While there can be no question about who Joe Rock is, there are plenty of questions about the pacing and flow of this story. Clearly Rock is experiencing some kind of trauma, but the way it hacks into the story leaves the first half of this issue feeling less complete and more episodic, with fits, starts, and stops in the story and a large number of events happening off-panel, like the explosion of a helicopter.
That Joe Rock story has some moody art by Tom Derenick, but the aforementioned story leaps aren’t helped by even the nicest art from Derenick. To Ivan Brandon’s credit, the off-panel excitement is addressed in dialog between characters and reflective caption boxes, but that handling of the “action” shifts the lead tale to be more filled with talking heads and endless dialog. It’s not boring, but it’s not terribly exciting either.
Brandon layers the story with flashbacks through Rock’s life, giving the story a terminal feeling and adding significant definition to this character who is a mere two months old in publishing history. Those flashbacks are juxtaposed with the current events as Rock’s company attempts to get him to a safe position to properly treat his wounds.
There is a metahuman presence in the Rock story, which gave me mixed feelings. With the meta appearance, there is no question about the connectivity to the DC Universe, but it detracts from the weight of the war story. It also sets a fork in the road for this title: will it be a war book or a superhuman tale that happens around war?
The backup tale — “Human Shields” — by Jonathan Vankin and Phil Winslade continues the tale from last issue, but has little time or space (eight pages) to do anything more than get started. Just as the story does begin, however, Vankin adds in two panels featuring two other characters at a different location. These are the only panels in this issue that those two appear in, which makes their time here forced and disruptive.
All the same, Phil Winslade’s work is solid. Winslade, moreso than many other artists, has a very realistic style that lends itself nicely to this tale of Navy SEALs. In addition to his realistic style, Winslade uses some tense panel angles to deliver the unease of combat situations. Visually it feels like a war movie set on a rapid-fire pause and transcribed to paper.
Unfortunately, the characters are just as thin. It’s great to have a war comic mixed in among the variety of the relaunched DC Universe, but this comic doesn’t do much to distinguish itself beyond sheer page count. The stories are decent, the art is solid, but nothing in this book is amazing or astonishing. The fact that the war story is now going to be mixed up with superhuman action brings this title back into the thick off the pack, rather than letting it excel on its own merits.