Moses Lwanga, the Unknown Soldier, immerses himself in the northern Ugandan wilderness, living off the land, while planning his war against Joseph Kony and his child soldier recruiting army, which is terrorizing the region, and is responsible for several atrocities. At the same time, he is enduring nightmarish night-time visits from the ghosts of those he has slain. When he runs across a group of kids from
Uganda’s capital city, grossly out of their element in the war torn north, and lead by Alimo, a survivor of the region’s violence, he has to save them from Kony’s “recruiters.” After doing so, and capturing one of Kony’s child soldiers, along with a solar powered field radio, he obtains the means to overhear and translate Kony’s orders, thus giving him the tools needed to bring his war to Kony’s doorstep.
That simple synopsis in no way communicates the literary power and importance of this issue, and this series overall. Rarely do we get a comic book series published by one of the major publishers that is as important to heightening the awareness of the horrible human rights atrocities, sorrowful plights of murdered children who are abused and forced into military service, along with the devastation of lives, land, and dreams like we see in Unknown Soldier, and its tales of war torn
Uganda. Dysart’s incredibly well researched, and very thoughtfully, compassionately, yet violently written story of a man attempting to bring an end to the strife in his original homeland (Lwanga is from Uganda, but was raised and educated in America to become a doctor, and clandestinely, perhaps with or without his willing consent, trained to be an expert killing machine) defies words, and is a sequential art event that must be experienced to be appreciated. This series, with its somewhat esoteric subject matter, at least to many Americans, is totally accessible. It goes beyond the simple catch phrase, attention generating, slogans such as “Save Darfur,” even though these slogans and movements are important. Unknown Soldier provides its readers with stories that the average American can relate to with its use of a substitute Angelia Jolie-like, celebrity UN Goodwill Ambassador, and tale of young kids out for a thrill who get an all too real and rude awakening to the realities of the region’s war and its horrors. When the series mixes in a mysterious soldier, whose origin is only hinted at through flashbacks, the requisite hook is cast and, we as readers or casual interlopers into the stories of east African violence, are reeled in, and yanked into an appreciation of a story, true to life, and incredibly informative of an atrocity the likes of which we all, as caring individuals, should be concerned about. Dysart is a master of “guerrilla sequential art” as I like to call it, and ambushes us with a real, and serious, message through the use of a hero based comic book.
Dysart’s Unknown Soldier is easily, to me, and I’m sure many other readers, a new Vertigo classic in the making that needs to be read, simply for its educational purposes. It is more than just an educational work though. It is a fast paced war story with a conflicted protagonist who has enough mystery surrounding his origins, revealed in snippets, to keep the reader hooked and wanting more. The art of the series is also sufficiently and purposefully jagged and disjointed, yet clear enough to convey the horrors of war while portraying realistically rendered scenes of touching compassion and bloody violence.
Rarely does a series come along like this that nearly measures up in its journalistic and political importance, related through sequential art, to works like Ted Rall’s To Afghanistan and Back and Joe Sacco’s Palestine. To our benefit, Unknown Soldier is an ongoing series that should enjoy a long and well deserved life. We definitely need more comic books like this, and it’s great to see one of this quality, and seriousness of subject, from a major publisher like DC.