There were three phases the entertainment industry went through during the Cold War. The first was “The Russians are Coming!” when movies and comics and what have you spat out tales of woe like I Married a Communist, in which we were warned that the enemy wore no convenient uniform or had any distinct facial features that could tip us off that he was the most horrible man in existence. Then you had the “Man, what would it be like if the Russians were coming?” phase where we had movies like Red Dawn and books like Red Storm Rising, trying to give us an idea of what a real shooting war with the Soviets would be like.
Now we’re in the “Man, remember when the Russians were coming?” phase, where we all get nostalgic for M.A.D and make video games about what it would be like to weather a Russian invasion, like in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and the like, but in modern times. We’re suckers for traditional western wars, which probably has its roots in fetishizing World War II while forgetting that most combat veterans don’t like to remember what they did back then.
Beth nabbed issue 1 of this comic called Cold War: The Michael Swann Dossier by John Byrne since I professed my undying love for East vs. West in my Supergod review, and she thought this would be right up my alley. I like it a lot.Well, it’s kind of generic, but we’ll talk about that and whether or not it matters.
So the story begins with a seemingly normal Soviet day for a Soviet officer, going to some kind of Soviet funeral, when he hears something odd coming from the Soviet casket and decides to Soviet investigate. Upon opening the casket, a British spy by the name of
Michael Swann Not James Bond stabs him in the throat, and then we’re off to the races as Michael Swann Not James Bond leaps, runs, stabs and impersonates his way across what I’m presuming is the border of East and West Berlin. The entire action scene is a wordless sequence of action panels, which is pretty cool. It takes up half the 22 page issue, but in spite of this they still do a good job of setting up the world this fiction takes place in and fleshing out characters without cramming it full of word bubbles.
So this guy, Swann, is a British spy who, totally and completely unlike James Bond, is suave and can bed any woman he looks at even if the first words out of her mouth are “You just killed my brother!”. He has a good relationship with some of his superiors, a bad one with others, and they send him off to go work as a security officer at a research facility to try to get close to a British scientist who is rumored to be attempting to defect to the Soviets.
If I had to nail down the feel of Cold War, it would be “Paperback 007 plus Guns of Navarone/ Dirty Dozen”- it’s gritty, and the feel doesn’t suggest we’ll see Swann walking around a cocktail party with a laser mic in his cigarette.
I guess my problem is that I want to say something about it that I can’t say about other stories, but honestly it just doesn’t stand out as far as the plot goes. I guess I’m being harsh, though. According to a piece on Insidepulse.com, Byrne’s intention was doing a “period piece”, and these tend to try to evoke a certain feel or provide a specific type of experience rather than tell a new story. I can forgive that, even if the whole “stop the nuke” plot has been killed to death as much as D-Day has been on the History Channel.
Dialogue is solid, at any rate. Character personalities come through very well, even for characters that only get a few lines. Timid Polish girls, cranky English ones, smug officers and aloof scientists are all over these British research facilities, I guess. They’re all fairly run of the mill, but I trust that future issues will help flesh them out. Maybe we’ll even get to see women in a context other than being one of Swann’s many sleeping bags? Only time and Issue #2 will tell.
Now the art, it’s very good. Even in DC Comics’ New 52 lineup I see lazy eyes all over the place, but this comic has solid linework and detail. Action scenes and dialogue scenes both are well drawn out, and Byrne seems perfectly able to draw effectively no matter what camera angle he chooses. Poses are excellent, and the details on characters and environments are great, regardless of whether he’s drawing men in expensive suits or showing a gun battle in a dilapidated borough.
What I really like is the use of color. The predominant ones are a few different shades of navy blue and a variety of earth tones, from olive drab to brown and also pale. Using this color scheme does a great job of evoking the feel of a 1960s spy thriller, in the days when computers were around but still less common than typewriters, when women wore conservative dresses to work that were still eight friggin pieces, before security cameras could make Swann’s antics a waste of time. This is an era where it’s perfectly normal for people to get up, eat breakfast, go to work and wonder if today’s the day the world ends. I think the dull color choice is perfect for that feel. Hell, I can smell the musty corridors of those pre-war buildings just looking at the scenery.
It would be interesting to see more stuff based on the Cold War that took on new perspectives, like seeing things from the perspective of a Soviet conscript or a West Berliner. Oh man, I’d totally read a comic about the 1956 uprising in Hungary. This will do nicely though, as those British people say.
TL;DR: This is a pretty solid comic book, but don’t be surprised if the plot gives you a sense of Deja vu. Read for the action, stay for the atmosphere.