By Dustin Cabeal
If I had known what this story was about before agreeing to review it, I probably wouldn’t have reviewed it. Which would be a shame and exactly the reason why I don’t read solicits for books. Historical Fiction isn’t a category that gets a lot of love in comics, mostly because it’s damn hard to make interesting and accurate.
Of Dust and Blood instantly sets up that this is the last battle of Custer, you know the one, it’s taught in school as his lasting legacy. In fact, grade school was the last time I so much as thought of the fight at Greasy Grass. Hell, I don’t even know if I knew that it was called that. Custer’s last stand or something of that nature is what I’ve always mentally referred to it as until reading Of Dust and Blood.
As I said though, Historical Fiction is hard to make accurate and keep interesting so how did the creative team of Jim Berry and Val Mayerik manage to do both so damn well? They picked two characters, one on each side of the fight. On the U.S. side, we meet a scout that’s there for the money and longs to see his love. He’s a man of few words, but when he does advise Custer, he doesn’t listen. On the other side, we meet a man that’s lost his entire family and is looking to kill one white man for every murdered family member he’s suffered. He has a personal vendetta against Custer which drives him even when he’s not as well equipped as the others around him. As for accuracy, I can only speculate based on how detailed the events and dialouge are, it seems well-reasearched and probably more so than I could ever imagine.
The story is fast and unfolds how I suspect it did in real life. While Custer and Crazy Horse are characters in the story, they are not the focus of the story. Rather they are iconic and legendary men, for better or worse, that will not be forgotten (hopefully). The pacing is what kept me moving through the story because one dull moment is enough to take me out of a Historical Fiction. Berry’s writing is sharp that way as he manages to make the back and forth between both sides balanced and intense. The character development for the two main characters is different and lateral at the same time. It is their story and the back and forth narrative between the two men is used to show that regardless of skin color, nationality, or anything else, that people are people.
Val Mayerik’s illustrations are tremendous. This book lives and dies by the art and Mayerik makes damn sure that it lives. The painted illustrations are beautiful. Each panel and page could easily be a piece of solo art hanging on someone’s wall. In fact, my father would probably love this book just for the art alone. Mayerik’s art is powerful and moving, the emotions and story are conveyed through the art just as much as they are through the narration. Berry and Mayerik collaborate wonderfully on Of Dust and Blood.
I was surprised I liked this story; it just goes to show that good storytelling and amazing art will win out over any preconceived notions you may have about genre and subject matters. I highly recommend this story to anyone that enjoys deep character stories or beautiful artwork and of course Historical Fiction lovers. And hell, if those three things don’t appeal to you, I’m sure there’s something that will in Of Dust and Blood.
Of Dust and Blood: A Story from the Fight at the Greasy Grass
Writer: Jim Berry
Artist: Val Mayerik
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Book Design: Rob Story