The Forever War (#1 – 6, Titan Comics 2017 edition) – Joe Haldeman

5 out of 5

A fantastically sweeping work of speculative sci-fi that, like many of the greats of the genre, proves continually relevant, even nearly 20 years after the publication of its source material.

Before diving into the plot, there is one major milestone this series achieves that sets it at the top of a list of both quality sci-fi and effective adaptations: it manages to have the most perfect sense of scope.  Having not read the book, I can’t say how the depth of the material here compares, but regardless, Forever’s pacing and contemplative tone are masterfully honed for the comic medium.  It’s easy to say this is due to having the book author scripting the comic, but there are plenty of attempts of the same variety that prove that that’s not a reliable metric, not to mention how many seasoned comic vets stumble over how to squeeze a book onto ye olde words+art page.  Lead character Mandella – a scientist conscripted into the space army – is intelligent enough to intuitively understand  the battle tech but the same traits keep him detached enough to not become battle hardened; his personality thus gives us a blend of the situational naivety we, as readers, need to become immersed, but with a refreshingly informed point of view, and yet one without the detail-heavy prattling and “subtle” moral preaching that the scientist character type in world-building sci-fi often entails.  This is captured in the first scene with writer Joe Haldeman’s and artist Marvano’s clinical but affected showing / telling of a crew mate’s death during a training exercise.  The visually poetic severed head drifting across the panel sets a tone that’s successfully carried forward thereafter.

And the thereafter is riveting, both to read and look at.  We essentially are following Mandella’s tenure in the army, during humanity’s war with a race dubbed the Taurians; though his experienced time of a few years is relatively short, his luck at surviving and the time dilation of traveling via space rifts leaves Mandella as generally the oldest – by centuries – combatant in any group to which he’s tied.  This relative seniority moves him quickly up in the ranks, one of the many “just because” style logics that are touched upon in the tale, and can certainly be traced to various government / military practices throughout time.

Occasional visits back to Earth or a docking station reset the timeframe: technology and society has evolved by millenia; Mandella’s personality allows him muse at the changes and adapt to the surprisingly  (mostly) forward-thinking extrapolations on sexuality and propaganda / media, avoiding the obvious dystopic Hunger Games models that are the cliché.  The world of Forever War – the world that is involved in a seemingly forever war – is a believable one: flawed as ever while it advances, and mostly tolerable, with bad news still lingering behind its shiny exteriors.

One undoubtedly purposeful – and incredibly interesting aspect – is how rarely Mandella and our characters directly interact with the Taurians.  Indeed, we never see then outside of their spacesuits, and the war is kicked off without anyone having seen one.  Again, Haldeman doesn’t drive this point into the ground: there are legitimate battles, and a legitimate threat, but the bulk of the action is traveling to and from missions, just surviving; this becomes a way of life, and, again again, the fear of a mostly unseen foe is an all too relatable sensation.

The story’s eloquence is marvelously served by artist Marvano.  While the characters and settings are similar to the clare ligne  style common to European comics (Forever War was initially published in ’88), his grasp of matching page layout to the pacing and tone of the script is uncanny, and enables him to bring in other influences from beyond the Euro playing field.  It looks fresh, even to this day.

Titan has spread the 3-album series into 6 issues, the original storylines appearing for two issues each.  The production is up to usual Titan high standards, and the design (specifically the bookend pages) nudges along the impression of this being s serious read.

High praise for the book and comic already abounds.  This is a great opportunity for you to toss your hat into  that ring as well, if only that I may continue my evil hat-gathering schemes.