REVIEW: Four-Fisted Tales – Animals in Combat (2021)

A Graphic Novel by Ben Towle

Anyone with a pet can attest to the bond a person can gain with an animal – sometimes better bonds than with other humans to be honest. We care for, nurture, and raise our pets to offer companionship, and give us a sense of fulfillment in our lives. Imagine extending that feeling to an animal that, acting in many ways as a colleague, can literally hold your life in their paws. That is the general theme of Four-Fisted Tales – Animals in Combat by Ben Towle, the new historical graphic novel from Dead Reckoning and the U.S. Naval Institute Press. Split into a number of small chapters, this book is a general overview of the military use of animals in numerous conflicts through time. Whether it be dolphins helping clear mines all the way to recent history, or dogs doing everything from running messages to heroically leading charges in battle, animals have always been an integral part of military operations. Usually forgotten as time passes, Towle has set out to highlight these heroic beasts and give them the recognition they deserve.

“In virtually every military conflict in recorded history animals have fought—and often died—alongside their human counterparts. While countless stories of the men and women who’ve served in the trenches, jungles, and deserts of the world’s battlefields have been told, Four-Fisted Tales: Animals in Combat shares the stories of the animals who fought alongside them.

From Hannibal’s elephants in ancient Rome to mine-sniffing rats in Vietnam and everything in between, Four-Fisted Tales highlights the real-life contributions of these underappreciated animal warriors. Whether in active combat or simply as companions, these animals served and made their mark on history.”

Pretty much every section of this was cool, but some of the stories really stood out. Being a huge cat fanatic, I really enjoyed the run-down of “ship’s cats” throughout history. Rats were so prevalent in the food supplies of military and shipping vessels alike, so a cat easily became one of the more important parts of the crew, sometimes even being commissioned a rank and included roll records. Moving past the kitties, my favorite story in the book was the tale of Jack, a dog that became a war hero of sorts during a large portion of 1863, surviving multiple war injuries and leading the charge for a couple of battles. He was the only animal to be traded during a prisoner trade, his story is told in a rather humorous way wherein a man is lead to believe he is being traded for a ruthless war machine of a man, only to find out it’s a dog. That’s only two of around a dozen chapters.

The art style is minimalist and reminds me a bit of a “Sunday paper” comic strip, which is a refreshing look for something like this. It gives it an old-school look without trying hard to ape classic comic styles from the past. Think Archie comics or even Family Circus. The color palette is monochrome with a splash of almost greenish-grey making this stand out as wholly it’s own thing. I’ve seen similar styles recently in a lot of European comics, and I have grown to rather enjoy them. The writing takes something that could easily be a boring top ten list or something, and makes it a worthwhile book packed with fun stories and genuine hilarity. While war is rarely light-hearted, it seems man’s furry pals sure take the edge off.

I really enjoyed this book, it’s a quick read and you’ll be sad when it’s over. I’ll have to look into other works by Mr. Towle, as I like his style a lot. I know this goes against a lot of history buffs, but when I read war comics (or honestly any history book), my favorites are ones that look at the various battles from atypical viewpoints, and there aren’t many viewpoints less typical thank looking at animals that served in the armed forces. Sure, one can read the 75 million books about Gettysburg or D-Day, but I would legit read full-sized books about stuff like this. This is a great book for pet lovers, fans of history, kids, or even just comic fans. So curl up with your favorite fur-baby and check out Four-Fisted Tales – Animals in Combat – and while your dog may not be as cool as Jack, you can assure yourself that if something bad were to go down, I’m sure they would heed the call and protect you at all costs. Animals, the real unsung heroes of the war.

If you are interested in purchasing this book for yourself, please click HERE

Note: I received a paperback copy of this book from Dead Reckoning /Naval Institute Press in order to provide an honest review. That said, the copy I received may have not been a final copy. Thank you to all those involved.

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