Heroes Never Rust #77 by Sean Ironman
The war in Europe winds down. Germans surrender. U.S. soldiers wait on the decision of whether they are heading home or heading to the war in the Pacific. Sergeant Brewer should be happy. He survived. As a soldier in the Hundred and First Airborne Division, he parachuted in the night before D-Day. He fought his way through the whole western front of the war and came out on the other side. But, he’s haunted, not by what he has done to survive but by the deaths of the soldiers around him. His last mission is to take three others who were with him on the night before D-Day, the last three left alive and uninjured, and check out a nearby mansion for when the general comes the next week. Brewer takes the opportunity, destroys his radio equipment, and allows his men a few days of relaxation (and enjoying the company of a few female locals happy to have the Americans arrive). But, he can’t relax, not completely. He’s tired, not physically—mentally. As he tells one of his men, “I ain’t stupid. I know men have to die. It’s the goddamn waste of it that pisses me off.”
He hates the army. He hates regulations. He hates how no one knows what they are doing and soldiers die because of it. And he remembers every man who died under his command.
Most of the comic is laid out like one thinks a comic should be laid out—multiple panels with a thin, white gutter between them. A small amount of time passes between panels so that whole conversations take place in a page and characters interact with one another. But, between scenes, are one-page shots of an earlier moment in war, a moment of destruction and death. The reader is in the middle of a conversation and when he or she turns the page, there is an image of a soldier being blown apart with his intestines hanging out. No dialogue or sound effects are used on these pages. Silent images of soldiers, who were once under Brewer’s command, dying awful deaths. This is something that only comics can do.
I think it’s important for a writer (or in this case a writer and an artist) to use everything at his or her disposal for the genre or medium they are working in. A good comic should be a good comic, not a good screenplay that was drawn. A good short story should be a good short story, not a smaller section of a novel. Because comics are a visual medium, a strong image can create a faster impact than a paragraph of text. The reader doesn’t get a section break, and then a paragraph describing a soldier being blown apart or being crushed by a tank. The single comic book page can show it, can show the horrified faces of the soldiers left standing.
The images come quick, sporadically. Sometimes, the reader has a few pages of the storyline’s present day before being shocked back to death. Sometimes it’s only a page. The present-day story is light and fun. A German soldier hangs himself, but it’s not shown, only briefly mentioned. Even in Eden—a mansion, wine, women—Brewer can’t escape what he has seen, what he has been apart of. Men gunned down. Dismembered. Shot through the head. Impaled by a piece of a building while parachuting. Bleeding out and reaching for help as a city explodes around them.
By having these images appear out of nowhere with no dialogue or sound, the comic recreates the experience for the reader. The reader is placed in Brewer’s mind. This is how he experiences these memories, these flashes. He’s taking a bath and getting a blowjob from a local beauty, and when he closes his eyes he sees Doyle, Fisher, Marks, Linehan, and man whose name is long forgotten being shot to death by enemy planes, not standing a change out in the open. He opens the doors to the mansion and tells his men to check the place out, and then he flashes to Normandy and Little Benny, Murtagh, Grier, and a few others being stabbed and shot in close combat with Nazis.
Nothing happens to stop these images. Nothing can stop them. Brewer will live with them forever. He gives his men a few days of fun, perhaps in an effort to give them something good about the war to remember. But to him, he lives with it. Of course, in the end, the general arrives, sees Brewer and his men and the fun they have been having. And in a repeat of the first panel of the comic, we are given a close-up of Brewer’s face as he responds to the general’s complaints. Unlike the beginning, his face is no longer presented in shadow. We can see every detail of his face, of his tired eyes, of his stubble. And he tells the general, “So why don’t you stick your authority up your ass?” What else is he going to do? He’s damned for the rest of his life. At least, he doesn’t back down from his superior officer. He’s done with the army, at least as done as one can be. He’ll be stuck with the past, but he won’t be creating any new memories, won’t be watching any more men die for nothing.
Sean Ironman (Episode 102) earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s Chronicle, Redivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.