Comics, Reviews

20th Century Men Review: The Tragedy of War

Explore a dark alternate history of the world where extraordinary men walk the frontlines in the war between global superpowers.

20th Century Men #1
Image: Image Comics
By: Javier ReyesFeb 23, 2024, 2:06 AM

20th Century Men

20th Century Men

Writer: Deniz Camp

Artist: Stipan Morian

Publisher: Image Comics

Release Date: May 23, 2023

Page Count: 296

Format: Comic

This beautifully made graphic novel paints a tragic world with superheroes within the turbulent time of the Soviet-Afghan War. It tells a brutal story about the horrors of war and intense patriotism.

Superheroes in comics are often depicted as symbols of hope and peace. Even with intergalactic warlords or crazy clowns threatening death and destruction on the people of comic book worlds, you can always count on superheroes to save the day and send everyone home happy. But in the comic 20th Century Men, creators Deniz Camp and Stipan Morian paint a world where, even with superheroes, there is no escape from the horror and tragedy of war.

Petar PlatonovImage: Image Comics

Story Overview

The story of 20th Century Men is centered on an alternate version of the Soviet-Afghan War during the 1980s. It’s like Apocalypse Now but with cyborgs and superheroes on the front lines. The focal point of the story is super soldier Petar Platonov. Known by his comrades and enemies as the “Iron Star,” Platonov strikes fear on the battlefield with his iron-clad suit of armor that’s more gorilla than man. To the Soviet army, he is a decorated and well-respected war hero. But to the Afghans and Americans, he is a walking, talking, and thinking bomb.

Terrified and threatened by the implications of Platonov’s involvement in the invasion, US President Thomas Goode commands a swift and violent assault on the Soviets. As the former superhero known as The American Dream, Goode bears a fanatical and selfish love for his county. The president stops at nothing to trample anything that gets in America’s way. With the conflict between Americans and Soviets raging on, the Afghans are left to get caught in between.

The  two sides of warImage: Image Comics

Looking at War's Ugly Face

If you’re thinking of diving into 20th Century Men, first set aside a good amount of time to absorb its compelling story. Despite being only a miniseries, the stories and dialogue within the six issues are packed with emotional monologues and political intrigue. Writer Deniz Camp brilliantly weaves a well-rounded narrative about the tragedy of war by exploring the distinct perspectives of the characters he created. The comic is not a story about the heroes or “winners” of war. 20th Century Men is about the damage war causes to people and cultures. The story unabashedly depicts what war really is: an ugly waste of money and human lives. Issue #4’s narrative structure is a specific stand out in the series in how it juxtaposed visuals of war with the conflicting narratives of the battling sides. The beautiful interplay of art and script tell a story that is as heavy, brutal, and thought-provoking as comics can be.

Stipan Morian’s art throughout the series is a sight to behold. He is a wild man with a pen and paintbrush. The comic is filled with plenty of somber moments that are beautifully illustrated with painstaking detail. But Morian will also drastically shift his style, depicting brutal scenes of war that look ugly and frantic. The shifting art style is played up for dramatic effect to match the mood and tone of different scenes. While some people might see his work as inconsistent and messy, Morian’s creative expression is palpable on every page. There is a consistency in his inconsistencies that shows there are methods to his madness. As compelling as Camp’s script is, Morian’s distinct visual storytelling completes the bold identity that makes 20th Century Men stand out from other comic books coming out today.

Petar bursts into battleImage: Image Comics

Final thoughts:

While reading 20th Century Men, I couldn’t help but be reminded of another great graphic novel: Watchmen. The two comics share similar DNA in how they both toy with the concept of injecting superheroes into pivotal times in human history. By blending reality with comic book fiction, 20th Century Men is an experience that’s equally awe-inspiring and terrifying. The boldness of both Deniz Camp and Stipan Morian as storytellers match up perfectly to tell a tale unafraid of showing the ugliness of war and conflict. While it is not the easiest comic book to pick up and read, its compelling narrative grips you with its iron fist from start to finish.

TAGGED: Image Comics, Reviews