Sunday Slugfest - Army@Love #1

A comic review article by: Keith Dallas, Matthew McLean, Chris Murman, Kevin Powers, Thom Young
“The Hot Zone Club”

Matthew McLean:

Apparently, I had my sense of humor removed before reading Army@Love. It is getting decent reviews and some folks seem to like it, but after having reading it, I had only one thing I wanted to write for this review: This book is a complete waste of your time and money. However, that’s hardly insightful, so I’ll elaborate.

When I picked this issue up, I was hoping for something like a cross between MASH and Porky’s. That should give you a good idea of what my expectations were. However, Army@Love fell way short.

It’s worthless as war time satire. And insulting to boot. Now, satire, by its nature, is insulting, but Army@Love just missed the mark. There are a couple of reasons why for both of these statements.

Whether it was MASH or Catch-22, classic war time satire makes fun of the people in charge, the people who make the decisions that land otherwise good men and women in the barrel of trouble. Catch-22 is probably the best example, with its critique of Army bureaucracy and the logic (or lack thereof) that was spawned from that, the circular and repetitive horror that comes from being forced to live under such a machine.

Army@Love does some of this, sure; it takes a few shots at the authority. The MOMO officer is a smug, sleazy bastard. The Secretary (of Defense?) is a perverted old man with some really weird fetishes. On the other hand, what these two are doing, regardless of whether they are sleazy or perverted, is working. Forget about discipline; get a soldier’s dick sucked and he’ll kill as much as you want. Which brings us to the real problem of this silly little book: the protagonists.

In good satire, the comedy from this end of the fence comes from how our heroes choose to handle the ridiculous situation into which they have fallen. MASH is a great example of comedy from the protagonists which, as far as I can tell, Army@Love is weakly attempting to copy. Sure, the protagonists of that film were womanizers who took every chance they could to get some. On the other hand, Trapper also punched out Frank Burns when Frank hid behind his rank to pin the death of a patient on an orderly. That type of bravery is completely absent from Army@Love.

Army@Love doesn’t spend its time making fun of those in charge, or ridiculing an administration that incompetently bungled the U.S. into a regional war. Most of the issue is pointing and laughing at the soldiers in the trenches. These aren’t soldiers who have reluctantly gone to war, sacrificing for what they think (or thought) is a noble cause. They are a bunch of adrenaline junkies who love to fight and fuck regardless of the human cost to the people they kill or the people at home they betray. They don’t care about anything beyond their own desires for visceral sensation. The art contributes horribly to this notion, as there are a number of scenes where the front line troops look like little pig devils veritably licking their lips with bloodlust.

Whoo! Yeah, that’s satire. Let’s make fun of the people on the front line, who take bullets and come home in pieces. YEAH!

There’s plenty more wrong with the book. The idea of the Hot Zone Club, that soldiers would leave their buddies in a firefight in order to strip down and fuck, is complete idiocy. I’ve never been in combat, but I’ve been told by more than one soldier that the most common reaction to being shot at is trying not to shit yourself. Try getting a hard-on in that situation. Also, the idea that somehow the sex retreats could be organized without someone finding out is nearly as stupid. In an age of digital phone cameras, hard drives the size of quarters and nearly instantaneous communication, trying to keep anything like this under wraps would be impossible.

So to sum up: Stupid and insulting. Hopefully, Army@Love will die a quick death.

If you liked this review, be sure to check out more of the author’s work at

Chris Murman:

I was expecting Army@Love to be like Starship Troopers with the same snarky commentary about society, the military, and the current political climate. Minus the bugs, of course.

Then I read the issue. It’s got the commentary, but there wasn’t much else as this was clearly a writer’s angst for the situation in Iraq boiling over into his work. He even said so on the last page.

Regardless of my opinion of the writer’s motivation, this did take me back. I loved the Starship Troopers universe, regardless of the fact that they made two stupid sequels to the movie. The basic gist was a government desperate to get cannon fodder for their war against the bugs, so they did one hell of a PR job to get the recruits to line up.

Here, we have the same principle in motion. The USA, desperate to get troops over to Afbaghistan (hardy har, har), forms up the Motivation and Morale department of the military whose only job is to find any way to get people to sign themselves over to Uncle Sam. They’ll give them anything, even if it’s the promise of sex parties for those who volunteer.

Gives new meaning to the phrase, “sex sells,” doesn’t it?

There were way too many plot points I found less than amusing. What was the husband doing with stacks of bills hidden around the house (did Veitch scan those stacks of Benjamins instead of draw them)? I noticed there were many not so veiled stabs at religion, the current administration, and the state of marital fidelity in this country. It is also funny, weird that is, how Veitch seemed to have such love of current musicians with his bits about ring tones taking over the world.

I also have never thought the “funny names” thing to be that hilarious. If you don’t want to use Afghanistan as the setting, that’s fine. But if you jumble up the letters, we know what you’re referring to anyway. So just use the true name. Naming a musician “Lipsync” would have been funny when I was first learning about Milli Vanilli 15 years ago, but not now. I feel the hilarity would have been better used in the current world. We’re already a party-craving culture that disregards the sanctity of marital fidelity and instead views ring tones as a societal status marker. What’s futuristic about that?

