Thursday, December 21, 2017

C’est la Guerre: Sgt. Rock by King & Francavilla

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Preview art for page 1 of “Going Down Easy” by Francesco Francavilla.

So, I picked up the DC Holiday Special 2017, and came away really pleased. There are eleven very different stories in the book, including a nice frame by Jeff Lemire and Giuseppe Camuncoli. Other highlights include a tale of the Batman by Denny O’Neill and Steve Epting, and a Batman & Wonder Woman yarn by Greg Rucka and Bilquis Evely. The whole thing feels worth the $9.99 cover price, but I have to tell you, I would have happily paid more for the fourth story in the book all by itself. So you start with Tom King, add in Francesco Francavilla, and finish off with colorist Clem Robins for a wintry tale titled “Sgt. Rock in ‘Going Down Easy’,” at which point I am just throwing money at a retailer to get my hands on the book.

The trio deliver a tour-de-force that is exactly what comics can and should be. In eight pages – and let me say that again, eight pages – they deliver a complete, totally absorbing, edge-of-your seat story that had me hooked from panel 1, and that lands like a punch to the gut. Rock is telling the tale of Private Hammerman, separated from the rest of Easy Co. in a snow-covered forest with his prisoner, a German officer. A stray shell mortally wounds Hammerman, but he doesn’t die immediately, and his story plays out over the course of the following eight nights.

Art by Francavilla

Francavilla is the perfect choice for the piece, his loose lines, heavy blacks and sheer genius for tone make the frigid north European winter seep into the readers fingers, while King’s script pulls no punches whatsoever, his characters’ banter laced with steel and hate and death. “Going Down Easy” is one of the best war stories I’ve read this year, and the fact that King chose Rock and Easy Co. to tell it pretty much makes my holidays bright, and leaves me with a ravenous hunger for a longer Rock story from him. Rock is ripe for a return, and in these few pages, King shows that he knows exactly how to do it, so if you are listening DC, if Tom wants to do a 12-issue series with Rock – let him. In the name of all that is good and holy in this miserable world, let him.

And Tom, seriously, do a Sgt. Rock limited series! As for the rest of you: have a very merry holiday season, and may there be plenty of great comics under your tree this year!

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

C’est la Guerre: Titan Comics Announces Release Date for Forever Free.

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Forever Free #1. Art by Marvano.

Way back in February, writer Joe Haldeman and artist Marvano told Freaksugar that Gay Haldeman, who had back-translated the duo’s graphic adaptation of The Forever War, was doing the same for the sequel, Forever Free, to be published by Titan Comics. After almost a year, Titan announced Monday that Forever Free #1 would be shipping in April 2018. The news comes the same week that Titan’s re-issue of Haldeman and Marvano’s The Forever War hits bookstores nationwide as a graphic novel.

Both series/graphic novels are adaptations of books by Haldeman. First published in 1974, The Forever War won a Nebula Award in 1975, and the Hugo and Locus Sf awards in 1976, additionally, the book was praised by science fiction grandmaster Robert A. Heinlein as being perhaps “the best future war story I have ever read.” Forever Free, a direct sequel to the Forever War, was first published in 1999 and earned praise from Charles de Lint as being “everything good science fiction should be but so often isn’t: a grand adventure into what it means to be human, told through rich characterization and thoughtful scientific (not to mention religious) speculation that doesn’t lag for a moment.”

Volume 1 of the original 3-volume graphic novel adaptation of The Forever War was first published in a Dutch edition in 1988, and was later translated into French, Spanish, Polish, and Czech before being released in an English edition in late 1990. The adaptation didn’t sell well in the US, but was successful in Europe, leading to a further collaboration on Forever Free (published in French as Libre à Jamais), but Titan’s re-issue of The Forever War earlier this year was the first time the adaptation had been reprinted in the US in some 30 years, this time to great success, and even greater anticipation of this week’s graphic novel release.

Judging by the preview pages provide by Titan, Forever Free maintains the same high quality of the previous series, and Marvano’s art and panel work continues to be breathtaking, making full use of the comics medium in a way that far too few modern artists do. This one will be on my pull-list come April – and it ought to be on yours too.

Look for Titan to solicit Forever Free in February’s Previews, and pick up the graphic novel collection of The Forever War at your local comic shop or from Amazon today.

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Thursday, November 23, 2017

C’est la Guerre: Thanksgiving Edition

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Original panel from The Vision and The Scarlet Witch #6, art by Richard Howell, words by an Internet Hero.

So, there are quite a few things to rage about or against in the comics world. For example, there  are entire websites devoted to things like Has DC Done Something Stupid Today? (Today? No. 8 days ago, though…), and Is Wolverine Still Dead? (No. No he is not. [Charles Xaiver, on the other hand… well, it’s complicated]). Then you get into Marvel’s Terrible, Awful, Really Bad Year or Two, all of the publisher-distributor-retailer madness so eloquently documented by Brian Hibbs, and the rapidly changing marketplace swinging from floppies to trades, specialty shops to big-box retailers and Amazonian Behemoths, and non-domestic markets. Moreover, all of that is just the thin ice covering a deep ocean of industry woes and complaints, both significant and otherwise. Just taking a cursory look, things look pretty damn awful, and gods help someone thinking about getting into comics for the first time, or getting back into them after a hiatus of more than a year or so.

And yet…. It’s Thanksgiving here in ‘Murica, and in the spirit of the season, and despite all of the above, there are some things in the comic world that I am truly thankful for:

Mark Waid and Chris Samnee on Captain America. Seriously. Thanks guys. After The Run Which Shall Not Be Named, it’s nice to have one of my favorite four-color heroes back.

Chris Samnee’s cover for Captain America #695. #CapisBack #NoMoreNazis #Thankful

Image Comics. Lazarus, Saga, The Wicked + The Divine, Copperhead, Manifest Destiny, The Walking Dead, and on, and on, and on.

Smaller Independent Publishers. The growing strength, quality, and innovation of small publishing houses in the industry is simply incredible. 451 Media Group, Aftershock Comics, Avatar Press, Lion Forge Comics, Oni Press, Red 5 Comics, Titan Comics, and Vault Comics are just a handful of the publishers out there right now that are delivering incredible stories from powerful creative teams every month. If you’re not reading at least a few of these guys’ titles, you’re missing out.

The Return of the Mini-Series. And a lot of these are coming out of the independents, but we’re also seeing some from Marvel (Punisher: Platoon, Astonishing X-Men, the forthcoming Phoenix Resurrection). I love this format, because it helps me to keep new titles flowing through my pull-list. Let’s face it, at $4/book, my monthly comic budget gets eaten up pretty fast, so it’s nice to have some slots opening up every few months for new stuff. Plus, more and more of the industry’s best creators are looking to tell self-contained, complete stories that they really care about – and then move on to the next, different story, so there are some insanely good limited series being produced.

