A Graphic Novel by Garth Ennis
Garth Ennis gets a LOT of praise, and with good reason, for his stories like The Boys and Preacher, both of which getting TV adaptations recently. For me, his best books are the criminally overlooked military books he puts out fairly often, for example Tankies was easily one of my favorite comics of last year, and many more that I have yet to review on here, but plan to. His attention to showing interesting viewpoints in war, and showing that any conflict is multiple shades of gray is one of the reasons why his books are so good, he never falls into the trap making some kind of “rah rah patriotic” book, like most other publishers do. Unless it’s a reprint, it appears Sara was published in 2018 by TKO Presents, and comes highly recommended.
“NAZI OCCUPIED RUSSIA, 1942. FIGHT HARD. SHOOT STRAIGHT. DO NOT LET THEM TAKE YOU ALIVE. SARA is a gripping war story following a team of female Russian snipers as they beat back the Nazi invaders during a brutal winter campaign on the WWII Eastern Front. Written by Garth Ennis (PREACHER, PUNISHER, THE BOYS), drawn by Steve Epting (CAPTAIN AMERICA, VELVET), colored by Elizabeth Breitweiser (BATMAN, OUTCAST), lettered by Rob Steen (PUNISHER), and edited by Sebastian Girner (DEADLY CLASS).”
In World War II, The USSR was one of the few countries that allowed women to take a forward-facing combat role in military operations. While women were only about five percent of the total force, it was still an astounding 800,000 strong force deployed to help fend of Nazi occupied Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. According to Wikipedia, “The Soviet Union deployed women as snipers and in a variety of infantry roles. Between 1941 and 1945, a total of 2,484 soviet female snipers were functioning in this role,[…] their combined tally of kill claims is at least 11,000. The most famous snipers during the war included Lyudmila Pavlichenko and Roza Shanina.”
While Sara is not based on any specific historical figures, the story does follow a squad of female snipers that strike fear into the hearts of Nazis stationed nearby to such a degree that they begin to concoct stories of one solitary master sniper named “The Red Bitch”. When word gets around, the girls try to figure out who they are talking about, although it is likely the Nazis have conflated all of them into one mythical person. They do all agree that one sniper, Sara is easily the best of the lot, as her heart has hardened and she lives only to have revenge on the Germans that have invaded her homeland.
The book also goes into the complex political situation during The Siege of Stalingrad, with political estrangement being a one way ticket to a gulag or death. Many Soviets were very disillusioned with Stalin, but dared not speak words such as that out loud. Sara, not feeling as if she had anything to live for, as well as bottling knowledge of a conspiracy that made her hate her own government, comes close many times of committing treason. It’s implied that if the Nazis were not around, she would likely become a partisan fighter against Russia itself. This sort of detail and rich understanding of the opinion of the common Soviet soldier is great writing and adds tons of depth to an already great comic.
Overall, Sara ranks up with the top echelon of military comics, and tells a compelling, but bleak story of a regular soldier turned into an unfeeling death machine by circumstances beyond her own control. The art is well done, and the writing is top-notch as one can expect from a master storyteller. Reading this makes me want to go into a literary “deep dive” on World War II snipers, some of which racked up incredible records and have incredible stories to tell. If you are a fan of military comics, or are a history buff, do yourself a favor and snag a copy of this book.
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