By Garth Ennis & various (Vertigo)
The second volume of Garth Ennis’ War Stories leads with the haunting and distressing “J for Jenny” and deals with the stresses of a British Bomber crew as they carry out their nightly missions. The plot is carried along via a bitter row between pilot and co-pilot who constantly debate the necessity of their task, one bemoaning the horrendous cost to German civilians whilst the other gloats and glories in the death of each and every woman and child. As usual, nothing is ever what it seems and the finale is a tribute to the creators’ skills and the unpredictable insanity of war itself. David Lloyd’s atmospheric meta-realistic art powerfully underpins a tale few could do justice to.
“The Reivers”, with Cam Kennedy illustrating, deals with a team of desert hit and run specialists dashing in under cover of darkness to blow up German airstrips and bases before haring off into the night. Apparently this sort of tactic directly led to today’s Special Ops units and this bunch certainly echo modern fiction’s image of beer-swilling, gung-ho nutters ready to fight and die, and always up for a bit of a giggle. The breakneck action is laced with Ennis’ blackly ironic, slap-stick humour, but never allows us to long forget the deadly and permanent nature of the business at hand.
“Condors” is set during the Spanish Civil war and is the war-comic equivalent of a shaggy dog story. During a particularly hectic bout of fighting four combatants crawl into the same crater to wait out the shelling. There’s an Englishman, an Irishman, a Spaniard and a German, two from each side of the conflict, and to pass the time they swap their life stories and philosophies. It seems to be the most true to what one might call the authors’ opinion, as the motives for fighting and killing are scrutinised through eyes and ears that have seen and heard all the explanations and reasons and still judged them wanting. Carlos Exquerra perfectly captures the camaraderie and insanity in his powerfully expressive renderings. This is an absolute gem of a story.
The last tale, “Archangel”, ends the book on a lighter tone, although the premise, based on actual missions of the convoy service, is one that hardly lends itself to easy reading. Until the cracking of the Enigma code, every Trans-Atlantic shipment of materiel –especially to our Russian allies – was practically defenceless against Axis submarine and bomber assault. One counter-scheme was to put a fighter plane on a freighter which could be launched to fend off airborne attacks. All well and good until you realise that only obsolete planes could be spared for such service, and that largely because once launched – by rocket catapult, no less – they could not land again, but had to ditch or try to find dry land if any could be reached on whatever fuel remained. It should also be noted that not all land was in friendly hands, either. This tale of an RAF misfit and his arctic odyssey is full of the ‘hopeless prawn triumphant’ that typified old British films and the meticulous artwork of Gary Erskine lends credibility to a tale that sheer logic just can’t manage.
Ennis’s war stories are always a labour of love, and his co-creators never work better than when illustrating them. Combine this with a genre that commands a respect that most comics just don’t get and you have a piece of fiction that would grace any library or bookshelf.
© 2003, 2006 Garth Ennis with David Lloyd, Cam Kennedy, Carlos Ezquerra and Gary Erskine respectively. All Rights individually Reserved as appropriate.