Review by Karl Verhoven
Gung-Ho’s opening panel tells us we’re in the near future, and the sample page of Thomas von Kummant’s exceptional art just about seals the mood throughout. It’s a cinematic mixture of drama, action and mystery in which we’re introduced to Archer and Zack Goodwoody, being transported to a guarded compound called Fort Apache. All inhabitants are trained to defend themselves and the community, which is subject to attack from what’s referred to as the Danger Zone outside, although it’s a fair while before the threat is revealed. We also learn that corruption is rife within the administration, which will have consequences in Volume 2.
This hardcover combines the first two editions of the German action drama. Benjamin von Eckartsberg rolls out his plot at a leisurely pace, but his methods are professional. Via Archer and Zack’s induction the tensions within the community are highlighted, along with the pecking order and routines, so when the action finally arrives there’s a context. While the tour of the cast reveals enough contradictory personalities to sustain a dramatic series, the eventual reason the community is so strict on protocol and routine is a real surprise. The mystery has been prolonged, although everyone within Fort Apache is aware, and casual references are made, with von Eckartsberg even toying with readers by suggesting a false problem. Much of Gung-Ho is carried by Archer and Zack’s personalities, Archer the perennial charismatic bad boy and Zack quieter, in awe of his brother, yet just as resourceful and possibly even braver.
For all von Eckartsberg’s dramatic skills, over the introductory story the surprises are few, meaning the star turn here is von Kummant’s illustrations. These are spectacular, seemingly digitally created, with every panel a full, richly textured picture. The cast are well designed, but the locations really stand out, with a use of light rarely seen in comics, where the emphasis tends to fall on darkness. He’s good with action, and he’s good with emotion, so really is the full artistic package.
The cast is broadened in the second story, which introduces a new physical education teacher who’s a real triumph. “You boy, why so fat?” is his greeting to one youngster, “Skip training? Steal food? What wrong with you?”, a greeting delivered after a journey few would attempt given the dangers. He’s interesting, but after that scene teenage drama is again prioritised, and it’s better for moving away from Archer to Zack. Archer may be funnier, but Zack is less predictable, and the second story is stronger for that.
It’s a fair bet that in Europe Gung-Ho is aimed at a teenage audience, with the concentration on a teenage cast and violent sensibilities similar to the likes of The Hunger Games. However, copious swearing, nudity and scenes of forced sex raise it to adult level for English language readers. This is a decent start, but is a younger adult audience going to spring for a hardcover format?