I’m obviously not happy about the over abundance of boobs and stabs at marriage, and I know my values about marriage are rather traditional to you faithful readers. I can hear your eyes rolling all the way from my home in Texas. I just think there were several directions this book could have taken that would have seemed less teenagerish, and a smarter way to protest the war in Iraq and President Bush.

How about there being less adultery and the soldiers being a little more single? The solicits for this book said that high schoolers were going to war with middle-aged corporate managers. All I saw were married people getting it on with each other. Yes, that makes me seem like a right-winger, but I would just like artists using their craft to help improve the world, not brag about how we are the new Sodom and Gomorrah.

I’m just on my soapbox now. Based on what I’ve read, I probably won’t buy future issues. This book doesn’t deserve my money. I would have loved to close Army@Love #1 laughing away at the military just as I did with the first Starship Troopers; instead I went out and rented Starship Troopers to remember how good social commentary when it’s well written.

Kevin Powers:

I have always been a staunch supporter of the military and America’s troops. If I had the cahones a few years ago, I would have saddled up and been on my way to Afghanistan and Iraq myself. If I could choose a career path besides comics and movies, it would probably have to be Special Forces. So any book that focuses on modern warfare and the War on Terror, I take a bit of interest towards. That’s why I’m such a big G.I. Joe fan and why when I saw a title like Army@Love, I had to jump on it. I really didn’t know what to expect. Most comic books will strongly support our troops but not touch on the now five year old conflict in the Middle East. Seeing the Vertigo imprint along with Rick Veitch’s name on this comic book, I thought to myself “this could be one hell of a ride.”

It’s safe to say that this title is one of the wildest, most bizarre and downright wacky interpretations of the current state of warfare I have ever seen. It’s almost like Full Metal Jacket meets hardcore porn. Taking place in the “not too distant future,” this issue opens up with a female soldier on her cell phone with her husband, under fire, and lying to her other half about where she really is. I was immediately caught off guard by this scene; I knew right then and there that this would not be your average military title.

I know a quite a few soldiers, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Army. Hey, all have their reasons for signing up: glory, guidance, college, maybe even a deeper meaning to life or proving something to themselves. No one can really know a person’s true meaning for going into the military, specifically the frontlines, except for that person. I do, however, believe that to some extent there is a great deal of thrill seeking, even arousal, to having bullets wiz by your head and not knowing who is or isn’t your enemy. Perhaps there is even a sense of arousal for being in a hot zone of enemy activity and picking off enemy snipers one by one.

Essentially—and quite strangely—that is what Army@Love is about. It’s about those high stress life or death scenarios in the heart of battle that the mere experience of is the ultimate aphrodisiac. There’s really no way to know if that is the truth and whether or not some people feel that way, but Army@Love very bluntly puts it out there. This issue is full of great combat sequences, and a lot of sex. It is also expertly written. Granted, I don’t know how believable it is that someone would have a solid cell phone signal halfway across the world, but it still works as a story.

There’s quite a bit more involved with this story than just the combat and sex. There’s the toll that combat takes on marriage, the extra-marital affairs that take place not only amongst soldiers but also amongst their spouses. Veitch really put everything on the table and keeps it intertwined and opens up a great deal of potential storylines that are all amazingly connected.

Veitch’s art is also pretty well done. Not that I would know first hand, but I think he does a great job capturing the intensity and the dangers of modern combat in a world as volatile as the Middle East. There were some points of inconsistency, however, in the faces of the main characters. There were some panels where the main characters looked like a demon straight out of the classic Ghostbusters cartoon and other panels where they look very realistic. But what really caught my eye were the early combat scenes. Veitch did a pretty good job with those.

This title is definitely out in left-field. It is different, and it is unique, and if Veitch can maintain the “shock and awe” feel to it, then he’s definitely struck gold. Whether you support the war or not, this is a title worth checking out. It may not paint the prettiest nor the most realistic picture of our soldiers, but war is ugly.

Thom Young:

I’ve always enjoyed the stories that Rick Veitch writes—even though his skills aren’t as sharp as those of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. Veitch’s scripts are idea-driven rather than plot-driven or character-driven, and those ideas are usually what attract me to his works.

For instance, Veitch took over the writing on Swamp Thing when Alan Moore left that book in 1987, and his concepts tended to be just as interesting as Moore’s concepts even though there was a decline in the level of craft.

I don’t bring up this contrast between Veitch and Moore spuriously. As I considered my reaction to Army@Love #1, I found myself thinking a great deal of Veitch and Moore as a pair of linked writers—primarily because I see parallels between them and another pair of writers who are often linked, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell.

As the two most significant dystopian novels, Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984 are often either compared or contrasted. I like both. However, during the 1990s, I decided that Huxley was the better visionary because Orwell’s concept of the future appeared to have died with the fall of the Soviet Union and the reformation in China.

