The grim, near-future world outlined in Shooting War, a compelling new serialized online graphic novel, is not hard to imagine - a world where terrorist bombings on American soil are routine, sectarian chaos in Iraq has spread far beyond its borders, an Islamic insurgency has evolved to be as media-savvy as it is ruthless, and a blogger finds himself thrust onto the world stage by a salivating global news corporation after bearing witness to the latest bit of human suffering.
This is our world extrapolated along a bleak timeline to one possible outcome. The project, wonderfully crafted by writer Anthony LappM-i and brilliantly illustrated by Dan Goldman, is not your typical online graphic novel effort. While deeply engrossing, accessible and entertaining, its theme is certainly heavier than the average Sunday morning comic strip.
The project appears to be the first of its kind to address the Iraq war, and from the first few frames, it plunges in with a fury.
Shooting War is nothing less than a shot across the bow of the blog generation.
The plot, outlined on the project's Web site, smithmag.us/shootingwar, goes as follows: "The year is 2011, and Jimmy Burns, a young anti-corporate blogger has just seen his Williamsburg apartment blown to bits by yet another terrorist attack on New York City. He's recorded the gruesome scene on his videoblog camera - footage Burns beams live to a freaked-out world and that makes him an overnight media sensation. Exploited by his own network (Global News: 'Your home for 24-hour terror coverage'), enraged by the terrorists, and determined to tell the American people the truth, Burns takes off for Iraq to get the real story of a war that's been raging for more than eight years."
In less-skilled hands, such a story would run the risk of sinking into melodrama, adolescent techno-adventurism or some other common graphic novel pitfall, but LappM-i and Goldman have created a serious tale filled with the texture and detail of skilled storytellers.
"Shooting War is a commentary about where we're headed in Iraq and the larger war on terror as well as the role of bloggers in telling the stories of the future," LappM-i said in a written statement.
"Anthony's created a slipstream near-future where the whole world is now the Third World and our foreign policy karma's come home to roost," Goldman added in the statement. "We're talking reverberations and repercussions."
Readers shouldn't be surprised to learn that LappM-i has spent time in the Iraqi war zone - he was the producer of the lauded Showtime documentary Battleground: 21 Days on the Empire's Edge - and he says that he drew extensively upon his Iraq experiences for this project.
The work is resonating with a lot of people. In the month since its launch, Shooting War has gained the attention of many bloggers, and the fan base appears to grow larger with each weekly installment.
But for a popular culture steeped in vapid, escapist entertainment and melodramatic celebrity worship, Shooting War is a shock to the system.
To be sure, this is entertainment. But it's entertainment with outrage, with provocation and with a message.
And that message is: There's a war on. It's time to wake up.
Listen to Troy McCullough's podcasts at baltimoresun.com/onblogs.