Pick of the Week

01.28.2009 – Battlefields Dear Billy #1

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220
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Avg Rating: 4.6
iFanboy Community Pick of the Week Percentage: 21.2%
 
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Size: pages
Price: 3.50

“That was amazing”

Those are the exact words I said, out loud, to myself, upon finishing this comic book.  I’m pretty sure that at some point, in the middle of reading the book, I also said, “this is amazing,” and might have repeated it once or twice.

Garth Ennis does not get enough credit.  This seems to be an untrue statement I’m sure, as Preacher is one of the most lauded comic book series of all time.  Punisher has also received its share of commendation as well.  Yet, the man really has incredible range the more I think about it.  He’s known, for the most part, for gross-out writing, which is such a disservice to the man’s incredible talent at scripting comic books.  When I think about the breadth and depth of his body of work, it’s very easy to pick out a couple things he does and hone in those, but that’s extremely reductive.  I start thinking about all the nuances of Preacher, and Ennis’ Hellblazer work, Adventures in the Rifle Brigade, War Stories, Hitman, The Boys, Dan Dare, and others, there are certainly common themes, but there are so many different methods and interesting characters being employed that I’m impressed all over again.  To me, the unfortunate part is that, with the exception of Preacher, the comic market doesn’t really tend to line up for his best, most personal work.  I hear so much praise for The Boys, but at the same time, this new Battlefields series is some of the best historical war fiction I’ve ever read in comics form.

Just like in the last series, Night Witches, which wrapped up last week, we’re taken back to World War II, and shown yet another side of the war I was previously unacquainted with.  Where the European front is the more romantic and storied half of the Great War, the Pacific theater is very often ignored.  I think that is because it was uglier, and less clear about who was winning and why.  I admit, I know far more about the battles in Europe than I do about those around Japan, and reading a story like Dear Billy, I begin to understand some of the reasons why.  The Germans were an enemy to be sure, and the Nazis and SS were among the worst humans ever to walk the earth.  But I’ve read many accounts of the average German soldier being very much like the average American soldier, and given the chance, the two could relate to one another, even though they were pitted against each other.  On the other hand, I’ve read terrible tales of savagery when discussing the Japanese war.  The soldiers were ferocious, fearless, and almost alien in their approach to war.  Garth Ennis takes us right there, and by page 2 of this issue, there’s no doubt what sort of war and what sort of story we’ll be dealing with.  The opening scene is an example of the absolute lowest humans can sink.  Then, mere pages later, we’re reading a charming, simple, and innocent love story.  Basically, a nurse goes through a horrible ordeal at the hands of invading Japanese soldiers, is rescued against the odds, and finds herself healed in some ways, but not others.  The entire story is told through the letter she is writing to her loved one, apparently the only way she can be honest with someone else about what actually happened.  I completely lost myself in reading her letter, and the interactions with Billy, and for a short time, these were real people.  It’s about as much as you can ask for from any kind of fiction.

I was overjoyed to see Danish artist Peter Snejbjerg handing the art chores on this issue.  I know Snejbjerg from his work on the latter half of Starman, as well as some work on a Preacher  The elegance of his art is not always apparent at first, but eventually, you come to appreciate what an understated master he is.  The style is simple, line drawn, for lack of a better term, cartoonish.  But he does so much with so little.  This issue is very good at showing his talent for the characters’ acting.  Sometimes, I like to go through an issue without really looking a the words, and see if I can tell exactly what’s going on from the storytelling, and the expressions of the characters.  The exercise proves incredibly telling when looking through this issue, as it’s all right there on the page.  The faces tell you exactly how everyone is feeling at any given time, and he does it with an economy of line that would make Alex Toth and Darwyn Cooke proud.

