World War Comics

Let’s be clear: I took history class. I took it for, like, a long time and, according to my report cards, I did well on the various tests and essays I was required to complete to prove that I took said classes. Sadly, I was so young that I took these classes as raw information that was to be upended out of my brain and spread about on binder paper and scantron forms. Years later, I think that history means more the more personal history you’ve accrued. So, as I get older, I find myself a lot more interested in history and have found myself gravitating to more and more books that tell historical tales.

There are lots of history comics out there so it would be silly to try to cover them all, so I thought I would mention a few books that I have picked up over the past few months. Conveniently enough, they are all about different parts/aspects/points of view during World War II, hence the title of my article. It’s interesting — there are a lot of these books out there and I really don’t know if this is a coincidence or if there have always been a pretty steady stream of War comics out there. I mean, I know they are a staple of most comic book stores, but there are definitely more popping up on my pull list lately.

As a kid, I was exposed to these adventures of Sgt. Rock and Easy Company and The Haunted Tank through a few of the DC Digest books (check ’em out here ). I actually had this “top 12 stories” digest (or something like that) that had a few stories, and for some reason, they still stick with me, along with the Unknown Soldier. I was young when I read these, like in grade school, and I find it interesting that I still remember these books and stories so clearly when I can’t really remember what I did last Tuesday. I think it’s because although I knew the basics about the Wars, like the dates and some of the key events, I did not really know any stories, I hadn’t read any accounts of what it was like to actually be there. It is obvious now, but as a kid, I didn’t really get that history was made up of individual stories, and when I got even a little peek as to what it might have been like to walk through a bombed out village in Paris with the rest of Easy Company, it personalized the Historical Event that was World War II in a much more profound way.

So, when my comic book retailer suggested Chuck Dixon and Butch Guice’s Storming Paradise, I picked up issues 1 and 2 without any hesitation
(I guess my shop has sold out of the other issues — I apologize for not being able to report on the more recent ones… but I bet you they are solid). Though these books are not perfect — the first issue introduces a whole host of characters and places, making it a bit of a task to follow — the books succeed in completely immersing you in late 1945 as the Allies marshaled their forces to defeat Japan. And it’s not just the Allied view of things: the second issue opens with a kamikaze bomber’s letter to his young wife, explaining how his only regret was that he would never be able to hold their child. The letter unfolds as he gets in his plane, evades the Allied fire and crashes his plane headlong into a ship. It’s pretty intense and, succeeded in making me think not only of this pilot’s situation, but also of the suicide bombers/fighters that we hear about seemingly every day in the Middle East and, more recently in Mumbai.

Indeed, this title and Battlefields: Flight of the Night Witches go further that what I would consider “classic” war comics; they both tell the stories from both sides of the conflict. These books are seemingly much more interested in telling a fuller story, with characterizations that help the reader see the humanity for all of the unfortunate souls that find themselves told to kill each other.

Storming Paradise has started off really strongly. The somewhat chaotic introduction of characters in the first issue is balanced out by a pretty taut second issue, which ends with the US soldiers having to shoot two Japanese kids (killing one) who were running towards them with grenades. Pretty hardcore stuff. We also get introduced to a Japanese American soldier (the unit’s translator) who paints a US flag on both the front and back of his helmet lest either side of the battle mistake him for the enemy. We actually meet another Japanese American in Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battle, and their frustrating struggle to show the other American troops that they are just as American as they are is very compelling. When asked why the Japanese kamikaze pilots do what they do, the translator in Storming Paradise replies, “How the hell should I know? I wasn’t raised to be a samurai, all I wanted was to grow up and pitch for the Cardinals.”

As a kid, I never thought of what it might be like to be an American Japanese translator fighting in World War II, but obviously there had to be a whole lot of them. And depending on the movie, a character like that might appear, but in a comic, you have the space and creative freedom to tell that character’s story. I was talking to a guy at party who told me that comics were his favorite entertainment — you just did not have the limitations that are inherent in TV and film. Stories like the ones I am finding in Storming Paradise really drive that point home.

