In this thrilling 4-issue collection from Top Cow, excitement is the watchword here. From the tense opening assault to the quiet desperation of Clayton, a man trapped by forces he cannot control, this story seesaws back and forth between Clayton’s mission, the disintegration of the now-criminal squad, and the story of what happened in Iraq that lead to this showdown.
Much like the Vietnam War gave us a wide gamut of entertainment from Green Berets (1967) to Apocalypse Now (1979), the Iraq War has now become fodder for several stellar works. You can trace some of the antecedents of this book in pieces such as David O. Russell’s Three Kings and Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down. Infused with some of the same grittiness, 39 Minutes moves at a breakneck speed, sometimes at the cost of characterization, but is never boring.
Harms’ storytelling skills shine in the strong portrayals of his main characters, with clearly-drawn motivations and beliefs. When initially offered the deal that would save their careers, Clayton turns it down, because his honor won’t let him embrace a lie. Bishop, now leading the rogue Marines on a Midwest crime spree that would make Charles Starkweather proud, clings desperately to his mission like a drowning man, even as the team starts to break down and die around him.
Lando’s artwork is strong and capable but might have been better served with a more dynamic hand during the action sequences. As it is, he brings a calm orderliness to the chaos, with little confusion as to what’s happening, and his lines are clean and sure.
Originally the winner of Top Cow’s 2010 “Pilot Season’ contest, there was a three-year gap between the first issue and the publication of the collected graphic novel. While initially confusing, it’s most marked by the change in artwork styles between chapters 1 and 2, moving from traditional sharp outlines and colors to a more painterly style; however, this is a small concern and won’t detract from the caliber of the story within.
VERDICT: FOUR 6.8mm Remington Shell Casings out of FIVE