Creatively, the first few issues of Men of War has been a fine (if a bit flawed) addition to the New 52, a solid but largely unspectacular main story, a killer premise, all brought down in part by a severely lacking back-up feature raising the price. Men of War #4 doesn’t completely fix the issues I’ve had with the series thus far (too many stories ending in superhuman deus ex machina, too little focus on the military’s adaptation to superhumanity), but it does resolve at least one major issue: the back-up feature here is not only good, it’s better than the main piece.
The main plot follows Rock and his men after the shocking revelation that one of their own was a superhuman (with extremely powerful, vaguely defined abilities) trying desperately to escape. They’re trapped in hostile territory, hunted by a mysterious, hyper-competent enemy, and harboring a hated superhuman in their own midst. And they need to escape. It’s a solid premise, and the execution this issue is far, far stronger than last month’s more tepid issue.
There may be some interesting analogues Brandon is going for with Korba, the self-hating soldier who is inadvertently ‘outed’ as a superhuman to his fellows and then subsequently alienated. Korba is, after all, a good soldier, but one driven to hate himself for something inside of him he can’t control and desperately hides. In fact, the book’s strongest moment is a two-page conversation between Korba and Rock, in which Korba describes how he feels:”There’s something broke inside me. I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know how to make it right.”
Along with that, the issue features a pretty great action sequence, one of the best of the series, as Rock, glad in a gas mask and disoriented from a chemical weapon attack, takes on a truck full of enemies by himself. It’s a clever scene, and the action is well-choreographed by Tom Derenick, whose art (particularly when it comes to action) has improved significantly from the book’s earliest issue.
But the back-up is what truly has me excited for more. The story, titled “Skull ‘Bots”, is an eight-page short story by B. Clay Moore with art by Paul McCaffrey, deals with the U.S. military field-testing some super-technology – a mech battlesuit for one of their warriors, like a clunky Iron Man. Unfortunately, the suit quickly malfunctions, and the real brilliance of the story is found afterwards, when Moore takes a surprising detour into the bizarre realm of federal funding for weapons testing. It’s an easy joke to make, but they make it well, and in a story that deals explicitly with the book’s core concept (much more so than the lackluster three-part “Navy Seals, Human Shields” story): how the advent of superhumanity changed warfare.
Now running with two solid stories, this is the first month I can recommend Men of War without reservation. If the book manages to maintain the quality of both sections, it will be a very good book; if writer Ivan Brandon can find a way to widen the scope of the main stories a bit (or tighten the plots), it could become a great one. Still, for its unique point of view and solid creative teams, Men of War is worth checking out, and Men of War #4, perhaps better than any issue before it, shows why I hope the series will succeed.
– Cal C.