Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Trade Grade - The Shield: Kicking Down The Door.

The Shield: Kicking Down The Door (trade paperback)

Written by J. Michael Stracynski and Eric S. Trautmann
Illustrated by Scott McDaniel, Marco Rudy & Mick Gray

Additional art by Cliff Richards, Wayne Faucher, Eduardo Panisca and Eber Ferreira

Cover by Francis Manapul with Jeremy Roberts.

Published by DC Comics

Every so often you come across a series or title that takes an established trope or concept and plays with it in such a way that what was once an old and dusty cliche becomes something completely fresh and entertaining. With the upcoming release of Captain America: The First Avenger in theaters next week I thought it'd be fun to take a look at another star-spangled super-soldier, one that actually predates the good captain by a year and change.

The Shield was a product of a comics company called MLJ, who later went on to divest themselves of their superhero characters in favor of whacky teen hijinks featuring a red-headed teenager named Archie Andrews. The character bounced around a bit until DC Comics took on the MLJ characters, first in their Impact Comics line back in the early '90s, but most recently a few years ago under the pen of their then-hot talent J. Michael Stracynski (he of Twilight Zone and Babylon 5 fame) in a one-shot that later became an ongoing title written by Eric Trautmann.

The updated take is as follows; Lieutenant Joe Higgins is a soldier serving in Afghanistan. His squad is ambushed by hostile forces and he finds himself the sole survivor, albeit mortally wounded. Subjected to a radical procedure, Higgins becomes the U.S. Government's first metahuman asset in the field, given the power of flight, superhuman strength, full access high-spectrum data and tactical input via a nanotech suit of armor that has been grafted into his skin.

It's a fairly classic origin story template, and Stracynski hangs enough guns on the wall to keep the reader intrigued. Trautmann takes up the baton and truly runs with it in Kicking Down The Door, deploying the Shield to investigate a rash of disappearances in Bialya, a nation that was torn apart by a superhuman conflict. As Higgins works to locate the missing men, he also finds himself dealing with the aftermath of a superhuman struggle and the impact of outside intervention--superpowered or otherwise--in the region. It's a nice bit of reality amidst the fantasy that makes the reader think without feeling he's being preached to. Of course, this is balanced by some serious action featuring mind-control and the anti-hero Magog, but like the best escapist fiction there's more here to think about than who is going to punch who in the face.

Of course, what story of a star-spangled super-soldier would be complete without a storyline featuring those whacky nazis, and the trade is rounded out by a storyline in which the Shield finds that some old ghosts won't stay buried. Mechanized robo-nazis, the debut of another MLJ character, and an appearance by the premier hero team of China The Great Ten add up to make the storyline Ghosts a satisfying climax to this collection.

As I said earlier, the best comics I find these days are ones that take the best of what came before and tweak it a bit, work a new angle here and there. Comparisons to Captain America are inevitable, but I found Joe Higgins to be a distinct character all his own. He's a loyal soldier, and a man who clearly has sympathy with the underdog and a desire to stand for something. Unlike Cap he's not an independent operator, but works within the chain of command under his superior General Latham, which provides him with both a support structure that Cap lacks while at the same time also providing him with someone to answer to. The art ranges in quality from good to great, with some seriously poster-worthy covers that would look really good on a DC Animated DVD. . .just putting it out there guys. It can't be Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern all the time, right?

Sadly, the Shield was a casualty of the comic-book rack, cancelled before it really had a chance to shine. But the stories contained herein are fairly self-contained and not continuity-heavy, so a new reader can easily sit down and enjoy them in the best Action Movie tradition. If you're looking for a fun adventure series with a mix of superhero slam-bang, military action/intrigue, and a pinch of realism for seasoning, I'd say give The Shield: Breaking Down The Door a look. Recommended.


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