Friday, June 15, 2018

Maus Part II: And here my troubles began By Art Spiegelman

Maus Part II: And here my troubles began

By Art Spiegelman

Last week we talked about Mr. Spiegelman, this week I would like to talk about another person who was heavily involved in the making of this graphic novel: Francoise Mouly, Mr. Spiegelman's wife, editor; and for the all but the very last chapter of Maus, his publisher. Mrs. Mouly was born in Paris, France in the year 1955. She was the daughter of a plastic surgeon who pioneered a method of breast reduction and currently lives in New York with her husband Art. When she was 13, she lived through the intense social upheaval of May 1968 in Paris and this heavily influenced her politics as she grew up. She entered the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in the 1970 to study architecture but was unhappy doing so. So in 1974 she headed off to New York City. While in New York she mostly did odd jobs and worked on her English, she met Art Speigelman but neither of them were really interested in the other until she read his underground comix work “Prisoner on the Hell Planet” which moved her to call him. They proceeded to have an 8 hour phone conservation. When she went back to France to finish her degree, Art went with her. When they returned in 1977, they married to solve the Visa problems she was having. She would help her husband with a collection of his Breakdown strips when the printer botched it completely, with 30% of the run being utterly unusable. At this point she decided she would control the printing process to ensure it was done right. She founded Raw Books and Comics, where Maus would first be published, in 1978. It's goal was to provide an outlet for younger creators who didn't fit the current mold or European creators who were trying to get their work into the US. By the end of the 1980s Penguin books would take on publishing duties. But let's get to Maus II.

Francoise makes her appearance in this part of the graphic novel, as Volume II is more meta-fictional than Volume I in a lot of ways but I'll address that in a bit. Maus II starts off with Vladek and Anja being sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau; a place that’s become a byword for horror and evil in a multitude of languages because of what was done there. In the interests of completion I will briefly touch on it anyways (If he didn’t I would. Still will. Weil, nie wieder.). Auschwitz-Birkenau was a complex of concentration and extermination camps. First built to hold Polish political prisoners, it opened in May of 1940 (at the site of an old Polish Army training base), by September of 1941 it was being used to murder people in large numbers (mostly through working them to death at that stage.). Upon the formal adoption of so-called Final Solution (after the conference at Wannsee), from 1942 to 1944 it was the center of a vast logistical network that transported people from across Europe to be killed, mostly by use of Zyklon B, crystallized hydrogen cyanide that sublimated into gas. (I feel like the history of this particular gas is important. Ironically enough it was invented by a Jew, Fritz Haber. Some of you might remember him for his Nobel Prize in chemistry for inventing the Haber-Bosch Process: the catalytic synthesis of ammonia from hydrogen and atmospheric nitrogen, for use as fertilizer. We still use that process. However, he was a hard-core German patriot during WW1. This is the sad contrast between Jews Living in Poland and German Jews at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries, before the Nazis. His love for his country became an obsession and he became the father of chemical warfare, inventing the process by which chlorine gas was synthesized and developing gas masks. On it went, in an arms race with fellow Laureate the French chemist Victor Grignard, until millions were dead or disfigured by their grotesque inventions. His wife Clara, also a chemist, committed suicide in protest of his twisting chemistry to murder. His research institute invented Zyklon A which was later developed into Zyklon B as a fumigant insecticide. Fritz was thanked for his obsessive patriotism during the Nazi rise to power by being forced to flee the country for his life. He died in Switzerland on his way to Mandate Palestine in 1934.) Other methods included torture, starvation, being killed individually by guards, refusal of medical treatment, and working people to death (Don’t forget environmental exposure, dehydration, human experimentation, and being put in conditions so cramped and unsanitary that communicable diseases like Typhus, Typhoid, and Cholera were rampant). In two years, over 1.3 million people would be transported there with 1.1 million dying on the site and only 144 people successfully managing an escape from the camp while it was operational. While Jews made up the majority of people sent here, there were also Poles (about 150,000), Romani and Sinti (23,000), Soviet Prisoners of War (15,000), Jehovah Witnesses (400) and Homosexuals (number unknown). Men, Women and Children were all sent here and disappeared without mercy into the ovens used to reduce their bodies to ashes (Also mass graves. The crematoria were the product of about a year of experimentation into body disposal, using the prisoners themselves as manual labor.). The camp would continue operations until the Soviets were nearly in shelling range, it was then that the Germans marched the prisoners out of the camp and force-marched them to Germany. I'm going to point out that this was the end of 1944; it was clear that the war was lost, Western Forces were liberating France, the Soviets had passed Warsaw... And the Nazis were still determined to kill every Jew, Gay, Romani and so on that they could. If you need a minute after reading this, that's okay, I needed a minute after writing it. (And I’ve wept a couple times between this week and last. There is no shame in that. The Shoah and the larger Holocaust are just that fucking awful.)

