Pullbox Reviews: Militia #5- Fighting like a girl!

  • Militia #5
  • BlackBox Comics
  • Written by Chuck Dixon
  • Pencils & Inks by Jethro Morales
  • Colors by Bryan Arfel Magnaye
  • Letters by Teylor Esposito
  • Cover by Debora Carita
  • Militia Created & Edited by Dimitrios Zaharakis

Wrapping up the second story arc of Militia, Army Specialist Melissa May and her all woman commando squad are deep in the middle of it. They’ve been tracking Afshan Madad and her daughter, believed to be on the run from Naffi Madad- Afshan’s husband and kind of a big deal with the Taliban. May’s team was picked for this mission based on the idea that Afshan and daughter might be more responsive to a group of female rescuers than male.

The concept, May’s idea & supported by the brass for its public relations potential, has had its share of pitfalls. Operating as they are in Afghanistan, they’ve had difficulty in getting any kind of acknowledgment from the men they’ve tried to get information from. At the end of the previous issue, they were forced off the road to avoid hostile forces and found themselves stuck in the middle of an old Russian mine field. Still no closer to finding Mrs. Madad and her daughter, hostile forces on their trail and with no back up on the horizon, May and her squad will have to “embrace the suck”… Improvise, adapt, & overcome.

As a military action title, Militia has a lot going for it.

Chuck Dixon (Punisher: War Journal for Marvel, the Robin miniseries for DC in 1991, Batman story arcs Knightfall & No Man’s Land, & Van Helsing for Zenescope) has done his due diligence as a writer, including some pretty authentic dialogue between his characters and a fair use of real world military jargon. It’s a great use of lingo that grunts and POGs alike should be able to appreciate. Dixon balances reality with some more extreme situations, to let his readers engage their ever-valuable suspension of disbelief… that is why we read comicbooks, after all. He’s able to use that suspension to sell the idea of a (ladies, don’t get mad at me… just hear me out) squad of women getting dropped in hostile territory without support on the ground, for the sake of a PR stunt. For that matter, an all-male squad of soldiers who aren’t actual special operations trained wouldn’t be likely to get saddled with the kind of mission May & company- all relatively inexperienced in combat operations- are thrown into. The writing smooths out many of the plot holes (where are the Rangers? Green Berets? Delta?) and allows for a more laid back read with plenty of action for a reader to sit back and enjoy.

That action, as drawn by Jethro Morales and colored by Bryan Arfel Magnaye, is where Militia truly excels. Morales pays pretty close attention to many of the finer details in this story of military rescue missions and firefights. The gear used is pretty true to its real-life origins, down to the Squad Automatic Weapon (lovingly referred to as the SAW, sort of a scaled down and more portable version of the larger M-60) and the squad’s use of infrared optics (use of IR sticks and high tech optics gives our soldiers an edge in night-combat as the IR glows bright through the goggles but remains invisible to the unassisted eye). Further, and this is primarily in previous issues, Specialist May is portrayed as a very fit individual, in keeping with her ambitions for Ranger School. Her look, and that of the other characters, is very much in line with the military ideal. Other characters are shown with different builds and characteristics- most notably with Corporal Yrondha Jacks, the heavy gunner who is everything you’d expect in an individual lugging around the SAW we talked about earlier. The visual appeal of Militia is rounded out by Magnaye’s use of colors. In this issue, the majority of the action takes place at night, and the backgrounds reflect that with a heavy use of dark tones broken up by spotty light sources. The coolest effect Magnaye employs is in the IR “glow sticks” used in this issue, just about the only thing that isn’t muted by shadow or olive drab utilities (the Army’s uniform of choice in combat operations… in this case the olive green probably being the better choice than trying to stick to the usual camouflage pattern which would be a nightmare to consistently draw and color).

So, to be clear, Militia was a fun read. I say that with all enthusiasm and the confidence coming from someone who does have a military background… buuut there are issues that I hope can get cleaned up in the series moving forward. Most of the problems I’m going to point out were noticeable to me, mainly because of my military experience, and I reiterate that they didn’t ruin the story for me… just bogged it down in places.

First and foremost, they’re gonna have to do something with Melissa May’s hair. At one point in earlier issues, they made a point of cutting Specialist Harper Capulo’s long hair. May tells her it’s to remove the liability her hair would be in a close combat situation (she doesn’t make mention of military regulations, which requires that hair be kept up and off of the collar, but I’m gonna let that go). May points out that she had cut her hair, which was longer in early issues, for just that reason… but her hair is still longer than shoulder length, and she leaves it loose to pour out from under helmet like a glorious blonde waterfall. On one hand, I do realize that a decision could have been made to give main character May a more distinctive look… one of the things about soldiers fully kitted out in combat gear is that they do tend to look alike. On the other hand there are other choices that could be made for that purpose, that wouldn’t earn a scoff from any active or prior service military readers.

The other, larger issue might come down to a need for better communication between writer/artist/letterer/editor. This is most evident at points in the story where I believe the wrong person is speaking… Case in point, in issue 4 there’s an exchange where (presumably) Yrondha Jacks responds to (possibly) Harper Capulo’s complaints about having to walk to their objective. Jacks says “Try humping this pig a while,” referring to the heavier SAW and its ammo. But the word balloons are reversed, and an observant reader is going to know they’re reversed because we can plainly see who’s already carrying the SAW. There are a handful of other cases that should have been caught in edits, do pull a knowing reader out of the story, and could be alleviated through more communication between the various stages of the creative process.

The final word here is that Militia was a lot of fun to read. The characters are good, the dialogue is solid, and the action is very well done. The story takes a few dark turns, and I’d have to recommend this one for mature readers because of them. Essentially, the problems I had with the title are relatively minor, and totally fixable for future issues with just a little more attention to detail. In all likelihood, they might not even be noticed by many readers, but rectifying them would improve the book quite a bit.

Finally, I wish that availability were a little more clear… The link at the website that directs potential readers to Militia on ComiXology actually leads to the page for another Black Box title, I.T., the Secret World of Modern Banking. I’m sure that’s a fine title, but for someone to go looking for one book, only to be misdirected to another, can be a little annoying. For someone who was sitting on the fence, that’s a lost sale. This is all a shame for Militia, because I really do think it’s a book well worth the time and effort to track it down. Be too bad for people to miss out on a solid action comic over a few glitches and glucks that could be handled relatively easily.

Final Score: 7.5

Sampe art from Militia #5 (source: the Black Box Twitter page)
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