I’ve been re-reading the excellent Vertigo/DC Preacher trade paperbacks as part of my ongoing research into good comic book writing. Although it features strong characters, some sharp religious commentary and a unique synthesis of fantasy, horror and western genre elements, Preacher unfortunately suffers from the writer’s fondness for over-the-top sexual situations -- often exemplified by sodomy jokes.

There’s one instance in particular where Odin Quincannon, the evil meat-packing boss threatening the town of Salvation, TX, is seen to engage in what I can only describe as cross-species necrophilia. Although it was probably intended as yet another “joke,” it left me feeling quite nauseous. After I shut the book I wondered justhow the hell series creator Garth Ennis thought it up. I know that I’ve written my share of “extreme” situations -- particularly during my angry “Dungeon Master” years -- but Odin Quincannon’s sexual depravity was beyond anything I could imagine.

“Well,” I thought, “at least it’s fiction. It is a horror comic after all ...”

That was last night. This morning I woke up to news that made me feel even ickier -- in particular, photographs of American soldiers sexually torturing Iraqi prisoners. There are photos that didn’t make the “Today Show's” surprisingly graphic broadcast that are even worse than what they showed, all readily available online from the European press. As Pantaliamon said this morning, they look like something out of “Silent Hill” or “Resident Evil,” only real.

Granted, I know my history -- I’ve read enough books about Russian and German atrocities in World War II to know that bad things happen in war. But watching American soldiers standing around smiling and giving the thumbs up next to heaps of naked Iraqi prisoners made me feel ashamed not only of them, but of the fact that my tax dollars support what can only be described as a war crime. This is sociopathic behavior -- any person who could allow themselves to be part of it is little better than a serial killer or child molester.

This is a huge blow to reconstruction efforts in Iraq -- any attempt to portray American forces as benevolent liberators has been wasted. All of the hostages currently in insurgent hands are as good as dead -- if this is the way we treat Iraqi prisoners, how can we expect humane treatment for Americans and other Westerners in the hands of the enemy? Those soldiers who committed acts of brutality against Iraqi prisoners -- and the officers who allowed it to go on -- have just made life for every American soldier in Iraq, as well as American traveling in the region and throughout the world, much less safe.