Conor already did a great writeup of Garth Ennis and Russ Braun’s Battlefields: Night Witches #1 so it makes no real sense for me to go into it here, so I will do so, just a bit. The art’s really good (the other books have solid art as well but Braun’s emotionality and storytelling are top notch) — there’s a specificity, reminiscent of Darrick Robertson, to the art that, again, really personalizes the stories here. Not growing up in Germany or Russia, I will admit that I haven’t thought a whole lot about those battles — t’s not that I wouldn’t have been interested if I the stories were told to me, we just never studied them in school. Again, the power resulting from the independence that comics has from other mediums shines here.

Battlefields delves into the man-to-man, moment-to-moment chaos that makes up a larger battle. There’s a ferocity and desperation to the combat, especially in the beginning of the book that forces you to sit up and pay attention. I dunno about you, but when I think about these wars, I think more about tanks and guns rather than knives to the face. This is a great, if harrowing story, and I have a feeling it’s just going to get more intense. Should be a great trade.

Sgt. Rock has long been one of my favorite DC characters. (I always thought he reminded me of Nick Fury — what an interesting team up that would be!) When I heard about Billy Tucci’s Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion, all those memories of the DC Digest books just came out and I couldn’t wait to pick this book up. Sgt. Rock and Easy Company were the prototype for me — when I saw Saving Private Ryan, I kept thinking about Rock and Easy; indeed, if the military brass had to go find Private Ryan in the DC Universe, they would definitely send these guys.

So far, I have only read the first issue of this six issue miniseries and I must admit, I am tempted to just wait this out and get the trade. This is not a knock on the book, but I can just feel that it might read better if I just held out. I like Tucci’s art but it’s almost too… clean? Too colorful? when compared to the other books, which are a lot more gritty. That being said, I do like the art, though it leans a bit on the photorealistic more than I prefer, and, somewhat surprisingly, I found myself not knowing which character was which. (Speaking of Saving Private Ryan, there’s a shot of Rock in the beginning that looks a lot like Tom Hanks — but that’s the only time he looks that way.)

That being said, Tucci understands what makes a Sgt. Rock book work — Rock’s interaction with the other members of his unit. These are great characters and it was a thrill to see Tag Along, Wildman and the rest of the guys in action again. We are also introduced to William J. Kilroy, a cartoonist for Upfront magazine, who tags along with Rock during the battle of Omaha Beach and eventually meets up with him later. Again, we get to see the war from the point of view from a person we might never meet in film and television — I couldn’t believe that the cartoonist, technically a member of the press, was not allowed to engage in combat! I mean, deep down I think I knew it, but to see this happen in the middle of a firefight really took me by surprise.

We also get a chance to see that Rock is not perfect — indeed he makes a racist comment when he encounters a Japanese American medic who helps deliver a pair of twins (Rock sneers that they’ll probably be named Tojo and Hirohito). The cartoonist calls him on the slur and Rock kind of apologizes, but again, it’s a different kind of war story when the hero of the book is called out for being a racist boor.

Maybe it’s because I don’t really like conflict, but I must admit that the scenes I liked most in the various war movies I’ve seen are when the soldiers are not the battles but the times when the soldiers are just hanging out, cooking, playing baseball, whatever. There’s a scene like that in Sgt. Rock that kicks off what seems to be the main plot of the miniseries, and I really enjoyed it. It rounds out the sense of camaraderie and provides a glimpse into why the relationships formed in war are so strong… and it lightens the tone of the story, too.

Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion is not perfect. I found the story hard to follow at times and thought the art was pretty uneven. That being said, I think it rounds out the the three titles discussed here. So far, it’s feels more like a comic book than the other two, which makes sense given that Rock is an established DC character, etc.

