REVIEW: The Vain (2021)

A graphic novel by Eliot Rahal

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.

Generic Vampire stories are a dime a dozen these days. If you don’t just have a weird version of Bram Stroker’s Dracula, but this time he’s in SPACE or something, you have the other side of the coin that alters them beyond recognition, perhaps into teenage sparkly pretty boys – and it all sucks for the most part. For me to get into a modern Vampire story, it has to be something different (but keeping with the lore), and this volume by Eliot Rahal fits the bill. Spanning more than 40 years, The Vain tells the story of a group of Vampiric survivors – changing with the times to stay alive at any means necessary. If that includes enlisting in the military to kill Nazis, or starting a vampire drug cult in the 70s, if thats what it takes that’s what they do.

Chicago, 1941. A blood bank is held up in a robbery, but no cash is taken—only blood. It’s the latest in a string of similar robberies and as the United States prepares to enter World War II, FBI Agent Felix Franklin is certain it’s part of a wider plot to weaken the United States by depriving it of its blood supply. But the truth is much more sinister.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like this at first. At times, some of the art in the book was somewhat simplistic, but as the story goes on, it improves drastically. The dialogue is also kind of janky in spots, but overall the script is pretty good, and you honestly can’t beat the setting. Vampires living through the Cold-War is something I’m pretty certain I’ve never seen before. As it went on, I was interested to see how The Vain (their WWII Codename) dealt with the zeitgeist of whatever decade they had made it to. The book didn’t overstay its welcome, and had a logical ending that made sense.

I haven’t read much by Oni Press, although I have seen them at Comicon in the past. Once Covid-19 dies down I will have to do a deeper dive on their library if conventions ever come back, I’d love to see if the quality of this book continues on.

REVIEW: The Commandant of Auschwitz – Rudolf Höss (2021)

A book by Volker Koop

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.

At some point this year, assuming Covid doesn’t keep ravaging the country, Kansas City will be hosting an exhibit that will showcase artifacts from Poland’s Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Having visited Dachau some twenty years ago in person, this might be the closest I could get to seeing these items for a long time, if ever. And if its anything like Dachau, I’m sure just seeing the artifacts will be a rough, if not VERY sobering experience. I mention this, because today’s topic is the man that made Auschwitz Concentration Camp so notorious, Rudolf Höss, and this new book about him The Commandant of Auschwitz, by Volker Koop and published by Pen and Sword Books. I basically wanted to educate myself more than what I was on the topic, and figured this book would be a solid look at the man responsible for one of the worst episodes in world history.

Koop does a solid job of not just regurgitating things from the memoirs of Rudolf Höss, and quickly points out that Höss appears to be a habitual liar in pretty much everything he does. Much of the information comes from things such as this material, but using historical records, and conflicting accounts by contemporaries, the portrait of a truly terrible man is painted. Even when everything was lost, and the man faced trial, he claimed to be a normal guy that just did his job and had no idea bad things were happening under his command. Reading some of the atrocities he signed off on, such as throwing children directly into a fire pit while still alive, was infuriating to say the least.

This was a tough read, for obvious reasons, but I enjoyed it and learned a lot about, perhaps, one of the biggest monsters in modern history. One would have hoped that he would have stayed in prison much longer than he did when he literally committed a political murder, but alas Hitler needed the most despicable to do his evil deeds. Very good book, if you are curious, or a WWII history buff, I’d check it out.

REVIEW: The Anglo-Soviet Alliance – Comrades and Allies during WW2 (2021)

A book by by Colin Turbett

Cover

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.

Continuing my late winter history book dive, I’ve decided to get into a topic I know a bit about, but from an entirely different perspective than what I’ve come accustomed to. Being from the American school system, we all know that the USSR were part of the Allied Forces in WWII, however, there was always an explicit attempt by textbook writers to downplay their involvement and champion US-Centric takes on the war. It’s a shame since Russia carried that war largely on its own shoulders. I enjoy books by Pen and Sword because they are generally VERY in depth on a specific topic, and challenge y comfort zone on what I think I know; The Anglo-Soviet Alliance – Comrades and Allies during WW2 is one such book.

