Until a few years ago, the entertainment industries encouraged us to look back on the Second World War as a time of heroic adventure. Post war films told us of daring escapes and brave commandoes, while the spectre of the holocaust and the memories of the men caught up in the front line were too uncomfortable to face. More recently, the likes of Steven Spielberg have taken the heroics of war and shown it in a more realistic way. At the same sort of time, Garth Ennis was working on War Stories, one-off comics that examine the heroism and the horror of the Second World War in equal measure.
Ennis doesn’t shy away from the violence and death that accompanied the war but this isn’t a simple excuse for shocking the reader, although with parachutists impaled on church steeples, the charred corpses of tank crews and the grievous firearms wounds of close-quarter combat, there’s certainly plenty of gore. Ennis’s stories are really about the men, about how armies aren’t made up of ranks and files, but by individuals with their own agendas and their own plans for survival.This will appeal to those who enjoyed recent war stories in other media, such as Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. Ennis uses the bigger picture of the history books as a backdrop for personal stories, featuring fictional characters in real situations, to explore the horror of the Second World War up close.
Helping him out are five of the top artists in the business, all pulling out excellent work to help guide us through Ennis’ imagination. Gibbons is spot-on for the Screaming Eagles story, juxtaposing the everyday with flashbacks to the intensely violent history of American soldiers in Europe, while Lloyd’s grey and gloomy work is the perfect setting for the British Navy’s exploits in the dark and cold north European seas.
Although a staple of boys comics for many years, titles that tackle subjects like war from a historical perspective have been few and far between. With War Stories Ennis shows us that there are still stories worth telling. It’s fiction, but it’s fiction that can help us understand the immense sacrifices that generations of fighting-age men have had to make in the past to get us to where we are today – sacrifices that should never be taken for granted.