This beautifully illustrated coming of age story set in WWII is a surprisingly subtle little treat… also featuring Nazis and a golem!!!
The solicits for Breath of Bones and the covers have suggested we should expect some kind of pulp monsters versus Nazis revenge fantasy. This would have been exciting in itself, but what actually arrived was something different and perhaps (even) better than that.
In issue one we were introduced to Noah, a young soldier in the thick of fighting Nazis in 1944. We then move back to the beginnings of the war where Noah is fifteen and living in a small village. All of the men of fighting age have left for the front, most likely never to come back. He is living with his grandmother and most prominently in the story, his grandfather, a leader in the village and our moral guide. When an allied soldier’s plane crashes they have to decide whether to look after him and risk the wrath of the Nazis, or send him away. The grandfather decides to let him stay and sure enough the Nazis turn up. Enter the Golem…
That straightforward summary of the plot masks what this series is really about, which is a coming of age story, of innocence lost by the discovery that the world holds many kinds of monsters. In some ways it is reminiscent of The Magnificent Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier, another coming of age story set in a small European village. Like that work an air of melancholy pervades here and leads you to suspect that this is not all going to get nicely wrapped up in a heroic victory. At least not without cost to the characters we care about.
Supporting and adding to this atmosphere is the beautiful artwork from Dave Wachter. The cartooning reminds me of a European style but with exquisite grey tones that lend it the feel of fine illustration or watercolours. It is perhaps the lighting in each panel that is his strongest talent, with exceptional use of natural light and shadow. Throughout he really doesn’t miss a step.
Breath of Bones wraps up next issue so grab the first two and then plump up a cushion to wait for what I have no doubt will be a satisfying, surprising, and I’m predicting, bitter-sweet, conclusion.
Steve Niles (W), Dave Wachter (A) • Dark Horse Comics, $3.99, July 10, 2013