REVIEW: The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors (2021)

A Graphic Novel by James D. Hornfischer; Adapted by Doug Murray; Drawn by Steven Sanders; Colored by Matt Soffe; Lettered by Rob Steen

Since WWII isn’t really in my knowledge wheelhouse, I have not read the original book that this comic is based on. That isn’t to say I don’t like WWII stuff, I enjoy reading about it A LOT, I’m just not as informed on it as I am with things like The American Civil War. I took classes on that particular era in American history, and visit museums and such all the time, for WWII that isn’t really as available with most being in places far away. Because of this, things that are probably well-known to the WWII aficionados end up amazing me, since most of it is new information. That is how I felt reading The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by Dead Reckoning and The US Naval Institute Press. I know a bit about the Japanese Battleship Yamato from an unlikely source – Japanese science fiction anime, but to see “our side” of one of it’s battles was cool. To see a rag-tag group of small ships take on the might of one of Japan’s most notorious fleets and flagships is heroism incarnate.

“In October 1944, Allied forces began landing on the Philippine island of Leyte. Quickly assessing the threat of the Allied invasion, the Japanese navy sought to counterattack. But with the island protected by the full strength of Admiral William F. Halsey’s Third Fleet, a direct attack was nearly impossible. Undeterred, the Japanese Admiralty deployed their forces, engaging the Third Fleet and retreating in a manner that drew the fleet into a hot pursuit. However, Admiral Halsey had been deceived, and the Japanese plan had taken his fleet out of position to defend the American beachhead. With the northern route to Leyte open and unguarded, the Japanese Center Force—a fleet led by the battleship Yamato, the largest and most powerful battleship ever constructed—seemingly had a clear path to the landing beaches on Leyte. Only one thing stood between the Japanese forces and the vulnerable objective.”

This comic does a great job of showing both sides of the battle, what all the commanding officers were thinking, and hopes and even prayers of the men of multiple ships. AS with many war books from Dead Reckoning, the artist doesn’t shirk on even the goriest of details. That might sound like I’m being a gore-hound, but I truly feel it’s important to see all horrors of war as a deterrent and to stop over-the-top notions of it being like GI Joe or something. As with many military battles, a lot of what happens in this book is predicated on a handful of mistakes that allow things to get out of control. Some of the soldiers shown in the narrative are insanely brave, being able to push forward in a seemingly hopeless situation is never something anyone wants to end up having to do, but here you had entire ships pulling together to try to create miracles.

The stuff happening on the USS Johnston was especially harrowing, with the ship all but disabled, and a majority of the crew cut to shreds by Japanese guns, one would think they would be sitting ducks. The crew valiantly held their own until they were almost one of the last ships sunk by the Japanese Fleet. Commander Ernest Evans comes across as a true heroic badass, keeping his crew going until the bitter end.

I haven’t read the source book, as stated before, but the graphic novel is easy to follow and very action packed. I loved how it contained maps showing what was happening on a macro scale during the battle. It’s always hard to get a sense of what is happening in Naval battles, so that definitely helped. Maps are always a cool touch that a lot of these war comics do that I enjoy. The artwork in the book is very good, and I will unashamedly bring up that Steven Sanders lives in my neck of the woods (Kansas City) according to the back of the book, I might have to see if he comes to Comicon one of these days!

I enjoyed this book a lot, and it educated me on a display of peak heroism I was unaware of prior. I learned a number of things during the reading of this book. For example, I had no idea how flimsy some of our naval ships were in comparison to huge Japanese behemoths, a fact that eventually was not a good thing for Japan in the same way Germany made increasingly huge weapons that started to be overrun by mass-produced allied planes, tanks, guns etc. This is also why the book is titled the way it is, the ships were sometimes so thinly protected that shells would pierce through with no explosion unless they hit a piece of structural material. I also didn’t know that Japan started doing kamikaze runs so late into the war, considering how notorious that is. I will have to keep an eye out on other books by any of the people involved in this books creation, and may even look into the original novel. Another grand slam by Dead Reckoning, always the best war comics out there bar-none!

If you are interested in buying a copy of this for your collection, check HERE

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

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