Astro City.  Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, Alex Ross, et al. making old school new again since 1995.

Ms. Marvel, The Champions, and the whole diverse teen crowd at Marvel. Suck it haters, these kids are freaking awesome. Hope and idealistic heroism is kinda what the world needs right now. Hell, I even like kid Cyclops, and any franchise that can make me like Scott Summers has to have something going for it. These books do the best job of remembering what made Marvel great to begin with, and I can only hope some of their spirit bleeds over into more books at the House of Ideas.

Wonder Woman. Because she’s always been kick-ass, and now everyone knows it. Dark Knights and Men of Steel? Pffft! We know who run the world.

YAAS PRINCESS! Original art by Francis Manapul, words by @jermainedesign, a.k.a Winner of the Internet.

Cinebook, which is bringing some of the best European comics to American readers who have finally realized that the Old World has more to offer than wine, beer, and cheese.

Garth Ennis. The man who is sometimes single-handedly keeping war comics in the mainstream, and who also continues to write some laugh-out-loud funny, thoughtful, and occasionally cringe-worthy books. Let’s face it, though: the man hits far more often than he misses: Preacher, The Boys, War Stories, Johnny Red: The Hurricane, Punisher: Born, Punisher: Platoon – I mean, c’mon!

Tom King. See the bit about mini-series above. Also see The Vision, The Sherriff of Babylon, and Mr. Miracle. And let’s hope that DC has the sense to greenlight King’s proposed Sgt. Rock series, because THIS MUST HAPPEN, AND I WILL FLY TO BURBANK AND COME FOR DC IF IT DOES NOT. Just sayin’.

Greg Rucka. I’m not sure this guy knows how to write a bad comic. There are a lot of great writers in the industry right now, but Rucka is far and away my favorite, particularly when he’s playing in sandboxes he built, but he’s no slouch when it comes to other IPs either. Read his Wonder Woman and Punisher runs for instance, but if you aren’t reading Stumptown and Lazarus you should probably seek immediate psychiatric help.

So there you go. Despite all of the problems in the industry, and the challenges it faces, there’s a lot of good stuff going on as well, and it’s not a bad idea to remind ourselves of that fact from time to time. Now go and have a happy Thanksgiving – eat too much, watch the MST3K Turkey Day Marathon, and round out the day with some great comics – just, you know, wipe the gravy off of your fingers first.

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

C’est la Guerre: The Other Side Special Edition

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Aaron, Stewart, and McCaig’s The Other Side delivers a strange and terrible beauty where the heat, humidity, fever, stench, and mania of the Vietnam War is palpable. If you don’t already own this one, you should.

The Other Side Special Edition. Cover art by Cameron Stewart.

The Other Side, written by Jason Aaron with drawings by Cameron Stewart and colors by Dave McCaig, recently received the deluxe edition treatment with a hardcover collected edition from Image Comics of the Eisner-nominated 2006 Vertigo mini-series. Marking 50 years since the American war in Vietnam reached its peak in terms of US troops committed, 2017 has seen the release of numerous new histories of the American phase of the Vietnam War, the release of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s documentary series The Vietnam War, and a concurrent renewed scholarly and public interest in the conflict, so Image’s reissue of this excellent series is very well-timed.

The Other Side p. 1. Script by Jason Aaron, art by Cameron Stewart.

The story follows the journeys of 19 year-old Marine PFC Bill Everette and People’s Army of North Vietnam (PAVN) recruit Vo Binh Dai, tracing roughly a year in their lives through brilliantly executed parallel storytelling. Aaron has claimed that The Other Side represents the hardest work he has ever put into a book, and he credits the work with launching his subsequent career in comics. Cameron Stewart also put a great deal of effort into the work, including a research trip to Vietnam, and the new edition includes excerpts from his e-mails home, as well as numerous photographs from the trip. One of the latter particularly struck me: it shows Stewart, a skinny young man either emerging from or lowering himself into the opening of a tunnel system used by PAVN and Viet Cong troops during the war. The opening appears to be only an inch or less wider than Stewart’s ribcage, and the reader can easily draw a line from that particular tour to the claustrophobic scenes of Vo’s own time in the tunnels in the comic.

The Other Side. Aaron & Stewart.

Aaron and Stewart don’t shy away from the war’s brutality, horror, and – for Everette at least – pointlessness. Even more striking, however, is their choice to underline the madness of the war, both literally and figuratively, for Everette is truly mentally ill, suffering from visual and auditory hallucinations even before he leaves Boot Camp, and despite his honestly about his condition, the Marine doctors, Chaplin, and even his platoon sergeant in Vietnam are utterly unconcerned and uncaring. So long as he can keep it together enough to do his job in the field, no one really cares if he goes truly insane. Nor does Vo escape the madness as he and his comrades march down Route 559 (the Ho Chi Minh Trail), progressively falling victim to hunger, thirst, heat stroke, malaria, and other fevers, he too leaves reality behind for a world in which B-52 spilling thousands of pounds of explosives from their bellies become mythical dragons, and the American enemy monsters from legend. It is this kind of portrayal of mental and emotional stress and horror that sets The Other Side apart from most war comics with a Vietnam focus, and gives the book a visceral horror that very effectively reaches out and grabs the reader.

The Other Side.

Stewart’s artwork is perfectly suited to the story, and artist, writer, and colorist work together seamlessly to tell their tale of two kids who are ultimately little more that meat in an industrial grinder that controls their very lives and doesn’t care about either of them. This feeling of a lack of agency in the face of a seemingly inevitable and unavoidable progression towards madness and death pervades Aaron and Stewart’s book, and Stewart’s cartoony-realism combined with his use of deep blacks and a moody palette brilliantly used by McCaig bring a strange and terrible beauty to the entire book where the heat, humidity, fever, stench, and mania of the war and the land are palpable. This is one of those comics that really is important, and Image’s well-made hardback edition does it justice. The Other Side is available from your local comic shop or Amazon, and, if you don’t already own this one, you should.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

C’est la Guerre Review: Knights of the Skull

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Knights of the Skull: Barbarossa. Cover by Wayne Vansant.

