Stories about World War II, whether in comics or movies, tend to follow the same formula: a band of soldiers struggle against a vicious enemy and learn that war is indeed hell. A popular variation on that formula involves the “good guys” learning that the “bad guys” aren’t all that much different from them.
That’s the kind of comic book we’re dealing with here in the ridiculously long-titled “Captain America Theater of War: A Brother in Arms” #1.
Writer Paul Jenkins and penciler John McCrea give us a good version of that formulaic story — one that puts Captain America in the midst of it all, in the role of Geneva Convention rules lawyer — but this one-shot never pushes the boundaries of its formula. Soldiers struggling. Check. War is hell. Check. The enemy is not much different from us. Check.
The only variation is that this story establishes a distinct difference between a regular German soldiers and the Nazis. So when an injured German is taken captive by the Americans (and the American soldiers want to kill him, leading Captain America to lecture them about the rules of war), he becomes the hinge around which this story pivots. It’s as much about their American soldiers’ reaction to their captive as it is about combat. And when Captain America tries to return the German to his army for medical attention — since Cap’s squad lacks the ability to care for him and he would impair their mission if he stayed with them — the Nazis just begin shooting at the unarmed super soldier.
Just in case you somehow missed that “Nazis = bad” was an assumption inherent in the formula.
Yet, it’s hard to fault a war story, particularly a Captain America story, for using Nazis as the ultimate bad guys. And Jenkins imbues this story with a heart and a soul that makes up for its formulaic moralizing. Sure, it’s the same heart and soul you might find in a Kanigher/Kubert “Sgt. Rock” story or in any number of made-for-tv war movies, but the notions of sacrifice and honor always pull at the heart strings and this story is no different.
So when we read about these American soldiers defying the odds to defend their position on the Rembrechtshof Dam as the struggle with the inequity of war and the lessons of brotherhood, it’s an effective piece of storytelling. This comic isn’t much more than you’d expect, based on its title, but it’s a professionally-produced tale that might be worth your time.