Stitched Vol 1 by Garth Ennis graphic novel review

Garth Ennis and Mike Wolfer’s military horror comic Stitched is out 31 March 2013

Perhaps because of its origins in a 15 minute short film, Stitched – although covering a lot of territory familiar to its author, Garth Ennis, the prolific comic-creator best known for Preacher, Punisher MAX, The Boys, and the fantastic Fury, My War Gone By – is strangely reductive and restrained, and even worse – conventional.

Clad in Ennis’ carefully honed real world conflict trappings, complete with moral ambiguity and factual gristle, Stitched is a sort of revenant Dog Soldiers or Middle-Eastern Outpost, as the surviving US crew of Black Hawk helicopter, and the battle-hardened SAS team them were supposed to be extracting, are yomping across Afghanistan, pursued by mysterious, reanimated corpses, controlled by shadowy priest-like figures in the service of a Taliban-enabling heroin cartel.

It feels real, the setting is evocative and rich in promise, and Ennis is an expert at squaddie banter – check out his brilliant war comic Battlefields for proof – but the genuine hook here, the USP, is dealt with so glibly that it’s impossible to feel satisfied.

What starts as a break from the Western zombie tradition, with Wight-like figures in rough cloth robes, becomes a huge door to nowhere, when the background and mythology is left unexplored, leaving the narrative in the hands of a simple made-for-TV action movie mission-gone-wrong set up, like any number of those Navy SEAL sequels that used to be in constant rotation of Channel 5.

The clean style of Avatar Press stalwart Mike Wolfer (Gravel, Lady Death) adds to the claustrophobic lack of scope – a solid enough artist, he seems to have so little to show beyond repetitive fight scenes against a backdrop of repetitive rocks, that for a horror comic it feels particularly unhorrific, with the blood and guts a sort of strangely clinical presentation, rather than any sort of mind-bending, eye-widening horror movie set-piece.

Clearly beholden in tone and scale to the low budget short film in sprang from, Stitched doesn’t really bring out the best in anyone involved.

Ennis, as we know from his long service to DC’s Vertigo imprint and Marvel’s Max line, as well as a bevy of brilliant creator-owned titles, is capable of far, far bigger and better work when the reins are loosen.