Wayne Vansant’s Knights of the Skull volumes 1 (Blitzkrieg) & 2 (Barbarossa) are young adult graphic histories tracing the development of the Wehrmacht’s armored units, with particular focus on the evolution of German tank design. Judging by the series title, the books are a kind of continuation of Vansant’s 2014 black and white collection Knights of the Skull: Tales of the Waffen SS. The first two volumes in the new series are full-color, and cover German tank development from the end of World War I to the start of the Soviet counteroffensive around Moscow in December 1941. Vansant is returning to familiar territory here. In a career spanning over 30 years, he has produced several excellent graphic histories in the war comics genre, including Days of Darkness, Days of Wrath, The Battle of the Bulge, and Normandy to name a very few.

In the inter-war years, Germany was the only nation to undertake a sustained program to develop both tank technology and both tactical and strategic armored warfare doctrines. While advocates of tank warfare existed in almost every nation that had participated in World War I (George Patton in the US, B.H. Liddell Heart and J.F.C. Fuller in Britain, Mikhail Tukhachevsky in the USSR) but they were largely ignored by the existing military establishments in their own countries (Tukhachevsky had actually made significant progress in Soviet doctrine and armored theory as the Red Army’s chief of staff, but his policies were discredited and discarded after he was executed during Stalin’s military purges during the late 1930s). Heinz Guderian, on the other hand, was extraordinarily successful not only in the development of doctrine, but also in convincing the German high command to support his work. Hitler himself was immediately taken with the panzers and theories of mechanized warfare when he came to power in 1933, and threw his full support behind the creation of the panzer forces.

Vansant traces this history briefly in volume I of Knights of the Skull, using the careers and military exploits of historical figures like Guderian, Erwin Rommel, Hans von Luck, Franz Bake, Kurt Knispel, and Michael Wittmann to anchor the narrative and give the story specific human faces. However, Vansant is often more sharply focused on the technological development of the tanks themselves, which while allowing him to give full reign to his undoubted expertise with historically accurate portrayals of tanks and armored vehicles. The art throughout is detailed and accurate, but the books definitely fall more into the illustrated history category rather than true sequential art, as the illustrations are mostly there to support the text, with each panel often depicting scenes hundreds of miles and/or weeks apart. Vansant covers a great deal very accurately, while keeping the story moving and maintaining the very real tension and drama of events. The work is informative, well-paced, and gripping. There are also occasional interludes between chapters where Vansant takes a page or two to compare German and allied tanks, or to detail the brutal treatment of prisoners by both sides on the Russian front. These breaks remind me pleasantly of the similar splash pages and two-page spreads that were a regular feature of DC’s classic war comics. Moreover, the author provides detailed maps for each campaign, showing lines of advance and retreat to help locate the reader in time and space. He is also to be applauded for revealing that the campaigns in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and France, while victorious for the Wehrmacht and certainly vindications of Guderian’s theories, were not really the walk-overs they are generally assumed to have been. Vansant’s panzertruppen are highly trained, highly motivated, but also facing a steep learning curve as they translate training and theory to the realities of the battlefield.

Knights of the Skull: Blitzkrieg pp. 20-21, story and art by Wayne Vansant.

As for the books themselves, Schiffer Publishing has produced nice, magazine-sized paperback editions that give Vansant’s art and subject matter the room it deserves. Unfortunately, the publisher’s editorial department drops the ball here and there, letting several misspellings and subject-verb disagreements slip through the cracks. Admittedly, this is a pet peeve of mine, but it really does seem that publishers and editors are paying less and less attention to spelling and grammar, leading to some unnecessary breaks in the flow of the narrative.

Overall however, Knights of the Skull provides an excellent, accessible overview of its historical subject, and doesn’t shy away from depicting some of the war crimes committed in the East. That having been said, this history is – so far (and unlike the original Knights of the Skull collection) – aimed at a younger, early to-mid teen audience and is therefore rather bloodless, making no attempt to depict the grim realities of the war, or to address atrocities committed by the panzer troops themselves, or the Wehrmacht’s collusion and cooperation in the Nazi’s genocidal programs in eastern Europe. In fact, Guderian and his colleagues are perhaps a bit too much the “good Germans.” This time-honored war comics formula of cool vehicles and military genius largely divorced from ideology feels old-fashioned, and not in a good way. These people were not Good Guys, and every single one of them swore loyalty to Adolf Hitler. Not the rule of law, or Germany, or even to the Nazi Party, but to Adolf Hitler personally, and then they were essential in perpetrating the most horrific conflict in human history. Leaving all of that out isn’t historical objectivism, it’s historical amnesia, and in case you haven’t noticed, that’s a really bad idea.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

C’est la Guerre: Johnny Canuck!

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Johnny Canuck: Compendium, 1942-1946. art by Leo Bachle.

Undoubtedly, one of the most famous images in comic book history is the cover for Captain America Comics #1 where Cap marks his premiere by delivering a devastating right hook to Adolf Hitler’s jaw while deflecting and dodging the hail of gunfire from der Fuhrer’s guards. The red, white, and blue-garbed Steve Rogers wasn’t the only North American comic hero to do some Hitler-punching, however, being followed in 1942 by Canada’s own Johnny Canuck. Canada’s Golden Age of comics was born out of World War II. As part of the British Commonwealth, Canada had been at war since September of 1939, and by the end of 1940, Canadian soldiers, sailors, and airmen had already mobilized and been sent into combat against German forces, including during the Battle of France and the ongoing Battle of Britain.

Perhaps even more importantly, however, Canada had rapidly become the storehouse and arsenal of the Commonwealth, shipping thousands of tons of food, equipment, weapons, and aircraft to Britain. As the supply of engines and equipment from England for building British-designed aircraft and equipment was suspended in May of 1940, Canada had to purchase such supplies from the US, leading to a growing trade imbalance between the two countries. This in turn led to the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA) of December, 1940, which banned the importation to Canada of “non-essential” material and products from the USA. This included American comic books, and created a vacuum that Canadian publishers rushed to fill. With the war effort having first call on colored ink supplies and presses, Canadian comics publishers defaulted to books with colored covers, but black-and-white interiors, earning the books the nickname of “whites.”

As in American comics, Canadian comics characters spent a great deal of time fighting the Nazis and the Japanese both at home and abroad, and in 1942, 17-year-old Leo Bachle created the most famous, and most beloved wartime Canadian hero, Johnny Canuck. Bachle’s feature ran in Bell Publishing’s Dime Comics from 1942 – 1946 (although Bachle had left Bell for the more lucrative waters of New York comic publishing before the WECA was lifted in 1946.) Collected and Kickstarted in 2015 by Rachel Richey, and published by Chapterhouse, Johnny Canuck: Compendium, 1942-1946 brings together all 28 Johnny Canuck stories in one hardback volume that provides an incredibly fun foray into the Golden Age of comics.

Johnny Canuck script and art by Leo Bachle.

