Last month, one of the best comics I've read all year flew in under the radar. It came as no surprise that this book flies under the "Dynamite" banner, not only due to its "licensed property" status, but also because I feel Dynamite rarely promotes their books. It's a bit odd because The Boys, The Man With No Name, The Lone Ranger and Zorro are big ticket properties. Dynamite recently acquired a shared license for the Phantom, and they continue to pump out quality Red Sonja books. But World War II story Brothers in Arms, based on the video games series of the same name, as well as the true story of the 502nd Parachute Regimen of the 101st Airborne, blew me away. I've always been a fan of the games, I've always been a bit of a World War II and a military buff, but I'm always a bit wary of products in other mediums based on video games. There were three things that initially drew me to the first issue, (1) the title, (2) the artwork and (3) the fact that I truly believe there are not enough World War II comics these days. Like the Western, World War II is a timeless genre that for numerous reasons always stands the test of time. But David Wohl and video game writer Mike Neumann brought an astounding level of humanity and emotion to the first issue of this title. I've been anxiously awaiting the second issue, and while it was released last week, I still feel I have to review to let you know what you are missing.
You might think, "bah, just another World War II genre story" and pass by Brothers in Arms while picking your books off the shelf. And while this title is most certainly a World War II title, and while it does take place during D-Day, it is not your typical battle retread. In fact, the theme and plot of this title is not motivated by the war. Sure, the war is what brings our characters together and moves the plot from point A to point B, but the war is just a plot device. This title is much more about exploring the main characters introduced in the first issue. This issue is well-paced and takes its time focusing on two characters, Matt Baker and George Risner. The two are best friends, and this issue explores their feelings towards one another, how the war is changing that relationship and how both men deal with the situations they are presented with throughout this issue.
The main narrative is told from Risner's point of view and the focus is more on Baker than the narrator. However, through Risner's narration, you get a unique feeling on his perspective and his view of the war. Once again, Wohl and Neumann use excellent, unique and cinematic transitions to flashback to each character's life before the war. Rather than using it as a way to introduce the characters and who they are beyond soldiers, the writers use the classic storytelling device where a specific flashback directly relates to the character's actions. For example, in this issue Baker has to kill a few Nazis, the scene flashes back to Baker first learning how to fire a gun and reluctantly killing a rabbit. This offers great insight not only to the character, but also how the war affects the character's mind and brings back memories of a much different life.
But there's something even more powerful and breathtaking about this issue than the focus on, and emotional character development of, Risner and Baker. Neumann and Wohl also take the time to personalize and individualize the Nazi soldiers. The Nazis are the most easily accessible group of villains anyone can use, whether it is in a historical sense or a neo-sense when it comes to fiction, especially comics. We have been taught about the evils of Nazi Germany, the horrors they committed and their general disregard for all things non-Aryan. There's also some debate over the influence of religion in Nazi Germany. Hitler was indeed obsessed with religious artifacts and the occult, but there's never much mention of "God's place" with the Nazis. But that doesn't mean that God did not exist in the individual German soldiers. Neumann and Wohl do a fantastic job of highlighting the difference between an individual German soldier and the Nazis in this issue. There's a moment in this issue, during the invasion of Normandy, where a Nazi soldier pulls out a golden necklace with a crucifix attached and kisses it. This Nazi was a man of God. This Nazi was just a soldier. I was compelled by this moment, which was part shock, part heart-wrenching, and totally beautiful. It's weird to say that, but as seen in this week's "Good Stuff" column, I asked Neumann about this moment and he summed up exactly what I was feeling as I witnessed it in the beginning of the issue, and again at the end when that Nazi is killed and the cross is visible outside his uniform. Neumann offered this statement:
"The German soldiers weren't mindless evil robots. They were men with families and beliefs. The crucifix represents a dichotomy of war, so to speak. Or, you could say that god doesn't choose sides."It's very bizarre and very surreal in a way, but Neumann and Wohl blew me away with the way they portrayed not the Nazis mind you, but the German soldiers. They are essentially no different than the Americans when it comes to being a civilian, and like the Americans, the war has transformed them into agents of an idea, agents of war, tossing aside any former life. This is an amazing book because while we get all of the raw emotion and powerful imagery, we also get the gritty, chaotic war itself. This issue is fairly violent, the tone seems chaotic at times but that is due to the war and the action taking place within it. Neumann, Wohl and artist Davide Fabbri pull no punches in showing the horrors of the war and the type of violence that is rarely seen in such a World War II epic.
Once again Fabbri provides some spectacular artwork. One thing I noticed about this issue was the extraordinary historical accuracy when it comes to portraying the soldiers, weapons and equipment of the time period. His environments are beautifully drawn, the action flows nicely and the characters are distinct and consistent. Fabbri brings a great deal of realism to this book and really just adds to the overall quality of the title.
Brothers in Arms is a book I highly recommend. It's powerful, heavily character driven, action packed, and a very raw and accurate portrayal of World War II. I've actually read the issue quite a few times since last week, and it really gets me every time I do.
What did you think of this book?
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