ADVANCE REVIEW! Shooters will go on sale Wednesday, April 18, 2012.
No matter how all of us feel about the war in Iraq, it's undeniable that the war has happened very much out of the public eye, away from our ordinary attention and away from our everyday lives. Unlike virtually every other war in American history, the sacrifices of our solders and the horrors and everyday intensity of their lives are shuffled off to the periphery of our vision. The Iraq War is invisible to nearly any of us who don't have a close friend or loved one in the military. It's just that horrible war that's happening on the other side of the world.
It's easier that way, if we don't think about the war. That way we can continue to be angry at George W. Bush and his chicken hawk warriors who sent Americans to fight in a fake war for oil, to protect America from weapons of mass destruction that were never actually real.
If we don't think about the war, we don't have to think of the thousands of brave Americans who followed their family traditions or their patriotic spirit and volunteered to risk their lives thousands of miles away from their friends and family in order to obey their country's orders and fight for their country.
"This is what it all comes down to. All the bullshit about God and Country, duty and honor. About money. It's just this: men with guns, doing their best to kill other men with guns."
Those words are spoken by Terry Goss, Chief Warrant Office, U.S. Army, stationed in Point Cedar, Iraq, as this graphic novel begins. Terry's a pretty ordinary soldier, really. He's smart, he's professional, has several good friends and an important role to play in the military as this story begins.
That is to say, before Terry gets put through the grinder.
Because we come to see the war through Terry's eyes. We see the true and deep friendships that can grow in a war zone, and the absolute physical and emotional devastation of horrific battles that wreak terrible, life-destroying devastation at the hands of soldiers barely old enough to drive. We see Terry suffer horrible injuries that don't just scar his legs but also scar his life.
Through Terry, we see the horrible toll that war takes on so many soldiers. Returning to Fort Lewis, in the Seattle area, Terry suffers emotional pain that is the equal of his physical pain. He's a tremendously strong man, but the emotional battering he takes upon returning to America is even worse than the physical battering he takes in Iraq.
We see Terry's pain as his marriage seems to disintegrate right before our eyes, and we feel the terrible guilt he feels about abandoning his daughter — maybe the worst pain that any parent can face. We see Terry humbled as he tries to find decent work in a terrible economy, and see him finally give in to his pride and take a new job that has complex implications for him.
Terry becomes a perfect example of a character who is both specifically himself and symbolic of a whole group of people. As we witness Terry's struggles, we get a sense of the life of an American soldier over the last few years, a sense of the endless, mindless, soul-crushing drudgery mixed with excitement mixed with a tremendous sense of pride in all the work that a soldier does.
It's a complicated emotional mix of intense elements, and the team of Trautmann, Jerwa and Leiber handle those events with a sense of deep empathy that really makes this story compelling. You can really feel the passion that this team brings to Terry's life and career, feel the empathy that they have for this man and the pain that he goes through in his life. There's a feeling throughout this book that Terry, a composite character, represents many men and women that the creators know, men and women who also feel the intense emotions that our main character feels here.
One of the great things about comics is that it can bring complex stories down to a perfect, gem-like simplicity that nevertheless tells a large, complex story. You can't really get more complex and intense than the Iraq War, but even in the midst of considering the war's impact, the creators bring a perfect little moment that crystallizes everything perfectly.
Shooters does a remarkable job of presenting a longform war comic for our era. In Terry Goss, we see some of the complex, difficult, intense problems that a war like this brings to the surface. We also see the glory, camaraderie and patriotism that American soldiers show every day. It's specific and it's general and it's tragic and a bit heroic, too. And in the end, I think we all hope we feel a bit of the closure that Terry feels at the end of this smart, moving and intense graphic novel. Shooters brings the Iraq War to the front of our minds. And shouldn't it always have been there?