Ante Up (The Losers #01)
by Andy Diggle
Reviewed by Spencer Dew
If the end of the Cold War represented a victory for capitalism, The Losers contemplates capitalism run amok, a world where insatiable greed is coupled with American military power and which no one is willing or able to police. It's in this world, not entirely unlike our own, that the eponymous Losers -- an "A-Team" of Special Forces agents betrayed by their superiors and supposedly dead -- set out first to clear their name and then, perhaps, do something more.
The backdrop of this scenario is that the former playing fields against communist expansion are now ripe with opportunities for personal gain and corporate domination. "Seriously, the networking opportunities," effuses a young CIA employee. "I figure by the time I'm thirty-five I'll be able to jump ship for a nice fat consultancy rate at Goliath or Halliburton." Intelligence from the field has lost ground to the persuasive spin of beltway lobbyists, whose desires shape foreign and domestic policy. The armed forces, rather than fighting for American ideals, are manipulated as pawns of big business, used as tools of individual greed. This isn't just the fusion of military and industry that Eisenhower warned about; it's direct government involvement in the sale of guns, drugs, and oil (or "The Holy Trinity," as one cynical player in this drama calls them).
Andy Diggle's heist-driven plot, winking frequently at Hollywood and kicking dirt at a history of government deceptions from Iran-Contra to the Iraq War, draws moral fiber from its political subtext and moves along, as narrative, via explosion after explosion, chase after chase, through various fantastic thefts and plot twists, all of which follow so tightly on each other that even now-conventional motifs take on new life. Much of this dynamism is due to the visual art supplied by Jock, whose layered and often slanting panels, along with his penchant for deep, scar-like shadows and sharply voyeuristic angles, give the pages an illusory three-dimensionality, almost like a pop-up book.
Jock's tilted view is most evident in treatments of the book's sole female character, an Afghani named Aisha depicted on the cover of the series' first issue via a gaze staring straight up at her trousered crotch. In the distance, framed by the triangle of her legs, is the rest of the team -- the adrenaline-addicted tech wizard, the family guy with a knack for vehicles, the silent sniper with his secret ghosts, the creepy guy with the scar across his face, and the group's tough-but-caring leader. Aisha gets this high-angle treatment again and again, zooming in on her bare thighs or up her running shorts, down her tank top as she crouches with a knife, back to her crotch as she delivers a spinning kick. There's something excessive about this sexualized depiction, as in the scene where Aisha disguises herself in a burka that happens to be slit up to the hipbone.
Aisha's fantasy value is more than merely physical, however; in a story about American men rebelling against other American men (and in which, between liquefying enemies with automatic weapons fire and racing dune buggies away from lava flows, these men have ample opportunities to lay back on beaches and fishing boats, clicking beer bottles together and generally buddying-up), she is also a personification of violence and a representation of the base brutality of those "third-world" countries oppressed and exploited by American capitalism. "I was born in a desert place. War was my only mother," she says of herself, before threatening to castrate a slave-trader. Elsewhere, she describes her childhood hobby of collecting human ears: "I had gathered three dozen pairs when a feral dog came into our camp one night and took them. But the dog was good eating." The feminine here is not merely something fun to look at ("no drag on that chassis," as one of the Losers puts it, expressing his desire in appropriately masculine jargon); it is also mysterious, terrifying, and primitive. The male Losers may wield Tasers, but Aisha kills with a knife and then licks blood off the blade.
As with some of the more spectacular stunts, all of this may seem familiar enough, but Diggle and Jock are attempting to build something new from old elements; they aim, beyond the explosions, to contribute to the mythology of the moment, seizing on resentment at the selling of the Iraq War and expressing a larger rage about perceptions of corporate and government unaccountability. Real-life malfeasance is woven here into a broader tapestry of corporate conspiracy. Resistance to manipulative authority is valorized as the truest form of patriotism. And the very ethnic other in whose lands we wage our current wars is presented here as at once horrifying and erotic, animalistic yet more authentically human than the corrupt "civilized" men the Losers wage war against. Guaranteeing that The Losers continues to engage the American imagination, a movie adaptation is now in theaters, and Vertigo is releasing the rest of the 32-issue run in a second book due in August.