There’s a weird little renaissance, flying under most people’s radar, of the World War II action epic these days. Marvel went back to the Sgt. Fury well, though I’ve mostly been bored with Peacemaker. DC brought out the elder Kubert for one (hopefully not last) hurrah with Sgt. Rock and the Easy Co. boys, though I think I would have preferred The Prophesy to just come out all at once in a prestige hardcover, as the slow pace is making the monthly format a bit of a chore.
And last – and presumably least, judging by the under 10,000 copies sold per issue – is Wildstorm’s Team Zero. The sales figures are a real shame, because this is the best series of the three.
Team Zero wraps up as a richer story experience than the other two series have given us so far. The first two issues showed Deathblow on some early missions, then forming an elite commando team. Like so many of the best World War II films, we don’t just see a squad going on a mission and fighting and dying. We see them gel, and that’s so often the best part. The last four issues have been the team’s mission, dropping into eastern Germany as the Soviets close in, racing to secure the German scientists whose knowledge would fuel the arms achievements and space race of the next several decades.
As anyone who’s read much World War II history knows, the closing months of the war in Europe were marked by tension between the so-called allies of Russia and America. Tales of Russian atrocities left generals as prominent as George S. Patton wishing the war could just push on eastward so the Communist bastards wouldn’t have the opportunity to enslave half of Europe.
In Team Zero, it’s pleasantly cathartic to see at least a few Russians get theirs. Dixon manipulates us into hating the Russians, of course, by using the tried and true method of having those filthy cossacks haul off a 16-year-old girl to be raped, but that scene in issue #4 served as a necessary catalyst for all the backs-to-the-wall action that pushed Deathblow’s team to the edge throughout the rest of the series.
This final issue involves some outrageous battle action that never devolves to campy mano-a-mano John Woo crap, yet still gives the heroes a final blaze of glory anyway.
I can’t say enough about Doug Mahnke’s art on this series. He has become just about my favorite artist, and I will follow him anywhere – even to opaque, confusing stories such as Justice League Elite. His characters are distinguishable on the page, the grit of his line work makes you almost smell the cordite, and he knows how to draw military hardware consistently. (Unlike that embarrassing page in Black Panther an issue or two back where a single squadron of fighter planes morphed from F-14’s to F-15’s to F-16’s … all on the same freaking page! What, did you think only your mother would be looking at it? Comics remain largely a boys’ world, and we damn sure know the difference between a Tomcat and a Hornet. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.)
The art in this final issue does suffer a bit from the inconsistency of the inks. Sandra Hope was the flawless, perfect match for Mahnke through issues #1-5, but only finished a third of this final issue. Mahnke himself inks the last few pages, which is possibly justified by the slight shift in tone of the story at that point, but a third inker, Drew Geraci, throws in for half the book, and the shift is noticeable. For the life of me, I can’t understand why Wildstorm editorial didn’t make it a priority to maintain the artistic integrity of this closing issue by doing what needed to be done to keep Hope on the inks for the whole book. Scheduling shouldn’t have been a problem, since fewer than 10,000 of us would have noticed if the last issue came out a few weeks late. I simply can’t stand it when a truly beautiful comic peters out at the end with a shift to lesser artists in the closing chapters.
Interestingly, Chuck Dixon has again crafted this war series around the ugliness of the Russians and the sympathetic nature of the Germans at war’s end – much like the last WWII book of his I read, Iron Ghost. Here, we see moments of heroism from the young, innocent German boys who were forced to put on uniforms for the Fuhrer’s last stand.
I have to thank Beau Smith for mentioning this book in his “Busted Knuckles” column here at SBC a few months ago. As a rule, I don’t usually pick up Wildstorm books. I’m definitely glad I did with this one.
Don’t let the low sales numbers fool you. Team Zero displays the modern comic craft at its finest. Next time I see Chuck Dixon and Doug Mahnke together in the cover credits, I’m buying the book. Man, think of what these guys could have done for that Marvel flop telling the “true stories” of G.I.s in Iraq last year.