Another late Vertigo entry I had overlooked, this World War II graphic novel tells the story of the 182 members of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division who were dropped way off-course on D-Day. They found themselves 15 miles behind enemy lines in the small village of Graignes, France. The French villagers were fully aware of the danger of German reprisals if they helped the Americans, but they did so willingly.
The narrative follows both the American soldiers and the French villagers as they face the position they are in, on a personal level. When a small German militia passed through the war came to this remote town in the countryside, and for the next six days, the small band of American paratroopers and French citizens fought for their lives to hold back 2,000 enemy combatants.
If this were an old fashioned Hollywood war movie, the small but scrappy Allied forces would somehow prevail over the vastly superior German numbers–or at least hold out long enough to be rescued by reinforcements. But this is a true war story, so the result is far bleaker than that. It still tells an inspiring story about bravery and community, which I would place on the level of writer Garth Ennis’ excellent war comics.
Andrea Mutti did a terrific job illustrating this, along with colorist Lee Loughridge (who unfortunately did not get a cover credit). Of course the story includes plenty of battle, but the quiet scenes are equally affecting. After the Americans release a homing pigeon to communicate with headquarters there is a clever sequence of panels showing the bird’s progress over the course of the rest of the narrative. Things do not go well for the bird, either.
For this Hill House miniseries new comics writer Laura Marks (TV’s The Good Fight and The Expanse) teams up with veteran horror comics legend Kelley Jones (The Sandman, Batman: Red Rain, and the Vertigo series Crusades). The setting is late 19th century New York, with atmospheric gaslight that is perfectly suited to Jones’ visual style. Title character Daphne Byrne is 14 years old, and in addition to dealing with the sudden death of her father, she has a mother whose grief has left her open to manipulation by occultists promising her contact with her husband in the afterlife.
Daphne is already an outsider at school, but then she begins to have an outside experience within herself. An entity calling himself “Brother” manifests himself (apparently only to her), offering her the power to alter events. At first she is hesitant to trust him, but after awhile she comes to rely on him, and follow his lead. She finds a way to save her mother in the big climax, and is revealed to be far more than she knew.
A story full of dark shadows, seances, demons, ghouls and Satanic rites is custom-made for Jones to draw, and he created a visual horror tour-de-force. Marks’ script is less focused, although the visuals save it. Maybe the ending is supposed to answer all of the questions, but it really just leaves things mostly unresolved.
As a jazz musician and critic I admit that a graphic novel about a jazz musician that takes its title from a Miles Davis/Bill Evans composition and its cover design from classic Blue Note Records album covers is already at least halfway there for me. But there is a lot more going on here than name-checking classic jazz. It’s a story about the price paid for career sucess in jazz music, and the obsessive drive it requires.
Erik Dieter has had moderate success (at best) as a saxophonist. As the story opens we see him teaching a Saturday morning class at a small New York music college. His routine is interrupted by receiving news of the death of his estranged mother. He comes home for the funeral, feeling pursued by ghosts from his childhood. In her old house he encounters a mysterious figure, so dreamlike he does not believe his eyes–and a photograph of a saxophonist he does not recognize. But he must have been important to his mother.
His obsessive search for the saxophonist’s identity leads him down a dark, lonely path to discover surprises about his family history, as well as fresh musical inspiration. But it comes at a terrible cost, as a sort of family curse comes to claim him.
Supernatural aspects aside, Ram V.’s story has a lot to say about families and the choices artists make in pursuit of their art. Anand R.K. (with the help of John Pearson’s colors) provides evocative impressionistic art, reminiscent of the great Bill Sienkiewicz. Altogether a striking piece of work.