Wednesday, January 03, 2007

WAR STORIES Vol 2. Vertigo (DC) Comics, 2006

War Stories Vol 2. collects four issues of writer Garth Ennis’s tough-as-leather war comic book. A quasi-anthology, War Stories featured a different artist illustrating an Ennis script.

Ennis, best known for writing the acclaimed series Preacher and his work on Marvel’s Punisher and The Boys, is no stranger to glib humor paired with brutal violence. I find some of Ennis’s stuff a little off-putting – he takes the “violence is funny” maxim to an extreme – but I think most of his work has a sentimental core and a devotion to individualism, qualities that War Stories possesses. Garth Ennis war comics are like Aaron Copland music drifting across a bloody, stinking battlefield. No, not Copland’s “Rodeo.” That would be funny, but inappropriate.

Most of the four tales collected in the thick War Stories trade paperback take place during WWII, and all of them feature brutal violence, heartfelt profanity, and the evocative snarky dialogue the writer is known for.

“J for Jenny” is the grim story of a British bomber crew flying missions over Germany in 1943. Each crew member takes a turn in the caption boxes, narrating the story from their point of view. David “V for Vendetta” Lloyd’s noir art has deep shadows and grainy textures – the night bombing scenes are particularly well executed. The veteran Lloyd’s art is a perfect match to Ennis’s stark script.

Check it out:

“I know what human fat smells like.” I love that shit! The dialogue, not the smell of human fat.

Next up is "The Rievers," a story set at the dawn of modern special forces about the daredevil commandos of the Long Range Desert Group. They tear around North Africa blowing up German air bases and just generally having a good time. This story explores the fine line between an adventurous spirit and the ultimately self-destructive lust of those “lovers of war.” An officer’s ambitious warrior spirit pulls him and his men into a deadly situation where daring may not be enough. Things don’t end well.

I can’t think of a better person to illustrate this than Cam Kennedy, who draws stylized figures that feel heavy and real. Kennedy’s commandos are slightly exaggerated but completely convincing and utterly bad-ass.

The coloring really makes this book. From the headlight glare of the commando jeeps to the pale desert sky, the coloring job on this story really enhances the mood and compliments the line art.

"The Condors," with art by Spanish artist Carlos Ezquerra, is a merciless story set during The Spanish Civil War with two fascist and two rebel soldiers sharing the same foxhole during a night of hellish bombing. Each soldier tells their story, and they are not happy stories. This story was well-crafted and relentlessly grim.

The book ends with "Archangel," the story of a British fighter pilot who swears a lot.

As you can see by studying the full-page panel above, this is a POV shot from our main character’s plane during a wicked dogfight. He’s just managed to stitch a line of bullet holes across the wing of his commanding officer’s plane. This mistake does not endear himself to his CO, who banishes him to the camship program. It may as well be a death sentence.
The program was designed to provide aerial protection for Allied convoys from long-range German bombers. A modified fighter plane is launched via rocket-rail from the back of a merchant ship to fend off the enemy planes. The pilots were expected to ditch in the freezing North Atlantic or fly to land – if they had enough fuel. It was a crazy-ass idea.

Our hero thinks so, too.

"Archangel" strikes a decidedly lighter tone than the other three stories, but it is no less effective. The aerial sequences are beautifully rendered by Gary Erskine. The sequence where the RAF pilot defends the convoy from attack while his gas tank empties is brilliant and stirring.

Plus, there is a lot of swearing and explosions and planes blowing up.

If you ever enjoyed a Sgt. Rock or G.I. Combat or Haunted Tank story, do yourself a favor and check out both volumes of Garth Ennis’s War Stories. 9 times out of 10 he strikes a perfect tone, balanced somewhere between awe and cynicism, blood and glory. Go check that shit out and thank me later.


String Quintet in C major said...

Hi, Dave, this is my first comment here. Great blog you´ve got going.

