One of the reasons I was intrigued by the whole New 52 concept was that it seemed to bring about the opportunity to expand beyond straight superheroics and give us some interesting titles that could focus on other aspects of real life and not just the power fantasies we love so much. Men of War seemed to be the biggest step in that direction, but as we see in its inaugural issue, even the United States Army has to deal with the metahuman madness of the DCU.
That's not to say that we're not getting a grounded, grunt's-eye look at the military here. We open with Corporal Joseph Rock, grandson of the legendary Sgt. Frank Rock of World War II, believing he's about to die in a pile of rubble in the desert. Flashback to Rock being berated by Sgt. Torisi about not yet being a sergeant despite his outstanding service record and the reverence the rest of the infantrymen have towards him. Rock seems insistent on the fact that he's not any better or more special than any other grunt, but Torisi talks a big enough game that Rock joins his unit, which is air dropping down into a mysterious desert region where a U.S. Senator has been abducted. Before they even hit the ground, it all goes to hell.
Why? A man streaking through the sky like a hypersonic red missile, smashes into the encampment they were dropping into, blowing it up into a huge fireball. Doesn't seem like a bird or a plane.
Torisi's unit is blasted upwards from the impact, but Torisi himself takes himself out of the chute and takes control of the situation as best he can, and we see that this man is one hell of a hardass. As they regroup, another superhuman enters the fray, attacking the first with a streak of dark purple, two silhouettes in the sky in a pitched battle, leaving the troops scrambling to pick up the pieces, only to get decimated once again as the town they're in crumbles around them, and things only get uglier.
Normally, the big mystery would be about who these super-types actually are. It's possible they're in Kahndaq and there's a Captain Marvel/Black Adam fight erupting. Or, as Torisi guesses the first guy was supposed to be on their side, maybe it's a Captain Atom/Major Force thing. We don't know. More importantly, we might not even have to care. Maybe that's part of the point of Ivan Brandon's story – it's not about the big slam-bang super-dust-ups, but the fallout that the real men have to deal with and figure out how to handle. One superfight is just like any other to these guys, and the rise of a new Sgt. Rock is about the real people living in the mad world we thrill to read about. If it turns out that way, it might be kind of amazing.
The art from Tom Derenick is serviceable – at times his people have some great expressive detail and at others they look a bit misshapen, but he's got a pretty good handle on the depiction of action, which will be crucial for this series.
We've also got the first part of a backup Navy Seals story here from Jonathan Vankin and Phil Winslade called Human Shields, which gives us a strange Hawk and Dove-like pair of special forces guys in Tracker & Ice. The former is a tough-guy type who touts a sliver of Chippewa in his family tree as a big deal, while the latter is a former Peace Corps member who seems to be awkwardly invoking a liberal agenda – something that he's likely going to be disabused of as this grim story moves on. The title alone should tell you that. It has the danger of getting heavy handed, but there ain't all that many light hands in the thick of the shit.
Men of War is a good effort in a good direction so far, and here's hoping it works well enough to justify more things like it, such as maybe a Lois Lane book set in the thick of the shit that is the awful American media – it'd be amazing if she could get herself embedded in Rock's unit, too. Fall in, DC.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: 7.9