by Joshua Dysart (writer), Alberto Ponticelli (art), Oscar Celestini (colors), and Clem Robins (letters)
The Story: Moses/Subject Nine meets up with Jack and they plan their next move at a CIA base camp.
What’s Good: This month sees Jack at his most lovable. It’s hard not to like the guy when he’s playing basketball with kids (and losing). We also get to see more of his chemistry with Moses, which has always been great. More than ever, there’s a barely concealed kind of affection and/or pity that Jack shows for his partner in crime. Never before has the name “Kemo Sabe” felt so heavy. It becomes a link for Jack to the Moses of old, an expression of tenderness, nostalgia, and regret.
Jack’s narration is similarly effective on an emotional level and, if this truly is the last we see of the character, a wonderful send-off. The narration sees Jack go against his nature, and his confusion over this. It takes an entire issue for Jack to figure out what’s wrong with him: he’s become a good Samaritan. It’s a really great evolution of the character and carries just a touch of redemption and a fleck of gold in the character’s heart. Seeing the character say farewell only made me all the sadder over Unknown Soldier’s fast approaching final issue.
Moses and Sera’s reunion is almost equally effective. Dysart makes it painfully clear just how far apart these two characters have grown over the course of the series, while also suggesting that there’s no happy ending possible for this relationship. It’s a tragic sequence that Dysart plays well; it’s as unfulfilling for the reader as it is for the characters, which I think is the point. Ponticelli also does a great job illustrating the crucial facial expressions and emotions.
What’s Not So Good: I can’t help but feel that most of this issue steered away from what has made Unknown Soldier such a great series. Instead of the focus on Uganda’s culture and current state and the analysis of Moses’ psyche, I feel we ended up getting something much simpler. With the Subject Nine voice’s having taken over, the schism in Mose’s mind is no longer much of a subject, or at least it’s a subject that’s significantly less engaging. Meanwhile, the rest of the issue ends up as little more than something of a spy/action thriller. There’s satellite uplinks, government agents, and military compounds and I ended up feeling like that the book was out of its element.
In the end, outside of Sera and Jack’s farewell scenes, we get an issue that’s surprisingly mediocre. Dysart’s vision of Uganda brought so much life to the book and when it takes a backseat, the book suddenly ends up feeling blander than usual. In reading this issue, I didn’t feel that I quite got what I normally expect out of Unknown Soldier, something I haven’t felt since somewhere in the book’s second arc, where again Dysart verged to heavily into spy thriller territory. It’s a part of the book, yes, but not its strong suit and unworthy of being the book’s sole tone and focus. Part of this may, of course, be due to the book’s cancellation. Certainly, it feels as though we’ve rushed to this point and, as a result, this transition to black ops bases and CIA operations feels all the more off-putting and sudden.
I also continue to regret Ponticelli’s regression to his original art style. There are times where I lamented his art’s occasionally crude and overly craggy style.
Conclusion: Not bad, but Unknown Soldier #23 ultimately doesn’t play to its strengths.