Review by: Ed Allen The Second World War has always proven to be a fertile ground for creators to grow their stories, especially in comics where the iconic uniforms of the Allied and Axis powers, the easily identifiable villains and the astonishing bravery of its veterans translates very easily to telling some exciting action stories. While there’s been decades worth of war comics focusing on the soldiers, the unprecedented universality of the conflict means that there’s a virtually limitless scope for creators to explore new ideas through different kinds of story, offering us new perspectives on the conflict and what it might say about human nature. Of these two broad paths for readers to follow Dark Horse’s new mini-series Breath of Bones takes us somewhere in between, inserting the Golem of Jewish mythology into the WW2 setting with a comic oriented around a young man - Noah - and his family (from whom he inherits the golem and his ethics).
Niles and Santoro do a fine job of drawing the reader into their story, opening the comic with a tense battle between Allied soldiers before jumping backward in time to the earliest phases of WW2 to explore our hero’s origins. The writers ensure that their central character Noah is believable and very accessible to the reader at all times; he’s a wide-eyed kid who loves his family, yet he’s also determined and smart enough to solve the problems he’s faced with in this opening chapter (and not annoy the readers with incompetence). As first issues go Breath of Bones #1 isn’t the action-packed thrill-ride the cover might lead you to believe but it should be remembered that this is only a 3 part mini and it’s effectively doing the groundwork for the remaining two issues.
Normally in a review of a war genre comic with so little action I would suggest that it might read better in as a first chapter of a completed paperback or hardcover trade but to do so here would be a disservice to the skill with which Niles and Wachter have established their characters and setting. It would be a crude misunderstanding of a story which hinges on the emotional progress of young man - who’s unfortunate enough to be coming of age in wartime - if I were to insist upon an appearance of the golem (though it is featured on the cover, somewhat misleadingly) and the comic is asking us to treat the story with the same respect that the story treats its subject matter.
I’ve not seen any of Dave Wachter’s work before but on the strength of this showing he should gain a lot of new fans with his style of traditional ink-on-paper, black and white art with its skilfully applied ink wash for shading effects and subtle variations in the linework to convey motion and emotion. In fact, subtlety is the name of Watcher’s game throughout Breath of Bones; he has a natural storyteller’s gift for flowing page layouts, authentic and atmospheric scenery and character designs with expressive faces and historically accurate clothing. The opening battle scenes offer an impressive mix of scale and personal struggle and if it's a taste of what's to come in future issues I'm really excited to see what happens when Wachter's pen is unleashed on more extended war sequences.
Breath of Bones #1 is a fine introduction to a mini-series that has the potential to be rather moving and a worthwhile action comic, with solid artwork and writing throughout. There’s nothing especially groundbreaking about it, in terms of genre or techniques, but it is very well done. While I am looking forward to some cathartic golem vs Nazis action in future issues, it’s also nice to see a WW2 series that doesn’t fall into the trap of glorifying war and, while I wouldn’t blame those of you who decide to wait for it to be released in trade format, I would heartily recommend Breath of Bones to anyone who is looking to jump on a new mini-series this week.
Score: 3/5 (but it’s a very strong “3”)
Writer: Steve Niles (with Matt Santoro)
Artist: Dave Wachter
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: 6/12/13