Johnny Canuck, “Canada’s Answer to Nazi Oppression,” spends a great deal of time shirtless and solving problems with his fists in adventures that roar by with the pacing of a missile. Each installment runs from 7 to 10 pages, so the action comes fast and thick. Johnny is brave, loyal, square-jawed and powerfully built, while the Nazis are drawn, manacled, scarred, and all speak in a dialect dripping with phrases like “Und I shall collect der ten thousand marks dot haf been offered by our illustrious leader!” Indeed, sentences in Johnny Canuck only end with question marks or exclamation point, with the latter far outnumbering the former as Johnny fights his way through North Africa, Soviet Russia, Yugoslavia, the Pacific, Germany, and France.

Subtlety is not what these comics are about. Good is good and bad is bad, and the tones are simple black and whites. The stories are simple, amply populated with slim, beautiful women who all (even the evil Nazi spy-girls) at have at least a little bit of a thing for our fearless (and shirtless) hero, and are written with classic cliff-hanger endings for every issue. In fact, the Johnny Canuck strips are more similar to old movie serials from the 1930s and early 1940s than anything else, with the same, breathless, breakneck pace. Artistically, Bachle takes his style from Alex Raymond and Milton Caniff, and one of the most interesting things about the Compendium is that the reader sees Bachle’s style and talent grow from merely very skilled into an artist working fully in his own style, and one who comes to use the black and white format of the Canadian Whites to his full advantage, reveling in deep blacks, chiaroscuro, and meticulous line work. Here the Johnny Canuck strips work as a kind of montage of the creator’s development, for Bachle was churning out dozens of different strips for Bell at the same time he was working on Johnny Canuck, accruing thousands of hours of experience and experimentation in just four short years.

Johnny Canuck written and drawn by Leo Bachle.

Like almost all comics of the era Johnny Canuck was produced at the writer/artist’s tops speed, and with minimal editorial oversight. Bell Publishing was far more concerned with getting the books in print and selling than with proper spelling, realism, or even necessarily more than passable art. Comic books, after all, were viewed as disposable entertainment for kids, who wouldn’t notice unconventional spelling or grammar. Nonetheless, Johnny Canuck became a Canadian sensation, beloved by not only kids, but adults, including Canadian servicemen overseas. Late in the war, Bachle was even detained on the Canadian side of the border when attempting to return to his new job in New York City because he had been deemed to be “vital to the war effort” because of Johnny.

Johnny Canuck, written and drawn by Leo Bachle.



In all, the Axis-smashing adventures of Johnny Canuck are an incredibly joyous romp through the Golden Age, and a tremendously eye-opening look into the war-time psyche of a culture that we Americans tend to see as polite to a fault, and not at all the kind of folks who would go about socking anyone in the jaw. Shows what we know. So, pick up Johnny Canuck: Compendium, 1942-1946 from your local comic shop or direct from Chapterhouse, and kick back and enjoy a simpler time, when no one was questioning whether or not one should punch Nazis.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

C’est la Guerre: #ComicsHateNazis

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Our Army at War #160, cover art by Joe Kubert.

In response to the neo-Nazi/white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend, comic writer/historian/activist Gail Simone asked comics fans to post pictures of comic book heroes fighting Nazis under the hashtag #ComicsHateNazis. Needless to say, the response was immediate, immense, and the tag was soon trending in a big way across multiple platforms. People posted image after image from throughout comics history showing superheroes punching Nazis or destroying swastikas and other Nazi symbols, and it was good – an affirmation that the medium we all love so much had consistently stood against such a repugnant ideology. Yet in all the panels showing the tights-and-capes crowd taking it to the fascists, I found it odd that no one had apparently posted any images from the vast field of war comics. So, I decided to post one of my own, and one issue immediately came to my mind: Our Army at War #160, from November of 1965.

Of course, fighting Nazis was the bread and butter of American war comics, but at their best, war comics often used that basic premise as a vehicle for commentary on the contemporary culture, and when done right, that commentary was devastating. Enter OAAW #160’s main story “What’s the Color of Your Blood?” written by Robert Kanigher with art by Joe Kubert. The story centers around Jackie Johnson, an ahistorical African-American GI serving in Sgt. Rock’s otherwise majority-white Easy Company (historically, during WWII, US Army units were segregated). First introduced in 1961 in OAAW #113, Jackie Johnson was one of the first non-stereotyped African-American characters to appear in mainstream comics, and the character’s total acceptance as just another incredibly capable “combat-happy Joe of Easy Co.” remains one of the most powerful anti-segregation, anti-racist statements in comics, particularly coming as it did during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

Our Army at War #113, cover by Joe Kubert.

Four years later, Jackie had evolved into a kind of combination of Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis, as a former world heavyweight boxing champion who had been defeated before the war by “Storm Trooper” Uhlan in Madison Square Garden, where Uhlan served as an exemplar of the Nazi’s Aryan racial ideal. In the comic, Rock, Jackie, and Wild Man have been captured by a German paratrooper unit led by none other than “Strom Trooper” Uhlan himself. The story centers around a rematch between Uhlan and Jackie, intended by the Nazis to underline their racial superiority. Throughout the match, Uhlan demands that Jackie admit that his blood isn’t red like a man’s but black – inferior. There are some twists and turns in the story, and the reader is treated to some more of Jackie’s backstory along with a retelling of the events in OAAW #113, but the climactic moment lands like a bomb. For my money it’s one of the greatest moments in comics, and was my contribution to #ComicsHateNazis:

Our Army at War #160, script by Robert Kanigher, art by Joe Kubert.

With this story Kanigher and Kubert unflinchingly linked Nazi and American racism directly, refusing to see any difference. To cap things off, the issue ends with Jackie unhesitating volunteering to give Uhlan a lifesaving blood transfusion. It is not only a refutation of the pseudo-science of racism, but a declaration that a person’s worth has nothing to do with genetics, and everything to do with their character. Facts which are as true today as they were then.

Our Army at War #160.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

C’est la Guerre: GoFundMe for Sam Glanzman

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Sam Glanzman brought a passion and style to his art that is instantly recognizable, and which quite literally helped to define an entire genre. He will be very sorely missed.

Sam Glanzman, grand-master of the war comics genre and of the comics medium itself, died on July 12 this year, aged 92. Mr. Glanzman worked in the comics industry for almost 80 years, beginning in 1939 at the age of 15. When he turned 18 in December of 1942, however, Mr. Glanzman traded in his artist’s brushes for sailor’s denims, and enlisted in the Navy. After boot camp, Sam joined the crew of DD479, the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Stevens, on which he would serve until the war ended in late 1945. Along the way the Stevens would participate in in 16 different naval operations in the Pacific Theater, destroying 14 Japanese planes, including some engaged in kamikaze attacks against the ship, and the ship was awarded three commendations. In short, the Stevens was an American destroyer in World War II, one of the famous “Tin Cans,” small, fast, fragile, and capable of taking on a variety of missions and operations, some of which had never been envisioned by her designers.