Thus, I thought it was unfortunate that Moore’s V for Vendetta had been influenced by 1984, and I wondered what Moore would have come up with had he created his dystopian graphic novel ten years later. During the 1990s, America (and I assume other western nations) really began to reflect Huxley’s vision—about 600 years earlier than Huxley had originally imagined it would take for us to develop into that type of society.

While the seeds of our Huxleyian society go back to at least the late 1940s, American culture is now inundated with advertisements and entertainments that are filled with images advocating sexual promiscuity, anti-intellectualism, and the taking of prescription drugs to either help us relax or become sexually active—all of which mirror Huxley’s Brave New World. (Actually, Huxley wrote in 1957 about how astounded he was that so much of his dystopia had already been realized by then.)

To a large extent, such celebrity figures as Paris Hilton have become the symbols of our own Brave New World in which image, sex, and vacuity are everything. Yes, throughout the 1990s, I was sure we were living in a society that was nearly identical to Huxley’s vision—and that the cloning and/or genetic engineering of embryos for specific social tasks would begin within a few decades (and they probably still will).

However, my opinion changed (somewhat) after September 11, 2001—not because terrorists flew jet airliners into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, but because of the U.S. government’s response to those acts of terrorism.

To be sure, other countries around the world—notably England and Israel—had long been accustomed to frequent acts of terrorism (which perhaps explains why Moore chose Orwell’s influence for V for Vendetta). However, the combination of the magnitude of the attacks, the relatively new experience of terrorism for America, and the newly installed reactionary administration led to the U.S. government’s eventual rebirth of Orwell’s vision.

In his 1946 introduction to Brave New World (just after World War II and three years before the publication of Orwell’s 1984), Huxley noted that his novel depicted what he believed to be the “totalitarian state of the future”:
There is, of course, no reason why the new totalitarianisms should resemble the old. Government by clubs and firing squads, by artificial famine, mass imprisonment and mass deportation, is not merely inhumane (nobody cares much about that nowadays); it is demonstrably inefficient and, in an age of advanced technology, inefficiency is the sin against the Holy Ghost. A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.

Of course, the US government isn’t using clubs, firing squads, artificial famine, mass imprisonment, and mass deportation to control U.S. citizens. Instead, these are the means used to control the citizens of other nations. America does, however, have new laws that allow the government to invade our privacy—as any good Big Brother would.

Ironically, we are told that the government’s Orwellian programs are needed to ensure the security of our otherwise Huxleyian society—giving us the happy union between the two dystopian visions. Yes, we do indeed live in interesting times—and it is those times that Veitch seeks to explore and satirize in Army@Love.

Just as I have always thought that Brave New World is superior to 1984 when it comes to exploring ideas, I believe Army@Love may be superior to V for Vendetta in exploring our society (including British) in the “not too distant future.”

However, when it comes to the actual craft of writing, Orwell’s novel is superior to Huxley’s—just as V for Vendetta will probably hold up as superior to Army@Love. Orwell and Moore are storytellers and wordsmiths who like to think whereas Huxley and Veitch are intellectuals and essayists who like to write. Actually, I don’t know if Veitch writes essays—but I believe he should.

It’s not that Huxley and Veitch are bad writers. It’s just that they’re not as good as Orwell and Moore when it came to the actual craft of writing—which is why I actually prefer to read Huxley’s book-length essay, Brave New World Revisited, rather than the novel that contains the same ideas.

Those same ideas seem to be at the heart of Veitch’s Army@Love—in which we essentially have the U.S. army engaged in the type of war that Orwell predicted we would be continuously fighting against the forces of either Eurasia or East Asia. However, Veitch’s Huxleyian twist is to keep these soldiers happy by supplying them with plenty of sex and mood-enhancing drugs—just as the people are given in Brave New World.

Unfortunately, I think I would also prefer reading Huxley’s essay, Brave New World Revisited, to this new graphic novel by Veitch. It’s not that this first issue was bad, it’s just that it didn’t engage me as much as I had hoped it would.

Brave New World and Army@Love aren’t as engaging as 1984 and V for Vendetta because of the way the plot and characters are handled—not because of the ideas that are presented. After reading the first issue of Army@Love, I don’t find myself all that interested in what’s been revealed of the plot, and I don’t much care for any of the characters.

To some extent, though, I suppose we aren’t supposed to care for these characters. After all, that seems to be the point—that these shallow characters are the products of a superficial Huxleyian culture that needs motivate them to fight an Orwellian war. It’s a very interesting concept, and it’s why I really wanted to enjoy Veitch’s new graphic novel.

To tell the truth, I’ll probably buy the book if it gets published as a trade paperback—where the story will benefit from having all the chapters collected together. However, I’ll give the individual monthly issues a pass. Besides, trade paperback collections are the more economical way to get these stories (perhaps even with “new, never-before-seen material”).

I will say, however, that I got a chuckle when I saw what the U.S. troops used for the hoods that they placed over the heads of their Muslim prisoners—flour sacks for a company called “King Richard Flour” that uses the shield of the Crusades for its logo.

It’s an appropriate image—after all, after the September 11 attacks, the U.S. president said we were going on a Crusade.

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