War Is Hell. The Books Are Heaven.

My greatest food rival is my own father. I am sure he perceives it the exact same way. Every family holiday I can feel the resentment growing. I like the same food he does. The dark meat disappears faster from the turkey. His coffee supplies are drained quicker then usual. There was a time where these items were his private domain. He could leisurely approach the dark meat. Now it is race. As I got older my tastes changed. I didn’t like dark meat as a kid. There really wasn’t a reason, I just thought I didn’t like it. I made up my mind and deprived myself of tasty food for years.

As I cracked open a box filled with my comics from the last month I realized my tastes in comics have gone through the same shift.  Books that I wouldn’t have given a second though to as a kid are now my most anticipated items to read. War comics are my sequential dark meat. As a kid I just assumed war books were going to be patriotic propaganda pieces. They would just feature square jawed Americans on the move and ready to kick some ass. My love for history hadn’t really bloomed yet so I couldn’t see the potential for great stories inside a war. In my eyes the only thing worth drawing was a superhero. Why would anyone want to draw soldiers? It just seemed boring.

Then I started to learn history a bit more. Math is a subject you learn in stages. You build on what you have previously learned. History you just get dumped on you. The version you get in sixth grade is not as complicated as the high school freshman version which is not as complicated as the college freshman version which is not as complicated as the graduate student version. As I got older and I saw more grey areas in history I also saw the fertile ground for great stories. In the last few years this love has only grown.  Today I am going to share a couple of my favorite series of the war genre.

Enemy Ace

A Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert created feature that followed the exploits of World War I pilot Hans Von Hammer. Von Hammer was the ace of the German forces and an incredibly troubled man. The tremendous tension within these stories come from Von Hammer being torn between an obligation to his country, his own sense of honor, and the horror of his task. This was no chest pounding warrior. It was the story of man who was a killing machine…and resented it.

The casting of a German air ace immediately throws an American reader off balance. It is the enemy. We are supposed to hate him. Yet over time you begin to respect what Von Hammer represents in the war. He is last vestige of the old type of honor that war used to be built upon. Duels at dusk. Refusing to shoot an unarmed man. This sits in stark contrast to the historical truths of World War I.

It was war that was at least partially caused by the creaking bones of an old world of leadership. Dinosaurs like the Hapsburgs and Romanovs would be crushed by the tensions of the war. No country escaped the war without a vast shift in their perspective on how they should relate to the rest of the world. The ground war would eventually kill sixteen million while wounding another twenty one million. It would be the height of the use of artillery. It would be the introduction of poison gas in warfare. Thousands of soldiers would freeze to death in their camps. The ground of Europe was churned. Soldiers died by the thousands to gain enemy territory by the yard and not the mile.

Flying above all this is Von Hammer. Occasionally he mentions the lack of honor in the ground war. We see him fly over fields of bones. The last bit of the old way of life that could be worth saving and he is preoccupied with the daring battles in the sky. Kubert would bring twisting and turning action to the book while giving the Hammer of Death a gravitas that was necessary for the story.

I walk away from these old stories with a sense of the adrenaline of war but also with serious nature of what it means to kill for your country. I would highly suggest the Showcase Presents Enemy Ace Vol. 1. It collects the Enemy Ace stories as they appeared in Our Army At War, Star Spangled War Stories, Men of War, and The Unknown Soldier. Besides featuring Joe Kubert art you will also get some good Chaykin and some great Russ Heath. Batman also shows up..for reals.


A World War II series written by Garth Ennis and featuring a rotating set of artists and stories. The series is made up of smaller three part stories. These stories have followed English tank units, female Soviet pilots, bombing teams, and nurses with a vendetta. Ennis has a truly unique voice when it comes to war stories.

The narrative of World War II is a little easier for modern readers to grasp. It can be presented as good versus evil. Soldiers were dying to stop the spread of fascism. In an affront to his simplification,  Ennis still manages to pick out the odd bits and pieces of war. ‘

Not every moment is spent with characters talking about destroying the evils of the Third Reich. No matter what the setting we see the characters balancing the desire to survive with the need to win. These aren’t characters who running out there to die. Yet, they risk it with every mission. In The Tankies we are exposed to the nature of tank warfare. The quick switch from a killing machine to a metal coffin. The dangerous cat and mouse tactics played out in burned out city cityscapes. The female pilots of Motherland who fly with no experience and poor equipment are fighting partially out of fear of their own government. Ennis always makes it clear that war is a complicated mess, no matter how clear the fight seems to be.

Russ Braun, Peter Snerjberg, Carlos Equerra and PJ Holden have all done beautiful work on the series. Their unique styles create a dazzling but horrifying landscape of war.  I would recommend the Battlefields hardcover that collects the first three stories (nine issues in total.)

I often see comic fans discussing the relative merits of adding the ambiguity of the real world to superheroes. Maybe the best route would be to start looking at genres were the grey area can’t help but exist. Go pick up a war book and don’t be scared. There is plenty of them to go around….for now. If there is shortage I will cut you. Just like Papa Katers.


Tom Katers considers himself a conscientious objector in the matter of internet fights.


  1. I haven’t read many war comics (unless you count G.I. Joe [I don’t]), but the praise they receive on this site has convinced me to start reading them.  I’m thinking I’ll start with Battlefields.

    I may also try dark meat turkey, but I’m less certain of that. 

  2. Good article, and funny timing since I was just thinking a week or so ago how all my favorite trades have recently been turning up in the war genre. My recommendations (not that you asked)? Blazing Combat (with a veritable who’s who of early sequential art giants like Alex Toth and Wally Wood with covers by Frank Frazetta), and Jason Aaron and Cameron Stewart’s The Other Side. Holy cow. Both are sublime and made monthlies lose some of their luster. I want every comic I read to be as well crafted as those two books. 

    Because the linking popup doesn’t work in Chrome…

    Blazing Combat –>http://astore.amazon.com/ifanboycom-20/detail/1606993666

    The Other Side –> http://astore.amazon.com/ifanboycom-20/detail/1401213502

  3. OttoBott speaks the truth about Blazing Combat. The artwork is fantastic. It also spans combat from different eras, the Revolutionary war to Vietnam.

  4. Read ennis’ “war stories” series. Fantastic. I still remember “d day dodgers”

  5. I am SO not a war buff, but Ennis’ work on Battlefields and War Stories keeps me riveted. I’ve loved the glimpses I’ve gotten of Kubert’s war stuff too through Yossel and Fax from Sarajevo. I’d like to give a shout out to Joe Sacco too, who does a more biographical/journalistic style but still makes some great war comics.

  6. I love the war tales Ennis sneaks into his other books. Like Punisher and Preacher.

  7. Oh, @dsaint makes a great point. What he said. I was actually greatly reminded of Rucka’s "American Solider" pitch as I read through Blazing Combat.

  8. Ok a view from England.

    The best war comic (nay the best comic) series written in the UK in the last 50 years is (probably) ‘Charleys War’ by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun. I suspect Garth Ennis for one would agree.

    I could say may more but check out here if you are interested :-


    A series of hardback reprints by Titan are available.







  9. I love Battlefields, glad to see it appreciated here.  Dear Billy is my favorite.

  10. Sgt. Rock is probably my fav.