Pullbox Reviews: El Krudo – A war, a soldier, & one crazy trip…

Not since Martin Sheen traveled up the Nùng River into the heart of darkness, passed another boat with Charlie Sheen going the other direction, at which time they both identified themselves as big fans, has there been a more bizarre depiction of the war in Vietnam…

No, I’m dead serious, this series is nuts in every way conceivable.

Okay, so El Krudo is an orangutan enlisted in and trained by the United States Marine Corps as a special forces operative. He’s sent in behind enemy lines when an outpost is over run by the Vietcong. He kills some folk, burns down an opium farm (smokes a little bit), and is on a collision course with Major Deng and his VC forces… mostly untested farmboys.

That’s it. That’s the pitch.

So in all of that insanity, how ridiculous is the story? Not really an easy answer, because in many ways El Krudo is pretty damned ridiculous as it manages to hit just about every patriotic hot button so common during the height of the Cold War. But writer Manny Shape manages to weave some pretty solid writing throughout the general craziness. Aside from El Krudo’s own inner monologuing, right out of Apocalypse Now in tone & spirit, he has a great handle on dialogue.

In particular, I’m a big fan of the way Shape handles the chatter among the VC enlisted men. He doesn’t bother with trying to make them sound like Vietnamese soldiers, isn’t the least bit interested in pointing out that they’re actually speaking a language other than English, and brilliantly skips trying to put their conversations into some kind of idiotic “pigeon English”. They’re just a bunch of guys hanging out- gambling, joking, talking about their girlfriends & harassing the shit out of each other like soldiers have been doing for as long as there’s been military enlistment. Basically, Shape is treating the Vietnamese soldiers like people, men who were in all likelihood pulled off of their farms, handed a rifle, & pushed into service. That their commanding officer, Major Deng, is a psychopath is a fact of which they’re aware and have no control over whatsoever.

Above & below, pages from issue 2

For a comic set in the middle of the Vietnam jungle, featuring a highly trained special forces orangutan, you’d think you might know what to expect in the art department. Over the course of the four issues I’ve read, I found out that Team EK love seeing expectations and then beating them to death with a baseball bat. The main body of work is handled by the enigmatically handled ZEROz, and it’s as fine an example of visual story telling as you’re ever going to find. Fair warning for the faint of heart, El Krudo features scenes of violent action worthy of John Rambo himself… but worry not, no apes were harmed in the making of this comic.

As the series has progressed, so has the group of ctontributing artists, all working to add depth to El Krudo‘s strange little corner of the comicbook world. A turn of the page can take you from ZEROz’s quirky style to something completely different, whether it’s a single panel showing a beautiful background shot or an entire sequence of drug induced hallucinations taken right out of a heavy metal music video.

Minh’s Opium Field by Jose Vega
I think this sequence is by German Nobile, but I could be wrong…
Beer Trap by Rafael Antonio
Pages by (I think) Andres Ponce

With all of the members of Team EK (5 artists credited on issue 4’s igg page, plus Rick Joseph putting letters to Manny Shape’s words), it was a veritable village that brought this insane indie series to life. All of that work has paid off big time, and even with a few flaws in the final polish El Krudo has become one of my current favorites. It’s violent, full of sideways social commentary, and gleefully rips stereotypes to shreds. Odd, in a book about war, that no real sides are taken except for the ones pointing out that to the people fighting the wars, a map is just a piece of paper showing a bunch of pompous old men safe in their bunker where people are going to die.

Final Score: 11/13

Issue 4 & the drug-induced flashback origin story

Covers & other stuff!

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