$1 Comic Review: Rick Veitch’s Army @ Love
Living as I do in a suburb north of Austin I am fortunate enough to have a large second hand/discount bookshop nearby. On the other hand, as it is located far from where all the cool Bohemian types live, it has a fairly mediocre selection. Even so this is sometimes to my advantage, as whenever something interesting or unusual does arrive I have absolutely no competition from the locals who are exclusively interested in DC/Marvel pap. Indeed, so uninterested are they in anything remotely on the fringes that practically anything European or “alternative” will migrate to the $1 clearance racks after about six months. And by alternative, I include licensed junk published by BOOM! Yes, friends, my neighbors are that reactionary in their tastes.
And so patient as a Zen master, I lie in wait for my books to cost almost nothing. Currently I am waiting for Joann Sfar’s The Rabbi’s Cat to migrate to that shelf. It’s not there yet, but it will be soon. It’s far too French and Algerian and Jewish you see and it doesn’t even have Wolverine in it. That said, a lot of what I pick up on the cheap is pretty crap, and there’s some stuff I won’t even touch for a buck. I respect Howard Chaykin quite highly as a cartoonist, but his name alone will not persuade me to pick up the DIE HARD book he knocked off a few years back. I might have if he’d drawn it, but when Chaykin is on script duties only I steer clear.
Rick Veitch is another cartoonist I am not against, although he is not in Chaykin’s league. But when I saw both collected volumes of his Vertigo series Army @ Love on the $1 rack I snapped them up pretty quickly. I only had a vague idea what it was about- some kind of revival of war and romance comics with a satirical edge. Meanwhile I was pretty sure that a friend had picked them up from a comic shop near the huge military base at Fort Hood and told me they were utter shit, but interesting in that they represented an attempt at doing something new with the form. So what the heck I gambled a buck (or actually $2.16 since I bought two books and sales tax was charged), and returned home to see what Veitch had been up to since the last time I read one of his comics. For the record, that was an issue of Rare Bit Fiends, the dream journal he self published back in the 90s when many creators of his generation fantasized that all things were possible.
So I sat down with volume 1, The Hot Zone Club and was immediately put off by the hyperbolic praise on the cover, e.g.: “An amazingly racy and ruthless satire/critique of a never-ending war in Afghanistan” said Entertainment Weekly. “This is a book full of the kind of wild ideas that comics used to do all the time. Grade: A-” Variety. Neither of those publications are a good guide to anything, and there was also effusive guff from a few of the alternative weeklies that have not yet shut up shop. High praise from dubious sources is usually a strong sign you are holding a piece of shit in your hands, and given its vintage I knew I was most likely staring at some excruciatingly leaden Bush- era “satire” but I opened the covers and dived in nonetheless.
And yes indeed, it was excruciatingly leaden Bush-era “satire”. The military-entertainment complex was roundly mocked but in the manic, unfunny way that was common in those halcyon days when bombing foreigners was, like, totally bad, as opposed to now under Obama when it’s tickety-boo. There were soldiers shooting and shagging, and assorted images of great big pneumatic tits- although for some reason Vertigo declined to publish images of schlongs in this excoriating, edgy satire. Would that have been too “mature”? You be the judge.
Anyway, I gave up three issues in when a hippy playing a guitar that was also a weapon of mass destruction or something showed up. I might have been able to keep going if the art had been better but Erskine’s inks transformed all of Veitch’s characters into stiff, glistening rubbery dolls with the same limited set of facial expressions. I suspect the faces were Erskine’s fault rather than Veitch’s as I’ve read The Filth and Erskine deployed the same limited set of expressions in that book also. There’s no excuse for this: artists who cannot draw faces should sit facing a mirror and practice until they get better.
The Verdict: $1= too high a price. If Army @ Love showed up again I wouldn’t even buy it for 50 cents. And as I said earlier, I am not against Rick Veitch; he has done some decent work. I never read the second volume, and both of them wound up donated to my local Goodwill store.