wheel here, but he is turning in a fantastic issue, especially when taking into account he’s got a first person…

Unknown Soldier 6 (May 2009)

The conclusion to the first arc is beyond depressing. It’s not just depressing because it showcases the futility of Moses’s quest (before the quest even starts), but because everything is revealed, in the end, to be futile. The good Moses has done is all for nought. And the character accepts it and moves forward because it’s his place to move forward, which dehumanizes him almost completely–but through a conscious decision. Like I said, depressing. Dysart uses the same approach–the varied points of view–this time, but it doesn’t provide any relief here. It makes the issue somewhat more digestible, with the most horrific…

Unknown Soldier 5 (April 2009)

Now I’m confused. Not because I don’t remember this issue from the last time I read it, but because Dysart’s finally revealing little glimpses at the secret behind the “voice.” Something happened to the good doctor, letting him become the killing machine… and the Unknown Soldier has something to do with it. Not the Unknown Soldier of this series, but the overall Unknown Soldier. I think Ennis dealt with him as a force of nature too. But it’s also the issue where the one secret–the good doctor being a killing machine–is revealed to his wife. So he doesn’t have a secret identity.…

Unknown Soldier 4 (March 2009)

Dysart starts tying his two narratives (between the CIA operative and his protagonist) together here. He opens with the CIA guy, set before the end of the previous issue and continues, again, from before the last issue ended, showing a different point of view of the situation (it’s the bad guys’ perspective–bad guys being the kids with guns). The CIA guy offers Dysart the chance to talk about the setting, the war-torn country, apolitically (even though it’s an American operative reflecting on it). It gives the reader the opportunity to see the country differently, to bask in the great things about it.…

Unknown Soldier 3 (February 2009)

Dysart deals with it–and has been since the first issue–but really… Unknown Soldier‘s going to have limited appeal. It doesn’t matter if it’s more action packed than Rambo, it’s a story where the hero does good by killing children (soldiers, but still children). There aren’t going to be any movie adaptations here… no summer event blockbusters in 3D. Dysart seems more than aware of that condition and he doesn’t shy away from it. It makes Unknown Soldier hard to read. The comic requests you stop playing an iPhone game and think about something really awful for twenty-two pages. Something real and really…

Unknown Soldier 2 (January 2009)

The second issue is a little more traditional. Dysart uses a roaming third person narrator, jumping into his protagonist’s head when he’s with him, staying out of the supporting cast members’ heads when he’s with them. Now, the meat of the story arc is developing. Dysart introduces the old CIA guy, which sort of shows what Unknown Soldier is going to be. It’s going to be straightforward, even though lots of flashbacks and so on are in the narrator’s head. Then there are the hallucinations. The elephant in the room is Punisher: Born, which I imagine Dysart read. I know he reads…

Unknown Soldier 1 (December 2008)

The most striking thing, reading Unknown Soldier again, is how much Dysart gets done in the first issue. I know where it goes, so reading it for the first time I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate it as much as I do this time. Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was great after that first reading, but this issue–another time through–could be it. The title wouldn’t work, but if this issue was just in an anthology, it could be a standalone. Dysart gets in his protagonist’s entire history, mostly through a nice layer–a speech–and then puts him through an incredible…