When I think of heroes, I naturally migrate to the Marvel and DC comic book heroes of my youth (or to today’s comic book heroes on the silver screen). An avid comic book collector, I often thrilled to the exploits of Captain America, Thor, The Uncanny X-Men, Superman and Batman, to name a few. Comic books were a fascinating, four-color medium filled with fantastic images that sometimes masked poignant and thought-provoking stories. So, when I had the opportunity to read Max Brooks’ new graphic novel, The Harlem Hellfighters, I leapt at the opportunity.
Of course, Brooks’ tale doesn’t involve super-powered do-gooders in tight-fitting spandex suits and capes battling equally colorful maniacal super-villains. A black-and-white graphic novel, it takes on a color and tone of a different sort, but one that is equally heavy on heroics. The story revolves around a little known black troop of soldiers taking up arms during the first world war. It is rife with racist conflicts of the day and moral challenges for its characters.
But at its core, it is a story about heroes. No spandex or capes needed.
Like the black troops that fought in the Civil War immortalized in the movie Glory, and the exploits of the famed Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, The Harlem Hellfighters follows the story of a black regiment. Brooks does a fine job of weaving the soldiers’ emotional journeys within the action and adventure of the greater war itself. As a reader, it was easy to become immersed in the historic events, moral quandaries and heroic struggles within The Harlem Hellfighters.
Brooks, who is known for his books World War Z, The Zombie Survival Guide and The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks, has effectively made it known that he is not a one-trick writer. Zombies are not the only thing he does well, and it will be fascinating to see what Brooks does next.
I would be remiss not to mention the great artwork throughout the book by artist Caanan White. Any comic book or graphic novel, in order to be effective, must incorporate images that enhance the story being told by its author. White does that, and then some. His images, in stark black and white, are powerful and expressive.
All that said, the one thing that always bugs me about stories of this nature is that they do follow a pattern: the soldiers are recruited, go through training, get involved in the fighting, etc. That’s how it happened, of course, but it does become a bit predictable after a while. Still, it is one small complaint among dozens more reasons to give this book a read.
Note: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.
A Conversation with Max Brooks