In Review: War Stories #3

Jointly thrilling and terrifying, this is a superb book from Avatar Press.

The cover: The image that’s being used in this review does not do this wraparound cover justice. Matt Martin has created a scene that’s right out of this issue, but larger. A B-17 that’s lost a lot of its surface and has an engine on fire is passed by a German plane. The front shows a close-up of the enemy plane, while the back side shows the damaged plane trying to limp to its target. Both planes look amazing and the coloring is incredible. Those clouds look amazing. Once again, this would be a wonderful print! Overall grade: A

The story: The final chapter of “Castles in the Sky” by Garth Ennis opens sweetly, but don’t you dare think it will last. Leonard and Paula are spending the day dancing in her home, listening to Benny Goodman. Outside, her son Ronnie fumes at the Yank who seems to be trying to take his recently passed father’s place. A tender moment comes to a standstill when the American reveals he’s soon to be nineteen–Paula is ten years older than he is. Back at the base, the men are given there next mission: Operation Argument–The destruction of the German fighter force. Leonard thinks, ‘We were bait. We were cogs in a gargantuan machine, an industry of war designed to grind the Germans into dust, and if we wore out we could be replaced.’ Additionally, he can barely remember the crew of the Buffalo Gal, while he remembers all aboard the Valentine’s Day that crashed and burned in Issue #1. The mission is a bloodbath. The Buffalo Gal is constantly strafed and its crew whittled down by each passing fighter. And yet, these men continue so they can reach their target. I don’t know which is the worse: the damage to other planes or what’s going on inside their own aircraft. The outcome of this mission is up in the air until the final pages, and even then Ennis throws one last surprise into his tale. Incredible story. Overall grade: A

The art: Keith Burns is aces when it comes to the combat sequences, and that’s the majority of this book. The action begins on Page 7 and the details he creates are both shocking and beautiful. I’m guilty as the next reader who marvels at the destruction in comics, but looking at what occurs in this book gave me pause. This is not a glorious moment against a super villain. This is as real as it gets, and it made me appreciate what the actual combatants of this war endured. It’s rare for a reviewer to feel this way while reading a “comic” book. If Burns’s exteriors of the planes in action have thrilled in the previous two issues, prepare to be absolutely floored by what he does with the interiors (Page 8, panel two; Page 10, panels two and four; Page 12, panel four; and Page 13, panels two and three). His staging of the characters against the planes is impressive, with the partial double-page splash of Pages 18 and 19 being as close to cinematic as a book can get. The realism Burns creates with these machines is stunning. His characters also emote very well, with the bottom panel on 15 terrifying me. It lead into one long pause before the page was turned. The pages with the planes are amazing, but the final panel of the book is the soul of this story. Overall grade: A

The colors: Making the images of this book strong are the colors from Digikore Studios. This group must make their colors as real as possible to make the hell Leonard and his compadres go through believable. I like how the opening scenes with Paula are colored brown. This is like looking at a tinted photo from that time period and makes the scene seem more homey. When the action goes to the sky the backgrounds are beautiful in blue and white, which naturally lend themselves to be the perfect backdrop to the red and orange weapons fire. The green on the B-17 made the machine seem like a sick beast limping along. Impressive work. Overall grade: A

The letters: This issue’s scene setting, narration, dialogue, yells, and screams are created by Kurt Hathaway. They are crisp and clean, making them easily read and they don’t step on any of the art, including the scenes in the sky that are crowded with violence and its debris. Overall grade: A

The final line: I’m so glad I picked this and the previous two issues up. Jointly thrilling and terrifying, this is a superb book from Avatar Press. It made me think of all the men who made this journey so many years ago. Overall grade: A 

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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