Sam Glanzman at his desk in 2010.

Against regulations, Mr. Glanzman kept a journal of his time aboard the Stevens, complete with sketches and finished artwork illustrating the ship, her crew, and the events and sights he saw during his tour of duty. After the war, he became a professional illustrator, eventually taking a job drawing comics for Charlton Comics in 1958. There he became known for his work on Carleton’s historical war comics, producing detailed, accurate illustrations and stories. By the mid-1960s, Mr. Glanzman was regularly freelancing for Charlton and Dell working largely on war comics like Dell’s Combat, but also branching out to do fantasy work on titles like Tarzan, and co-created (with Joe Gill), Adventures of the Man-God Hercules, in which, freed from the need for historical accuracy, he was able to stretch his artistic muscles, creating a comic that was highly stylized and experimental for the time. In war comics, working with Will Franz, Mr. Glanzman co-created the legendary “The Lonely War of Willie Shultz” for Charlton’s Fightin’ Army.

All this time, his wartime journals and experiences on the Stevens lay largely untouched save as reference material when drawing other stories (fictional and non) set in the war. Until, that is, late 1969 when Mr. Glanzman joined DC’s stable of regular freelancers under the editorial auspices of Joe Kubert. The first USS Stevens story, “Frightened Boys… Or Fighting Men” appeared in Our Army at War 218, cover dated April 1970. A four-page tale, “Frightened Boys…” was still something different, something special. A simple story of a group of newly assigned sailors undergoing their baptism of fire aboard the Stevens during a kamikaze attack, in four pages, Mr. Glanzman caught the terror, the courage, and the desperation of these terribly young men at war, with the story flowing from panel to panel with a grace and easy fluidity that would become a hallmark of his work. Despite becoming the primary illustrator for DC’s G.I. Combat’s “Haunted Tank” stories, it would be these small back-page stories that would cement Mr. Glanzman’s place as one of comics’ greats. He would go on to write Stevens stories for DC through 1977, and would return to the ship and her crew again and again in the 1980s for Marvel’s Savage Tales. In 2013, Mr. Kubert would ask Mr. Glanzman to revive the Stevens for what would be Mr. Kubert’s last work, Joe Kubert Presents, insisting that Mr. Glanzman was one of the finest artists he had ever known.

Opening page of the first USS Stevens story for DC comics, in Our Army at War 218 (1970). Story and art by Sam Glanzman.

In recent years, Eisner-nominated editor Drew Ford has brought Mr. Glanzman’s work back into publication, beginning with A Sailor’s Story  and The USS Stevens: The Collected Stories from Dover Press, and following up with Red Range and the forthcoming Voyage to the Deep from Mr. Ford’s own It’s Alive Press. In the wake of Mr. Glanzman’s final illness, Mr. Ford has created a Go Fund Me campaign to help Mr. Glanzman’s widow, and to celebrate his long career by publishing Sam Glanzman Forever, a tribute to the artist which will include unpublished letters, art, photographs, and tributes from Mr. Glanzman’s fellow professionals and fans alike. At the time of writing the campaign has raised a little over $16,000 of its $20,000 goal, but donations are still being accepted, and gifts of $175 and up receive original artwork by Mr. Glanzman or pieces donated by other artists, including work by Jok and Al Milgrom. Previous volumes from It’s Alive have been incredibly high quality, and there is no reason to believe that Sam Glanzman Forever will be any different. If you can, donate. You’ll not only be helping out the family of one of comics’ greats, but you’ll also have the opportunity to own a collector’s item that is guaranteed to be something special.

In a medium where art and story all too often feel like interchangeable, pre-packaged, industrial productions, Sam Glanzman brought a passion and style to his art that is instantly recognizable, and which quite literally helped to define an entire genre. He will be very sorely missed.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

C’est la Guerre Review: The Death of Stalin

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The Death of Stalin p.19, art by Thierry Robin.

This month, Titan Comics releases the first English translation of The Death of Stalin, written by Fabien Nury with art by Thierry Robin. Originally written in French, the graphic novel has attracted international attention as the inspiration for the forthcoming eponymous, star-studded Armando Giovanni film. The book chronicles the period from March to September 1953, from the night Stalin suffered an ultimately (but not immediately) fatal stroke to Khrushchev’s seizure of power later that year. Joseph Stalin ruled the Soviet Union from April of 1922 to March of 1953 more absolutely than any Czar, and with a ruthlessness that has become legendary. He was feared, but he was also widely beloved by the Soviet people (and remains so among many Russians even today). Nury and Thierry open their work with a caution that while the book is based on historical events, it is a work of fiction, although they note that their fiction is less strange than the actual events surrounding Stalin’s demise.

The Soviet Council of Ministers. clockwise from top: Molotov, Beria, Kaganovitch, Malenkov, Bulganin, Mikoyan. and Khrushchev. Art by Thierry Robin.

Like many successful dictators, Stalin was a genius at disassociating himself in the eyes of the public from the abuses of his regime while firmly establishing himself as the fount of its successes. Beyond his carefully designed and maintained public image, however, Stalin was a man who ruled through fear, and who held absolute power of life and death over tens of millions of people. After 53 years of rule, in many ways, Stalin was the government of the Soviet Union, and was certainly the only leader many citizens had ever known. At the time of Stalin’s stroke, the seven members of the Soviet Council of Ministers were ill prepared for a transition of power, as Stalin had deliberately kept the chairmen busy trying to maneuver against each other rather than him. The following few days, as Stalin lingered, slipping in and out of consciousness, were witness to repeated rounds of plotting and rejoicing at his impending demise, followed by overwrought scenes of joyous relief and performances of loyalty when it seemed that the “Man of Steel” might just recover.

The Death of Stalin. Script by Fabien Nury, art by Thierry Robin.

