War Stories #26 (January 2018)

War Stories #26

War Stories #26 is the last issue. Ennis and Aira go out strong. Most of the issue is a dramatic action sequence. Ennis has to keep it interesting, Aira has to keep it moving. Both succeed. Thanks to the omnipresent narration, Ennis is able to lay groundwork for the finale. Even though there’s still one last reveal.

Or maybe not last reveal but first. This story, “Flower of My Heart,” is some of Ennis’s most saccharine, but most humanistic work. The character study of the protagonist as he watches this foreign country change around him–as Italy goes from being fascist to Allied occupied–and how war changes or doesn’t change him.

Because protagonist Robin is a warmonger. Only he’s not. He’s forever scarred with what he’s seen, but he’s still naive. He only can exist for the one thing. Or can he?

It’s an excellent finish. War Stories has had its ups and downs, but Ennis really brought it together for the last two stories. And, while Aira is rushed with the talking heads here, he’s got the emotions of the characters down. Their faces, rough or not, intensely convey their feelings.

I’m going to miss this comic. Well, War Stories but not so much #26; I resent Ennis when he makes me cry because I know he knows he’s doing it.

CREDITS

The Flower of My Heart, Part Four; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

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War Stories #25 (October 2017)

War Stories #25

Ennis’s gentle story continues. Robin, the British WWII flier, reflects on his life while flying missions in Italy. Italy’s just capitulated, the Allies have taken Rome, everything’s going fine. Except Robin doesn’t have anything else going on except the flying.

His Italian pal, whose life is fairly destroyed, maintains a more positive outlook. He encourages Robin to try to meet a woman, which Robin does. So a bunch of it is nervous Robin preparing for his date.

Aira’s art is rushed, but he takes the time on the expressions in close-up. There’s a very stylized feel to the talking heads scenes, the characters’ expressions, how much the visuals focus on them and nothing else. Some of it is probably just less backgrounds, but the emphasis works. Ennis is doing a character study, after all.

It’s good. Ennis doing this non-battle oriented War Stories arc has excellent result.

CREDITS

The Flower of My Heart, Part Three; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 24 (June 2017)

War Stories #24

Ennis gets downright poetic with this issue. Well, his protagonist gets downright poetic, but Ennis takes the comic along with him. Aira gets beautiful skies to draw, while the protagonist remembers what his new drinking buddy–an Italian enemy flier turned ally and liasion–talks about. It’s detached from the war, but intricately part of it. I’m getting rather curious where Ennis is going with it; it’s a lovely comic.

CREDITS

Flower of My Heart, Part Two; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 23 (April 2017)

War Stories #23

Ennis sticks with British fliers and World War II–and four issue arcs. And it works out. The setting this time is Tunisia and some Brits taking over a previously Italian (and German) camp. It still has some Italian officers as prisoners of war, giving Ennis a chance to develop character relationships between opposing sides. There are some Germans around, of course, and not all the Brits are as civilized as the gentlemen pilot; presumably there will be some drama. Aira continues to do balance the book better between talking heads and illustrated war machinery. He does particularly well in the desolate setting. War Stories’s uptick might not survive the whole arc, but it certainly isn’t showing any signs of failing yet.

CREDITS

Flower of My Heart, Part One; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 22 (January 2017)

War Stories #22

Aira draws the arc’s “lead”–ranking officer, basically–four or five different ways this issue. Down to him having different color hair at one point (and bushy blond eyebrows instead of pencil thin brown ones). But it doesn’t matter, because Ennis’s script is good. He goes for repeated, honest gut punches. It’s awesome. And Aira’s solid enough on the rest. War Stories is finally great.

CREDITS

Vampire Squadron, Part Four: Down in the Drink; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 21 (November 2016)

War Stories #21

Aside from some rushed art on the talking heads–but still great composition from Aira–and the romantic subplot not paying off, this War Stories arc is pretty fantastic. Ennis is comfortable with the characters and the setting. He looks at the fliers and their fears more than anything else.