This book can be seen, in some ways, as an analysis of the Communist Party of Great Britain – going from Nazi Sympathizers early on, due to Hitler’s initial alliance with the USSR, to being “neutral” seeing the war as a Capitalist charade, to finally being pro war, and seeing the war as a fight against Fascism. This secondary narrative is illustrated masterfully by the authors descriptions, and examples of official party literature in his own collection. Its not unheard of to see politics change at such a whiplash pace, but we always see COMMUNISM through the eyes of decades of State-led propaganda, even today. Its interesting to see just how fluid it was.

While the Anglo-Soviet Alliance was mostly born out of necessity, with both sides not being 100 percent on board at any given time, it was a testament of what good can come from a pragmatic alliance during wartime. Whether it be the UKs sandbagging and delay at opening a second front to pull pressure out of Belarus and Ukraine, or Stalin committing a political Genocide in Poland and covering it up, only to be found out then flat out lying about it, neither the USSR or UK were “the good guys” in many ways. neither side trusted each other politically, but all accounts from soldier level are that everyone got along for the most part. It’s a shame to see how everything ultimately fell apart, and in many ways we aligned ourselves with Fascists far too easily with fears of making everyday Germans too mad at us. This is a common thing that still happens today that always upsets me – being tolerant of intolerance ultimately leads to intolerance, but I digress. Who knows where we’d be without the Cold War, good or bad.

Colin Turbett did a excellent job with this book, his insight and items from his personal collection regarding the CPGB and its relationship to wartime politics, was very interesting and paints of vivid picture of this period both internationally and domestically in the UK. I was most taken aback by the general feeling that Russia was this unsung hero of the war (until deemed otherwise), being the focal point of fundraising drives, and pro-USSR charity events. This was very thought provoking, and runs counter to my notions of where Russia sat within the media at the time. Perhaps people were willing to look the other way to a maniacal monster like Stalin, much like how we do now with many of our “allies”, but the whole thing comes across as if the UK somewhat used the USSR and perhaps they used the UK.

Another solid offering from Pen and Sword, highly recommended.

REVIEW: Freiheit! (2021)

A graphic novel by Andrea Grosso Ciponte

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.

There’s a tendency, in World War II scholarship, to almost entirely concentrate on Hitler and the battles of the war, keeping some of the more human aspects of the war in the background. Even the Holocaust is usually spoken about in vague terms if its not explicit something like a diary or journal of one the victims. Something I knew almost nothing about, prior to this book, were internal German resistance groups. I knew they absolutely had to be a thing, but seeing as they did not overthrow Hitler on their own, it’s usually relegated to a footnote in many books. The White Rose was one such group, and this graphic novel tells their tragic story.

With an entire nation blindly following an evil leader, where did a handful of students find the courage to resist? The university students who formed the White Rose, an undercover resistance movement in Nazi Germany, knew that doing so could cost them their lives. But some things are worth dying for. The White Rose printed and distributed leaflets to expose Nazi atrocities and wake up their fellow citizens. The Gestapo caught and executed them. Sophie Scholl was twenty-one; her brother Hans, twenty-four; Christoph Probst, twenty-three; Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf, twenty-five. But the White Rose was not silenced. Their heroism continues to inspire new generations of resisters. Now, for the first time, this story that has been celebrated in print and film can be experienced as a graphic novel. Italian artist Andrea Grosso Ciponte’s haunting imagery will resonate with today’s students and activists. The challenges they face may vary, but the need for young people to stand up against evil, whatever the cost, will remain.

