REVIEW: VS #1 – “War is Hell but Commercials are Worse”

VS 1

VS #1 / Writer: Iván Brandon / Art: Esad Ribić / Color Art: Nic Klein / Lettering: Aditya Bidikar / Release Date: February 7, 2018 / Publisher: Image Comics

VS 1 cover

Some comic books sell by virtue of their own mystique. There’s some art—maybe a page or two—and a blurb in Previews and that’s all one has to go on. Such was the case with VS 1. I’m predisposed to try out new first issues, so Previews’ bare-bones description and sample art didn’t bother me. But as a result I had no idea what I was getting myself into until I opened the first issue.

Then I read the book and still wasn’t sure.

Picture a world where wars are spectators sports, combatants are celebrities, and fighting routinely pauses for commercials. That is the world of VS. The first issue follows Lieutenant Flynn of the Industrial Guard as he recuperates from injuries sustained in battle. Flynn is a popular soldier with contractual obligations, and throughout his medical treatment his life is periodically interrupted by the need to provide live product endorsements for commercials.

The convalescence weighs on him, though, and despite his doctor’s opinion he’s is eager to return to the battlefield as soon as possible. Upon his release Flynn is greeted by adoring fans—affection he tolerates but has no real interest in. He wants to fight; that’s all he wants to do.VS 1

VS is one of those comics that rolls out a complex story in an unfamiliar world and expects the reader to keep up. Iván Brandon makes no attempt to offer any kind of exposition until a third of the way into the issue. In fact, in concert with the art from Esad Ribić and Nic Klein, the opening pages have the feel of grand space opera: sweeping vistas, ordinary characters, and recognizable sensibilities.

VS 1

It’s only when the issue settles on Flynn and the reader begins to see events through his eyes that the nature of the world comes into focus. Flynn understands that he’s good at one thing—fighting the enemy—and he wants nothing more than to do it. From medical treatment to fan interaction to commercial breaks he despises everything that slows his return to the battlefield. I found myself wondering, as a result of Flynn’s passion, whether these wars that entertain the public aren’t in fact real. Brandon doesn’t make that clear. The fighters don’t lack for brutality in their fight, but they’re also capable of taming those passions when the broadcast demands. Does Flynn truly hate his enemy or does he fight because after so long he simply knows no other way?

VS 1

VS 1 is difficult to quantify. I can see why the information in Previews was so spare. A description like, “In a world where wars are the new spectator sport” communicates the apparent setting but leaves out all the grace that is written and drawn into the issue’s pages. Flynn’s arc in the issue is as difficult to sum up as the world he inhabits. Is he a tragic character? Perhaps. Brandon leaves open the idea that Flynn’s life is what it is because he knows no other way. But even if that’s so, Flynn shows no remorse at fighting, maiming, and killing other people in the wars; he remains a compelling character without ever quite becoming sympathetic. Ultimately VS 1 achieves what’s required of it: creating an interesting setting peopled with compelling characters. It’s a good first issue for readers who like to be challenged and don’t mind re-reading panels and pages; it sets up themes and characters that will no doubt ripple into subsequent issues while still delivering a self-contained story. It makes me want to read issue two—which is the most important praise that can be given to an issue one.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5

Theron Couch is a collection of 1000 monkeys on 1000 typewriters trying to produce Hamlet. From time to time he accidentally types comic book reviews. Theron’s first novel, The Loyalty of Pawns, is available on Amazon and he's published assorted short stories. Theron maintains a blog with additional comic and book reviews as well as posts on his personal struggle with mental health.

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