CREDITS

Vampire Squadron, Part Three: The War Effort; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 20 (September 2016)

War Stories #20

It’s another excellent issue. Ennis has got a lot of exposition in the dialogue but there’s no better place for it than a war comic; it’s not just for his narrative, it’s for the history too. Script’s steadily paced and Aira’s art flows quite well this issue.

CREDITS

Vampire Squadron, Part Two: The War Effort; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 19 (June 2016)

War Stories #19

Whenever Garth Ennis does WWII and he does something with the UK, I assume it’s a little bit of a capitulation. What does one expect from Ennis except WWII and UK war comics? I mean, really. There’s even squabbling among the airmen based on one not being from the same part of the UK. It’s exactly what one would expect.

And it’s pretty darn all right. He doesn’t do much with the characters–thankfully Tomas Aira gives them different enough uniforms and body types, but it’s not like Ennis is throwing a lot of character development in. He’s playing for the scene. The draw is the subject matter, which is the RAF putting together their night fighter squadron. Ennis even opens it with a text introduction to the era.

It works. It all works out. Aira’s fine on the airplanes and his composition for the talking heads scenes are getting better. War comics need good composition for briefing sequences. It’s a lot to juggle; Aira doesn’t have the detail on faces and the coloring is still War Stories atrocious–I really hope Ennis has it in some contract if these things catch up commercially, they’ll get recolored–but it’s the best first issue of a War Stories arc the series has had in ages.

It’s also a four-parter, instead of the traditional three. The cynic in me wonders if it’s a drawer script Ennis has had around for a while.

CREDITS

Vampire Squadron, Part One: A Barrel of Guinness; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 18 (April 2016)

War Stories #18

Ennis pushes through to the end of his gunboat arc and it’s a bit of a chore. Aira doesn’t do well with the second half of the issue, which is where there’s all the action. It’s not exciting action; these characters aren’t sympathetic, they’re obnoxious and annoying and intentionally so. It’s so strange to see Ennis go out of his way to make these characters so unlikable. I wish there were some deeper commentary to it and there may be, but it doesn’t come across.

The strangest thing about the issue is Aira’s art. Not the stuff on the boat, which is confusing and there’s a couple panels where the side of a guy’s head disappears, but some of the long shots in the early part of the issue. If it weren’t so poorly computer colored–War Stories and its digital shading for perspective are the pits–and if it were in black and white, there might be something to it. Aira’s shapes, in the distance, have presence.

I wish someone knew what to do with this comic book. It doesn’t seem like anyone–Avatar, Ennis, Aira–have the slightest idea what War Stories should be doing. It’s a shame.

CREDITS

Send a Gunboat, Part Three: Commence, Commence, Commence; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 17 (February 2016)

War Stories #17

It’s another surprisingly bland issue. I say surprising because Ennis does have some enthusiasm for the subject–English channel gunboats in World War II–but only because it’s clear he’s put in his research. This issue doesn’t even have expository explanations. Well, maybe during the ill-advised and very awkward sex scene. I’m not sure if it’s Ennis’s fault or Aira’s fault, but the reader’s supposed to be suspicious of the woman (who’s seducing the good lieutenant of the gunboat) and one of them feels the need to foreshadow every panel. Then cutting to a scene where there’s more foreshadowing.

It’s not all Naval romance, there’s also the gunboat sequences. One battle sequence, which Aira again handles way too static. It might be the digital coloring, but there’s no intensity to the battle. When there’s a big reveal this issue, I had to go back and track it again visually. It’s just too boring.

The other gunboat sequence is just the lieutenant and his sidekick being jerks to some flier they rescue. Ennis doesn’t even pretend to be interested in the characters. They’re stock players, they’re caricatures.

Ennis can’t even muster enthusiasm for the lieutenant going after a German nemesis. It plods along. I’m not expecting Ennis to finish it well.

CREDITS

Send a Gunboat, Part Two: And All the Angels in Heaven Shall Sing; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 16 (January 2016)

War Stories #16

It’s a new War Stories story, this time on a gunboat patrolling the English Channel during World War II. Ennis doesn’t do a lot of boat stories, so it stands out for that reason. Very, very static art on the sea battles from Aira, which is too bad. It’s not a particularly compelling story and having visually jarring action doesn’t help anything.