Description

The story in Freiheit! is told largely from the point of view of Sophie Scholl, who has become disillusioned with the government of Germany due to their strong-arm policies and mistreatment of Jews. Prior to the events of the book, her brothers were arrested by the Gestapo, setting in motion their membership into an underground resistance movement of intellectuals that produced subversive pamphlets calling the Nazi leadership into question. One nice touch, is that translations of these documents are included in the book.

The art style and overall composition by Andrea Grosso Ciponte was very moving and vibrant despite the book’s muted color palette. Each panel, even the most subdued, is treated like a scene in a film – interesting transitions, camera angles, and blocking are all well-done. It gives this book a VERY cinematic feel.

I enjoyed this a lot, and plan to look at some other books by the same publisher pretty soon. The book has served it’s purpose of making me interested in The White Rose, and I may also look into a book about the Scholl siblings at some point. Having historical documents in the back of the book was a great touch, and immediately elevates this to the status of being a teaching tool. I once took a class in college about The Holocaust, and I honestly really wish this was out at that time. This would have been a great story to share with my class. Solid book, definitely recommended.

REVIEW: Tankies (2021)

A graphic novel by Garth Ennis, Carlos Ezquerra, Hector Ezquerra, Tony Avina and Simon Bowland.

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.

I’ve been a fan of Garth Ennis for a while, and while I definitely enjoy his classics such as Preacher or The Boys, I have grown very fond of his lesser-known military-themed books ever since I did a promotion a while back and inquired a whole slew of Battlefields books. When I saw that this volume was available, I jumped at the chance to check it out. I think the one thing I appreciate the most about these books is that, while definitely casting The Allies as heroes in most books, he doesn’t pull punches. Bad things happen in war, and its important to show that – for far too long we’ve been fed a steady stream of overly-patriotic Captain America vs Hitler stories, completely undermining the fact that war is horror-incarnate. Ennis excels at showing the human side of war, and the toll it takes.

After D-Day the largely untried Allied armies meet their seasoned German counterparts on the killing grounds ofBocage country. As Panzers and SS units turn the French hedgerows into a slaughterhouse, a lone British tank crew struggles to rejoin their squadron. Their only hope lies in their commander, Corporal Stiles—but does even this wily old trooper stand a chance against the infamous Tiger? Newly promoted but just as angry, Sergeant Stiles enters the battle for Germany in command of a Sherman Firefly—capable of taking out any tank thus far encountered. Unfortunately, the enemy have a new tank of their own, the mighty “King Tiger,” with twice the firepower of the original. As Stiles and his men join the Allied advance into the Nazi homeland, they find worse horrors than Tigers lurking in the German twilight.

Book description

This volume is comprised of nine comics, grouped into three separate story-arcs in the life of Sergeant Stiles, a tough as nails tank commander from Newcastle that has seen it all in the world of mechanized combat and is one of the few who has lived to tell the tale. Usually lamenting on the poor state of British tank engineering in the face of ever increasing mechanical brutality from Germany, Stiles is well respected despite his Geordie accent being a focal point of mocking. One little tidbit I enjoyed was that we learn Stiles is Pagan when they were forced to shell a German church, makes me like him even more.

The third section takes place during the Korean War, which I am glad to see. My Grandfather served in that war, and I always think it gets largely ignored by just about everyone, so seeing it here was awesome. It was crazy to see the shift in battlefield tactics. German tank commanders in parts one and two almost seem aristocratic and machine-like vs the relentless hordes of Chinese soldiers they come across in Korea. Men climbing on the tanks, trying to drop bombs in the engines, doing suicidal attacks. Sheer insanity I can imagine.

Carlos Ezquerra (1947–2018) was the artist for this series, and I have seen him do the pencils for much of Ennis’s war books – he’s great at the technical side of historical aircrafts, tanks, guns etc, as well as depicting humans and the actions of war. When I saw that the book was dedicated to him, I was sad as he was always a n artist I looked forward to seeing in this genre. Best known as one of the original creators of Judge Dredd, Ezquerra will be VERY missed.

