WRITER: J. Michael Straczynski
PENCILS: Scott McDaniel and Tom Derenick
COLORS: Tom S Chu and Guy Major
INKS: Andy Owens and Bill Sienkiewicz
LETTERS: Sal Cipariano
SYNOPSIS: In Afghanistan, Lt. Joseph Higgins sends off an email shortly before going on patrol. His email tells of his father who went missing five years earlier. As he sends the email, soldiers under his command spot a caravan and they choose to check it out in case it is carrying weapons.
As they set up a checkpoint and approach the caravan, all the cars turn around and head out of the area. Turns out what Higgins and his troops expected to be their checkpoint has turned into an ambush that they walked right into. Amidst the firefight an R.P.G. is fired. Higgins is the only soldier who survives the ambush, but he blacks out just as help arrives.
Higgins somewhat regains consciousness later in a hospital. Men towering above him who do not appear to be doctors are discussing putting him through a procedure. Something that will make him better. Something that will make him amazing.
Three months later General Latham is addressing a room full of suits at the Pentagon. He informs them that Project Shield has been yielding extraordinary results.
He explains the the Shield suit grants extreme strength, limited flight, and the abilities of viewing multiple visual spectrums and monitoring various communications frequencies. The major downside is that the wearer, in this case Lt. Higgins, had been injured so severely that without the suit he would die in a matter of minutes. This explanation gives Latham the perfect opportunity to reveal the Shield to the assembled group personally.
Later on, we see the Shield in action in more of Latham's tests. The suit withstands machine gun fire, allows Higgins to upend a tank and leap high enough into the air to bring down a monitor drone. We also see a man sitting in his home watching the same footage on the evening news. The news report gives Higgins's identity open and freely because he says he has no family alive left to protect. At this point, the man picks up a picture of himself and what appears to be a younger Joseph Higgins.
Aboard a military aircraft, Higgins is looking at the same picture. He is told they are moments away from the drop point. As he is counted out, Higgins leaps from the plane without a parachute, dropping directly in front of enemy soldiers. These scenes are interspersed with scenes of Latham talking about how it's about time the military had their own personal superhero--one that will make the other countries stand up and take notice and be afraid to challenge the United States military. He hopes to make a small army of Shield soldiers that can take out enemies as quickly an easily as Higgins is shown doing to the small band facing him.
Back at base camp we see Higgins attempt to relax after the ordeal. His suit slowly turns invisible and we can see the major amount of scarring down to his body.
At the moment, he gets an email. It is a long-delayed response from a mysterious person known as The Web saying he will help try to locate Higgins's father. Higgins talks with his personal liaison who tells him a story about a man he once had dealings with who disappeared off the grid because he could see "the circle," something that connects everybody together, for good or ill.
Back in the U.S. we see the man from the photo discussing things with a scientist named Dr. Dickering. The man is indeed revealed to be Dr. Higgins, Joseph's father. The two men discuss Joseph and Project Shield before our view is shifted to The Web working furiously at his computer and a man engulfed in flames (Inferno) standing in the middle of a hedge maze.
MY THOUGHTS: Honestly, the first time I read this story I really didn't think I liked it. The story wasn't something I really wanted at the time. Yes, it's an origin story pretty akin to Robocop, so I can't argue that point. But really I wasn't wanting a fallen military man being played by the system. I was hoping for something closer to the Shield taking down criminals or supervillains. Something in between Batman and Superman, you know? Or even just a Captain America knockoff.
Nope. Got stuck with this. And you know what? After reading for the third or fourth time, I find myself enjoying it. It's a setup for the overall Red Circle titles DC was doing at the time. The Impact! version of the the Shield was long gone at this point--nothing more than a faded quarter bin memory. However, DC decided to try and bring a few of the characters back for one more try before Archie got the rights back. The Red Circle titles were that effort on DC's part. I don't believe they did too well, but looking at this issue I can kind of see why.
The story is actually fairly solid for what it is. It's not necessarily entertaining, though, and that is where it lost me. I could finally get behind the plot itself. Higgins is actually a fairly decent character, even if he has less personality that a background character in a G.I. Joe issue. But Higgins can't carry the book entirely by himself. There's no real drama and not much action. The book needs both and it really could benefit from decided for sure if it will be a fun superhero story or an angst-filled search for a missing father amidst government betrayal.
The art is another point of contention. At some points the art is wonderful. It's nothing amazing, mind you, but it is at least coherent. The people look like people, the Shield looks heroic. You know, typical comics. At other times, though, characters look exaggerated and distorted, especially the Shield himself. His muscle structure is exaggerated to nearly Image proportions and his hands look almost like those of a cheap action figure. I'm not sure what happened to cause all this, though. At least the colors look nice, right?
If you are curious about the Red Circle books and can find this cheap, it's worth checking out. But overall I wouldn't suggest actively seeking this one out. Sorry folks, but it's just not that amazing.