I have no idea what to make of this comic book. I’m usually a big Kyle Baker fan, but this book has just perplexed me on every level. It’s some sort of ungainly hybrid of war comics, humor comics and Frank Miller comics, mashed together, slow roasted for a few days, and then genetically enhanced with Looney Tunes animation.
I’m not even sure I liked it; in fact, I probably didn’t, but it was such a strange reading experience that I can’t wait to go through it again to see if I can figure out what Baker’s intention was for this Frankenstein’s monster. Within pages of the book’s opening, Zone, an autistic soldier (whose military status was inspired by a real one!), and Felony, a three-time loser looking to avoid jail time, are the only survivors of a U.S. squad in Iraq. Their mission to capture the leader of an insurgency leader appears dead on arrival, but Zone – tailor-made for military life, with a single-minded focus on his objective – won’t let it go, and Felony is along for the ride.
On some pages, Baker is channeling a Frank Miller-esque noir-pastiche, with full-page splash pages and grizzled monologues turned up to the 12th degree. Other pages, he goes into topical satire, with a rundown of the fringe benefits mercenaries in the warzone have that U.S. military lack. Torture jokes follow. It’s a book that’s so smart it wallows in stupidity, and the dichotomy doesn’t always work in its favor.
Baker’s artwork has evolved in interesting ways. He does nearly everything on computers now, and maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but it still looks its best when he’s giving the illusion of pen and ink drawings. He knows how to use shadow, and how to lay out a comic book page. His caricaturing is especially effective at depicting the outrageous cast of soldiers, mercs, terrorists, and murdering children (yes) Zone and Felony encounter. The coloring is mostly solid, although a few pages and panels have a noticeably tint that threatens to overpower the line art. Some of the backgrounds, the CG elements, don’t entirely mesh with the line art elements, as they have a hard quality that isn’t present elsewhere. For example, when Zone and Felony chase their foe into a facility full of hidden weapons of mass destruction, the factory and missiles were clearly composed separately from the character figures.
Special Forces is an intriguing book, and there are moments throughout it that surprise and startle me. Yet the humor doesn’t always come through, and it’s too overamped to be taken seriously as an action piece. Sometimes a book succeeds by swerving when you least expect it, but Special Forces isn’t quite able to manage the feat. It’s a curiosity, and fans of Kyle Baker will find a few positive moments within. However, it’s not really a book for action fans, nor for comedy fans, so I’m not sure who Baker intended as Special Forces‘ audience.