It’s November, and for the uninitiated, that means it’s War Comics Month (shout out to Luke Jaconetti, btw). I’m a fan of comics of all genres, and while I don’t own a ton of them, I do enjoy a classic war book; heck, I did an entire podcast on one. And with a pile of newly purchased back issues to get through, some of which are war books, I thought I’d be all thematic. So here’s what I’ve been reading about our (and others’) fighting forces.
The Odyssey (translated by Emily Wilson). Yes, I know that I said that this was #WarComicsMonth and this isn’t a comic book, but it is about war. If anything, it’s one of the original war veterans stories. Odysseus, who had gone off to fight in the Trojan War, is stuck wandering for ten years after the war’s end because he pissed off Poseidon. Meanwhile, at home, his son Telemachus has grown up without him and his marriage to Penelope is under siege. Homer tells this all literally, but the story is an apt metaphor for those who have struggled on their way home from war as well as when the return. Their “odyssey” might not be a harrowing journey filled with literal gods and monsters, but they deal with their own mental and emotional trials. This particular translation came out about five years ago, and it’s absolutely outstanding. Wilson has taken Homer’s text, worked it into iambic pentameter, and done an incredible job of making sure that the story stands out. The Odyssey has always had a tight, well-told plot with vivid characters who are more human than many other epic heroes, and I could not put this down. Keep.
Comics and Graphic Novels
Marvel Classics Comics #18. Speaking of The Odyssey, this is Marvel’s comic book adaptation of Homer’s epic. Bill Mantlo handles the writing and Jess M. Jodloman (who had a career in the 1970s and 1980s on horror and war books for DC and Marvel) is the artist. I plan on doing a whole post or maybe even a podcast episode about this series, so I won’t go too deep into this except to say that I paid about a buck for this comic and it was worth it. Sure, it’s condensing an entire epic poem into a single comic book, so it’s going to be pretty broad in its interpretation of events, but Mantlo knows how to pace a story and Jodloman’s art is dynamic enough to keep you interested. It’s a step above a Classics Illustrated version and enough of a tease to make you want to read the full epic. Keep (and finish the run).
Classics Illustrated: All Quiet on the Western Front. Speaking of Classics Illustrated, I didn’t actually purchase this; I found it in my school’s book room. It’s not an original issue, but instead a reprint that Acclaim Comics did in digest format back in the mid-1990s. It’s been recolored and there is also an essay in the back of the book that provides Cliff Notes-esque summaries and discussion of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel. Like the Marvel Classics Comics book I was just talking about, this condenses the entire story into a single comic book issue, and it reads like Cliff Notes in comic book form. The art is solid and enhanced by the recoloring, although like a number of Classics Illustrated books I’ve read, it does tend to be pretty stiff. I’m sure that if I ever found the actual issue on the very cheap, I’d grab it, but for now, this will just sit in my classroom.
All Quiet on the Western Front (adapted by Wayne Vansant). A couple of weeks ago, I was at the Baltimore Comic-Con and was able to meet Wayne Vansant for the third time. I interviewed Wayne for episode 21 of In Country a number of years ago and told myself that if I ever saw him at a show, I’d take more comics to get signed and buy a couple of his graphic novels. So at the show, I bought Katusha: Girl Soldier of the Great Patriotic War (which is on my to-read list for November), a couple of pieces of original artwork, and this adaptation. Now, instead of being a one-issue “summary” of the book, this is a full-length graphic novel adaptation. He uses Remarque’s original text and illustrates it, keeping everything as close to the original version of the book as he possibly can. The result is magnificent. I’ve enjoyed his art for a long time, ever since I read his run on The ‘Nam, and he does an outstanding job of being faithful to both Remarque’s story as well as the time period. Not that I wouldn’t have expected him to do his research, but I could see the work that went into it, and the respect for the horrors of war that the novel portrays. This adaptation does not shy away from the violence that Remarque describes, but it also does not trade in gratuitous gore. It’s raw in places and has the pathos of the novel. If you’re interested, you can buy it here. Keep.
G.I. Joe: The Order of Battle #1-4 (Marvel). So G.I. Joe was my original war comic. Yes, I know that it is a licensed toy property that doesn’t technically fall into the Sgt. Rock area of war comics, but it still about a military special forces unit that fights Cobra and defends our freedoms. As you know, I read the first eight volumes of IDW’s trade paperback reprints (and will one day track down the others) and also own trades of the Yearbooks and Special Missions series as well as the G.I. Joe and The Transformers miniseries from 1986. The Order of Battle was a miniseries that I don’t remember owning as a kid. I may have had one issue and read my friends’ copies when I was hanging out at their houses. Anyway, it’s the Joe version of Who’s Who or OHOTMU, and also the comics version of the file cards that came with the action figures. Reading these profiles was a great nostalgia trip, and since I don’t have this in trade (because I’m pretty sure that it hasn’t been collected), I’m going to hold onto it. Keep.
Semper Fi #2, 3, 4, 6 (Marvel). Coming off of the huge success of The ‘Nam in its early days (seriously, that book was competing with the X-Men at one point), Marvel decided to dust off the war genre again and go with this “Tales of the Marine Corps” anthology series. It has connective tissue in that we’re following a family line of Marines throughout the Corps’ history, but as I’ve only read these four issues, each one was fine as a standalone. The artwork is great–Andy Kubert, John Severin, and Sam Glanzman all bring wonderfully detailed and realistic illustration to the various eras that the book showcases–however, the stories were a bit uneven. It’s not that they weren’t entertaining or anything; I just found myself missing some of the pathos that The ‘Nam was so good with. Still, there’s only nine issues in the entire series, so it’ll be worth tracking those down. Keep and finish the run.