Shooters protagonist Terry Glass isn't that different from the kind of character you'd play in a Medal of Honor, Battlefield or Call of Duty game. He's a fictional American soldier fighting in the geopolitical hotspots where America's armed forces face off against disparate, tough-to-pin-down threats. Young, handsome and affable, Glass fights for all the right reasons: to uphold a family tradition of serving his nation. But this graphic novel diverges greatly from the video games it slightly resembles by showing just how brutal life back gets once a soldier has answered the call of duty.
Written by Eric Trautmann and Brandon Jerwa, with black-and-white art by Steve Leiber, Shooters shows how one ordinary man's life gets chewed up after an awful battlefield accident. Readers meet Terry in 2003-era Iraq, palling around with fellow soldiers and getting orders for a special escort mission. But what would normally be routine goes horribly wrong when things Glass suffers injuries after a mistaken American airstrike. He gets sent home to convalesce and, once he's back in the States, he becomes dependent on a wife resentful of his absenteeism. (For what it's worth, it sounds like the next Medal of Honor game will try to explore similar territory.) Making matters worse, Terry gets stymied by a seemingly uncaring military bureaucracy that won't give him the answers he desperately craves about how the airstrike happened.
It's clear that Shooters has been well-researched and thougthtfully considered by its creators. A lot of the military jargon and detailed minutiae about weapons and procedure that you'll find in a COD or BF game shows up here, but it feels more real by virtue of being paired up with a down-to-earth, hurry-up-and-wait take on military service. A real sense of camaraderie and loss gets generated by the writers' naturalistic dialogue and Lieber's art brings out a believable gamut of complicated emotions to the characters' faces. Even the agents of the opposing force get spared easy demonization as Lieber renders them with the fear and horror they too feel in the heat of combat.
One thing that Shooters does that war video games rarely do is lay out the belligerent tension between enlisted men and private military operators. Even though they share the same combat spaces and purposes, there's a mix of envy, machismo and distrust that can crop up, too. When his attempts at transitioning back to civilian normalcy fail, Terry finds himself drawn into the employ of a fictional private military organization. Once there, he finds himself on the flip side of the sneering dismissal that he once held for soldiers-for-hire.
The writing doesn't shy away from exploring the adrenaline rush that active-duty soldiers can experience. Surviving a military engagement and taking out those who want to kill you provides a resonant thrill. Video games get that part of a soldier's life right. But the developers making the war games of today could stand to learn a few lessons from the way that Shooters displays heartache, bureaucratic dysfunction and psychological repercussions that coincide with the thrill of shooting.