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Comic Book Review – The Old Guard Book One: Opening Fire

The Old Guard #1–5
Created by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández
Colours by Daniela Miwa, Letters by Jodi Wynne
Published by Image Comics

Because I’m trying to return to regular blogging, I thought I’d try some of that ‘scheduling content’ stuff, where the blogger talks about something that is relevant to the time at which it is posted (not my strong point, I must admit).

The film of The Old Guard, starring Charlize Theron, will arrive on Netflix in July, so it seems sensible to discuss the comic book story on which the film is based, especially as the screenplay has been written by Rucka as well. I’ll review the film when it comes out, like one of those semi-professional bloggers who pays attention to these sorts of things.

The introductory quote sets up the idea behind the book: ‘This is a fairy tale of blood and bullets.’ Simple yet beautiful. It deals with questions such as ‘What is life without death?’, ‘What does it mean to fight and not die?’, ‘What do you live for?’, while delivering a captivating and exciting story about characters you believe in and care for – which is what you want out of a good comic book.

The book is based around a team of mercenaries: Andy, Nicky, Joe and Booker. They are offered a job in South Sudan by an ex-CIA client called Copley; Andy, the leader, wants to pass but is convinced to do it because kids are being held hostage and the job has to be done quickly. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, Sgt Nile Freeman, a young black female soldier, has her throat slit by a man she’s shot but is trying to save; however, she seems to recover, without even a scar …

Back in South Sudan, the team discovers that they’ve been set up – there were no kids held hostage, and they are attacked by a unit of professional soldiers, who shoot them to pieces. Except our mercenaries don’t die – they get back up and kill everyone, only to discover that the incident was filmed and streamed offsite. Their secret is out: they are immortal, and someone wants them.

This is just the first issue – Rucka shows how to create a first issue effectively by setting up the world (modern mercenaries), introducing the characters (Andy and her team, Nile) and the inciting incident (discovering the soldiers can’t die). This is helped by Fernández’s art – excellent storytelling, able to handle talking scenes and the action scenes (the firefight is particularly well done – the panels are dense but clear, breaking out from the grid format to demonstrate the hectic and frantic nature of the shootout, with the ‘BANG-BANG’ and ‘BUDDA’-BUDDA’ lettering in the backgrounds outside the panels driving home the intensity and volume of the noise), but also in the character work. All the people look completely different – the shape and size of the head, the eyes and nose, where the mouth is placed on the skull and the shapes made, the width and heights of the bodies are all varied to demonstrate the natural variety of humanity. This seems logical, but it’s something that doesn’t necessarily occur in comic books all the time because artists have a certain anatomy that they use for men and women, hoping that costume and hair shape/colour is enough to distinguish them.

The characters of the Old Guard are varied: Nile, the newbie, is someone with a surprising amount of skills despite her youth, and an appreciation of art history; Booker, the next youngest at around 200 years old, a former forger and French soldier in Napoleon’s army who deserted during the disastrous Russian campaign; Nicky and Joe are around 1000 years old, having battled on opposing sides during the First Crusade; Andy, short for Andromache (although she introduces herself to Nile as Andronika the Scythian), is much, much older, leading the team because of her greater experience, but who has lost her place in the constantly changing world, hooking up with strangers and not feeling anything.

Rucka always works well when immersed in the real world, from his crime books to his superhero work and sci-fi – for example, Lazarus by Rucka and Michael Lark is science fiction but it’s based on the world as it is now in regards to the dominion of corporations – and he layers in details and ideas on top of this foundation. The way that the others dream about Nile now that she is one of them is a nice touch, and when Andy grabs her and explains it: they are effectively immortal, there is no reason for it, but they can die eventually but after a long, long time. Booker explaining why Nile can never see her family again is another nice touch: they will all die, and if you try to get in touch with them, they will ask questions and beg for immortality that can’t be given, then curse your for it and then do horrible things in desperation. It all works well together, as Andy, Booker and Nile go to retrieve the captured Nicky and Joe, and there’s even time for humour (Andy to Nile as they’re falling from the 34th floor of a building: ‘So, Nile. Read any good books lately?’).

I was expecting to enjoy The Old Guard because I’m a fan of Rucka, and I was not disappointed. He and Fernández make a good team, and I want to know more about the characters, both their continuing adventures and their long history. I can’t wait for the next volume and I’m eager to see the film – I just hope it’s better than the film version of Whiteout

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