Written by Neal Marshall Stevens
Art by John Bosco
Published by Studio 407
You’re a kid on the carpet, surrounded by war machine. Little plastic war machines and legions of plastic men with names like Gung Ho and Snowjob and Outback. You’re delivering devastation upon the living room, one neon orange projectile harpoon at a time.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s not the guys like Snowjob we were itching to be. It was the tanks themselves. The dreadnoughts and hyperbolically weaponized Humvees. We wanted to be the unstoppable, improbable, larger-than-life war machines.
But what if we actually were? What if soldiers and their war machines were one in the same? What if the robots sentinels of the future weren’t piloted by A.I. mainframes or even controlled remotely from the safety of a radio tower? What if that was us, not just in the tank, but mere millimeters beneath its hide? Such is the promise of mech and mobile suit fiction. The likes of Warhammer 40K and Neon Genesis Evangelion. And I can’t get enough of it.
Havoc Brigade from Studio 407 is the latest exploration into the future of warfare. It’s not the first comic to examine the possibilities and the ramifications of waging battle from inside an armored jump suit. But few have delved so deeply into the human cost of making that drastic leap between soldier and machine.
While this isn’t the prettiest book in the mech genre, the trade paperback collection offers a smartly paced sequence of battles, briefings and pathos. Perhaps it’s the very nature of western storytelling to move at a faster clip, but Havoc Brigade boasts a tighter episode structure than its peers on the manga landscape. Just because there’s exponentially more beats in this story of duty, honor and betrayal doesn’t mean that those actions lack resonance. Indeed, the focus and momentum makes Havoc Brigade a pulse-pounding drama with a real sense of just how merciless our limited time on this planet can be. Decisions have to be made in an instant and there’s little room for error.
The basics? Europe is at war, and such is the escalation that soldiers are ushered into strange molds to augment their physique and dexterity. They become the armored legions of science fiction. It’s essentially like becoming live ammunition, stuffed into a chamber and fired into the heart of battle. It doesn’t go terribly well for many of them. But two men have an aptitude for this kind of warfare. The story gains true momentum in the wake of battle, when super soldiers are called to transition into peacetime domesticity. How does a living weapon cope with solace? Any fan of the genre knows, with certainty, that such warriors simply don’t go gently into that good night. Or they can’t. That’s when things get really, really dark. It’s also when things get far more compelling for us readers.
The battles might not be as polished or grand as the best in the giant robot or mobile suit sub genre, but the force behind each swing, each rocket-powered vault or dive, has palpable weight and direction. This isn’t a battle of good vs. evil. This is cloak and dagger, friend against friend, student against mentor. And it’s going to smart in the morning.
Story: 3.5 / Art: 2.5 / Overall: 3
(Out of 5 Stars)
Pick up Havoc Brigade TPB on Amazon.