I tried to do something different for this review of Eric Trautmann, Brandan Jerwa and Steve Lieber's excellent original graphic novel, Shooters, and I just plain screwed it up. I liked the book so much that I thought it would be interesting to see what actual soldiers thought of the book. So when it came out, I bought a copy and lent it to a buddy of mine who was in the Army years ago to get his opinion. He loved it, as well, and when I was asking him about the book he gave me the exact insights I was hoping for. So that inspired me to go further and I bought another copy and asked if he could give the two copies to other friends of his from his Army days (he always tells me about how all his old Army pals ask him about comics a lot. It's always amazing to me how many late 40 year old guys have fond memories about their comic-reading days) so I could get their reactions, as well. He agreed. But now, four months later, I still haven't received any word from them. So my apologies to the creative team of this great comic for delaying my review of the book for something that I thought would be a clever approach and instead turned out to fail miserably.
The reason I wanted to hear from an actual member of the military is because I was absolutely fascinated by the way that Trautmann and Jerwa spotlight that unique experience military service gives people, something that separates them from civilians and as we see in Shooters, provides a tremendous obstacle in trying to recover from the trauma of combat when you return home.
Something that I have noticed about comic books in general is that they tend to do an excellent job when it comes to dealing with so-called "hidden" ailments. For instance, how many comic books have you read dealing with depression? A lot, right? Well, a lot if you read independent comics, that is (although I am sure there are good examples involving superheroes, as well).
Hidden ailments are at the heart of Shooters, a tale of a soldier named Terry. We meet Terry as he gives us an unromantic view of war, boiling it down to men with guns trying to kill other men with guns...
Through a tragic screw-up, there is a friendly fire incident and most of Terry's unit is killed...
Adding insult to injury, the incident is so embarrassing that the Army wants to cover it up, so only Terry will be receiving a medal and only then because his father is a Colonel.
So that's the basic set-up for the book. Terry dealing with his life after the war. Trying to have his fallen comrades honored. Trying to physically recover from his injuries. Trying to deal with his post-traumatic stress. But mostly, trying to move on with his life...something he just can't seem to do.
The PTSD aspect of the book is fascinating, because like depression, how can you possibly understand it unless you actually lived through it? Here, Trautmann and Jerwa shine as they do their damndest to get us to understand something that we can never really understand.
Never is this more tragic than in Terry's interactions with his wife (who left him while he was overseas) and his daughter, who he moves back in with while in recovery...
Terry is in this bizarre position where he needs them to understand his feelings while he can't say a thing to them ABOUT how he is feeling. It is just painful to watch.
As is Terry's assimilation back into society. His interactions with others is really rough at times...
After all of these page samples, this is a great time to point out how amazing Steve Lieber is. I mean, we all knew he was a great artist already, but goddamn did he kill it in this book. Some of his best work. The action sequences were laid out beautifully and the character work (always a highlight of a Steve Lieber work) is stellar. I am always amazed at how he can convey so much emotion with such simple lines. I can only imagine how much subtext this work would have lost with an inferior artist, as often so much of the story is captured in the expressions on the faces of the characters.
Something that interested me and that I made sure to ask my friend is the aspect of what it is like to be a veteran as opposed to an active soldier. He explained to me that it really is a bizarre transition. In the Army, you are so conditioned to think of yourself as both a part of a whole but also that there is some invisible barrier that separates you from other people. I was struck by that comment, as that's exactly the feeling that I got from this book (in fact, discussing that aspect of the book is what compelled me to get my friend involved. I was asking him how accurate it sounded and he said very much so and he asked about the book which made me think, "Hey, this would be a great idea to have an actual soldier read it"). This detachment from society is further magnified when Terry takes a job as a private military operator later in the book, after he realizes that the highly specialized skills he has in the military only leave him prepared to do grunt work in the "real world." And once he is working for a private firm, we see a new (and fairly tragic) disconnect - Terry was cut off from the rest of the world due to his experiences as a soldier. Well, now that he is a private military operator, he is cut off from the military, as well. To the soldiers in the Middle East, he is no longer one of them - he is essentially a civilian. So he is in the middle of the same shit that the soldiers are in, only he does not have the brotherhood, the same brotherhood that drove him to tirelessly fight to get some dead soldiers some honor. As you might imagine, this does not sit well with Terry.
Then something happens while he is an operator. I won't spoil it, but just note that it is pretty gripping stuff. It really challenges Terry to his core of who he wants to be. Is he really just a guy with a gun shooting other guys with guns? Is he only a shooter? Or can he get past that?
Anyhow, it's an excellent graphic novel and you should all go pick it up. I mean, come on, people, Steve Lieber does the art! Steve freakin' Lieber! Trautmann and Jerwa tell a great tragic story that is very compelling. You can never really experience what Terry experienced, but this comic will bring you as close as anyone could bring you.