It’s no surprise that I love a good World War II comic book, nor that I think this might be what Garth Ennis was born to do.  I enjoyed every terrible moment of Night Witches, and this mini series might just top that one.  I also feel like it’s a terrible shame that not nearly enough of the readers out there get a chance to enjoy Ennis at his best.  He told me himself that his War Stories didn’t sell well enough to survive.  I’m not sure if it’s just that I’m unusual and most people just don’t like stories about war.  Perhaps it’s that people don’t think they like them, but I would be incredibly surprised if any fan of well made comic book stories reads this and doesn’t recognize the skill contained in its pages.

Josh Flanagan
I must say, Billy really had an optimistic outlook.
josh@ifanboy.com

Comments

  1. Gosh darnit! I keep missing out on these great war stories by Ennis. Are they going to be all collected in one trade, or is this gonna be collected seperately? Great review btw.

    Nova was my pick if anyone wanted to know.

  2. Haven’t gotten a chance to read this yet, but it’s in my pull. I love Ennis.

  3. right on joshua 

  4. I picked this up based on Conor and Josh’s reviews on the podcast of the last arc. Does anyone know when the first arc comes out in trade?  I couldn’t agree more with this as POW.

     The first couple of pages are rough to read and grab you.  What is brilliant about the opening scene, some nasty, terrible stuff happens, but you don’t see it, it is only talked about, which is far more effective.  It leaves you the reader to picture what happened  If they manage to build on this issue, I’m going to be a wreck by the end of this story.

    Seek this out people.

  5. This was by far the thing this week I was most looking forward to, no offence Final Crisis, and I hope this series last a long time.  This is so much more my speed that anything else I’ve read from Ennis.  The fact that these are about real war seems to make him play it a little more strait, and that gives these so much more punch.

    Great pick

  6. I didn’t pick this up, but after reading that review I think I will go pick this up once I get a chance and see if I like it. 

  7. My pick as well.  My close second was Unknown soldier.  What a depressing week…

  8. I really really thought Final Crisis was going to be my pick this week, but, i found it the least enjoyable of the issues, except for the end with batman.  On the other side this was far better than the last battlefields arc, which was quite good, and really made you feel how horrible the pacific part of ww2 was.  maybe it hit me harder as i always feel i tiny bit of sympathy for soldiers forced into being nazi’s as my grandfather was and died at sebastopol, but i felt like this book was just more realistic and touching overall

  9. It’s kind of funny that in the last two months we’ve had two WWII movies come out and both take a beating by the critics and have fairly average boxoffice takes (3, if you count the British film "The Boy in Striped Pajamas").  Personally, I thought both movies were great and the critics’ were a little hypercritical.  We also have several three series coming out from WWII right now: Battlefields, Sgt. Rock, and Storming Paradise (I think, I haven’t seen an issue lately).  And unfortunately, despite these all being quality series, none of them are selling that great either from what I can tell.  But the really cool thing is, out of these 3 movies and 3 comics, only one is about American troops in the ETO.  So, even if no one’s reading them, at least some of the stories from other parts of WWII are getting out there.  Ennis has amazing skill to be able to pull stories from all over and make them convincing.  It would really be something to hear him talk about WWII since his research covers the entire length of the war and the entire globe as well.

    Great review and great book.  I really hope this one succeeds.  

  10. nice review i’ll pick this up today.

  11. Really? I didn’t like this nearly as much as Night Witches, and a lot of that was because of the art. Hm. Maybe I’ll have to give it another read, just in case.

  12. As I said, I love Snejbjerg’s art.  But I didn’t at first.  When he started on Starman, following the Tony Harris issues, I didn’t like it at all.  By the end, I think I liked it better than Harris’.  He’s an excellent storyteller, but it doesn’t seem to fit at first glance.  It might just be your taste.

  13. I didn’t even know this was coming out. Huh.

  14. Boy, am I glad I (1) found out that it was coming out this week and (2) decided to pick it up. I haven’t finished all my books, but predict that this will be my POW, as well. Great review, Josh. I’m always appreciative of good WW2 stories, as well, and this definitely fit the bill.

