Friday, July 10, 2015

Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem

Breath of Bones is a collection of a three issue limited series. The story focuses on Noah, a young man who we see as a slightly older soldier in a framing sequence. The main narrative focuses on him and his family during World War II. They live in a small, rural village and they all fear the advances of the Nazi German forces. One day, the younger, able-bodied men, including Noah's dad, decide they must join in the defense of their country and assemble to join the larger army. The town is then left populated with women, children, and older people. All is quiet, but tense, until the day a plane crashes nearby.
Inside is a British soldier, whom they rescue and give aid, but not far behind are Hitler's forces. Much fear is struck into the populace, and some want to send the British pilot away without sanctuary. Another debate arises whether to flee or to stay, hoping that either the Nazis don't show up or that they will not create conflict in the town. In the end, they do stay and the Nazis do show up. Noah's grandfather decides it's time he told his grandson some truths about his family and culture, and he is given the knowledge to create a golem to protect his people. What follows is a tale tinged with magic and hope in even the most dire circumstances. Most of the book is set in a time before the Nazis or the golem arrive, so there is a fair and good amount of character work, and I especially like how the relationship between Noah and his grandfather is developed.
In the end, even though I appreciate the character work, I am not sure what I feel about the story. It is revisionist in its scope, not in a way that is so disrespectful or irreverent as something like Inglourious Basterds, but it is a piece of convenient wish fulfillment. The fictional drama here may be diminished in comparison to real accounts of Nazi occupation, and I am not sure I quite buy the magical realism within, but what is exceptional in this book is the artwork created by Dave Wachter. His characters are well defined and full of affect. His pacing and storytelling are excellent, and the larger page size of this collection really features his exquisite line work and watercolor shading. This book contains a beautiful display of visual artistry.

The story in this book is by Steve Niles and Matt Santoro. Niles is known primarily as a horror writer, and his first major work was the comic book series 30 Days of Night, which was adapted into a major motion picture. Santoro is an actor, and as far as I can tell this is his only work in comics. Wachter has a number of comics credits, but is probably best known for the series Scar Tissue and The Guns of Shadow Valley. Niles and Wachter speak about their work on this book in this interview.

This series was well received, and it has been picked up as a property for development into a movie. The reviews about it I have read have been mostly celebratory. Gary Makries called it "amazing" and stated that he "cannot recommend this enough." Gregory Paul Silber was very impressed with the artwork, but in the end was disappointed by some story details, finding it "a bit problematic that there is not a single mention of Jews or Judaism throughout the story" and also troubled that no specific geographic setting is named. Kimberly summed up that if you are "a fan of great artwork and great storytelling, you cannot go wrong with Breath of Bones."

Breath of Bones was published by Dark Horse, and they provide a preview and more here.

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