Central to these schemes and scenes was Lavrentiy Beria, Stalin’s long-time executioner, and head of the NKVD, state security, and the secret police. Beria was the first to be informed of Stalin’s stroke, and later claimed to have “done him in,” although whether he was referring to his decision to delay treatment or to something more direct is unknown. Bury and Robin make Beria the center of their story as he attempts to manipulate events and people in order to seize control. Stalin himself plays little direct part in the story, but his presence looms over everything that occurs throughout the book. Nury and Robin perfectly reveal the very real terror that was life under Stalin from the opening panels, when Stalin calls the studio of Radio Moscow to congratulate them on a performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, and to tell them that he will be sending someone around to pick up a recording of the performance the next day. Unfortunately, the performance was a live event, and had not been recorded. No matter, however, as the orchestra simply stayed and recreated their performance that same night to record it for Stalin. Because failure to provide him with what he wanted meant the gulag at best and death at worse – for everyone involved. The fear is palpable, and the reader can almost smell it coming off of Robin’s figures.

What follows is a tour of a world gone mad, but one which operates by its own set of blood-soaked rules, and Nury and Robin take the reader through it effortlessly, evoking disgust, horror, laughter, and wonder in turn, and sometimes all at once. The creators also to an incredible job of separating average citizens and soldiers from the seven ministers at the heart of the system: the widow who wants to take her son to see and honor Stalin’s body as it lays in state, because his father died at Stalingrad. The Red Army officer who finds himself at the center of a tragedy that he neither caused nor could really have avoided. Moreover, the utter indifference of the men in power to those they rule is brilliantly conveyed by Nury and Robin’s decision not to emphasize it. Instead they present it like it was, a fact of life. My favorite touches are two quintessentially Russian “jokes” (which I’ll let you discover yourself) that I suspect are historically accurate, but which in any case reflect the fatalistic, often bitter humor that has been a hallmark of that people since before the Mongols invaded. Robin’s art is breathtaking, using a variety of panel-layouts, framing, and viewpoints that keeps the reader glued to the page and moving effortlessly through the story, while from page one, panel one, Nury lives in a brilliant balance of words and wordlessness that is the thing that comic writers dream of.

Script by Fabien Nury, art by Thierry Robin.

In all, The Death of Stalin is a brilliant, darkly funny portrait of the machinations of the powerful, and a deeply moving study of the people who are both the victims of, and victors over their rulers. The heart of this incredible story is ultimately in the background, in the characters who have been forgotten by history, or who spring from the pens of Nury and Robin. This is an astonishing feat of storytelling in any medium, and a vanishingly rare one in comics. The Death of Stalin is a work of beauty in the Russian mold, where “the awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.” In short, this book has soul.

The Death of Stalin is currently available at comic shops, and will be released on Amazon and other booksellers on July 25.

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Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Ten Percent – The Best One-Night Stands!

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“Ninety percent of everything is crud.” – Theodore Sturgeon

Greetings and welcome to another installment of The Ten Percent, a space where Ensley F. Guffey and I take a look at the inverse of Sturgeon’s Law; in other words, the small portion of everything which is not crud. Viewed as a whole, Sturgeon was, sadly, right – the vast majority of movies, television, writing, art, and so on really is crud – but there has always been that slim slice of sublime. The Ten Percent isn’t limited by genre – I think our previous columns have proven that point – and that’s because these rare gems are high quality productions which demand more of their viewer than simple passive reception.

This column is a little different, since the focus is not going to be on a single item, but rather on a service that I urge you – yes, YOU – to take nigh-immediate advantage of. Fathom Events is a content provider owned by the AMC and Regal movie theater chains which is devoted to using satellite feeds to bring extremely-limited screenings (one-night stands, usually) to theaters across the United States. The choices offered through Fathom range dramatically – I’ve seen Rifftrax screenings of extraordinarily bad movies and short films, as well as true classics like Casablanca, since Fathom and Turner Classic Movies have teamed up to get cinematic gems back on the silver screen. And let me tell you – it’s completely different from seeing these movies in the comfort of your own living room. When Ingrid Bergman is twenty feet tall, you understand what all the fuss is about – that woman is so luminous she fairly glows. Fathom also has an arrangement with the Metropolitan Opera in New York to broadcast encore shows this summer – and trust me, if you have never seen an opera, it’s not stuffy and dull as you might have been told. Opera is blood-and-guts, passion-and-revenge writ extra-large when it’s simply on stage – put that on the big silver screen and WOW!

What makes a Fathom event special is also the audience – when Ensley and I last went to Casablanca, there was one gentleman wearing a white dinner jacket, as if he had just come from Rick’s. (I suspect he had letters of transit tucked safely in the inner pocket of his jacket.) You’re part of a crowd who loves movies and who had to do some planning to get there. It’s congenial, fun, and joyous.

For us, the closest theaters that are part of Fathom event screenings are about an hour’s drive away, so we make a “date night” out of it. Tickets are a few dollars more (only a few) than a usual night showing of a movie and you’ll have tales to tell.

Fathom isn’t limited to the high-brow. (Seriously – Fast Times at Ridgemont High is scheduled for the end of July. Oh, Spicoli!) They include sporting events, inspirational documentaries (one devoted to Steve McQueen’s search for meaning is on the schedule for September!), and anime. (Really, you should check out Studio Ghibli FestKiki’s Delivery Service is scheduled for this month.) There’s even a chance for you to score a foam shark hat if you go see Shark Week on the big screen! Or, if you prefer the fine arts, Fathom has you covered with broadcasts of the upcoming Bolshoi Ballet season as well as the new production of Kushner’s Angels in America being staged by London’s National Theatre. Or why not give the color and energy of Bollywood a try?

And don’t forget that later this year, it’s The Princess Bride which you know you need to go to.

Make plans – you won’t regret it!

Ensley F. Guffey and K. Dale Koontz are co-authors of Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad, and of the forthcoming Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Babylon 5 Universe (September 2017). You can find Dale online at her blog and on Twitter as @KDaleKoontz. Ensley hangs out at and on Twitter as @EnsleyFGuffey.

Filed under: Film, K. Dale Koontz, The Ten Percent Tagged: angels in america, bollywood, bolshoi ballet, casablanca, ensley f. guffey, fast times at ridgemont high, fathom events, metropolitan opera, rifftrax, Shark Week, steve mcqueen, Studio Ghibli, tcm, the princess bride, The Ten Percent, theodore sturgeon


Thursday, June 8, 2017

C’est la Guerre Review – Berlin: The Seven Dwarves

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Marvano’s juxtaposition of the sun-drenched fields of England and the explosion-ripped pitch of the nights above Berlin is beautiful and terrible, and his portrayal of loss and love in a world gone savage places him among the finest war comic creators.

