Black Powder Red Earth is a Military And Warfare Graphic Novel series written by Jon Chang and illustrated by Josh Taylor. Set 20 Minutes into the Future in an alternate history where Iraq splintered after the US withdrawl, the story follows Cold Harbor, an American PMC, as it conducts operations within the Middle East on behalf of its clients.
Series 01: Iraq follows two Cold Harbor operators, Token and Grinch, on Cold Harbor operations within the splinter state of Basran, countering Iranian operations and influence on behalf of both the Saudi and Basran governments. While Cold Harbor balances serving multiple masters and interests, Token and Grinch are trying to stay out of trouble - but they may not have a choice in the matter...
Series 02: Syria picks the story six months later. Token now leads Cold Harbor special operations contractors running a kill-capture program targeting Islamic State jihadists and Syrian Republican Guard paramilitaries within the nascent Kurdish nation-state, and continues to juggle multiple masters and agendas, with threats are both within and without: competing Kurdish interests, Saudi intelligence, US Department of Defense, even Cold Harbor's own corporate infighting, demanding greater results from the Evergreen program...
Series 03: Yemen is a prequel, set months before the events of Iraq. Cold Harbor operators are on the ground in Yemen, guarding American corporate interests in the Yemeni oilfields, but Cold Harbor leadership have their eyes on a more ambitious aim: to enter the big leagues, conducting unconventional warfare operations on behalf of nation-state players, and they're going to show their chops by rolling up Yemeni terror cells.
Series 04: Awbari, is presently in development, shifting the focus from the Middle East to North Africa, where Cold Harbor finds itself on contract to assist the nation of Awbari rebuild its security forces in the wake of a violent revolution and civil war.
In addition to the graphic novels, a companion turn-based tactical videogame by Echelon Software is in Early Access on PC and being developed for future release on iOS platforms.
This graphic novel provides examples of:
- All There in the Manual: The special edition releases of the graphic novels and Hypernotes available for Patreon supporters contain many details for the series, for example organisation layout for the Ember assault troops in Yemen.
- Anyone Can Die: Cold Harbor racks up quite the body count throughout the series while taking some losses of their own but it ventures into Kill 'Em All territory when at the end of Syria, IRGC Quds Force commandos posing as Kurdish SOF attack the Evergreen compound and kill everyone inside.
- Yemen starts with three viewpoint named characters; the story ends with only one of them still alive.
- Balkanize Me: In the years after the US withdraws from Iraq the country splinters into Basran in the south, Kurdistan in the north, and the Islamic State in central Iraq.
- Black-and-Gray Morality: Particularly in Yemen, where Cold Harbor takes the fight against ISIS with ruthless efficiency. They also do not hesitate to employ torture, kill unarmed witnesses of covert capture missions, and slaughter detained ISIS recruits.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- Cold Harbor tags all its contractors and important local assets with GPS locator chips; it's brought up as a throwaway line in Iraq, but gains significantly more importance in Syria.
- Early in Iraq, in a meeting with a representative of Basran's government, JR upsells the services Cold Harbor provides, "up to and including regime change." At the end of Iraq, Cold Harbor executes a regime change, deposing the Ayatollah of Basran in favor of his number 2.
- Colour-Coded for Your Convenience:
- Beginning with Yemen, Cold Harbor starts using color coded patches to differentiate different subunits. As an example from the upcoming Awbari setting, Grey is used by the Advisory Partner Unit, while Croc is used by MIKE Force, and Red is for the Crisis Troop.
- In Hypernotes Ember and Hypernotes Scorch, Cold Harbor advisors wear red t-shirts to distinguish themselves from the local nationals they lead.
- Combat Pragmatist: A general trait of all Cold Harbor operators. As time goes on, the opposition also learns this, with tactics like ambushing reinforcements with heavy machineguns, or wiring houses with bombs to take out Cold Harbor teams.
- Cool Car: Customised Toyota Hiluxes and Land Cruisers are favored vehicles for Cold Harbor in Yemen and Awbari.
- Cool Guns: Overlaps with Gun Porn. Each series has Cold Harbor's Contractors using high end AR-15 variants. Starting from Syria onwards, Cold Harbor exclusively uses weapons made by Bravo Company Manufacturing, who actually produced functional, limited-run replicas of the rifles used in Syria, Yemen and Awbari.
- Cool Old Guy: JR in Iraq and Syria, a veteran oldtimer CIA officer who's now the program manager for Cold Harbor's operations in Basran and later Kurdistan.
