Friday, October 15, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 254 (10/15) -- Shooting War by Lappe and Goldman

There's a seductive power to stories in which everything goes to hell in the near future -- if the trends are chosen correctly for the audience, we all like the feeling of standing athwart history and yelling STOP, and we like the feeling of being smugly right. Even better, in fiction the corpses are made of ink and not blood, making righteousness that much cheaper.

Shooting War is still set in the near future, but only barely so -- within a year it will be an entirely alternate history, one of the few fictional worlds in which the Iraq War went even worse than it did in our "real world." But it's an artifact of 2006 and 7, of the middle years of that war, the escalating terrorist threats and the bunker mentality. As it happened, things went differently -- went in a more complicated, gnarly direction, as life always does [1] -- in our world than in the one depicted in Shooting War.

Jimmy Burns is a minor Brooklyn vlogger -- and that's a word I haven't seen much in the past few years, despite video getting cheaper and easier by the day -- with a decidedly leftist, anti-corporatist bent and only a small audience. But he happens to be ranting live in front of a Starbucks that's blown up by a swarthy terrorist, and that catapults him into momentary mega-fame, and then a job at "Global News Network," which sends him to Baghdad in a random attempt to get more eyeballs.

The Iraq War has gone very badly, with running militia firefights in the cities and vast areas that seem to be no-go zones for even the US military. As far as we can see in Shooting War, there's no exit strategy, no plan, and no hope; the US will flee -- in a very unsubtle Vietnam parallel -- sometime soon, and things will all go to hell. A measure of how badly it's going is that President McCain's soldier son is a prisoner of some hostile group, and seemingly has been for some time.

Jimmy stumbles through what should be the apocalyptic landscape of Baghdad -- though artist Dan Goldman was ungainly in its photorealism at this point, with at least a half dozen stiff figures per page and lots of panels that don't work -- making mistakes that he doesn't learn from, and getting captured by a new faction calling itself the Sword of Mohammed (and then being released, which is retrospect is utterly ridiculous). The plot wanders: if one wanted to be positive, it could be said to be mimicking the fog of war, but it feels more like writer Anthony Lappe was running down a checklist of themes, moments, and ideas he wanted to incorporate. And then the book ends once that checklist is, after the big confrontation between the obligatory psychotic US troop leader and the equally obligatory messianic lunatic Muslim militia leader.

Shooting War has generally been called a satire, but it's not really big or extreme enough for that label: all of the events are very much like what has actually happened in Iraq (and other wars), without the exaggeration of good satire. (It's also not funny in the way a satire is supposed to be.) It's a tough look at war, from the point of view of a guy who doesn't take it seriously until he gets too much of other people's blood on him, and it's a compelling story, despite the occasional lapses on the art side.

[1] A telling moment in Shooting War has Bill O'Reilly ranting against our hero -- but, in the five years since this story was told, he's either settled into quieter elder newsman-dom or been lapped in the crazy right-wing derby by Glenn Back, so O'Reilly's rant, and the fact that he's the one ranting, feels quaint.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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