By Andy Frisk
February 26, 2009 - 11:13
The last time we saw an incarnation of The Unknown Soldier was in Garth Ennis’ Vertigo mini-series about a decade ago or so. Flash forward to 2008-9 and we get a whole new rendering of the Soldier, some mystery surrounding this new version, and a full on history lesson on the sad plight of the women and children of Uganda who have suffered years of hardship, sorrow and death during the wars that have ravaged the region.
Briefly, the story thus far has revolved around Dr. Moses Lwanga and his wife, both engaged in medical relief work in the war-torn areas of
A lot of mystery surrounds this new soldier. Exactly what or who is the voice in his head prompting and guiding him to commit expert acts of combat violence? How does Moses even have the physical and mental knowledge to expertly aim, fire, and bring down and enemy combatant when his lifetime pursuit of knowledge is medicine? Finally, is Moses insane, possessed, haunted (perhaps a clue, at least metaphorically, as the storyline running is titled “Haunted House”) or is he just some kind of sleeper agent?
Answers, along with, of course, new questions, start to come in issue #5 of the series. Through a series of flashbacks and surreal sequences, we slowly start to get some insight into Moses’ past, and just who is speaking the voice in Moses’ head. Interestingly enough, it turns out to be himself or an earlier version of himself. A version that was trained under extreme circumstances, (i.e. while at the firing range: “every time you miss your target…you will be punished with electric shock”), including physical and mental, and meets face to face with whom we can only understand to be the original Unknown Soldier, very near the end of this days, if the oxygen mask his is depicted to be wearing is to be taken as indicative as such. Moses in his current life though, appears to have no memory of this former life.
While we have yet to be clued in by Dysart on the story behind this original Unknown Solider, he appears, in what few panels he actually does appear, to be a character quite similar in his political and moral, or rather amoral, outlook to Ennis’ incarnation of the character. While Ennis’ character was an updated and current version of the Soldier who appeared in DC’s Star Spangled Tales back in the ‘70’s, (see DC Showcase Presents: The Unknown Soldier for a collection of these early and engaging tales) albeit with much more of a modern moral ambiguity about his character, his methods were often unsettling and controversial, and it remains to be seen how Moses, as our new Unknown Soldier, plays out his morality.
Towards the end of the issue, we get Moses seeming to abandon his role as solider by telling the CIA operative assigned to watch him, “Go back. Tell them whatever they wanted from me—however they did this—Whether it’s real or I’m crazy…It’s over. I am going to see my wife. I’m going back to my life. That’s it.” By the last pages of the issue though, Moses is forced to spring into action again when the local warlord’s troops come calling.
All of Dysart’s realistic, and in many ways sorrowful as much as violent, storytelling is translated excellently to image by Ponticelli’s pencils whose jagged and jittery images create a sense of ragged and ambiguous violence. While some of the anatomy of his renderings of men, women, and children is out of proportion, it brings a deliberate surrealism to the tale, and creates a subtle horror as if we are catching a glimpse of the disjointed and heaped up corpses that these living bodies potentially are one misplaced, or worse yet deliberate, gun shot away from.
Finally, with each issue, Dysart has been giving us a full page of his well researched history of the region and back story behind the conflict. The inclusion of these short “history lessons” adds a reality that grounds the unreality of the tale of a super soldier, and very nearly drives away all the escapism possible through the reading of this book. This book though isn’t necessarily meant to be simple escapism but a series of commentaries on a serious issue, and this is what makes Unknown Soldier a great, and worthy read.