After World War II, once Hitler had been defeated and the German surrender accepted, the allies rounded up Nazi war criminals and tried them. While rooting out the infamous high command was probably tricky enough, finding the middle tier – the concentration camp commanders and their officers, for example – was even harder. Witnesses and survivors were needed, to point the finger at the Nazis disguising themselves as innocent Germans, trying to carry on their lives as if they hadn’t been partially responsible for the murders of millions of people.
Simon Says is a fictionalised story, inspired by the Nazi-hunting life of Simon Wiesenthal, and no requirement to let dull facts get in the way of a rip-roaring story. Don’t expect the Tarrantino-esque brutality of Hunters, nor the weight of seriousness of, say, Schindler’s List. Instead, it lies somewhere between the two: an adventure story, based on a situation that’s sadly all too real, but taking a good dollop of liberty with the plot.
There is one key element clearly intended to bring Schindler’s List to mind when reading the book. Artist Jesse Lee uses mostly black and white throughout the book, but there are splashes of red used as a spot colour. It isn’t as spare as Spielberg’s use of it in his film but it retains some of its shock value when used as a splatter of blood or a painted swastika. There are occasional strokes of genius with it, such as when the lead character enters a photographer’s darkroom and every panel is washed in red light.
While there are clear visual and thematic similarities between Simon Wiesenthal and the Simon in this book, writer Andre Frattino has clearly gone to town on action and drama. There’s nothing wrong with this and it wears its ‘inspired by’ badge with pride. Just don’t come in expecting the history of real Nazi hunters.
However, it’s easy to wish that this fiction could inform the truth and that Wiesenthal had been charging in, punching Nazis. The Simon in Simon Says is a victim of Hitler’s regime, losing his wife in the process of internment in a concentration camp and, from the flashbacks that we bear witness to, hasn’t managed to get over it. He’s a tragic figure but it’s also the fire that fuels his desire to do his job, continuing to track down his own personal hit list of Nazis, even after the Nuremberg trials are over and the allies have little appetite left for sending more war criminals to prison or the gallows.
It’s an interesting take on a bitter slice of history, handing the power of revenge and justice back to a representative of the people at the forefront of the suffering. However, it’s a dramatic representation, building a new hero from the life of someone who was, perhaps, enough of a hero already.