Here’s the trouble — and it’s been the trouble since issue #1, really — Josh Dysart is in the position of trying to say something about Uganda, about America, and about violence, but he’s also trying to tell a thrilling action comic about a tormented, and reluctant, warrior.
Dysart has walked that tightrope pretty well over the last few issues, allowing the social message to peer through from behind the up-close train wreck of a man trying to turn his hatred into vengeance and trying to turn his vengeance into hope. But this month, the plot slows down a bit to set a few more plot mechanisms into motion, and when that happens, the social consciousness of the comic overwhelms the story.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes this issue one of the weaker installments thus far.
Still, there’s plenty to appreciate in issue #11, and even more that bodes well for the future direction of this series. Moses Lwanga is more directionless than ever, but he’s now inside the sphere of influence of Jack, the ex-C.I.A. (or is he still C.I.A.) operative with some kind of shady connection with the Garth Ennis incarnation of the Unknown Soldier. And maybe that’s part of the problem, this directionlessness of the protagonist, Lwanga. It creates plenty of story possibilities, but it doesn’t lend itself to strong issue-to-issue narrative force. And until we get a better sense of who Lwanga is — we know he’s a liberal doctor turned victim turned killer, but that’s more what he’s done that who he is — he’ll just be the guy we’re forced to follow through the story. But not compelled.
Lwanga and Jack, though — that’s compelling, because we know that twists and turns are imminent. Of course, Lwanga still has to save the Angelina Jolie analogue he wanted to kill just a couple of issues ago. So we’ll see how that plays out.
“Unknown Soldier” #11 isn’t a bad issue at all, but it’s middle-of-the-road 21st century Vertigo, and this series could use a bit more cutting loose. It could use a bit more personal drama, and a bit less social message. You can see Dysart striving for that, but it’s not quite working fully. Not this time.