Pooch: “Hell, let’s just say it out loud. We’re talkin’ about declarin’
war on the Central Intelligence Agency.”
Clay: “They started it.”
A Vertigo monthly comic book, creator owned by Andy Diggle (author) and Jock (artist). It was
nominated for the Best New Series Eisner award in 2004, and the creative team were awarded the Ninth
Art Roll of Honour for Breakthrough Talent, 2003.
The Losers were a CIA black ops team set loose in central Asia. Sometime in early 1998, the
helicopter they were on went down in flames somewhere near the Kyber Pass from Pakistan into
Afghanistan. The CIA believed it had killed them. They were wrong. Now the Losers are out for some
The Losers was originally pitched as a four-part short, but Vertigo liked it so much, they
commissioned it as an ongoing series. So far it has been collected in three volumes, Ante Up,
Double Down and Trifecta; the latter will be published in mid-May 2005. The first
comic was published in June 2003, with pre-release publicity including full page advertisements in sister
Vertigo title 100 Bullets.
This was some canny advertising; fans of 100 Bullets’ quick wit, sinister conspiracies and
cinematic influences will feel right at home with The Losers. The strip plays out as a crossbreed
of Ocean’s Eleven and the A-Team, by way of Michael Mann’s Heat and last week’s
front page. Hyper-slick heists mix with snappy dialogue and some sharp observations about America’s war
on terror. (Incidentally, this is not the first time Diggle has written about people on the pointy end of
the anti-terror campaign in order to lambast its political masters. Snow/Tiger, his 7 part
series for British weekly 2000 AD, used the same device by following British and American agents
of a counter-terrorism task force.)
Jock’s art is a huge draw (so to speak) to this series. When he first appeared in the pages of
2000 AD, he was seen as an up-and-coming young Turk with an impressive and individual style.
His work here and on the Judge Dredd Megazine earned him the Best Newcomer award at the 2001
British National Comic Awards. The Megazine saw his first collaboration with Diggle, a noirish
series called Lenny Zero. It was apparently on the strength of this that Vertigo boss Karen
Berger imported the creative team wholesale for The Losers.
His style is scratchy, gritty and moody. He uses light and shade exceptionally well – meetings in
seedy warehouses and covert night operations alike are infused with a darkness exuding from the moral to
the actual. Although his line art has been compared to Eduardo Risso, I find the comparison misleading –
Jock’s pencilling is more realistic than Risso’s exaggerated and sometimes cartoonish characters and his
inking is more atmospheric. The spooks and soldiers Jock puts on the page are put there looking like
they’ve been around the block and can kick ass.
And kick ass they do – while much has been made of the political motivations of this series, at heart
it’s an action thriller in print. Accordingly there is ordnance a-plenty, with some exhilarating
shoot-outs and combat sequences. These guys being from the darker end of black ops, half the fun is how
they get into and out of wherever it is the shootout is happening.
Diggle says, ‘“I gave Jock a big list of movies to give him a sense of the tone I was aiming for. They
included 'Heat,' 'Ronin,' 'Way Of The Gun,' 'Three Kings,' 'Ocean's 11,' 'The Usual Suspects,' 'Leon,'
'Payback'... You get the idea.”’ If this constant pop-culture referencing irritates you, you most likely
will not warm to The Losers. Well-scripted and well-drawn it may be, but hugely original it is
not. As the man says, you get the idea. All well and good, but aiming for such a “cinematic” vibe can
leave The Losers occasionally feeling like it hasn’t quite found its own feet. You can end up
looking at each sequence sideways, subconsciously trying to work out what it’s referencing.
Suffice it to say that if you are a fan of any of the other series, films or shows mentioned up to now,
you will probably like The Losers and as such you should waste no time in getting down to your
local neighbourhood comic store and snapping it up. Or just get onto Amazon and pick up the collections.
I like it as a rollicking good action-thriller, with plenty of intrigue and a few well put digs to the
Man to keep the interest.
There are some spoilers in the following section of the review. With series like this where so much
of the appeal is built on plot twists and mystery, I tend to get hyper-sensitive on spoilers, so I
understand if anyone wants to bail out here.
