If you’ve heard of Jordan Speer, it’s probably because of the glowy, sculptural digital art he makes — beautiful little artifacts from the retro-future, like underground comics you’d find at a head shop located in the world of TRON. It’s almost unfair, then, that in this six-page (including “cover”) 2-D comic he proves just as adept at this form.
“Operation Vaporizer” is a short sharp shock of a war/sci-fi/horror comic, narrated by a veteran reminiscing about his time with a top-secret unit that tested an experimental telepathic weapon in the jungles of Vietnam. The Full Metal Jacket-style slang (“I was in The Shit”) and the dingy green and red-orange palette root the thing to the period, providing a solid platform for diving out into the Weird.
The comic’s secret weapon is the secret weapon itself, a big round helmet with a conical, beak-like extension. It’s so simple, and so odd, that it practically demands you construct a back story for its development (my theory: Roswell aliens) — or it would, if you weren’t rooted to the spot by the horrifying simplicity of its destructive power. “Turns out all you had to do was IMAGINE your enemy’s death … and they’d VAPORIZE right there in front of you.” That’s well and good, but the real gruesome shit begins if the weapon-wielder’s concentration falters for some reason — thoughts of home, comically explicit hate-fantasies about girlfriends mid-coitus with other men, charitable feelings toward the enemy. “Then they took a lot longer to die. They’d just sort of MELT.”
That’s the strip’s vector into the goopy, textural stuff Speer usually likes to do, as evidenced by the melting plastic army man on the cover, and it translates really well into the doughy, unfussy line art he’s deploying here. But it’s also a brutal reproach to the project of war: Anything less than unwavering dedication to the act of killing results only in more brutality, psychologically agonizing for you and physically agonizing for the enemy. Still, the strip’s abrupt ending and flashback structure both point to a silver lining of sorts: If the weapon’s still a secret, that means it was never adopted as a widespread weapon of war. Human decency in the face of the war machine may lead to nothing but torment for everyone involved, but even that is an obstacle it’s not yet possible to wholly overcome.