A Graphic Novel by Brent Dulak (Author), Kevin Knodell (Author), David Axe (Author), Per Darwin Berg (Illustrator)
After reading The ‘Stan, I noticed that Dead Reckoning had published another book on The Afghanistan War called Machete Squad. With the crazy cover art and provocative title I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but thankfully this book is far more subdued than what I expected. This is an autobiographical look at the hardships of a U.S. Medic station in the deepest Taliban regions of war-torn Afghanistan. Written partly by Brent Dulak, the book is a testimonial on what he went through as part of the titular squad during his tour. Sometimes funny, sometimes dark, and even occasionally hopeful, this book covers the wide range of emotions any soldier goes through when placed in the line of fire.
“Brent Dulak doesn’t want to go to Afghanistan. Haunted by the memories of his two tours in Iraq and burnt out on soldiering, he wants nothing more than to engage in self-destructive behavior. He’s a U.S. Army medic who was recently promoted to sergeant, in charge of a team of soldiers whose job it will be to patch up the wounded at a remote outpost as the Americans prepare to turn Kandahar Province over to the Afghan forces. That won’t be easy: Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban. It’s filled with motivated insurgents, questionable local allies, and countless ways to die. Brutally honest and darkly funny, Machete Squad is the story of a soldier trying to keep people alive as America’s longest war rages all around him. He must look out for the welfare of his men and their patients even as he doubts his own abilities–and at times his sanity.”
This is an interesting comic in that autobiographies have a real tendency to glorify the author, and in many cases an effort is made to create a folk hero out of a person that has no real business being revered (coughAmericanSnipercough). Brent Dulak shows his struggles with PTSD, emotionless relationships, alcohol dependency, and other issues that military personnel deal with after tours of foreign countries, but nobody seems to want to talk about. While the story does show how he uses this background to improve himself and become a beacon of good, his road getting there is VERY rough. Hats off to Dulak for not sugar-coating anything.
The artwork by illustrator Per Darwin Berg is not your typical comic art, and somewhat sets this apart from other books. It has an intentionally sketchy style that initially looks somewhat underdrawn, that is until you see some of the gorgeous landscape scenes or action-packed battle scenes. It’s one of those styles that really grows on the reader as they consume the book. As for other members of the creative team, one of the authors is David Axe, former war correspondent and author of The ‘Stan. His name keeps popping up on all sorts of Afghanistan War comics, and with one more that I plan to read, I will likely get real acquainted with his name.
Overall, this book was pretty good and did a good job of showing how Hellish “America’s longest war” was. The book has a competent story, interesting characters and a good message. It has to be stressed that the content within the story is not necessarily for kids, and the artwork can get pretty grizzly at times, although it never gets too explicit. That said, I always firmly believe that war needs to be shown for what it is, and not some nationalistic “Go team America!” cheering session. Machete Squad does a great job of being a compelling and realistic war memoir, and I’d love to see the creative team do more. Another solid offering from Dead Reckoning and the US Naval Institute.
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