The book version of acclaimed webcomic Shooting War just came out. Set in 2011, Shooting War follows a videoblogger to Iraq, where the war continues, worse than ever. The comic, originally posted at Smithmag.com, explores the (bleak) future of mainstream media as well as the mainstreaming of bloggers and vloggers. The book version adds 110 pages of new material and smooths out the webcomic's sometimes jerky flow.
Lefty videoblogger Jimmy Burns is doing a video podcast about the evils of corporate American when the Starbucks behind him explodes. A cable news channel scoops up his feed and stars airing it live, and he instantly becomes a global celebrity. Global News sends him to Iraq, where soldiers are searching for President McCain's son. Burns struggles with becoming a whore for the mainstream media and the U.S. army. But then a new radical Islamic terrorist group starts using Burns for its own ends as well.
(Weirdly enough, the McCain for President campaign is advertising on the Shooting War site, even though the comic depicts a John McCain presidency as an unparalleled catastrophe. I kept wondering if this was a joke, but it isn't.)
Shooting War reads like writer Anthony Lappé's love letter to old-school broadcast news, which no longer exists in 2011. Lappé runs the lefty Guerilla News Network and worked on a Showtime documentary about Iraq. In the graphic novel, the cable news networks are shallow and evil, and Dan Rather haunts the book like the ghost of responsible journalism. (The Shooting War website says the book version features, "by popular demand, more Dan Rather than you can shake a dead armadillo at.") So somebody must have really liked the Dan Rather cameos, which now seem a bit excessive and hagio(porno)graphic.
The Iraq war, meanwhile, has spawned terrorist attacks all over the U.S. and Europe, plus a suitcase nuke in India. The comic's worst case scenario presumes super-competent terrorists, but still seems freakily plausible.
One major improvement in Shooting War's book version is Dan Goldman's art, which no longer has to fit into a series of oblong rectangles. The mixture of photos, painting and drawing looks a lot more natural on the page, and the edits give more of a movie-like flow to the narrative.
The main weakness of Shooting War is its preachiness. You'll want to skim some of the long speeches that Lappé puts into the mouths of his characters. In particular, the leader of terrorist group Sword of Mohammed spews out a mixture of ideology and infodump that fills a few pages with word balloons. It feels like the mistake of a rookie graphic novel writer, who's more used to writing pure prose.
But Shooting War is lurid and clever enough that you almost forget it's a political screed written by a documentary film-maker. You can just enjoy the dystopian future porn and ignore the political messages, although you may find yourself thinking about them later.