Review: ‘Special Forces #1’

It happens that this book came out two days before I went into the hospital. Normally, when we do our audio show, we work out what books we’d like to talk about ahead of time. This book was at the top of my list to discuss, yet it turned out that I didn’t make it to that episode.

But Special Forces #1 was one of those books I just can’t put a bead on. I have no idea if this was any good or bad. I just know that I’m relentlessly curious about it, and while it mostly felt familiar, I’ve never read anything like this.

We mentioned Kyle Baker in our humor episode, but to label him as solely a funny cartoonist doesn’t really do him justice. He’s a real cartoonist, doing all sorts of different work. It’s nearly impossible to pin down, much like Special Forces itself.

So basically what you have here is a war parody, taking place during the current Iraq War. There’s a bad girl turned soldier, and she’s in a unit with several other people, most notably a severely autistic soldier named Zone. This is based on a true event, as will supposedly most of what happens in this six issue mini-series.

Now, I’ve read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, so I’ve got a passing familiarity with autism, and how it’s different than mental retardation, and I must say that, as a concept, this is infinitely interesting. At the same time, it could go horribly wrong as well.

And that’s the thing I’m up in the air about. I think I liked this. I certainly wanted to like this, but I’m just not sure if I do. It wasn’t the kind of thing where I said, “this is just awful, and I don’t want to read it anymore.” I just didn’t know what I thought.

I think I can tell you what threw me off though. This book is graphic. Graphic violence doesn’t bother me, except for when it doesn’t belong, or just doesn’t feel right. And I’m okay with the violence in here. The first page sort of sets the tone, and besides, from what I understand, going to war in Iraq is rather violent. But the sort of female narrator just gets her clothes blown off more and more until she’s basically in a bikini. I’m just not sure why. This seems gratuitous, and so far, I don’t know what it has to do with the point of the story. Of course, this is just the first issue, so perhaps there will be some relevant social commentary, and it’s just too early to tell.

I’m also somewhat conscious of how far off the rails a story can go dealing with a current and controversial topic like this war. I mean, we’ve all got our own opinion, and within those broader opinions, there are hundreds of variations, depending on your politics, experience, and worldview. So, making a comment on the war at this stage is risky for alienation. I like the idea that Baker is ballsy enough to do it, but I don’t know how it will turn out. I suppose that’s the point of art though, and I’m certainly willing to go through with it to find out.

What doesn’t hurt is Baker’s cartooning. He’s a master, who’s clearly studied the previous masters. There’s something about cartoons that work for me when exploring more mature topics. Perhaps it’s the contrast in what you expect and what you’re getting, but a realistic style on a book like this wouldn’t work. It’s obvious that Baker put a lot of love and sweat into this. He claims it’s the best work he’s ever done. If you look at his blog, his personal pride in this work is obvious, and you love to see this from creators.

So basically, I can’t tell you it’s going to be great. I can’t tell you if you’ll like it. But I can tell you that it definitely deserves some attention. If you’re curious, you might want to give it a shot. If nothing else, I’m fairly certain this will be thought provoking, and I’m sure that can’t be too bad of a thing.


  1. I don’t know why I gave this a shot. It could be just that I read so many superhero books that when something by Image comes out that isn’t superheroes I feel like I am obligated to give it a shot. It could have been the scantily glad buxom soldier on the cover. I honestly don’t know which. Anyway. I liked it enough to be willing to pick up the second one, but I think it is too early to give a more in depth opinion. I’ll definitly be waiting to hear talk about it on future podcasts.

  2. I almost didn’t pick this up, but was glad I did. As I read it, I didn’t know to laugh at or feel sorry for the characters – a lot of the time, it was both- which lead to a somewhat uncomfortable read.

    However, it is really, really well done. Very clear storytelling and it does seem Baker does have a point to make. His art is still cartoony, but not with those bright Truth/I Die At Midnight colors. I also like the juxtaposition of the cartoon telling a serious war story.

    I’m on for the rest of the series.

    And Josh, you must still be recovering from surgery if a little female form seems gratuitous.

  3. Hey, I love T&A as much as the next dude, but there’s a time and a place, and I haven’t been able to see how it fits in with this yet.

  4. Not only is is gratuitous but illogical. The character herself comments on how she gets broken glass cutting up her elbows every time and complains about her lack of protection, yet she goes out to warzone in daisy dukes and a tank top. She’s not supposed to be an idiot so I don’t know if it’s a metaphor, symbolism or just pandering.

  5. This is what I’m saying. But, I’m not so annoyed as to not stick around. Overall, I’m definitely in.

  6. I’m not dropping it either, at least not yet. The story so far is OK in a Sin City sorta way, and artwork is great (that helicopter going through the wall was pretty sweet).

  7. Not only is is gratuitous but illogical. The character herself comments on how she gets broken glass cutting up her elbows every time and complains about her lack of protection, yet she goes out to warzone in daisy dukes and a tank top.

    Sounds like the female nudity is comedically placed, along with the gay and the autistic. “Special” Forces, right?

  8. I may be over reading it, but I think this comic is a parody about perception of war.

    For example, the chick with the guns and the bikini may be a reference to all the big studio war movies that embellish violence but never show consequences (not unlike recruitment agents).

    This for me is showing, in a very sordid kind of way, a place where cliche-ridden fiction meets a gruesome reality.

    But that’s just how I read it.

  9. I adore a lot of Kyle Baker’s work. I’d have bought this if my shop had carried it. I wish they had a myspace or something so that could remember to tell them that I want things like this and that Johnathan Lethem book when I go in there.

    I don’t know if that made any sense.

  10. I may be over reading it, but I think this comic is a parody about perception of war… But that’s just how I read it.

    That’s how I read it also, although I think it’s more of a parody about how the government wants us to think about this war more than a parody of big Hollywood movies – and to go any further would reduce the matter to a political debate, so I’ll just end there.

    And I probably should have put the little winking emoticon at the end bit about Josh not liking the bikini lady, but I just hate emoticons.

  11. Emoticons are a necessary evil if you’re gonna use any form of sarcasm on the internet. But I know what you mean.