War is hell. We’ve all heard this phrase, which highlights the negative effects of warfare and is the central theme of classic war stories like Oliver Stone’s Platoon. Set during the Vietnam War, Platoon wasn’t so much about fighting the invisible enemy, but American soldiers fighting the monstrous nature within themselves. The same could be said of Image Comics’ Lost Soldiers by Aleš Kot and Luca Casalanguida.
Having fought in Vietnam in 1969, the trauma of losing fellow compatriots and going through abuse from even those same soldiers still haunt Kowalski and Hawkins. In 2009, the two are now soldiers who participate in an operation near the Mexican border, where they return to the cycle of violence, but will they come out of it unscathed?
After Lost Soldiers’ first two issues, I was unsure about what to make of the series. Jumping back and forth between the two time periods, Kot initially presents the two protagonists in situations that we have seen before, from previous from the aforementioned Platoon to the 2015 action thriller Sicario. With an over-emphasis on captions and ridiculously large word balloons, the storytelling just meanders on the bleak monologuing instead cutting straight to the chase. Even before and/or after the main story, the issues include quotes from other sources and other forms of documents, which may reflect the bleak reality and thematic substance towards the story, but it still feels like window-dressing.
However, during the third issue – revealing the melodramatic twist of the abusive American soldier Burke returning to haunt Kowalski and Hawkins – Kot dials back on the heavy dialogue and lets the visual storytelling do the work. Mostly wordless, the issue becomes a lengthy action sequence that changes the dynamic of the story into a tale of revenge that adds a new and terrifying wrinkle to Kowalski’s experience with the war. Although the eventual issues lean towards conventions we’ve seen in exploitation cinema, the flawed and retrospective nature of its two leads will stay with you.
Upon initial inspection, Luca Casalanguida’s art doesn’t quite pop — although his murky style fits well with the gritty surroundings of the two time periods, the initial issues don’t allow for many dynamic visuals. Much like the story, Casalanguida no longer feels restrained starting in issue #3, as the action allows for deliberating scratchy pages that appropriately fit with the comic’s most violent sequences, enhanced by Heather Marie Lawrence Moore’s splashy coloring.
Lost Soldiers may be telling us a typical story of war and revenge, but it hits hard with violent action and engaging characters that are, well, lost.
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