Ennis opens the issue with a lot of exposition about the gunboats. It’s very interesting stuff and Aira’s accompanying panels make for a good informational comic. I’m learning something (or would be if I didn’t already have some familiarity with World War II history). But after the history lesson? Ennis hasn’t got anything else.

He plods through some talking heads scenes–he doesn’t like his characters, stuck-up British Navy officers and he doesn’t have any interest in them. So spending the last fourth or so of the comic with them hanging out and trying to pick up unsuspecting British gals?

It’s yawn-inducing, but academically interesting just to see how little Ennis’s putting into it.

CREDITS

Send a Gunboat, Part One: The Dog Boats; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 15 (December 2015)

War Stories #15

I didn’t want to read this issue of War Stories. Not specifically. I mean, I didn’t really care about finishing up this stupid American flier arc where Ennis doesn’t want to tell the story of the action hero. It’s a weird version of a Technicolor fifties war movie, only without a love interest and the narrator doesn’t have a good story for himself. I just didn’t want to read an issue of War Stories where Ennis writes terrible narration.

And he does terrible narration for this issue. The doctor waxes poetic, like a trailer to The Thin Red Line or Saving Private Ryan even. Ennis’s narration sounds trite. The entire arc’s been a hurried mess, but it’s like there are whole missing pieces. The story of the actual flier, the subject of the arc, gets incomprehensibly muddled. Maybe because Aira’s faces are so bad. He draws people so ugly, you don’t even want to look at them (seriously, it’s like something out of Providence), so you rush through the talking heads. It’s fine, because it’s all historical exposition. Ennis could have thrown in some actual charts and had it be more dramatically authentic.

War Stories can be the low budget passion project of the otherwise successful brand (Garth Ennis). But not if Ennis, the writer, can’t muster the enthusiasm to care about it. He should have just alternated arcs with another writer (or writers). It would’ve been better for the brand and it would’ve been better for the book.

CREDITS

Tokyo Club, Part Three: Sun-Setter; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 14 (October 2015)

War Stories #14

This issue is a combination of fighter action and talking heads. And Ennis doesn’t have much to say with either of them. He’s doing a history lesson about the U.S. bombing runs on Japan. Nothing else. His characters don’t matter; he doesn’t even try to keep them straight. All they say is exposition. They don’t need to be distinct.

Aira’s art is better, as far as detail, on the fighter battles. Not in terms of composition. In terms of composition, he’s doing all right with the talking heads. Just not on the detail. But the last third of the issue is an air battle full of intrigue and disaster and Aira can’t break any of it out.

Maybe the most frustrating thing about War Stories–when it isn’t good–is how much Ennis throws at Aira without any acknowledgement of the artist’s strengths and weaknesses. War Stories is into its second year. Aira’s been on the book for a long time. Ennis is completely checked out with the final air battle, which is incredibly important visually (and should’ve been the whole comic with flashback inserts), just so he can get to his history lesson in the closing narration.

War Stories, with a real editor, could be consistently spectacular. Instead, it’s just frequently exasperating.

CREDITS

Tokyo Club, Part Two: Black Friday; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 13 (September 2015)

War Stories #13

Garth Ennis is on it for War Stories this arc. It’s Ennis doing American soldiers in World War II; if there’s a war movie genre standard, it’s the World War II setting, from the American perspective. At least as far as English language World War II movies go.

But I don’t think Ennis has ever done one of these stories. At least not one about American fliers–it’s almost like Ennis is doing populist. He’s doing accessible. There might even be a reference to Pearl Harbor assuming the reader is familiar with it due to the movie. Strange coming from Ennis, strange on War Stories.

It’s really good. Ennis does accessible really well. Ennis trying to invite new readers instead of put them off? He doesn’t do it often, frankly. So seeing him be so welcoming is strange. But excellent. Ennis might not have the enthusiasm for the subject–that searching exploration he sometimes does with War Stories–but he does have enthusiasm for his skills and his narrative authority. He likes being able to tell a good war story. As he should.