- Death from Above: On several occasions, Cold Harbor, the Saudis, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards all employ air power as a force multiplier.
- Hypernotes Scorch reveals that Cold Harbor now employs loitering kamikaze drones for surveillance and close air support for cross-border raids where air support is not available.
- Elites Are More Glamorous:
- Cold Harbor contractors are typically former US Special Forces. This leads to friction between JR and Crow in Syria, as Crow, a former Navy SEAL, is unhappy about being demoted and replaced by JR, who has no special forces experience, and whose last job was at the World Bank (albeit after retiring for the CIA).
- Cold Harbor's activities in Awbari are primarily training and advisory services; Series 4 focuses on Crisis Troop Ember, the Tier 1-equivalent Special Missions Unit, as it conducts raids against high value targets, and on Crisis Troop Scorch, an outsourced Ranger Battalion conducting cross-border raids into Qasra.
- Enemy Mine:
- How Cold Harbor initially catches the eye of Saudi intelligence, and gains the Saudis as a patron: since Cold Harbor was going after Saudi targets, the Saudis decided to exploit that and pay Cold Harbor to execute their interests in Iraq.
- In Syria, Cold Harbor cooperates with Iranian operatives to act against the Islamic State.
- Highly Conspicuous Uniform: Crisis Troop Ember in Awbari rolls up to targets wearing red shirts and jeans, eschewing camoflage. This is a deliberate choice, as Ember is traveling short distances within the capital city to raid targets, and uses the distinctive attire as a psychological warfare tool.
- Hope Spot: These appear from time to time:
- In Iraq, a Cold Harbor asset has been burned by the Iranians, who're holding his family hostage. Token and Grinch follow him to his house to try and rescue his family, but are unsuccessful.
- In Syria, the Evergreen compound is under attack by Quds Force. Crow manages to bundle JR into an SUV, Token and Grinch have returned with their helicopters and are covering Crow's retreat... and Crow's SUV immediately eats an RPG and all helicopters are shot down, ending in a Kill 'Em All of Cold Harbor's Kurdistan operation.
- More Dakka: Generally seen more on the side of Jihadis. Machineguns are sparingly used by Ember, due to the emphasis on close quarters battle and mobility.
- In Hypernotes Scorch, Scorch uses .338 NM machineguns on their jeeps and automatic grenade launchers on their MRAPs.
- Obligatory War Crime Scene: While the main characters are contractors, some of their actions could be considered war crimes.
- In Syria, Token is interrogating two captives for the purpose of turning one of them into an asset. He had Grinch suffocate one of the prisoner with a bag while Token explains to the other that he works for them.
- In Yemen, Crane witnesses the aftermath of several atrocities committed by ISIS, to include the beheading of prisoners and immolation of children in cages. In the same chapter, he oversees an interrogation in which an ISIS facilitator is waterboarded until he drowns and then resuscitated. The very next chapter has Crane kill a group of captured ISIS recruits from the US and Europe using a machine gun.
- Private Military Contractors: The protagonists of the series. Cold Harbor is an American PMC, but is substantially funded by Saudi Arabia to further Saudi interests in Iraq.
- Rank Up: Token starts Iraq as just another one of Cold Harbor's contractors, and is later promoted to Evergreen's operational commander in Syria.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: Cold Harbor contractors favor red-tinted eye protection and red-lensed night vision goggles.
- Those Two Guys: Hesher and Crane in Yemen, and Token and Grinch in Iraq, who maintain this dynamic in Syria, even with their promotions and different assignments.
- 20 Minutes into the Future: The series is set around the 2018-2025 era, in an alternate history where Iraq splintered after the US withdrawal of forces.
- War Is Hell: Shown in each series, but most prevalent in Yemen, where readers are given a first hand look at how the civil war is affecting the civilian populace. One example is seen in the second chapter where the aftermath of a rocket artillery strike is shown in vivid detail.
- We ARE Struggling Together: A recurring thread throughout all three series is Cold Harbor's need to balance the competing interests of its many masters. As an example, in Syria, Cold Harbor's Evergreen program is under contract with the Kurdish government to provide training and advisory services to the Kurdish military, is running kill-capture missions against the Syrians and the Islamic State on behalf of the Saudis and the US respectively, and has to justify its massive financial expenditures to corporate HQ, which is demanding more results (i.e. killed targets) and higher profits.