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The Losers: Ante Up

Plenty of people in the comics blogosphere seem to love The Losers, so when Rose and I found a copy of The Losers: Ante Up at Half-Price Books for $5, we figured it was worth checking out. This is an art-driven book, which is to say, I wouldn’t want to read it if I didn’t like the art. It’s not that Andy Diggle’s writing is bad—I see his job as inventing cool stuff for Jock to draw and filling the necessary speech balloons with tolerable dialogue, and he does his job just fine. The bad-ass quips are only occasionally cringe-worthy. “Candy, meet baby,” after the Losers cleverly escape yet another inescapable deathtrap, is the most unforgivable (N.B. to writers, glib rewordings of clich????s always come off badly). The left-leaning politics are pretty mild (apparently the CIA really does run drugs into the United States, they really do hire evil mercenaries to do their dirty work, they really are still selling illegal weapons to Saudia Arabia, the government really care only about oil, etc.), but I suppose they may seem more radical in the current political climate in which thin-skinned Republicans yelp whenever anybody Undermines the War Effort by questioning Bush administration foreign policies. But whatever, at any rate, I suppose I prefer the mildly liberal action of The Losers to the dumb Republican action of True Lies and other action movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis.

The characters are ciphers. The guys are all gruff but sociable action heroes, each with his own specialty: Cougar the sniper, Jensen the hacker, Pooch the driver, Clay the leader. Of course, the one exception is Roque, the asshole who never stops whining and never actually does anything useful. Aisha is the most intriguing characer simply because she gets to be a different kind of cipher than the rest: the silent loner. The sort of character who, in fanfic written by 14-year-olds, would be a seven-foot-tall man in a black trenchcoat, but Andy Diggle is clever enough to make his silent loner a crazy ninja woman from the Hindu Kush.

This is all fine. So far, The Losers is the kind of story whose plot ticks along like a well-oiled clockwork machine. The expert precision of the characters should be paralled in the expert precision of the authors as they construct the plot, and Diggle, Jock et al. do a fine job of it. I usually prefer my action-centered narratives to dig deeper and get a hold of that bloody human nastiness clogging up the clockwork, like Rififi or Three Kings. And I usually like my slick caper stories to be more like Ocean’s Eleven, longer on the witty repartee and shorter on the violent mayhem. And as a veteran of The X-Files, I carry in my heart a lovingly nurtured resentment and suspicion of longform serialized conspiracy adventures. And (last one!) as a veteran of Foucault’s Pendulum, I’m just not that impressed by most conspiracy theories anymore. The Losers, alas, hasn’t (yet) dug very deep, it’s long on the violence and a little too short on the witty repartee, and it’s very much in the just-what-we-needed-another-evil-government-conspiracy genre. Ah, but I’ve read only the first six issues, and those are just entertaining enough to make me wonder if I should keep on keeping on with it.

And since I started writing this post (two days ago) by saying I wouldn’t want to read it if I didn’t like the art, I think what I meant was that the plot of The Losers isn’t quite as well-oiled as it should be, but the art (especially the supercool coloring by Lee Loughridge, which is my favorite part of the book) is pretty enough to make up for it. Just thought I should clarify, since I wrote the first half of this post two days ago and the second half just now and I’m not sure they fit together.


  1. Johnny B says:

    Ah, the inevitable backlash. :-)

    But seriously, you make some good points. It doesn’t bother me too much that Losers is another riff on the “evil government conspiracy” type story, because the emphasis seems to me to be on the cast of the book, trying to root out Max, and peeling away the rancid layers of the onion as they do so. I find the dialogue a bit more witty than you do, too…I got a chuckle out of the “Candy, meet baby” line myself. Diff’rent strokes, and so on and so on.

    I can certainly understand the need to say “Now, wait a minute…” when it seems like everyone else is praising something inordinately…I give in to that urge a lot myself. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it. Personally, I’m enjoying the heck out of The Losers; it’s not Significant Art goodness knows, but it gives me the same buzz as a good action film gives me, and sometimes that’s all you need.

    — 7 June 2004 at 12:11 am (Permalink)

  2. Steven says:

    I hope I’m not the backlash! I certainly don’t begrudge its popularity. It’s more entertaining and a little smarter than plenty of other action comics and action movies I’ve read or watched. I didn’t dislike it.