Berlin: The Seven Dwarves cover, art & story by Marvano.
Recently I’ve been raving about Belgian artist and writer Marvano’s (Mark Van Oppen) work on the graphic novel adaptation of Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, currently being reprinted by Titan Comics. My introduction to Marvano’s work, however, actually began with one of his later works, a war comic published in America under the title Berlin: The Seven Dwarves. This small graphic novel is actually part one of a trilogy of books, each with a connection to the eponymous city, and each taking place in a different year: 1943 for Berlin: The Seven Dwarves, 1948 for Berlin: Reinhard le Goupil, and 1961 in Berlin: Deux Enfants de Roi. Unfortunately, the latter two volumes have yet to be translated into English, and your correspondent’s French is – sadly – only adequate enough to give me the bare jist of their contents.
The three volumes focus on the Second World War and its aftermath, with the first book focusing on the pilot and crew of the Avro Lancaster heavy bomber named “Snow White” for its squadron call letter “S,” and in reference to the seven crewmen who serve aboard – her seven dwarves. The war story is framed by the meeting of two older women at an abandoned RAF airfield in 1993, where the elder shares with the younger a letter from Flight Sergeant David “Aubie” Auberson, the Snow White’s pilot and CO, dating from 1943. Auberon and his crewmates were part of the massive British night bombing campaign over Germany and occupied Western Europe. Arising from the lack of long-range fighters to protect the bombers during the day, and the British abandonment of the idea of strategic bombing in favor of area bombing – specifically designed to “de-house” the German population, particularly the working class – night-bombing became the specialty of RAF’s Bomber Command throughout the war.

Berlin, art & story by Marvano.
Despite resulting in fewer losses than daylight raids, the combination of well-coordinated anti-aircraft artillery, searchlights, increasingly effective German night-fighters, and the difficulties of nighttime navigation, the RAF’s bomber crews suffered heavy casualties throughout the war. In Berlin, Marvano perfectly captures the stressed-to-destruction tension and terror of these raids, the freezing temperatures, the sudden chaos of enemy searchlights and flack, and the end of terribly young lives, whether in an instant or an eternity of fiery agony. Aubie himself, in command of thousands of tons of aircraft and thousands of pounds of bombs, is all of nineteen. He has flown 17 combat missions over Germany. Sarah, the WAAF that has caught his eye, and who has already lost a husband to the war, is an ancient twenty-four. Neither their ages nor experiences are historically remarkable.

Berlin, art & story by Marvano.
Berlin does not shrink from the war, and Marvano is at his beautiful best, again displaying his mastery of the subtle detail – a beautiful spring field dusted with blooming red poppies, strange and silly wartime posters urging vigilance or caution, blinding afterimages from exploding flak, or a Plexiglas machinegun turret suddenly painted red from the inside with blood. Marvano’s juxtaposition of the sun-drenched fields of England and the explosion-ripped pitch of the nights above Berlin is sublime, and his portrayal of loss and love in a world gone savage places him among the finest war comic creators. At the time of writing, Berlin: The Seven Dwarves is available new on Amazon for just under $14 in paperback, or $8.99 for Kindle.
This is one you should own.
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Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Ten Percent – Gaiman’s Pages

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“Ninety percent of everything is crud.” – Theodore Sturgeon


Greetings and welcome to another installment of The Ten Percent! Every two weeks (well, roughly), Ensley F. Guffey and I use this space to take a look at the inverse of Sturgeon’s Law; in other words, the small portion of everything which is not crud. Viewed as a whole, Sturgeon was, sadly, right – the vast majority of movies, television, writing, art, and so on really is crud (trust me on this, I just saw Baywatch for the movie show I co-host) – but there has always been that slim li’l piece of heaven. The Ten Percent crosses genre boundaries, mostly because these rare gems are high quality productions which demand more of their viewer than just passive reception.

In my last column, I discussed Neil Gaiman’s American Gods which, at the time, was just about to begin its run on the Starz network. I am currently caught up on episodes and am also avidly following the comic version. American Gods just makes me smile and the high quality of the work in multiple Media (hi, Gillian Anderson!) is a revelation of how magnificent storytelling can completely transcend genre. The show has already been renewed for a second season, which reassures me that they’ll take their time telling this convoluted tale.

Much of Gaiman’s work belongs in the Ten Percent.* The last column touched on his best-known work, Vertigo’s Sandman, and if you haven’t read that (slowly, thoughtfully, and with great deliberate intent), you have an amazing treat in store for you and I’m jealous that you get to experience the Endless for the first time. However, I wanted to bring your attention to several other works of Gaiman’s that you might not know about. Yes, he’s written for Babylon 5, Doctor Who, and several of his works have been adapted for the silver screen with more on the way. But why wait?

I suggest beginning with Smoke and Mirrors, Gaiman’s first collection of short pieces. Early in his career, Gaiman would write for just about anyone who would help him pay his rent and he was honing his craft. Good short stories are actually devilishly difficult to write, because you don’t have the space and word count to mess around. Smoke and Mirrors actually contains several of my favorite pieces, including a fascinating story about one of Arthur’s knights who finds the Grail in the least likely (and most English) of places. There’s also an incredible story of old Hollywood, magic, and the grind of writing for the movies that’s not to be missed.

If you’re ready for a longer work, try starting with Neverwhere. I much prefer the book to the BBC adaptation or any of the other versions. (It’s been a comic and both a radio play and a stage play.) If I were being hard-nosed about it, I could argue that Neverwhere is very, very good, but not Gaiman’s best work. However, it is my favorite and this tale of the colorful denizens of London Below likely always will be. It helps that Gaiman has recently announced that his next work, The Seven Sisters, will be a sequel to Neverwhere. And I’m glad to the point of splitting – I’ve got a fistful of questions I want answered.

If you loved Sandman want to stay in the world of comics, pick up the four-issue version of Stardust. This was made into a film that gave Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer some juicy roles to play with, but honestly – the film is only so-so. While you could read the novelized version, I suggest the comic, which features exquisite painted illustrations by Charles Vess, a longtime Gaiman collaborator. His style perfectly complements Gaiman’s Victorian-era fairytale of a boy, a girl, and a fallen star.

Gaiman’s first novel was actually a two-person effort. Written with the late, truly great Sir Terry Pratchett, Good Omens will delight fans of Pratchett’s twisted Discworld as well as Gaiman folks. Imagine what would happen if those two got together, got silly, and decided to take a crack at The Omen and you’re ready to get started. An adaptation of this retelling of the misplaced Antichrist of the Apocalypse is coming to Amazon in 2018, so go ahead and brush up on it now.

