Tuesday, April 15, 2014


I love reading World War II history. There's a reason a lot of people look upon it as "the good war". Because the Axis Powers really were the most vile and odious lot of villains ever to grab political power in the modern world. And because the personalities who fought this war were so intriguing (on all sides), I never tire of reading about them.

In the days of my youth there were many war titles in comics. Most of these were simple-minded affairs and not worth looking at except as silly entertainment. But occasionally I would happen upon truly excellent war stories and actual history lessons presented within the pages of various comics. In the 1960s we had the stories of Sam Glanzman appearing in titles published by both Charlton Comics and DC Comics. Glanzman was the first and the best of the artist/writers to chronicle the history of World War II in comics format.

Later, in the 1980s, with the proliferation of alternative comics and with the advent of the graphic novel format there were more comics of the non-fiction format, many from the points of view even of our adversaries. The world of history really opened up to the comics format in those years.

Then, of course, that fertile period in the comics industry all but died in the comic book publishing implosion of the mid-90s. It seems to only recently begun to recover.

Just recently, I had the good fortune to come into possession of the first two volumes of a wonderful World War II bit of "faction" from the comics creator, Wayne Vansant. Vansant came to the attention of most comics fans with his brilliant work on the Marvel Comics title THE NAM, chronicling the unfolding of that most unfortunate of military history. Since those days he has continued to produce comics in both periodical and graphic novel format.

The two volumes I just received (and consumed) are in his KATUSHA series. These books follow the title character, a female soldier in the Red Army of the Soviet Union. The reader sees her as young teenager before the outbreak of the war, to her days as a Ukraine partisan, and then as a Red Army sergeant in a tank unit. Vansant uses his vast talent as an artist/writer to take us into the girl's life within her family and as a soldier in the various units with whom she struggles against the Nazis.

Vansant's vast knowledge of World War II and all of its facets are in full display as this very complicated story unfolds. We see the contradictions of the society of Europe and of its peoples spelled out wonderfully in his gorgeous artwork and in his careful and objective prose. It's an absolutely amazing display of storytelling. In addition, the author is point-perfect in the way he illustrates the hardware of warfare within the theater of eastern Europe at that time, and of the tactics always at work by both the Germans and the Soviets.

I heartily recommend these two graphic novels. If you're searching for great war comics, look to anything from Wayne Vansant, especially his newest effort, KATUSHA.



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