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Review: Star Wars #8, Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem #3

Star Wars #8

19819Brian Wood’s run on the original trilogy-era Star Wars has been great so far, following multiple plot-lines with relative ease while simultaneously developing characters like Leia and Luke to an emotional depth beyond the OT.

Star Wars #8 sees Luke and Wedge board Vader’s Star Destroyer Devastator in the hopes of placing a comm-spy, Leia greets a very odd and out-of-place ship from the Clone Wars era, and Han and Chewie get out of (and then into more) trouble. So, it’s good old classic Star Wars! To top it all off, after reading dozens of 1970s Star Wars comics from the months following the release of Episode IV in 1977, I can now with conviction compare Wood’s writing in this new series to early Star Wars comics. In fact, I’d wager that someone unfamiliar with the franchise could jump right on with issue one and feel completely comfortable. Wood’s writing, therefore, isn’t the high class narrative art of, say, Grant Morrison or Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman, but it works in its own way to create a ‘classic’ Star Wars.

Ryan Kelly’s art, however, does not do justice to the comic—or to the Star Wars saga—and has fallen to the wayside as some Star Wars series have certainly done, especially those that were ushered in following the hubbub of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Characters’ faces look awkward, like forcing their on-screen namesake’s into lines that don’t fit, although Kelly does as great a job as any on the starfighters and cruisers. David Michael Beck’s cover detracts from the work as a whole; if the cover is to be a selling point, Beck’s cover for Star Wars #8 would keep only the most die-hard of fans away.

Star Wars #8 is a solid continuation of a great on-going series; it’s certainly not my favorite Star Wars series right now, with that title falling to Legacy or Dark Times, but it’s the Empire era as it hasn’t been explored in comics for 30 years. This is a must buy if you’re a Star Wars fan, but I’d recommend you only read it if you’re not hard-core into Star Wars.

Story: Brian Wood  Art: Ryan Kelly
Story: 8  Art: 6.5  Overall: 7  Recommendation: Read

Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem #3

22774Steve Niles and Dave Wachter have created a series worthy of Eisners and Harveys, a story of true heroics and a tale of faith-in-oneself that is uplifting without being preachy. Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem #3 completes this miniseries, but is much too short. Unlike the recently ended and equally fantastic Amala’s Blade and Akaneiro, Breath of Bones #3 does not suffer from awkward plot speed, but concludes a stand-alone story deserving of more pages only because I can’t get enough of it!

Niles’ writing is curt, to the point, and almost non-existent. He is a writer who knows how to lend the reigns to the artist, and his few words are well-chosen and expertly spoken. If anything, the words are entirely unnecessary, except for the child’s, since he delivers the most potent lines of the fearful dangers of an ever-encroaching evil and the good that is waiting to be molded by our own hands.

Wachter provides the most impressive black-and-white sketches which lend gravitas to the emotions of the situation and which create some of the most complex shading work I’ve seen in comics. His Golem is everything a Jewish hero in WWII should be: a juggernaut that silently protects, defeats the enemies with ease, and becomes one with the earth when there is no need for defense. This hero is a defender, not a weapon.

Niles and Wacther’s Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem is a tour-de-force of what the comics industry can produce, a hope-giving triumph of the graphic narrative medium that reminds us what it means to be a superhero—a lesson we could all use in an age when heroes face the apocalypse ever other month.

Story: Steve Niles  Art: Dave Wachter
Story: 9  Art: 10  Overall: 9  Recommendation: Buy

Dark Horse provided Graphic Policy with FREE copies for review 

Review: Star Wars #7, Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem #2

Star Wars #7

SW7Brian Wood’s Original Trilogy era Star Wars comic continues with Star Wars #7, the start of a whole new arc for the heroes of the Rebellion, with pencils by Ryan Kelly, inks by Dan Parsons, and solid color work by Gabe Eltaeb, a Star Wars comics regular. I once read a review of the first issue of this series which said that this series is exactly what Star Wars is supposed to be (can’t remember where I saw that…), and I have to say that reviewer nailed it square on the head. It’s a complex but easy-going, multi-plot comic with the atmosphere of the first three films and their space fantasy ingenuity. Star Wars #7 does not disappoint.

