The Losers, Andy Diggle & Jock

Originally published 2003-2006 by Vertigo Comics.  First collected in trade paperback format as The Losers: Ante Up, The Losers: Double Down, The Losers: Trifecta, The Losers: Close Quarters and The Losers: Engame.
Most recently collected as
The Losers: Book 1, Vertigo, 2010, 304 pages, ISBN 1-4012-2733-3 and
The Losers: Book 2, Vertigo, 2010, 480 pages, ISBN 1-4012-2923-9

Comic books are still best-known for super-heroes, which is a shame given the much larger universe of stories that they could be telling.  That’s part of why I was so interested in reading The Losers after seeing its movie adaptation: A action-adventure comic book series tackling contemporary geopolitics?  That’s promising.  Add to that premise an ensemble cast of sympathetic characters facing down a ruthless villain and you’re got enough material there to ape the experience of a big overblown action movie in comic-book format… and I can never get too many big overblown action movies.

The premise of the series may not be complicated, but it’s enough to get things rolling: A small team of operatives, having seen things they shouldn’t have seen, is double-crossed and left for dead by a high-ranking member of the American intelligence community named Max.  After recovering, they set out to avenge themselves by finding Max.  But that’s really an excuse for the writer to build elaborate heist scenarios, send his characters in desperate jeopardy, have them spout one-liners and eventually ease his way into a fantastically implausible threat to world peace.

Being a comic book, there’s little budgetary limitations over where and how the Losers end up tracking Max.  So it is that by the time the series is over, it will have taken us to the continental United States, Quatar, the West Indies, Pripyat, Afghanistan, London, the Persian Gulf and a few places in-between.  Try to make a movie with that location budget!  For that matter, try to make a movie in which so many outlandish action sequences are featured: Writer Andy Diggle clearly has a lot of fun writing a script solely limited by his imagination.

The best thing about The Losers is its cast of characters: Laconic Cougar, athletic hacker Jensen, transport specialist Pooch, leader Clay and shifty Rocque.  Add to that the dangerous presence of Aisha and the team is just about ready to face down any situation.  This turns out to be helpful, especially as they try to position themselves between run-of-the-mill anti-American enemies, the CIA and Max’s own Special Forces.

If The Losers’ objective was to deliver a spectacular action-adventure story, it certainly achieve its goals.  Trying to stop reading the series is difficult after the first volume and the richness of the locations, gadgets and geopolitical themes ought to satisfy everyone looking for a somewhat over-the-top techno-thriller.  The only false notes are to be found in the needlessly implausible and down-beat ending, which mows down a significant proportion of the cast in the service of a nonsensical plot that owes more to the worst Bond movies than to the somewhat realistic tone that the series embraced during most of its run.  It doesn’t entirely kill off the series, but it certainly tempers any built-up enthusiasm.

The other big weakness of The Losers is, of all things, the art: Jock’s kinetic style may be striking, but it’s noticeably darker, flatter and rougher than the industry standards.  Some will like it; others will find it ugly, under-drawn and disappointing.  It’s telling that most characters can only be identified thanks to gimmicky haircuts or other broad physical attributes.  The colouring doesn’t help, but then again there’s not a lot of opportunity for gradient volume in the blocky art the colourers have to work with.  There’s a reason why the script is what we remember about The Losers.

Still, now that the series is once again easily available in just two volumes (the first one covers most of the ground tackled by the movie adaptation, with significant changes; the second, much thicker volume concludes the entire comic book run.), it’s worth picking up for anyone looking for contemporary action/adventure movie experience with an unlimited production budget.  The ending may be underwhelming, the art may frequently suck, but it’s an enjoyable read nonetheless.  And there’s not one superpower in sight.

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