Down in the Drink: War Stories #22 [Review]
War Stories #22
Created and Written by: Garth Ennis
Artwork: Tomas Aira
I have only had occasion to read three issues of Garth Ennis' War Stories. Unfortunately, the last time I dropped in on this series to check out a single issue, I happened to wander into the finale issue before the team went on indefinite hiatus. I was quite happy to see that this had come back. I had grown weary of the several issues of Crossed and its multiple spin-off stories that I picked up from time-to-time, and was hoping that I could find something different from Avatar Press.
War Stories #22 rounds out the Vampire Squadron story arc. In this particular issue, two pilots over-pursue a German fighter escaping from an attack on a coastal town. While they get him, the extra pursuit leaves them with insufficient fuel and damage to return home. Cut to the airmen's home squadron, squadron commander, and XO. While the two leaders worry that the crew will never return, they still resolve to take the remainder of the team on a field trip; to the coastal town that was attacked. After that heart-breaking scene, the captain then introduces them to the new aircraft they will be flying, the De Havilland Mosquito. As the book closes out, the Captain also reveals to his XO that he is now engaged.
In each issue that I have read of this book, Ennis has wound up pulling heart-strings that I had long thought buried deep. With an amazingly sensitive intuition for the words and feelings that come with the weariness of combat, Ennis' literature evokes the near-poetic dialog and happenstance that populate the memories and dialog of veterans. This is essentially a talking-heads issue, with very little action happening, and yet it is one of the more impactful comic books that I have read this year. And with all that he artfully weaves together, some of the best writing is the one-pager outro with no art that basically just recounts some historical facts and analysis. It almost makes me think that Ennis could write the catalog descriptions of assembly-required furniture in the Target catalog and still get an emotional response out of me. This is superb work honoring the veterans, as well as this particular comic book genre, which is all but extinct in the industry these days.
Aira does some incredibly detailed art, and he pretty much had a pass when I saw the interior cover art of the Luftwaffe attacking the American bomber squadron, evoking memories of one of my favorite, and also most emotionally endearing movies, Memphis Belle. I have criticized a few books over the last few months for having characters who are very nondescript facially, making it difficult to differentiate who's who, and more importantly, driving me not to care about the characters. Aira does a great job of taking a cast full of, no offense, nothing but white people, almost all male, and giving each a distinctive facial appearance. It made the feelings of the Captain's proposal and that whole scene much more engaging, and more so the follow-up when he coyly informs his XO. The twisted faces of the pilots as they look upon the destruction and casualties of the coastal town, and then turning to rage and a desire for vengeance? Brilliant. My only nit is that the colors were not concurrently incredible. My guess is that, in order to balance workload, they had a production shop do it (Digikore Studios is named in the credits), and that took a skosh away from the final production quality. Still, Aira's pencils and inks preserve the majority of the artistic quality and make the colors less of an issue.
War Stories is a masterful close-out of an arc in a rare war-comic. Whenever I see Ennis do this, he gets it absolutely right, and this issue is no different. Your mileage may vary if you do not have some of the same emotional beats in your background that make a comic like this call out to you, but even without that I think this was an issue that fully displays Ennis' talent as a story-teller. This is the score I wrote down immediately after finishing the book, and, as always, I never come off that original score, as it represents my takeaway at the time; how the book made me feel as I was laying it down. I really hope Ennis and Aira are planning on continuing to put these out, because this is a no-brainer add to my recurring pull-list.
Score: 10.0 / 10.0
A masterful telling of a short vignette in the quiet of war. While two men fight for their lives, their comrades prepare in grim silence to take the fight to the enemy. It is expert in its craft, relaying the significance of every beat of life in times of war, even those times when you are not under fire. Perhaps, this book says that some of those are the most important times. Whatever the intended message, Ennis and Aira deliver a roundhouse kick to the emotional plexus, inciting emotion in the coldest of hearts. If you weren't onboard before, you oughtta be now.