I liked the debut of “Unknown Soldier.” In fact, I liked it a lot. Joshua Dysart’s story of war-torn Uganda and a doctor who becomes an agent for an unknown force opened up with a strong gut-punch of a first issue. Armies of children, medical missions of mercy being attacked, danger lurking around every corner. But we’re now on the eighth issue of “Unknown Soldier” and I am starting to fear that the book is falling into a rut.
Part of the problem, I think, is that by placing “Unknown Soldier” into a real situation, Dysart’s quickly written himself into a corner. The problems in Uganda are so big, so massive, that there’s just no way that Dr. Moses Lwanga can solve them. At the same time, though, it doesn’t seem to be marching towards the idea that Moses (as the new Unknown Soldier) can simply walk away from this war-torn country. So instead, this new issue of “Unknown Soldier” feels a lot like the previous seven issues of “Unknown Soldier.” We’re well past the set-up portion of the series, but it’s the same situations that we first saw seven months ago.
Alberto Ponticelli’s art is as solid as ever, here. I like how he draws people, with their slightly stringy hair, their grungy faces, the debris scattering the ground and the houses. “Unknown Soldier” isn’t set in shining and crisp cities, it’s set on the edges of civilization, where all the rules are breaking down. In some ways Ponticelli’s art reminds me almost as if someone had merged Eduardo Risso’s smooth shapes and lines with Timothy Bradstreet’s grit and tight shading into a single unit. It may seem clean and cheerful at first, but the more you get into it, the more Ponticelli is able to bring the dark and grim to life.
Reading “Unknown Soldier” makes me think less of an ongoing series and more of a mini-series that somehow got expanded into a much larger piece. Each issue of “Unknown Soldier” is good, but as part of a greater whole it’s losing impact with each new installment. I hate to say it, but if you skipped some issues between its debut and now, I don’t think you’d have missed too much. Dysart and Ponticelli are talented, and they’ve got a story to tell. But if the pace doesn’t pick up soon (and perhaps a change of locale to another conflict elsewhere in the world), I fear that “Unknown Soldier” is going to quietly stumble into an unmarked grave.