The premise of Guerillas is simple: What if super-chimpanzees had their own squad in the Vietnam War? I am sure that this will force most comic book fans to prick up their ears and say, “What the hell?"
Guerillas is the brain child of writer/artist/inker (and probably colourist if it weren’t all in black and white) Brahm Revel, a newcomer to publishing comic books, but he already wins the Coolest Name award. Now I, like most, would have expected Brahm to go all out on his first publication and fill it with quirky humour and outright craziness. Well, that’s what I expected in a comic about simians, but no. Brahm opens his mini-series with what I can only describe as a war-noir.
We are introduced to the main character, Private John Francis Clayton, as he wades through the moors of Vietnam with the rest of his platoon. It is clear right from the start that he isn’t very highly regarded by his brothers in arms; his commanding officer threatens to kill him if he doesn’t stop coughing. Suddenly, Clayton’s moustachioed Sergeant’s head is blown apart, flinging an outburst of eyes and brain all over the wet plain. In the meantime, Clayton gives us a background of his life with a series of captions detailing his father’s life, his own disillusionment with suburban, white-collar society and eventually his reasons for going to ‘Nam.
In between the captions, the action of the war continues and the combination of Clayton’s sad confessions and horrific surroundings make the comic feel very dark and depressing; a world away from the cheeky, cheery, tongue-in-cheek satire I expected. Brahm definitely goes out of his way to present Private Clayton as a loner, an outcast, summed up when the platoon’s only African-American soldier snatches a photo of Clayton’s sweetheart out of his hand and has a good laugh at his own hijinks (although it later turns out that, in his loneliness, Clayton cut a photo of the ‘popular’ girl out of his high school year book). But the stereotypical token bully wouldn’t be complete without the stereotypical guy-that-stands-up-for-the-weak character, and this Cadillac of men, unsurprisingly, is the one who gets Clayton his photo back.
The platoon meets a gory, bloodcurdling end when the Vietcong launches an ambush on their camp, with guts flying everywhere, body parts exaggeratingly blasted to smithereens and smouldering holes exploding in the head’s of Clayton’s comrades. Clayton himself, however, takes the cowards way out and hides in his hole, hidden away by his dead friend, Carlo, whose throat had been cut just a few panels earlier. Fortunately, Clayton stays alive long enough to see seven shadowy figures jump out of nowhere and assassinate every single Vietcong in the clearing, with Clayton the sole survivor of the attack.
Of course, these seven saviours are the Chimpanzees that the synopsis suggested. Sadly, they come at the very end of the comic, the final panel being a group shot of all seven apes and a wounded Clayton and we’ll see no more monkey madness for a whole two months.
If I were to meet Mr. Revel, I would like to ask him whether or not the black and white look was his own choosing or if it was simply because of budget constraints. I hope it is the latter; the darker tones make the comic feel grim and depressing, which it seems was the impression he was going for. The artwork is very basic. There is often little to no detail in Brahm’s characters faces and the backgrounds are almost nonexistent (sometimes literally). Brahm also takes on far more serious issues than I had expected, such as rape and other such crimes of war. The underlying messages seem to be that war is wrong, we need to do more with time we have and that classic question: what makes a man a man?
At any rate, this book is a good read, and once those damn dirty apes come-a-knocking you definitely want to know where this all goes. After all, who could resist the lure of super smart ninja chimps wearing army uniforms, kicking Vietcong keister?
What did you think of this book?
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