Wood’s story takes an interesting turn in this issue, including Darth Vader revealing a side of him that hasn’t been seen often, a side that has him plotting his own means to gain power within the Empire under Palpatine’s nose (at the expense of Colonel Bircher). Meanwhile, Luke points out something that, as fans of his heroic exploits, I think many of us forgot: to the Empire, Luke is completely anonymous, absolutely no one knows who he is. Well, duh! Why didn’t I think of that? We also see a more emotional side of Luke and Leia, bonding over the death of Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen on a return to Tatooine, and Leia’s loss of Alderaan, which we’ve never seen her grieve for. On the Core Worlds, Han and Chewie continue their attempt to escape Coruscant in a classically unusual and garbage-related manner.

While Wood’s writing is not spectacular, his narrative continues to be a great addition to the Star Wars universe’s great galactic history. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of the transition that’s been made to artist Ryan Kelly; I much preferred Carlos D’Anda, who drew the first six issues. Kelly is great with the long-shots and capturing the Star Wars menagerie of ships and galactic background—however, there are perhaps too many half-page and full-page panels—but his illustrations of faces suffer from awkwardness, and the one image of Chewbacca looks like a photograph of someone wearing a Chewbacca costume, including the costume lines and all (I’m not sure if that’s misplaced skill or just failure to capture Chewie for comics). This is the difficult thing about franchise art: either you get the character’s faces to a T, or you make it abstract so as to be beyond reproach (e.g. the Buffy comics). Despite these shortcomings, Eltaeb wraps everything neatly in his colors, making the transition to the new artist almost unnoticeable. Almost.

On the whole, Star Wars #7 is an intriguing comic that continues the post-Battle of Yavin saga of the Rebellion and Darth Vader’s attempt to rebuild his standing in the eyes of the Emperor, despite the issue suffering slightly from awkward illustrations.

Story: Brian Wood  Art: Ryan Kelly, Dan Parsons, Gabe Eltaeb
Story: 7.5  Art: 6.5  Overall: 7.5  Recommendation: Read

Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem #2

BB2Writer Steve Niles’ and talented illustrator Dave Wachter’s Dark Horse mini-series about a boy and his golem continues in Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem #2. I found myself moved by the story, and was so caught up in the suspense of a coming German invasion that I didn’t realize I’d already reached the last page! That’s a pretty strong indication that this comic is worth the buy, and overall a solid and well-orchestrated follow-up to the premiere issue.

Niles’ writing is once again eloquent, telling a story that is both new and old on many levels. Content wise, it’s a story about Ashkenazim (Eastern European Jews) using faith and community to stand up to moral and political wrongs. In a way, it’s sort of timeless—the protagonists aren’t ever labeled ‘Jews,’ and the enemies aren’t called ‘Nazis,’ just “Germans.” But the iconography is unmistakable, replete with iron crosses, starched stormtrooper uniforms, the garb and donnings of poor Eastern European villagers, and, most importantly, the golem. Perhaps it’s the silent presentation of place and time that make the narrative seem timeless, allowing the reader to put her own thoughts and emotions into the story, creating a much more personal reading experience.

Wachter’s artistry helps build the nostalgic milieu of this bleak landscape: a community faced with destruction, a dying grandfather, and a child learning what it means to trust in faith. Emotions come to life on character’s faces, and Wachter truly captures the terror of grayed Nazi uniforms and all that the traumatic historical baggage therewith. Last but not least, we get to see the communal construction of the golem—truly a wonder of artistry—and Wachter brings animates the mythological monster in the last, full-page panel.

“The goodhearted need never fear failure. It is only the wicked who can fail at this task.” Niles and Wachter have created a future classic, one that tells a tale of psychological and faith-borne maturity and resistance in the face of impending doom. Niles has told a Jewish tale of WWII in which the Jews might not be victims, but their own heroes, and Wachter has brought this complex scenario to life, expressing the emotional spectrum and gravity of the situation through his black and white pencils.

Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem #2 has a little bit of something for everybody, and is in general a saga to find yourself happily lost in.

Story: Steve Niles  Art: Dave Wachter
Story: 9  Art: 9  Overall: 9  Recommendation: Buy

Dark Horse provided Graphic Policy with FREE copies for review

Review: Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem #1 (of 3)

Breath Bones 1Whether you knew it before, or not—and now you know—Judaism and comics go hand in hand, especially here in America. I’m talking creators (Will Eisner, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Al Jaffee, Neil Gaiman, Jerry Robinson, and Art Spiegelman), famous comics and graphic novels (Maus), and thematic issues which can be read as metaphors for anti-Semitism (X-Men). But while Greek, Roman, Norse, and Indian mythology populate the narratives and superhero origin stories of thousands of comics and characters, Jewish mythology seems to be missing—and I think most people would ask, what is Jewish mythology?

Pick up Steve Niles’ new 3-part mini-series from Dark Horse, Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem, illustrated by Dave Wachter, and you’ll get a grand taste of one of the most famous figures in Jewish mythology: the Golem.

Of course, just about any Nerd knows what a Golem is, especially those who’ve played D&D or basically any fantasy RPG in the last 30 years (console, computer, or tabletop). Golem means ‘unshaped form’ in Classical Hebrew (a language which I have some training in, as both a Jew and a former Classics student), and stories of the Golem date back to the time of the Talmud (c.200 CE) and stretch throughout the Middle Ages and, as this comic shows, to the present. The Golem is seen as a protector, and nothing could be more of a superhero for the downtrodden, denigrated, and persecuted Jews of Eastern Europe. Effectively, the Golem might be the original superhero figure at least in theme.

Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem #1 is a wonderful read, and it’s a book I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, as a Jewish comic book collector and a literary enthusiast. Steve Niles is typically a horror comics writer, one of the finest there is, and his story (co-developed with Matt Santoro) does not disappoint from a general reader’s perspective. It’s a touching, vivid portrayal of the horrors of war from the eyes of a young Jewish boy, showcasing the burden of parents in protecting their charges both physically and emotionally. It’s also a tale of a tight-knit community working together to save a man and protect themselves, knowing full-well that the onslaught of war will reach them no matter what.

As Americans, it’s truly difficult for us to imagine the fear of war-wrought devastation and the total breakdown of national security and personal/communal safety. It is my theory that, following the events of 9/11, the rise of apocalyptic scenarios in film, television, and literature is partly a result of America mentally preparing itself for what a world without order, ruled by war, would be like. We haven’t known that fear so close to home since the 1860s, and yet for most of the rest of the world’s citizens (except, perhaps Canada and Antarctica) the trauma of war and conflict is recent history or current events.

World War II may be almost 70 years in our past, but the historical and generational trauma of the event in Europe and for the Jews in particular is very much alive, especially in a world where Holocaust deniers persists and anti-Semitism continues to be a popularly held conception in many circles. Niles captures this perfectly, telling a story that is not sappy with self-pity but instead resilient and staunch in its objection to persecution and resistance against all odds.

Dave Wacther’s black-and-white prints drain the color from this bleak period in history, a time of rations and hysteria, when the sound of any engine or thump was cause for alarm. Wachter’s art is some of the most complex, detailed, and humanistic I’ve seen in a while, the comic book equivalent of Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers, busy with intensity when appropriate, calm and quiet (but not serene) when necessary. And kudos to the folks at Dark Horse for printing all of the interior advertisements in color and not disrupting the flow of the visual narrative.

If you only read superhero comics, you’re missing out; there’s so much the comics medium can achieve, and Niles and Wachter showcase just some of its breadth with eloquence and respect, bringing another Dark Horse masterpiece to market in the shape of Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem #1

Story: Steve Niles and Matt Santoro  Art: Dave Wachter
Story: 9  Art: 10  Overall: 10  Recommendation: Buy