As for the art. Tomas Aira gets away with a bit because the setting–fliers doing attack runs from Iwo Jima to Tokyo–is so striking. He doesn’t do well with the faces, which just shows the skillfulness of Ennis’s dialogue, because the talking heads scenes in the issue are phenomenal.

It’s so good. Even though War Stories has its missteps, Ennis needs to have this outlet as a creator. The comic book medium needs him to have this outlet.

CREDITS

Tokyo Club, Part One: Yardbirds; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 12 (August 2015)

War Stories #12

When I said this story should have been two issues instead of three, I was wrong. Our Wild Geese Go should’ve been a one shot. I don’t even have the energy to talk about Aira’s artwork, which is simultaneously too fine and too rough for the story. It’s talking heads again, with a couple of the lads in Dutch with the Nazis.

They get away though. It’s not much of a spoiler because their captivity isn’t particularly dramatic. Nothing in the issue’s dramatic. Ennis is just trying to get to the conclusion, which is about the Irish soldiers coming into their own in a way. In a way he could have done much better in one issue without a mildly ludicrous subplot.

All War Stories has got is Ennis. The book isn’t a collaboration between him and Aira. It’s Ennis. Would it be better as a collaboration? Maybe. He might have been able to get away with this story arc if he’d had an artist who could emote through the art, who could sway the reader. It’s not Aira.

The issue–and this story arc–just shows how desperately editors are needed in indie books.

CREDITS

Our Wild Geese Go, Part Three: One by One We’re All Becoming Shades; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 11 (July 2015)

War Stories #11

I wish Ennis had two parters and three parters in War Stories, because this arc–Our Wild Geese Go–doesn’t need three issues. Most of this issue has the big reveal talking to the closest thing to the arc’s protagonist (if only because he has an antagonist). Talking heads in the forest. Aira doesn’t do well with it. It seems like he’s trying to keep up with all the faces, but by the time the cliffhanger arrives… he’s lost track.

Of course, Ennis has kind of lost track too, which is why this arc would’ve been better at two issues. Ennis has a gimmick–that reveal–and once he shows his hands with it, everything in the comic becomes rather obvious, including the cliffhanger.

The gimmick itself, which I’m trying not to spoil, is a fine enough punchline for a certain type of story. Sadly, Ennis isn’t telling that story.

CREDITS

Our Wild Geese Go, Part Two: Falling Faintly Through the Universe; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 10 (June 2015)

War Stories #10

Ennis is off to a great start with the latest War Stories arc. It’s about a squad of Irish volunteers in World War II (I wasn’t actually sure if it was WWI or WWII; the Irish’s uniforms are quaint compared to the British and German ones).

The squad is, save one exception, all Southern. The politics of Ireland and Irish independence figure in, but alongside the war story. Ennis works out a beautiful balance to it, bubbling the resentments under the surface, only letting them pop at the best moments.

Most of the issue is talking heads. Yes, talking heads in a war zone, but it’s just this squad talking back and forth. Thanks to the uniforms, there are a couple soldiers Aria draws basically the same, but he’s definitely working on the expressions and the facial features.

The quiet finish reveals Ennis’s not insignificant ambitions for the story arc.

CREDITS

Our Wild Geese Go, Part One: The Dark Central Plain; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 9 (May 2015)

War Stories #9

It’s a shame about Aira. He gets worse. Not just since last issue, but throughout this issue, he gets worse. By the end of the comic, I had to force myself to stop looking at characters’ faces because I knew Aira wouldn’t distinguish them well enough. I just paid attention to the dialogue.

Which had a typo.

Yet, it’s still an amazing comic book. Ennis hits another home run with the writing, with the depth and complication of it, with the sadness and horror. As far as the writing goes, this issue might be the best of the Avatar War Stories comics. It’s probably better than a lot of Battlefields. Ennis surprises to the end.

Reading Ennis in either a good, long ongoing or a genre he sticks to and develops in is a narrative of its own. You see how he learns and refines his craft.

Intricately wonderful writing.

CREDITS

The Last German Winter, Part Three: The Earth Will Shake As We Leave the Scene; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 8 (April 2015)

War Stories #8

This issue of War Stories, with Ennis exploring the dynamics of the German tankies and their civilian charges while hiding from Russians invading Germany, it’s essential war comics reading. Ennis’s characterizations, how he paces the issue, how he relieves and creates tension–it’s all top-notch writing. The dialogue’s great, so’s Ennis’s plotting of the scenes and their action.

