Sunday, November 5, 2023

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Above the Trenches

I have read and reviewed every graphic novel in this series (go see), and this one is a sequel of sorts to Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood in that it also is about World War I. However, this one does not look at the broad scope of the war but at a specific area, namely the origins of aerial combat. 

It is crazy to think that people took their lives into their own hands in early airplanes and even crazier than not even ten years after man-powered flight was invented that someone thought to use these vehicles for war. At first, they were used to scout troop movements and plan assaults, then they were used to drop bombs, and finally someone had the bright idea to strap guns onto them. 

At the time, just flying an airplane was somewhat a daredevil enterprise, with lots of risk involved and little in the way of safety equipment. This book follows a small group of brave (or foolhardy, depending on your viewpoint) young Americans who enlisted in the French Foreign Legion in order to take part in a war that the USA had not yet entered. Their intention was to become pilots and help fight in the skies, and this book chronicles the long, bumpy road many of them took in order to become soldiers. Spoiler: As people who engage in highly dangerous situations they also frequently smoke and drink. Also, most of them die or get killed over the course of the war.

What is excellent about this book is how it puts a human face on the war. There are many stark, pronounced personalities among the pilots, and it is very easy to get to know and root for them. Also, as with all the other volumes in this series, there are plenty of details that make the past come to life. Among the various topics also at hand are the intricacies of dog-fighting, string of technical innovations, military developments, and a code of honor among all pilots. 

It is amazing to me that this book not only encompasses so much information but also communicates it clearly while also making for a compelling, human story. And I have not even mentioned how many visual references must have gone into depicting the intricate uniforms, planes, and people involved in the war. From the lack of reviews I have found online, not many people review the twelfth entry in a series, but I feel it bears repeating just how marvelous and exceptional this book and the entire series are. The art is phenomenal, the stories moving, and the facts fascinating. NHHT continues to be the gold standard for nonfiction graphic novels.

Author Nathan Hale (not related to the Revolutionary War spy) is a highly accomplished graphic novelist, so much so that I named one of my annual favorites list categories after him. Aside from his great success with this series, he has also published the fictional graphic novels The Mighty BiteOne Trick Pony and Apocalypse Taco. He has also drawn a few others, including Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack.

Above the Trenches was published by Amulet Books, and they offer more information about it here.

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