My brother is joining the Navy in February, so I guess it makes sense that I would be thinking a bit more about the military than I normally do this holiday season. The global struggle that was World War II was so all encompassing and defined so many lives that perhaps it is not surprising there are still comic books being written about it. When you think about the individual soldiers, how young they were, how complete a struggle they were participating in… it’s just overwhelming. One might be tempted to argue that the World Wars back then were simpler than the conflicts we find ourselves fighting in today, but I think after reading these comics, one realizes that no war is simple, that no struggle is black and white, that everyone involved is, in the end, a human being fighting for what they believe in. Despite the struggles our world is facing now, we are better off thanks to the victories and defeats amassed during the World Wars and I am grateful to the creators for telling these stories

How about you, iFanbase? What World War comics would you recommend?

Mike Romo is an actor in LA. The closest he ever got to being in the military was when he did a 6 page monologue from the point of view as a sniper. He can be reached at and he distributed far-ranging tweets at Twitter.


  1. If you’re looking for a different kind of war comic, try Alan’s War by Emmanuel Guibert. It’s a memoir of a GI, and so more personal and not combat-focused, which is what makes it unique: you get a stronger sense of the wide variety of experience in WWII, just being a young man in Europe with various and shifting duties. Quietly compelling reading.

  2. Great article, but I was hoping for some recommendations for things that I haven’t read, this isn’t your fault at all Mike, but my gut reaction to te article title was "Sweet! New war comics!" But alas, the genre is simply far too neglected.

    Might I add to the list Superspy by Matt Kindt, which is an incredibly well researched look at the world of WWII espionage. 

  3. The second two issues of Storming Paradise have been awesome, I had to go to Heavyink to buy them, though, since my shop doesn’t get them. Much less confusing in terms of story, but I have an issue with all of the german being spoken (it’s usually pretty important stuff too). Ah well, still an awesome book

  4. ANY WAR STORIES BY GARTH ENNIS, ESPECIALLY WAR STORIES VOL. 1 AND 2.  It is just as good as Night Witches.

    I love Ennis’ work, twisted as he may be (hellblazer, preacher, wormwood) but he really excels at war stories.  Even Marvel’s War is Hell.

  5. Forgot to mention Ennis’ Enemy Ace : War in Heaven.

    Also, Jason Aaron’s The Other Side (showing both  perspectives of an American GI and a soldier in the VC.

  6. The new Unknown Soldier book has been pretty good after two issues as well, and it’s much more topical than WWII stories, if that’s your thing.

  7. i love The Night Witches and the other war stories that warren ellis made. most of these are good aspects to bring to the comic universe and they are compelling stories that show you the real horrors of war

  8. Garth Ennis, not Warren Ellis.

  9. For me, it’s all about Snoopy and the Red Baron.  The grittiest war comic of all time.  

  10. @Paul– Bah.  Blitz Wolf is where it’s at.

  11. ahh garth ennis my apologies i always switch writers around

  12. ‘Charley’s War’ by Pat Mills &  Joe Colquhoun. Possibly the greatest UK comic strip ever, certainly one that influenced Garth Ennis hugely. Slowly being reprinted by Titan in prestige format here.   

  13. ‘Charley’s War’ is very good, amazing brush work. Storywise horrific rather than heroic.

    Thank you for the recs; I want to get back into war comics so I’ll check some of them out.

  14. War comics is one of the genres of comics that I enjoy when I read them but rarely seek them out.  I have some of Ennis’s War stories and they are very good.  I agree with Jim.  They are much more enjoyable when they are about the people trying to find moments of normalcy amidst chaos.

  15. Crecy was sweet. Conor wrote a review on it awhile ago, but I’m gonna make if link it himself if he wants to share.

  16. I’d love it if someone wrote a series of war stories from in between the battles. It’d just be about a bunch of regular (non ranking) soldier talking about life and playing baseball and stuff like that…  

  17. I love my Showcase of the Unknown Soldier.  Great stuff.

    The worst war book I read was War is Hell by Ennis.  I couldn’t stand it.  I even held out three issues because of how much I love Ennis’s writing, but I just didn’t like it.