The opening (and only multi-issue) story arc of “Men of War” comes to a close as writer Ivan Brandon departs the series. After two standalone issues, the series ends only to be replaced by “G.I. Combat” and it’s a wonder why it doesn’t simply end with this issue. The story focusing on Sgt. Rock and his detail’s mission-gone-wrong reaches a satisfying and appropriate conclusion here. When the ‘New 52’ launched, “Men of War” stood out as one of the few different comics in a sea of superheroes; it has shown itself to be complex and subtle in the story it has told. Fans of Brandon’s work on “Doc Savage” or “Nemesis” won’t be surprised by what he does in this book or the way that he does it.
Captured by a group of seemingly immortal soldiers, all from different past wars and conflicts, Sgt. Rock and his team find themselves in a confusing situation that they clearly weren’t prepared for. What looked like a ‘simple’ mission has taken so many surprising turns, including the revelation that one of the men has superhuman abilities, that the opening scene where Rock calls for help and receives indications that his superiors knew about Prior Hearst and his group of mercenaries isn’t so much a surprise as a confirmation that, yes, these men have been put in a position where they’ll most likely die. It’s only the determination of Rock that pulls them through.
Hearst is an enigmatic character, a symbolic one both in his name and appearance. The name obviously evokes William Randolph Hearst and his role in manufacturing the Spanish-American War. This Hearst seems to represent a similar role in the Middle East, albeit for a different purpose than selling newspapers. Visually, Tom Derenick depicts him in a vague soldier’s uniform and features that resemble Rock’s. He’s the undying soldier that exists to perpetuate conflict, creating it when necessary. One of the most stunning parts of this issue is after he is shot by Rock and gets an unnerved look on his face before returning to his stoic look of determination. The conflict between the two embodies the title of the comic and the different paths those ‘men of war’ can take.
A lovely surprise in this issue is Richard Corben providing the art on the back-up strip, a story about a reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg that sees the ghosts of Confederate soldiers possess the reenactors. The story itself is slight, but Corben’s work is evocative and grotesque in the best sense of the word. The possessions and ensuing battle are absolutely gorgeous. He gets across the monstrous bloodthurst of the scene with a mixture of dark and almost cartoony humor. It’s a nice treat for readers of the series.
With the departure of Ivan Brandon, “Men of War” will stagger on for two additional issues, but this feels like the true conclusion of the series. The confrontation of Rock with the face of endless war calls back to the first issue perfectly. “Men of War” was one of the best titles of the ‘New 52’ and it will be missed.