by Joshua Dysart (writer), Alberto Ponticelli (art), Oscar Celestini (colors), and Clem Robins (letters)
The Story: Moses and a beleaguered family make a last stand against the Karamojong cattle raiders.
What’s Good: With Unknown Soldier’s cancellation at issue #25, some big developments happen at the end of this issue that starts to set-up the series’ conclusion. The most significant, and potentially the most disturbing, of these events is the final fate of Moses Lwanga’s personality, which has been battling for consciousness with the Unknown Soldier voice within his mind. In typical fashion for this series, what happens is tragic, but also beautifully scripted by Dysart and rendered by Ponticelli. What occurs physically on the page as Moses recedes is perfectly symbolic with what is occurring internally, there’s even a sense of suicide. It’s very, very well done and I ended feeling a mix of disappointed, concerned, and saddened.
Most of the issue, however, sees Moses and a family of Karamojong desperately attempting to hold their ground against wave after wave of homicidal cattle raiders. It’s rather neat seeing Dysart make use of military strategy, as Moses holds higher ground, positions his defenders, and attempts to predict the enemy’s attack patterns. The trick Moses uses to get the family out is always rather clever; as one of the character’s points out, it’s the sort of ploy that one would see perpetrated by the tricksters of myth and folklore.
I also did enjoy the relationship between Moses and the family he allies himself with. There’s a simultaneous level of distrust and interest that Dysart balances well, creating something that feels human.
What’s Not So Good: Nobody heads into Unknown Soldier expecting a chipper, feel-good read. That being said, this month’s issue was just a little too dour. All the characters are miserable throughout the issue and are miserable at issue’s end. This is a very depressing book about brutal people doing brutal things to survive their own brutality. It’s an endless cycle of self-perpetuating violence with little upside or message. I don’t mind this sort of thing, but there always needs to be some cracks of light in the darkness, and I just didn’t get that here or, at least, not enough. People die in droves alongside rape, suggestions of pedophilia, one child killing another, and gutted animals. There needs to be some sort of hope or flipside in the face of this, but that just doesn’t happen.
The issue’s narrator, a severely physically deformed child, doesn’t help matters much. The deformation, represented as it is by Ponticellli, is just a little too over the top, almost defying belief. It adds a very unpleasant element of the grotesque that leads to a feeling of discomfort. Something just felt wrong here in a way that’s difficult to describe. Dysart tries to make it relatable and real, but it ends up feeling a bit carnival and it’s the very last thing that this book needs.
Lastly, I thought the ending was a bit too convenient and I’m fairly certain it’s because Dysart had to rush the segue to the series conclusion. It’s one of those painful occasions where the cavalry arrives at exactly the right time and right place, plucking our protagonist from certain death.
Conclusion: This is actually a really good book, but I just found it to be an unpleasant read.