  15. Just when I thought it was out, they pull me back in.

  16. Great pick! Josh, have you read The Light Brigade? It’s a WWII story Snejbjerg drew (Pete Tomasi wrote). Kinda fantastical (in an Indiana Jones supernatural way), but worth a look.

  17. Absolutely fantastic book. Everyone should read this.

    I wasn’t familiar with Snejbjerg (or at least I couldn’t remember him) but the art in this is spectacular for sequential art. Really enjoying the Battlefield line right now.

    Also: a gorgeous cover (especially in terms of design) by John Cassaday. Not the one pictured in this review, although that one’s quite effective also.

  18. So is Daredevil officially back to fine form or is it just me?

  19. Just read this and it was one of those rare comics that make your spine tingle when you read it.

    In a week where his fellow ex-2000AD writer puts out the piffle that was ‘Final Crisis #7’, Ennis shows us what a great comic really looks like.

     

  20. Stupid Oklahoma weather….my store didn’t get their shipment in yet.  But I did pick up the 1st trade of Proof, solely based on Josh’s recommedations.  

  21. @Horatio- Yes, yes it is.

  22. Good call Josh, nice review.

    I had a hard time reconciling the artwork’s solid colors and vibrant tones with the overall tone of the story and the era but after I got over that, I realized (well ok after I read your review and looked at it again) that the storytelling is great.

    I have to say that after the first page I knew this was going to be both your pick of the week and mine.

  23. That first page is just incredibly powerful.

  24. WOW. this was amazing. i LOVE these battlefields books by garth ennis. they are SO good. you guys got me started with Night Witches and now this one was just amazing. good pick Josh

  25. Also my pick of the week. Night Witches was brilliant and Dear Billy looks to be genius as well. Battlefields has been so impressive I ordered the two TPB’s of War Stories to get more Garth Ennis WW2 stories.

  26. @Horatio — this arc of Daredevil has been really good, but I did want more of a climax at the ending.  I think that just may be the way it is for me with Brubaker’s writing — I end up being more interested in the way he builds things than in the final payoff (and the buildup sometimes takes too long).  But next month is a Kingpin issue drawn by David Aja, so I’m definitely psyched.

    Good review, Josh, and while I don’t think I’ll be picking up any of these war comics in issue form, it’s good to know they’re out there.  Diverse kinds of stories are good for comics.  (That said, my POW was New Avengers; what can I say, it was good superhero comics.)

  27. @roadcrew1 – I hope you like the Proof trade.  It’s a series that I just started reading 5 months ago, but it’s quickly become one of my faves.

    I picked this issue up today based on the review, and I absolutely loved it.  I changed it to my pick of the week.  This is why I love this site and the podcasts, they show me  things I might otherwise have missed completely.  Thanks to everybody that works so hard on this site.  

  28. I loved this issue.  It was really good, and you really touched on the differences between the European and Pacific theaters, which adds some gravity to this story. 

    However, Nova was freaking awesome this week, and was my pick for sure.

  29. I picked this up after hearing how good the previous arc was and then seeing it was POW and I have to say, I’m glad I did. This was fantastic, a very powerful story and I can’t wait for the next issue. And I agree wholeheartedly with Josh’s review, the art was gorgeous!

  30. It’s good! and no rape!

  31. That’s not strictly true.

  32. ya its a Garth Ennis comic some HAS to get raped. Why is that!?!?!

  33. He was a rising star and signed a lot of contracts and realized too late that he didn’t want to make those comics, so he adds raped people in them. It’s like "Where’s Waldo?".

  34. yaa have you read Crossed? OMG theres like rape on every page!

  35. Yes, I didn’t know about this last week but thankfully they had a couple issues left at Jester’s when I went to grab my comics today!!  I actually had a choice between two covers, I took the one that’s shown here on the site for some reason, I wasn’t sure if the other one was more rare or if it was just 50/50 ratio…

    oh well

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