This was a great book, and any fan of war comics, history, or honestly anyone into comics at all should check out. Stiles is a great character, and I’d love to see him pop up again, although I’d imagine this will be all as it ends in a decent spot. I loved the afterward, which is a lengthy essay detailing where some of the ideas for the book came from, you can tell Ennis is interested in teaching history here, and as a history buff, I loved it.

Doctor Who: Colditz (2001)

Colditz_(Doctor_Who)

Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), David Tennant (Feldwebel Kurtz), Toby Longworth (Hauptmann Julius Schäfer), Nicholas Young (Flying Officer Bill Gower), Peter Rae (Timothy Wilkins), Tracey Childs (Klein).

Colditz takes place during World War II, and as one can probably easily piece together from the title, it has to do with the infamous prison camp Colditz Castle. While Americans are not as familiar with this legendary facility, The UK has had decades of documentaries, Television shows, and even board games based on the many escape attempts of it’s prisoners. The camp was basically set up to house officers and other high ranking people who tried to escape from other camps, so it was almost seen as the Alcatraz of it’s time. Over here, we have tons of versions of the Steve McQueen movie The Great Escape which is based on an escape from a polish POW camp, so you get the idea.

The bad guys in this are Nazis, and if there was any “Tardis team” that has a good chance of being able to deal with Nazis, it’s definitely Ace and the seventh Doctor. We have seen their influence in Curse of Fenric, The Silver Nemesis, and one could argue that The villains of The Fearmonger were essentially some type of right-wing Neo-Nazi types. Because of this, I actually chuckled when Ace mentioned “not Nazis again, I hate Nazis!”. I’m not a huge fan of science fiction having Nazi bad-guys because it usually ends up being the lazy Star Trek “Space Nazis!” trope, but thankfully this isn’t the case here. These are regular Nazis in their correct time line.

I’m a big fan of historical episodes that do not involve some sort contrived alien involvement, and this one is almost entirely of that sort. In fact, The Doctor himself is the only real alien involvement we see here which is refreshing. The plot of this episode centers around The Nazis confiscating a CD Walkman from Ace and creating a paradox in which they reverse engineer it and win World War II. This plot is more-or-less in the background, but it’s the way they a new anti-hero character named Klein is introduced. You see, Klein’s from this alternate time line in which the Nazi powers have taken over the rest of the world. As far as she’s concerned, her world is the better one; as a child of German parents growing up in England, she welcomed the Nazi victory. I know from looking at Wikis that Klein’s story is fleshed out more, and can’t wait to fill the gaps in.

Doctor_Who_Magazine_310_colditz

Perhaps the most notable thing about this story is that the main villain of the story, Kurtz, is played by none other than a young David Tennant in his first Doctor Who related piece of entertainment. Kurtz is an awful piece of work, the sort of character that one really hopes will come to an early death. He plots behind the backs of his superiors, tries to hold information for his own gains, and even tries to take advantage of inmates in unspeakable ways. Kurtz is definitely a Hollywood Nazi archetype, as is another character in Schafer – the sympathetic Nazi. While these character tropes aren’t bad they reek of being historically inaccurate to some degree.

My only downside to this audio seemed to be the sound mixing, which shocked me because Gary Russell directed episodes are usually very well done. There were many scenes within the interior of Colditz Castle that had weird foley work such as footsteps that sounded as if everyone was wearing concrete shoes on metal floors. I have a digital file for this audio, so perhaps I got a bad download? I’m not sure, but it sounded off in places. Perhaps somebody with the CD could chime in on the comments page. This didn’t take me out the play by any means, but there were times where it got distracting or drowned out a bit of dialog.

All-in-all this was a great story, and considering people think that I’m too harsh on 80’s Doctor Who, this is the second McCoy/Aldred story in a row that I’ve really enjoyed. I do wish that the audio mix would have been a bit better, but it’s still a hearty recommendation to every Doctor Who fan. Upon listening to this, I also have a strange feeling that I should watch Chicken Run for some reason.