    — 7 June 2004 at 12:28 am (Permalink)

  3. Shane says:

    I didn’t take you as disliking it. I just took it as your honest opinion on the series. It can be a little dumb at times, it can be a little violence for violence sake, but it’s a fun read. Thats what an action movie is, an action comic should be the same. At least thats what I got out of it. It was a good honest review Steven.

    — 7 June 2004 at 6:16 am (Permalink)

  4. Rose says:

    Oh, I think Johnny B. was mostly teasing, and if you want a more negative opinion, I could provide one. I just find it boring and upsetting to have to watch so much murder and mayhem and explosions, and I didn’t really care about the characters. I, too, like wittier writing, and this was better than most action movies I’ve seen, but I also really dislike most action movies I’ve seen. So while I didn’t actively dislike The Losers, there wasn’t much about it that pleased me, either. Well, except the coloring, which is great indeed.

    It would be interesting to see the parallels between Aisha and many members of the Taliban, since their backstories are basically the same as hers, growing up in violent depravity in a parentless vacuum, hating and attacking the Soviets, and then using that background to justify a life of crime. And we can assume that Aisha’s actions with the Losers and the CIA are basically criminal, even if above the law. Ah, but we like Aisha, right? I have a hard time knowing which bad guys are sympathetic ones sometimes. So just let me know if it takes this turn and I’ll come back, but I had guessed all along that it wasn’t a title for me, and it seems I was right.

    — 7 June 2004 at 10:53 am (Permalink)

  5. Steven says:

    Do we like Aisha? I think she’s like, and this is a really weird comparison, Severus Snape. Like Snape, Aisha is one of the “good guys” and is always looking after the other guys and saving their lives, but you just know she’s going to find some way to make their lives tougher in a much more intriguing and entertaining way than simply betraying them to the bad guys.

    — 7 June 2004 at 2:07 pm (Permalink)

  6. Rose says:

    Do we like Aisha? Sure, I do, at least more than I like any of the other characters. I don’t know; maybe this is more about the literature of ethics view of comics than anything else, but it’s usually hard for me to know how to approach badass-outsider stories like this and I’m not sure yet whether The Losers is going to be swimming in its everybody’s-bad plot the way, say, Invisibles did. I guess I’m just interested in good guys who kill people, especially innocent people, in that it seems to me that they’re really not good guys anymore, but talking about it too much makes it Philosophy 101.

    So I’m not sold on The Losers mostly in the sense that I’m not likely to put it at the top of my list of titles competing for my limited resources, but that doesn’t make it a badly done product. It’s just not for me, or not yet.

    — 7 June 2004 at 2:49 pm (Permalink)

  7. Steven says:

    OK, yeah, we like Aisha. But anyway she certainly seems to be at the epicenter of the story’s moral questions. She and Roque.

    — 7 June 2004 at 2:55 pm (Permalink)

  8. Shane says:

    Well, yeah usually if you don’t like the genre you aren’t going to like an example of the genre. You don’t go into Die Hard expecting something like The Pianist or vice versa. Is that what you were saying Rose or did I take that wrong. I think it’s really hard to critique something personally if I know I’m not going to like it going in. I bring too much of my expectations and past dislikes into the work. That may just be me though. Glad you at least gave it a try anyway. Let me know if I’m way off base here and both of you keep up the excellent work on the site!

    — 7 June 2004 at 4:45 pm (Permalink)

  9. Rose says:

    Nah, I think that’s basically it, Shane, and why I didn’t bother reviewing it, because I really don’t think my review is worth much. That I didn’t actively dislike it is probably a good sign, really. But saying, “Well, I don’t like stories with too many explosions and boy are there ever explosions in The Losers!” isn’t really helpful.

    I just don’t get the visceral “buzz” Johnny described from action films, so it’s no shock I didn’t get it here either. I generally prefer stories with more character depth, and the choice in this one was to have a plot-driven hook (and I think it makes sense to deal with the whole first TPB as one hook) and then, I assume, build out from that, so I’m open to the possibility that I’ll like the rest of the series better than I liked the first trade.

    — 7 June 2004 at 5:00 pm (Permalink)