Review: G. I. Zombie: A Star-Spangled War Story by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Scott Hampton (2015)

G. I. Zombie: A Star-Spangled War Story

G. I. Zombie: A Star-Spangled War Story
DC, 2015 (containing material from 2014-2015)
Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Artist: Scott Hampton

Review by N Emmett.

A federal agent named Carmen King tries to infiltrate a domestic terrorist ring. Suspicious of her intentions, its members give her a test of loyalty: she must kill their hostage. She does so willingly, with such brutal methods that even the terrorists are shocked.

Once Carmen is left alone with her victim, the dead agent gets up and calmly sits back as she reattaches his severed hands. Agent Jared Keller, it just so happens, is G. I. Zombie – the perfect man for a suicide mission. Nothing can kill him, because he is already dead.

You have to hand it to them: DC Comics were persistent in their efforts to add a fantasy-war comic to their New 52 line. First came Blackhawks and Men of War, then G. I. Combat; each of these were cancelled with only enough issues to fill a single trade paperback, but that did not stop DC from trying a fourth time with Star Spangled War Stories Featuring G. I. Zombie. This series suffered the exact same fate as its predecessors, and so here we are with a trade collecting the entire 9-issue run.

gizom2The premise is nice, and DC at least deserves credit for taking a plunge on a comic headlined by a new character – a rare thing from the Big Two these days. G. I. Zombie is a well-paced story, too; instead of the last-minute rush that usually besets cancelled comics, the narrative has enough space to reach its conclusion. Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, it would appear, knew full well that their time on the title was short and decided to make the most of it. The only structural oddity is a tacked-on final chapter that was published as part of DC’s Futures End event in September 2014.

Scott Hampton’s artwork clearly makes extensive usage of photographic references, which sometimes has a distancing effect – often it feels as though we are looking at a photocollage, rather than a set of characters. On the whole, however, Hampton’s realistic and grounded illustrations make for an effective contrast with the absurdly camp antics going on in the script.

gizom4But as well-packaged the comic is, and while it satisfies on the level of a mere runaround, there is something missing from G. I. Zombie.

The story uses terrorists as villains, but avoids the obvious go-to choice of militant Islam; instead, the terror ring is depicted in politically ambiguous terms. With his long hair and headband the central antagonist resembles a stereotyped hippy, although a panel in which he sneers at a “leftist tool” suggests that he may be some sort of right-wing libertarian type. For most of the comic, however, there is little to associate the villains with any particular political stripe.

Yet, the general vagueness about the politics of the terrorists is offset by a sequence in which their leader rants at length about the evils of the government:

This isn’t a democracy anymore. We’re on the verge of becoming an oligarchy as the government special interest groups take more control. We’re dependent on them as we’re lured into compliance with every move they make, we argue among ourselves, question less, and act like passive zombies that feel like nothing we can do can change gizom3things

The power shift is in the hands of the rich politicians and big business and drifting away from the people. Jails are a business. The dream of fortune and success is a lie, and with each passing day, our rights are being stripped away.

This entire speech takes place over two panels. The passage suggests that Palmiotti and Gray were trying to give some kind of coherent and halfway-sympathetic ideology to their bad’uns, so it is strange that the comic as a whole opts to depict them in such blandly generic terms.

This is not the only time that G. I. Zombie invokes culturally charged subject matter only to hedge its bets.

Near the end, one scene shows a government agent interrogating a captive terrorist on the origins of their chemical weapons. The agent resorts to torturing the man by smashing his fingers with a hammer. Neither gizom1the story nor the characters pass judgment on this action which, it turns out, is entirely unneeded – the two protagonists happen to have been in the right location at the time. The whole sequence appears to have been thrown in as a half-hearted sop: there has to be a torture scene because, well, that’s what you get in terrorist-busting thrillers.

It is a strange business and no mistake. The comic seems to be pulled in two different directions, half of it going for a Tarantino-esque bad-taste fest and the other half playing things safe so that nobody is offended. The latter impulse is stronger than it should be, with much of the comic left distinctly characterless.

G. I. Zombie: A Star-Spangled War Story is a solid action-horror outing, but it is just too indecisive to be a true success.