by Joshua Dysart (writer), Alberto Ponticelli (art), Oscar Celestini (colors), and Clem Robins (letters)
The Story: As his mind continues to unravel, Moses prepares to make the trade: medicine for rifles.
What’s Good: All told, this is an astoundingly good issue of Unknown Soldier, effectively balancing Moses’ personal struggles with the more public, social issues at stake in Dysart’s comic, something that has probably been the biggest challenge for the series. It does so through being an outstanding tragedy on both fronts.
With Moses, the sense of tragedy is bitterly disappointing; Dysart makes it hard not to feel bad for the guy. I won’t spoil anything, but this month really gives off that classic “just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in” theme that great tragedy always strives for. So much of the progress Moses thought he was making turns out to be an illusion, with the only question being to what extent. Clearly, his consciousness is decaying and what’s worse is that Moses is apparently less aware and less able to control that deterioration than any of us thought. Psychologically speaking, this is the lowest and most precarious he has ever been. It’s horrifying, particularly when you realize the scope of these new introspective developments.
On a cultural level, Dysart gives us the sort of tragedy that is simply paralyzing, depressing even. He says a lot both about the nature of humanity when desperation strikes, as well as the demons of superstition that haunt and madden the Acholi people. As hope is lost, the people fall back to outrageous folklore, leading them to senseless bloodshed. In many respects, they are driven to this due to their loss of hope, but their acts also lead to a loss of hope in the reader; it all seems so unpreventable and irreparable with the circumstances being what they are.
Dysart also effectively utilizes the theme of “man and boy.” The relationship of Moses and Paul reaches its inevitable end this issue, and the resulting conversation between the two is easily one of the most memorable and touching moments of the book. While emotional, it also plays up the themes of innocence vs. experience and the necessity of hope. It is incredibly moving to see Moses speak of the death of hope in the IDP camp, only to attempt to instill hope in Paul, painting an image of normal life that looks like paradise. The dichotomy that Dysart has been setting up between Moses and Paul has never been more striking; one has a future, the other does not.
While Dysart works wonders this month, Ponticelli continues to amaze me since changing the style and direction of his art. I adore this dusty, painted feel he’s been employing and feel that it makes the book look much more refined, polished, and high level. The murky, less distinct nature of it also lends well to Moses’ increasingly confused mental state.
What’s Not So Good: This doesn’t feel like the last issue of an arc. Indeed, this is the perfect pen-ultimate issue. Dysart seems to end the arc an issue short, not allowing us to see the actual deal (and likely firefight) or the eventual fate of Kamalie. There is beauty in holding back and not showing, sure, but that still means it feels ambiguous and generally odd.
It was just a very, very strange way to end an arc, to completely skip the resolution of the major conflict that has been built up.
Conclusion: All told, a beautiful book and likely the pick of the week for me.
Grade: A –