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Okay, so you’re a rocket scientist: Diana on 3/12

Brian Hibbs

Mr. Kyle Baker, you got some ‘splainin’ to do.

I hate to start reviews with that God-awful cliche “I liked his old stuff better!” but for context’s sake, WHY I HATE SATURN still makes me laugh. I say that because I think I picked up and read SPECIAL FORCES expecting the same kind of manic energy you’ll find with Anne Merkel and her crazy sister, or with Larry running amok in the streets of New York in I DIE AT MIDNIGHT.

SPECIAL FORCES #4… did not make me laugh.

It may be that I’m just sick of politics-via-comics in general: in a medium where subtlety is the exception rather than the rule, I can’t think of many instances where political/military criticism didn’t come off as awkward and simplistic, where valid points are submerged under a wave of bile that aspires to be clever and falls far short of the mark (pick a Millar comic, any Millar comic).

Or it may be that SPECIAL FORCES seems to be making contradictory points: on the one hand, Felony and Zone represent an implicit accusation that the United States Army recruited people for the Iraq war who had no business on the battlefield. Baker helpfully attaches news articles describing the recruitment and eventual dismissal of an autistic teenager to demonstrate that there’s a bit of truth in this fiction.

On the other hand, these “unfit soldiers” turn out to be as capable (if not moreso) of getting the job done. Doesn’t that suggest that the Army was right to enlist them in the first place? If an autistic kid succeeds where entire squadrons of trained soldiers fail (in pretty embarrassing ways), that sends a very different message and doesn’t quite match the critical tone Baker’s aiming for.

But there’s something more essential that’s missing here. The situation in Iraq is no laughing matter, and yet I can’t help wishing that SPECIAL FORCES had exhibited more of Baker’s snark and wit – as it stands, it’s pretty much just an EH story that tries to send a message far too aggressively to be successful.

X-MEN: NOIR #4 also came out this week, wrapping up Marvel’s first foray into what seems to be a rising Noirverse (although I’m still curious as to how DAREDEVIL: NOIR will distinguish itself from Ed Brubaker’s DAREDEVIL: POORLY-LIT URBAN CRIMEFIGHTING WITH FEMME FATALES, CORRUPT COPS AND CRIME SYNDICATES).

This sort of thing can be very tricky to pull off: the last time Marvel tried to import its universe to a different historical period/genre, we got 1602 and its spin-offs, most of which was spent playing Spot The Analogue.

Fortunately, Fred Van Lente avoids this trap by putting together a rather clever string of adaptations: I liked the idea of mutants being swapped out for sociopaths, with the Xavier/Magneto ideological schism taking on a decidedly more realistic dimension. I loved Van Lente’s take on Anne-Marie (Rogue) and the resolution to her storyline. The Bolivar Trask/Sentinels prose story ends up with a different moral than you might be expecting.

In fact, the only problem I had with this miniseries is that the X-Men aren’t the protagonists: the story’s focalized through and narrated by a completely different character (who may or may not be an analogue for a mainstream Marvel figure, it’s rather difficult to tell), and that leads us to a confusing last-minute twist ending that didn’t really work for me. It’s still VERY GOOD, though, and one of the few examples of a cross-genre experiment that successfully adapts superhero characters into other molds and conventions.

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