I thought that “Condors” was, frankly, shite. I´m Spanish, and I found the whole thing bloody appalling. The socialist and the Irish fascist were just ciphers. The roles they fulfilled in the story could have been covered with a few lines of dialogue in the mouths of any other character. For the umpteenth time (e.g. in “enemy ace” or “thor: vikings”) he recycles the figure of the gallant but apolitical German ace fighter pilot... and the Spanish guy was just dire. He´s a lucid “good savage”, damning the arrogant, uncaring foreigners for using his country to stage their ideological fights and rehearsals for the Big One. Right? No, not right. Foreign intervention did indeed exacerbate matters, but the fact is that the Spanish were tearing into each other with abandon. My grandfather didn´t get shot for his leftist sympathies in a godforsaken Andalusian village at the behest of any foreigner. Savages, maybe, but “good”? My arse. It´s just condescending as all f***.

And the epilogue. Oh, my sides. The dour Spaniard earns his livelihood, years after the war, working a paella stand (or “chiringuito” as they say over here) and masturbating into the aforementioned iconic examples of Iberian cuisine whenever he gets German customers. Yeah, nothing like dispensing creamy justice to the Krauties. He couldn´t have become an accountant or something. No, the tourism industry it is.

Actually, there´s traditionally been less antipathy towards Germans in Spain than in other parts of Europe. It comes from having suffered under a dictatorship, and knowing how easily passivity and, yes, cowardice can get hold of any population and work in an authoritarian regime´s favour. Judge not, lest ye be judged and all that.

I realized at some point that Ennis is prolly a bit of a dick who has nothing of value to add except fart jokes and macho posturing disguised as “values”. So f*** him, basically. Easily the worst of the (mostly great) writers from the British Isles to have ever thriven in America (although Millar has a shot at deserving that dubious distinction, too).

Sorry for the feckless moral outrage. Keep reminding us what unbridled geekery should be about.

Nofacejim said...

It seems our Mr. Ennis loves a good profanity-filled war story as much as I do. Maybe that's why I love talking to my nazi-bombing grandfather so much...

LurkerWithout said...

I don't suppose you've got a review of Volume 1 anywhere? I actually liked most of those more...

SJP said...

Carlos Ezquerra and Cam Kennedy: two of the greatest Judge Dredd artists EVER! That is reason enough to check out this book. OOOOWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!

Crowded House said...

Frankly, without any stories of General Richard O' Connor and his demon sock puppet, it feels wanting.

String Quintet in C major said...

Oh, and by the way...I have nothing against ultraviolence. Me loves some ultraviolence.

I´m a big fan of Marshal Law, f´r instance. Of the first few storylines, at least. There´s over-the-top bloodshed, yes, but at least you can see that Mills and O´Neill are only misanthropic, cantankerous old sods with the heart in the right place, as any satirists worth their salt should be.

Ennis, on the other hand, is a poseur.

Anonymous said...

String quartet, those are fighting words.

Hahahaha! Fighting words.

SallyP said...

Gee, I guess I am in the minority, because I loved these stories. Of course I also loved "Rifle Brigade" which consists of even more utterly disgraceful humor.

String Quintet in C major said...

Hey, no big deal. I understand that the guy has a following, and I read his stuff for quite a while, until we parted company, so to speak.

There´s definitely a place in the market for an author you can be a detractor of, due to the way his characters dispense creamy justice...

David C said...

I love "War Stories," but I do remember thinking the Spanish Civil War one was the weakest of the lot.

I love stories like "Archangel," focusing on a little-known corner of the war, and some of the abso-f***ing-lutely CRAZY stuff people came up with out of wartime necessity.

Anonymous said...

I want to see String Quintet in C Major start a blog.

Anonymous said...

This post makes me want to march.... in my plaid shirt.

Gui O. said...

I want to see String Quintet in C Major start a blog.

Ditto. Even if it's in Spanish. Me gustaría leer un blog con posts tan buenos - o tan bien argumentados - como ese comentário. Seriously, man, go ahead and start one.

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TrUlster said...

Good blog, came across searching for knowledge on whether or not Ennis will do a War Stories III, anyone in the know? Agree that the Spanish guy should start doing some writing, brilliant critique even if I like Ennis' stuff (Preacher more than War Stories though).

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