"Patty Hearst Heard the Burst": Joshua Dysart's Unknown Soldier, the Faceless Thompson Gunner
It’s impossible, while reading Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli’s superlative Unknown Soldier, to not think of the late, great Warren Zevon’s ballad of Roland, the so-called “headless Thompson gunner”, and his seemingly endless battle. Perhaps there's a reason for that.
“God had given you one face, and you make yourself another.”
--William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Stress is a very powerful psychological condition that has always been largely underestimated by those outside of the psychological community. It can cause bodily problems, mood swings, insomnia and more.
For Dr. Moses Lwanga, the titular figure of Joshua Dysart’s Vertigo reworking of the DC Comics staple Unknown Soldier, the overwhelming stress of seeing what his home country of Uganda had become after years away, combined with a brutal attack from gun-wielding lunatics, led the good doctor to carve off large portions of his own face and wrap what was left in bandages.
Though a startling, thought-provoking work of fiction, Unknown Solider manages to shine a light on a portion of the world that Western news typically ignores. To most Westerners who aren’t in the know, reading Unknown Soldier is probably like watching a Jason Bourne film. To those citizens of the world who are painfully aware of Uganda’s terrible difficulties, it’s like reading an illustrated newspaper. Sometimes we forget that child soldiers, burning villages, sexual violence and abuse, dictatorships and oppressive hopelessness are not works of fiction. Sometimes we need a wake-up call, and Joshua Dysart brings his Soldier to the front lines of a war to wake us up for all time.
Using stress in a similar way to how Brian K. Vaughan did in Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina -- that is, simultaneously elevating the stress levels of the readers, characters, and plotlines -- Dysart has created a stunning tale of immediacy that demands attention, and woe to anyone who doesn’t read it, because as it was once noted, “it can never happen here.”
And we all know how true that isn’t.
This week in The Iconographies, we’ll examine Joshua Dysart’s Unknown Soldier and what it has to say about stress, as well as its remarkable similarities to a beloved Warren Zevon track.