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ARMY@LOVE

Rick Veitch is one of the most inventive comic book makers of the day. He seems never willing to sit and rest on previous laurels: he’s forever, it seems, examining some new comics storytelling mode or a new aspect of an otherwise old subject. Some years ago, he impressed me with a series of comic books in which he regaled us his visualizations of dreams he was having. Recently, he produced a graphic novel, Can’t Get No, in which he juxtaposes words and pictures in a novel manner: the story is told in pantomime but every picture is accompanied by boxed text, which runs a prose poem parallel to the picture story, complimenting it in a subtle way but not referring directly to any of the events being pictured. Even if the language sometimes soars to pretentiousness, the narrative tension between the verbal and the visual is exquisitely maintained, yielding an unusual reader engagement in the work.

Now, Veitch comes along with a rollicking tale of modern U.S. warfare, Army @ Love (Nos. 1-6, so far), in which sexual licentiousness and heavy doses of nudity almost overwhelm the satire. Veitch puts his soldiers in the fictitious but wholly recognizable Afbaghistan, where the objectives of the military operation are entirely obscured by two overwhelming motivations: sex and money. In the first issue, we meet Switzer, a girl soldier, who, in a free fire zone with a male combatant named Flabbergast, proposes, during a lull in the shooting, that they get naked and “do the dirty,” which, she alleges, will initiate him into the Hot Zone Club, an organization, it turns out, that she has invented solely to get Flabbergast to screw her while under fire — because that makes it all more exciting. Flabbergast eagerly takes her up on her proposition, and they both strip and have at each other. It’s an appropriately lewd introduction to the series, which is unabashed about sex, engaging its cast members in endless couplings, none of which obey the usual monogamous imperatives. Switzer is married to Loman, a bagman for the mob back home in the States; Flabbergast is single but quickly falls in lust with Switzer. The other principal couple introduces Colonel Healey who is married to Allie, who, back home, tries to cure her loneliness by getting it on with Loman. Healey, head and founder of “Momo” (the Motivation and Morale initiative), is a former marketing manager who ingratiated himself to the military moguls by devising a way to increase recruiting for the Army while at the same time keeping morale high — the Retreat.

Held periodically but frequently, Retreats are all-out sexual orgies, and they created the perfect match-up for recruiting for a war that was going on forever, rotating troops back and forth, eventually exhausting human resources. As Healey explains it: “How do I motivate a modern American kid to give up his life of privilege, submit to the military and go to a foreign land to kill people? And the answer is I offer them something they can’t get online or in the movies — something we call ‘peak life experience.’ ... Turns out that the steady diet of movies and video games [among American youth] has addicted them to small amounts of adrenaline, and combat is an adrenaline junkie’s dream.” But Healey’s scheme offered something more — “the secret sauce.” By putting women into combat and inventing the Retreat as a way to break into the danger and monotony, Healey united in one package deal all that young people hunger for — “Danger! Power! Drugs! High tech! Sex!” It’s an adolescent’s dream come true — “spring break on steroids!” No wonder everyone lines up to join. As Veitch put it in No. 1: “My new series ... imagines how surreal the current war might get in five years, focusing especially on how the miliary might have to market it to a new generation of recruits.”

Despite the prevalence of nudity and copulation, a second satirical strand permeates the series. Noticing that much of the war effort in Iraq has been contracted out to private agencies, Veitch imagines what might happen if the war is almost entirely outsourced. In Veitch’s war, the country is bankrupt, so the government goes in search of corporate sponsorship for the military. Suddenly, patriotism goes out the window, replaced by corporate greed. Sex and the profit motive animate all the action in Army @ War, and, issue by issue, Veitch finds new ways to twist his satirical knife in the side of modern corporate war-making. Ingenious. And it would be funnier if it weren’t so true. Veitch’s pictures are copiously detailed; inked by Gary Erskine, they haven’t much visual flair, but Veitch is expert at it, and he fills some panels with background action that occasionally functions as a sight gag. It’s clear he’s having a great time, and so are we, watching him at work — and at play.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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