Gaiman is a devourer of tales and myth (his latest book, Norse Mythology, is a retelling of the legends of that part of the world) and his love for these tales permeates his work. (I often wonder what a dinner party involving both Gaiman and Joseph “Monomyth” Campbell would be like, then I shake my head and decide that’s just too bizarre.) He has the rare gift of being able to write in a variety of styles and use source material without coming across as a mere copyist. Nowhere is that more evident than in his retelling of Kipling’s Jungle Book. This book, simply titled The Graveyard Book, restores the eerie qualities inherent in a tale of a child being raised by benevolent, yet unnatural, guardians that was Disney-fied out of the original Kipling. (Hey, I love “Bare Necessities” as much as the next gal, but Kipling had something far darker in mind.) Gaiman’s story never feels as if he was forcing a point to make it “fit” the Kipling version – he’s content to let his story spin on its own axle and the result is dreamlike in its perfection.

There’s more, of course. Gaiman has written for a variety of audiences, including the youngsters – even down to the picture book level. My First Big Book of Gaiman will vary by the age of the reader – for very small ones, try Chu’s Day; for the slightly older, Coraline. That one will probably be read under the covers by a few children and result in a couple of evenings with a higher electric bill than usual as the young fry keep the lights on – just in case.

He’s a treasure and Hollywood is finally discovering his unsettling, yet oddly moral, works so soon the rest of the world will be claiming they’ve been fans of his since Woodstock. Beat the rush and start reading him now. You won’t be sorry.

*Plus, he’s just a good guy. Patient and funny with his fans, and willing to do strange things for a good cause. Case in point, his willingness to read the entire Cheesecake Factory menu to raise money to help displaced refugees. Really, you want to donate to that – and you have about three weeks to do so.

Ensley F. Guffey and K. Dale Koontz are co-authors of Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad, and of the forthcoming A Dream Given Form: The Unofficial Guide to the Babylon 5 Universe (September 2017). You can find Dale online at her blog “Unfettered Brilliance and on Twitter as @KDaleKoontz. Ensley hangs out on Twitter as @EnsleyFGuffey.


Filed under: books, K. Dale Koontz, neil gaiman, The Ten Percent Tagged: American Gods, Charles Vess, comics, ensley f. guffey, Gillian Anderson, good omens, graveyard book, neil gaiman, neverwhere, norse mythology, smoke and mirrors, stardust, terry pratchett, The Ten Percent, theodore sturgeon


Thursday, May 25, 2017

C’est la Guerre Advanced Review: The Lost Fleet: Corsair #1

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I’m adding The Lost Fleet: Corsair to my pull list, and if you dig military SF, I suggest you do the same.

The Lost Fleet: Corsair #1, variant cover art by Max Bertolini.

Jack Campbell and André Siregar’s The Lost Fleet: Corsair #1 from Titan Comics feels like ten pounds of story in a five pound sack. There is a lot going on in the first issue. To be fair, as part of Campbell’s Lost Fleet universe (which at the time of writing includes 16 novels), Corsair is bound to come in carrying some plot-baggage. Very briefly, Campbell’s series are set in a far future universe in which humanity colonized much of our local galactic space, and shook out into two major sociopolitical factions: the Alliance, a kind of multiplanetary federal republic, and the Syndicate Worlds (Syndics), an interstellar corporate state where “CEO” and “executive” are political and/or military titles.

Over a century before the first novel in the series, the Syndics launched a surprise attack against an Alliance convoy, and the resulting Alliance-Syndicate War had been raging ever since, stretching the political, military, economic, and social structures of both polities to the breaking point and beyond. At a pivotal moment in the war, Alliance Captain and legendary hero from the very first battle of the war John “Black Jack” Geary is discovered orbiting an out of the way star in a survival pod kept alive in suspended animation for the last 100 years. Called on to lead the Alliance Fleet out of a potentially fatal situation, Geary wins through, but the cost of the fleet’s escape is a suicidal rear-guard action by the battlecruiser Repulse, commanded by Black Jack’s grand-nephew Michael Geary.

Although never seen again in the prose series, Lost Fleet: Corsair reveals that Michael and some of his surviving crew were captured and imprisoned by the Syndics, where they have remained throughout the action of at least the first six books in the series, if not longer. Issue #1 picks up with the Syndicate Worlds falling into rebellion and disarray sometime after the events of The Lost Fleet: Victorious and The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight. Pretty much everything above gets mentioned in one way or another in Corsair #1, so it’s worth touching on. At times this issue is overburdened with all of the continuity that is hanging out there in another medium, but it also feels like something that Campbell and Siregar are just pushing through in order to get it out of the way so they can focus on the story they want to tell here. I expect that subsequent issues will be more self-contained as the creative team is able to remove their characters and story from the existing plotlines.

The Lost Fleet: Corsair gets the introductions out of the way right up front.

The series is set to revolve around Michael Geary and Syndicate Executive (Ground Forces) Destina Aragon who, with her unit helps Geary and the other Alliance prisoners escape so that they can steal a Syndicate warship and get back to their respective homes. There is a lot of distrust on both sides of a hundred-year war in which tactics devolved into massive frontal assaults and planetary bombardment was regularly used by both sides to wipe out civilians by the millions. Thus the first and probably the second issue of Corsair seem poised to set up a story of characters from both sides coming together through necessity and shared danger as they try to make their way back home. While similar in some respects to the plots of both The Lost Fleet and The Lost Stars series, Corsair marks the first time that the main protagonists come from opposite sides of the conflict, rather than different organizations or factions within the same state, and I’m looking forward to seeing if he can pull it off.

However, issue 1 is incredibly fast-paced and action heavy, concentrating on introducing the main players and getting the story rolling – character development and Aragon’s backstory will have to wait a bit. Campbell really hits the ground running, and while the sheer amount of information he needs to get across while also launching a new story sometimes causes the flow to stumble, the reader is nevertheless pulled into the breathless rush. Siregar’s pencils are sharp and realistic, a style reinforced by Bambang Irawan’s confident and precise inking. Unfortunately, Sebastian Cheng’s colors are a bit too slick, and sometimes dip characters into an overly smooth, video game-esque uncanny valley look, and despite the scars and scuffs provided by Siregar and Bambang, his colors are a bit too clean and bright for the setting.

The Lost Fleet: Corsair #1 art by André Siregar.

Overall though, The Lost Fleet: Corsair #1 is a mile-a-second ride that left me impressed and slightly dizzy with everything that the creators managed to fit into 25 pages. The series promises to expand the Lost Fleet universe in some new and interesting directions, and provide plenty of SF action along the way. It remains to be seen whether or not the carefully detailed battles that Campbell’s prose is known for will translate into sequential art, but I look forward to finding out, or even to watching him take a different tack completely. There’s a lot of potential here, and I want to see what happens next, so I’m adding The Lost Fleet: Corsair to my pull list, and if you dig military SF, I suggest you do the same.

The Lost Fleet: Corsair #1 will be available in comic shops on June 7, 2017.

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