Done in the tradition of aviation comics and mixed with political intrigue, Yann and Henriet produce an intriguing adventure comic about friendship, betrayals and the choices we make when we are young resonating in the present.
Aviation comics were somewhat of a staple in the European seventies and eighties comics world, Buck Danny and Dan Cooper being at the forefront of this popular genre. With the demise of the comic magazine it also seemed to call an end to the tales of these brave pilots battling the threat of the Hun. In recent years though, the genre is receiving a bit of a comeback.
Writer Yann already made his contribution with his WWII aviation series Edelweiss and one shot Mezek and now with Beartooth, he adds another exemplary stripe to his aviation jacket. Where in Mezek Israel was exposed for hiring Nazi pilots to fly planes bought straight from the Nazis, in the Beartooth trilogy he explores the political ramifications of the rise of the Nazi party in Silesia, in the early thirties and its ramifications on the friendship of the Jewish Max, Werner and Hanna. After WWII Silesia was divided between Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic but in our story, the easternmost part is still Polish territory.
Constantly switching between the present and the past, the three kids are all obsessed with flying a plane. Unfortunately, in soon-to-be-annexed Silesia by Germany in 1939, you need to be part of the Hitler Jügend to even qualify to start training as a pilot, a privilege Max never will have access to. Werner and the impulsive and competitive Hanna join up and turn out to be top pilots during their training course. WWII Plots a different course for Max who flees to America and is able to start his aviation training with the US army. However war and history spare no-one and soon all three will draw these old friends in a web of conspiracies and torn loyalty. The first book focuses on Max while the other two books will focus on Werner and Hanna.
Yann skillfully mixes the childhood flashbacks with the present to clarify the ongoing story that will head for a confrontation between the now adult friends. The tension is derived from both the setup of the story and the soon-to-be-coming clash of ideologies and of who these characters were and what they are now. It is essential then that we have empathy for the characters and Yann definitely succeeds in this.
Artist Henriet utilizes a clean and modern style, enhanced by Patricia Tilkin’s textured colouring. Some would argue that this slick look clashes with this period piece but I quite enjoyed the modern approach mixed in with the classical adventure elements of the story. The slightly elongated figures of Henriet have a dynamic body language, especially apparent in the flashbacks and it all lends a subtle dynamism to the classically panelled pages. And of course a comic series like this should have a solid technical artist to depict the planes, aircraft carriers and authentic towns and also there Henriet does not disappoint.
The first part of Beartooth by Yann and Henriet is off to a solid start. Subsequent albums shall determine whether this will be an exceptional series or just a solid action adventure tale.
Beartooth 1: Max is part 1 of a 3 issue series and is published in French by Dupuis. It is a full colour hardcover counting 56 pages and retails for €14.50. This review was based on the Dutch edition published by Ballon Media.