But the art is atrocious.

When the comic starts, it seems like it might be better if Aira’s art were in black and white. The coloring doesn’t work with it so why not black and white? Because it’s soon clear even if some of Aira’s art did look better without the coloring, it’d still be terrible because he can’t visually set up action sequences, not with such an indistinct cast.

Some great lettering in this issue too. The way the protagonist’s narration looks is perfect.

The writing overcomes the art problems.

CREDITS

The Last German Winter, Part Two: Pitch & Sulphur; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 7 (March 2015)

War Stories #7

Garth Ennis is back to form on War Stories; his artist, Tomas Aira, is probably worse than the last time I saw him working on the book (could’ve been last issue… he’s not memorable).

But what is memorable is Ennis’s setup for this story. German civilians leaving Russian–in January 1945–the Russians kind of not making it easy for them to leave. It’s a refuge story from the perspective of a German girl. Ennis is trying again with War Stories; he’s trying really hard.

The story has action and a fair bit of drama. There’s no humor, except when the narrator too is aware of the irony of the jokes. Ennis does a great job establishing his cast members when not even giving them distinct enough names. The action goes okay but the drama’s all beautifully paced dialogue exchanges from Ennis.

Nice to see him caring about it again.

CREDITS

The Last German Winter, Part One: Babes in the Woods; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 6 (February 2015)

War Stories #6

I’ve got a suggestion for Ennis and Avatar on their War Stories. One issue stories, a decent artist a issue. No more guys like Aira, who can’t even hold together the perspective on the vehicles this issue. It’s just way too much.

And Ennis doesn’t have a story. He’s got a weak lecture from the sensitive, intellectual tankie about how Israel can’t compare everything to the Holocaust and they can’t be at war forever. The sergeant isn’t part of it because he’s one of Israel’s golems! That throwaway line is a lot more effective than the lengthy monologue about endless war.

Ennis stayed somewhat apolitical, just telling a history, until this point. Worse, he then tries to turn the golem sergeant into a different symbol at the end.

It’s very problematic work. Ennis has too much space, not a good enough artist and no editor crossing out lame, preachy monologues.

CREDITS

Children of Israel, Part Three: Saul Hath Slain His Thousands; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 5 (January 2015)

War Stories #5

I wonder how this issue would be with a decent artist. Not even a good artist, just a decent one. One who clearly doesn’t have the time he needs to get the issue complete. Because Aira’s art is occasionally almost okay. He could be doing a better job. When it’s really bad, it’s because he’s rushing.

Regardless, it still really hurts the comic. Ennis is trying a different thing with this seventies-set story. He’s trying a different style of storytelling, he’s trying a different character relationship; he’s also going all out on the battle stuff. Aira can’t just not those elements competently, he doesn’t bring anything to the art.

There are also some Ennis problems with this issue. This War Stories arc features soldiers who spout lots of exposition, meaning they have to be very well informed. There’s no groundwork for that situation.

Ennis does keep his style fresh.

CREDITS

Children of Israel, Part Two: In Fire They Will Come; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories 4 (December 2014)

War Stories #4

Garth Ennis goes somewhat modern with the latest War Storiese arc, jumping to the late sixties and the story of an Israeli tank commander. He’s got a flashback to WWII, with the same tank commander getting a tour of a Panzer from a German tankie.

There’s a lot of narration, all third person and really close, going over this guy’s life. And a long dialogue exchange where Ennis has to go over the history of Israel, the guy’s career and then the current circumstances. Wait, maybe it takes place in the early seventies. I could check, but won’t.

The art, from Tomas Aira, is all right. It’s not great. The characters’ faces lack enough personality and the detail Aira puts into tanks doesn’t go into the people. Of course, Ennis emphasizes the people over the tanks so it doesn’t exactly match.

It’s ambitious, but too soon to really tell.

CREDITS

Children of Israel, Part One: A Stone Off My Heart; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

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