Writer/Penciler: Rick Veitch
Inker: Gary Erskine
[email protected] sees the United States in an endless conflict in South Asia. Army recruitment and troop morale are on the decline. A desperate Congress turns to corporate America for the solution. A middle manager named Healey decides to “re-brand” the war.
Healey forms MOMO—The Motivation and Morale initiative. MOMO sells the war as “peak life experience” to a nation of young adrenaline junkies. Teenagers sign up for what’s promised as “Spring Break on steroids.” In particular, women are encouraged to join. MOMO also secretly organizes orgies where anything, and anyone, goes. Recruitment and morale skyrocket, but discipline falls.
These new soldiers start having sex during combat. The practice isn’t named until Healey overhears two soldiers, Flabbergast and Switzer, call it The Hot Zone Club. Switzer’s husband back home also hears it over Switzer’s open cell phone.
This first trade paperback collection follows those four and an ever-growing cast as we see how MOMO and The Hot Zone Club have changed the way we fight wars, and the darker reasons for why we fight.
The difference between satire and fantasy is its connection to reality. Satire may take place in a fantastical world, such as Gulliver’s Travels, but still possess elements the reader recognizes from the real world. Fantasy may take inspiration from reality, but its basic nature, the rules governing its world, cannot exist in the real world.
Superheroes are pure fantasy because their powers often contradict the laws of physics. In short, satire is reality seen at a different angle. Fantasy is another reality altogether.
Rick Vietch’s [email protected] is a fantasy that thinks it’s a satire. Vietch wants to say how the American people aren’t being told what’s really going on in Iraq/Afghanistan/wherever we go next. He wants to show that the War on Terror benefits big corporations and criminals. He wants to show how the military lies to young people to trick them into enlisting.
You can sense that intent, but his story lacks one crucial element: Combat. None of the American soldiers dies. Plenty of insurgents are killed. In fact, the insurgents are presented as complete morons. However, you never feel like the American soldiers are in danger. A satire of war only works if you contrast the perception of a war with its reality.
[email protected] sees war sold as an adventure; Vegas with guns. Soldiers join to live out their videogame fantasies and have sex with strangers. However, when they’re deployed, that’s exactly what they do! The war is better than advertised! Sure, the enemy is dangerous, but America’s got bigger guns!
What's more, the enemy is so slow and stupid, soldiers have time to strip down and fornicate under fire because they’re not in any real danger! Without real combat, without the feeling the protagonists could die, without the horrors of war, the intended satire loses its only connection to reality. It’s now in a fantasy world where war is adventure, and only the “bad guys” die. It also undermines one of the basic premises of the comic.
MOMO was created to address the problems of a prolonged war against an enemy that is not easily defeated. I can’t imagine a fight with these clowns lasting more than a month, let alone, “several years.” Are we really supposed to believe American forces, even undisciplined adrenaline junkies, couldn’t overcome a nation of Wile E. Coyotes? It’s not much of a war if the enemy’s not a threat.
As a civilian, I’m confused by what Vietch is trying to do. He seems to be commenting on war and politics by following the lives of people affected by it the most. However, the commentary takes a backseat to the personal drama. The affairs and betrayals are far more interesting than whatever Vietch is trying to say. And, without an understanding of the politics within this world, the importance of many relationships is lost on me.
Then there’s the leak discovered in the first issue. Someone secretly taped one of MOMO’s orgy/retreats and posted it on the net. If this leak isn’t uncovered, MOMO and the war effort could be shut down. But the leak is never discovered. It’s barely brought up again. Why introduce such a major plot point and not develop it?
And then there are other parts that are just plain dumb. Are we really supposed to believe Flabbergast fell in love with Switzer just because of a Wiccan charm? Would terrorists really let themselves be browbeaten by an angry mother? What the hell is going on here?
As an enlisted Airman, I’m offended by the portrayal of soldiers and combat in this comic. I understand that the undisciplined thrill-seekers in the comic are supposed to be the opposite of real soldiers. What I don’t understand is why Vietch presents such a cartoonish, unrealistic version of combat. Again, there’s no threat that the heroes will die—so there’s no tension, nor tragedy.
Dozen of insurgents and terrorists die. However, they’re so stupid that they literally blow themselves up! (By accident.) If Vietch wants to satirize corporate involvement in the current conflict, parody the military’s recruitment methods, and question the very reasons we’re at war then, by all means, he should.
However, he should not present war without tragedy. It’s an insult to the good men and women who’ve suffered and died in combat. (And there are plenty of women in combat; something else Vietch got wrong.)
This comic really isn’t worth the $10 cover price. The art’s fantastic, though. It could be the best penciling of Vietch’s career—and Gary Frank is a perfect match for him. Unfortunately, this is the worst writing from Vietch I’ve ever seen. It’s more confusing than his Rare Bit Fiends, the satire is obscured by the sex, and its childish view of battle is offensive.
I wondered why so many reviews in mainstream publications praised this comic. Then I took another look at the sources: Entertainment Weekly, Variety, and the LA Times. It occurred to me that they must have read the comic as entertainment first and satire second—then threw around the word satire to sound smart.
I must admit [email protected] can be entertaining.
Provided you don’t think about it.
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