Dead Reckoning is an imprint of the Naval Institute Press specializing in military and naval stories. Since debuting last fall they’ve released fives graphic novels (Garth Ennis’ The Night Witches being the first one from their spring line-up). A few months ago I was sent a box of review copies and it’s been hanging over my head, that it’s taken me this long to get to them. I’ve read through them all, though (including an advance copy of All Quiet On The Western Front), and here are my thoughts:
The Best of Don Winslow of the Navy
If you love Batman ’66, I highly recommend Don Winslow of the Navy (which has a very Batman ‘66 vibe, minus the cliffhangers). Don started life as a comic strip, before getting his own series with Fawcett Comics (you might know their superhero, Captain Marvel – he’s about to headline DC’s movie, Shazam). It’s these stories that editor, Craig Yoe’s, volume collects, along with an exhaustive introduction and attempts to credit everyone who worked on the series. Don was created by Frank V. Martinek (a Naval intelligence officer himself) and was published during and after WWII. Rare is the issue Don and his best mate, Red, don’t find themselves tied up (and their antagonists are awfully cautious about making too much noise with guns) but they always catch the bad guys in the end, whether it’s the Nazis or one of their recurring villains.
If I was initially skeptical about a comic that’s mostly silent, except for sounds, Ian Densford’s Trench Dogs left me speechless. Densford depicts each army as a different species of animal (the British are dogs, the Americans are cats, etc.). There’s a key at the beginning of the book but Densford spends time with all of them, showing the many different locations where WWI took place (the trenches, the sky, even the snowy mountains). The story itself is bookended by images of death and that is what you are relentlessly hit with throughout this graphic novel – death on every page. For a while you follow a nurse as she goes on leave, then returns to help with a surgery. At the end of the procedure, the hospital tent they’re in gets bombed. The end of the war provides no relief either, as Densford closes on the way African American soldiers were treated after the war. For more on the books and images Densford used for reference, there’s a study guide online that’s very helpful.
All Quiet on the Western Front
I won’t say how long, because the answer’s bad, but for a while I didn’t realize All Quiet on the Western Front was told from a German perspective. I have no excuse. It’s not like Wayne Vansant, who created this graphic novel adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s seminal novel, forgot to put Paul Bäumer in a German uniform (the helmets should’ve been a dead giveaway), but while this confession reflects badly on me, it should say the opposite about this book. As an American, you don’t encounter the German perspective too often (so much so it didn’t even cross my mind) but the real reason I didn’t realize Bäumer was a German soldier is the book’s not political. Bäumer isn’t fighting for a cause. He doesn’t talk about being ideologically opposed to Americans. His story is a universal soldier’s story that sees past nationality to show how horrible the war was on everyone, regardless of side.
Each chapter of The ‘Stan is based on an interview conducted by Kevin Knodell and David Axe and illustrated by Blue Delliquanti. While I initially leaned on the side of these stories being too brief, there’s something to gain from that length as well. This observation is partly taken from a quote on the back cover by author, Robert Young Pelton, but there’s no time for these stories to frame themselves as a hero’s journey. If they’re abrupt the result is a wide array of un-watered-down voices, talking about Afghanistan. Some of the stories tackle Hollywood depictions of war (Spec. Alison Parton talks about the “sinister image” people have of interrogators) and I appreciated that Deliquanti preserved the interview format by showing some of the interviewees telling their stories out of uniform.
Written by Brent Dulak, Knodell, and Axe, Machete Squad is Dulak’s story of serving in Afghanistan as a US Army medic. While Dulak’s account is powerful, it’s sometimes clouded (or at least not made clearer) by Per Darwin Berg’s art. War can lend to losing your bearings but Berg’s coloring makes it hard to always tell what’s going on.
The Best of Don Winslow of the Navy, Trench Dogs, The ‘Stan, and Machete Squad are available now from Dead Reckoning. All Quiet on the Western Front comes out June 12th.