Spoiler shields ON!
Still with me?
Diggle is creating a story in which what is known is precious little, and what is unknown is hinted at
with smoke, mirrors and misdirection. What seems clear so far is that the Losers’ Agency handler, Max,
set them up (the bomb), arranging for their helicopter to be shot down.
Payback’s first stage is stealing an Army Chinook from the White Sands Missile Test Range in New
Mexico. Moved by road, resprayed and outfitted with a big-ass electromagnet, the helicopter is then
used in a marvellous set-piece sequence to pluck a CIA security van from the Staten Island bridge –with SWAT team guards still inside!
This, however, is just a warm-up. In the meantime, the Losers’ next big score is going after Goliath, a
multinational conglomerate with fingers in oil and mercenary pies. The rationale is that the Agency
protects American interests. American interests are big business; so going after the business hurts the
Agency. Of course, it helps that the CIA uses Goliath’s Customs-exempt service ships as mules to run
heroin and cocaine into America. The plan is to lift a hard drive containing the off-the-book drug
accounts from the Goliath refinery in Houston. This can then be bargained for immunity
and a return to real life. But once in the oil complex, it all goes snafu, with Roque betraying the team
for a cargo container full of a cold $250 million cash. Luckily enough, the oil terminal is also a
way-point for another CIA operation moving arms, and the remaining Losers get trapped in a warehouse
housing a fuel-air bomb big enough to level most of Houston. Lucked out. They use this to hold the
entire oil refinery hostage while they make their escape.
One daring, hair-trigger getaway later, and Clay tracks Roque and Wade to a hangar at George Bush
International. They are loading the $250m into a cargo plane, and it transpires that they are working for Max, who wants the money for activities unknown on
Montserrat. Showdown here – think Face/Off or Die Hard 2 – with Wade eventually
meeting a rather gruesome end at the hands of 1) a speeding pick-up truck, 2) a concrete bollard 3) a glass
windscreen and finally 4) a turning jet turbine. The damage caused by the human/jet engine interface
causes the destruction of the cargo plane a few seconds into its flight.
Roque bails out of the plane with a parachute and carjacks his way into the sunset, while
on the phone to the mysterious Max. The first collection, Ante Up, ends here. Roque seems to be
set up for a position as Max’s recurring henchman throughout the rest of the series. Tune in next week ...
The Losers roll call:
Aisha – Afghan mudjahedin. Knives, eyebrow piercing and an attitude.
Clay – the leader. The man with the plan, he uses anything from an M16 to a MOAB.
Cougar – laconic sniper. Long haired Latino, not that you can tell under the Panama
hat that seems to be welded to his head.
Jensen – ECM nerd, hacker and adrenaline junkie. Hobbies include cracking computer
encryption in his underwear.
Pooch – pilot and driver. Terminally relaxed, and the only one of the Losers who seems to
have a family (in the first episode, he says, “I miss my girls, y’know?”)
Roque – all round bad-attitude bad-ass. Second in command. Usually carries a submachine
gun or pistol. Turns coat in the Houston refinery raid.
Fennel – feckless CIA staffer. In charge of the security convoy jacked in New York.
Killed by Wade.
Mutchell – works for Credit Cayman Internationale, a Goliath subsidiary. Arranges the
money transfer to the Goliath terminal in Houston, after which he is (you guessed it) killed by Wade.
Sanderson – CIA Deputy Director, Operations. In the loop on Goliath’s CIA sponsored drug-
and arms-running operations. Although he works for the CIA, he claims to know nothing about Max. It’s
unclear whether Sanderson is a “goodie” or a “baddie”.
Wade – psychotic mercenary in the employ of Paradigm Security, another Goliath subsidiary.
Involved in the Santa Maria massacre witnessed by the Losers in Colombia. Killed at George Bush
Max – Keyser Soze. The one frame he is glimpsed in Ante Up, he is seen from
behind in a plushly decorated office, heavily shadowed. Smoke curls from a cigar resting in an ashtray; a
huge American flag is hung on the wall in front of him.
Diggle and Jock, 2004. The Losers: Ante Up, DC Comics