Forward: I’ve reviewed the first two installments of Black Powder Red Earth here on Kit Up, and as you may recall I really liked them both…the whole concept is like the weird, illegitimate love child of Syriana, Act of Valor and the stranger from across the street at IRIN News. Since I thought you might like a fresh perspective, something more than ‘Hey, they did it again, great read!’ I asked Mike to take a look at it. You may have heard from other reviewers that this is a great book. Pretend you never heard that, and believe Mike. DR
It’s been a number of years since I picked up a comic book or graphic novel. The last comic I read regularly was The Nam. The last graphic novel I bought was 1989’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth because I love Batman (seriously, who doesn’t?) and the art and story is just fantastic. So, let’s just say I’ve been out of the comic book world for quite awhile. Last year I started hearing about a new military graphic novel series called Black Powder//Red Earth on various gear and military sites. The series was to take place in 2019 in an Iraq that had been split into three separate countries and involved Private Military Contractors (PMC). It sounded interesting but after having spent some time in Iraq on the two-way range I was kind of, well, through with that part of the world for the foreseeable future. I remember thinking, “A comic book about a future Iraq with PMC’s, really?” I pictured muscled, Arnold Schwarzenegger superhero-types spouting pithy one-liners as they gunned down bad guys with an M240 in one hand and an AT4 in the other. No thanks. Not even Dave’s reviews in February and March were enough to get me motivated to read the book, for which I now owe him an apology. Sure, I looked at the panels in the reviews, including watching the videos posted, and they did poke at my interest. The art was good, the dialogue lacked the one liners and there were no muscle bound heroes. Even the action scenes involving weapons looked pretty authentic. But, like I said, I was done with Iraq for the time. Then Dave asked me to take a look at the third installment in the four part series. I did. And I am converted.
What Jon Chang and Kane Smith have created with Black Powder//Red Earth is a realistic look into a possible, and scary, future of Iraq and the men that will work and fight in that environment. The main characters, Grinch and Token, are realistic depictions of men doing very dangerous jobs in the most stressful of environments, the modern battlefield, where no one really knows who the enemy is from day to day. Today’s friends suddenly shift alliances due to various reasons, be it love of country, family, tribal ties–a very real, motivating factor in the Middle East–or simple greed.
The dark reality of Iraq is something that Kane Smith knows well. After serving 9 years on Active Duty with the United States Army and an additional 3 years with the National Guard as both an infantrymen and Special Operations medic, Smith applied to Blackwater and has been doing contracting work since 2005. His experiences overseas set the framework and tone of the story. Like their creator, Grinch and Token are working for a military contracting company called Cold Harbor in this post-Iraq world. Not too much is revealed in the laconic dialogue between the two but both clearly come from a special operations background. This is not an action packed, shoot-em’ up comic. The pace of the story reflects the lifestyle and reality of Grinch and Token’s profession like operations planning sessions, meetings with sources or potential sources, and lots of time driving from one place to the next. However, when the action starts it’s intense, bloody, and accurate. The heroes use real tactics and actually have to reload their weapons.
The artwork is well done and uncluttered with sound effects, no BOOMs or RAAATTTAA of weapons fire here, which adds to the seriousness of the subject matter. This is an adult comic with mature subject matter. Don’t believe me? I’ve seen this comic being sold at more than one local gun store. The illustrations of New Basrah, the city in which the team operates, will stir the memories of anyone that has spent any time on the ground in a Middle Eastern city, particularly Iraq. I know it brought it all back for me, seeing the secure compounds surrounded by concrete T walls, the random looking webs of power lines crisscrossing the streets, and the drawings of the people going about their business while war is all around them.
Black Powder//Red Earth is a graphic novel worthy of your time whether you are a comics fan, veteran, or work in the same world that Grinch and Token inhabit. All three issues are available on Amazon Kindle. Issues 1 and 2 are available from the BPRE site and other retailers.
Note: Issue/Episode 4 is on its way (just went to the printer). It is the culmination of this story arc (and hopefully not the last). Here’s a peak at the art to come. There’s also a new multiplayer game in the works (currently in the Alpha stage).
You might also enjoy Jon Chang’s op-ed commentary about MoH Warfighter (and first person shooter games) here: http://soldiersystems.net/
Watch for BPRE at New York Comic Con.
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