Hatred, Hope, And Horror: Should You Be Reading ‘War Stories’?
When you look at the sheer range and number of original stories being told in comics form today, it’s hard to imagine a better time to be a comics reader. Online and in print, from all around the world, artists and writers are telling stories with their own voices and styles, and there’s so much to choose from that it’s sometimes difficult to know what to read next. With Should I Be Reading… ?, ComicsAlliance hopes to offer you a guide to some of the best original ongoing comics being published today.
Good war comics are much harder to come by than they used to be, but there's at least one source that will remain consistent. Garth Ennis has written some of the most emotionally compelling and contextually complex stories in the genre over the course of his career, and that continues with Avatar's War Stories, with artist Tomas Aira.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
You get what you expect with a title like War Stories. Drilling into war history and unearthing lodes of hope and horror, War Stories is a series of unconnected stories featuring different characters, theaters, campaigns, and conflicts.
In three-issue arcs since the first issue, War Stories has already told several completely different types of stories, exploring the drama and lessons inherent in war history without repeating a note. In "Castles In The Sky," An American gunner's relationship with a widowed Englishwoman in WWII is about the faint glimmers of hope in combat; "The Last German Winter" is about a young Prussian woman's education on the horrors of war and the men who wage it; the Irish squad in "Our Wild Geese Go" are united by a common enemy, and divided by history back home. A wide-ranging collection of stories examining the realities of war with no real protagonists or antagonists, just people doing what people in war do: whatever they must to survive.
WHO'S IT BY?
Who else? Garth Ennis established himself as the poet laureate of modern war comics years ago, and there always seems to be one in progress, just behind him, or just around the bend. War Stories is the latest in a run of exemplary war comics for several publishers, including Enemy Ace: War in Heaven, Adventures in the Rifle Brigade, Dynamite's Battlefields collection, Unknown Solider, assorted Fury and Punisher stories, Battler Britton, the first block of War Story titles for Vertigo, and more.
It looked like there would be a rotation of artists on War Stories similar to the old Vertigo titles, but Tomas Aira came on with the fourth issue, and has been providing all the art since then. A relative newcomer, having debuted with Avatar's Night of the Living Dead just a couple of years ago, Aira is in the enviable position of working with one of comics' greatest living writers. That seems to happen at Avatar a lot.
WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?
Like everything Ennis writes, War Stories is filled with remarkably strong characters, each having better-defined voices and motivations than in 99% of comics. When a writer gets to a certain level, it seems like she or he is no longer writing dialogue, they're just taking dictation, and Ennis got there long, long ago. It helps when said dialogue is informed by knowing everything about the history of modern war.
In all historical fiction, the ability to reference places and dates is very nice, but having a real perspective is something else entirely, and Ennis has an acute one. He provides so much in background details and context that he imparts his own understanding to the reader, never once letting you off without knowing the harsh and complicated truth of it.
Although there's occasionally a rushed quality to Tomas Aira's art, it's not always a bad effect. His wiry, nervous lines match the intensity of Ennis's scripts, with characters that wear the toll of war on their stony eyes and sunken faces. His art might take a little time to grow on you, but it will.
WHO SHOULD READ IT?
For lovers of good war fiction in any medium, and grim realists with occasionally soft hearts everywhere.
WHERE CAN I READ IT?