Vladek and Anja were sent into the maw of this hell pit during it's last year of operation. Here we can see the trauma that cemented so many of the behaviors that torment his son later in life. Vladek had to work furiously just to survive, he had to bend every skill and ounce of cunning he had to just keep breathing one more day in a place designed to kill him as humiliatingly as possible. Not only that but he had to constantly work to find ways just to stay in contact with his wife Anja, as well as helping her whenever it was possible. That said Vladek doesn't do this by screwing over other people; there are times when he helps the people around him. Getting shoes that fit for a friend by charming a Polish Kapo into helping him in exchange for English lessons, for example. By staying alert and grabbing at every chance he could get Vladek managed to survive another day, which in Auschwitz was an amazing achievement. Nor were they alone; throughout Vladek's account we see many people trying to do just one decent act before they’re murdered, whether it be an unknown Polish Priest (I am reminded of Maximilian Kolbe, who volunteered to take the place of a Polish Army sergeant named Franciszek Gajowniczek who was picked at random with ten others after several men escaped the camp. Maximilian Kolbe is now the patron saint of political prisoners.) who comforts and consoles Vladek before he was killed, or Mancie, a Hungarian Jewish girl who ran messages between Vladek and Anja. We also see many petty cruelties that serve no purpose but to amuse the people performing them. It's a grim story but one full of people who refused to be ground down and made into animals. I won't say they kept their dignity but I will say that they kept their humanity (I’d say they’re the same thing). It's here that we see why Vladek is the way he is, he is a miserly, neurotic, and miserable old man in a lot of ways, (who manages to be pretty racist against African Americans) a man whose actions and words often torment his son and his own wife. He survived--not thrived, because no one did in Auschwitz-- but to do so he had to develop habits and ended up with scars that would affect everyone around him until the end of their days. We see that not only in Mr. Spiegelman but in Vladek's relationship with his 2nd wife Mala, which nearly ends in this volume. We also see the end of the camps, Vladek's dealing with American troops in the opening days of the occupation and his cold satisfaction at the Germans suffering as the Western and Russian armies advance into Germany (I can't really blame him, he's way more restrained about the whole thing than I would be in his position). As well as his reunion with Anja and their decision to leave Poland, heading first to Sweden and then to the United States.

This volume is more meta-fictional than the previous one. Mr. Spiegelman's mental state becomes a part of the book as he discusses his own feelings about the story and the process of creating it. Additionally Francoise makes her appearance in the novel, as we learn about their marriage (and how she converted to please Vladek in the first place) and the her own involvement in the story process. We learn about Mr. Spiegelman's depression and his overriding desire to avoid living with his father. I’ve got mixed feelings about this. To be honest I'm not a fan of meta-fiction, where the process of writing the work itself becomes part of the narrative and having the characters acknowledge they're in a story. This is also called breaking the 4th wall. In most of the stories I've seen it used, it bogs things down as the writer then uses meta commentary to try and display how clever he is and how deep the story is. It also lends itself to pretentiousness or cheap humor that isn't actually funny. I'm not saying that there's no worthwhile meta fiction. The first Deadpool movie actually used it very well (and very sparingly). In the case of Maus, the meta-fiction does end up serving the story as a biographical and autobiographical work. It also gives us a look at how the trauma of the Holocaust didn't end with just the people who experienced it directly. It lingered and marked their children, whether it be Mr. Spiegelman always feeling inadequate to his father or measuring himself against Richleu, the child who didn't survive. That said, I can't say I was thrilled with those parts of the book where Mr. Spiegelman stepped out of the narrative and began talking about events outside of it. That's a personal opinion but be aware if you're less than thrilled at 4th wall breaking and meta-commentary, there's more of it here than in the first volume.

That said, Maus is a very good long look at the holocaust. Vladek, through Mr. Spiegelman, tells the story plainly and straightforwardly.  I honestly find his matter of fact tone in the book rather amazing but it also helps ground the story and make it seem more real.  Mr. Spiegelman gives us a look at the very real impact those events had on him, his father and his entire family and I would argue that this work is important and whether you like comic books or are even a history buff, you should sit down to read it. As you might have already figured out, this is a very adult story and might be disturbing for  younger children. Maus Part II: And Here My Troubles Began gets an A-.

Next week Trail of Hope. Keep reading.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sidebar V: Why Start here?

Sidebar V: Why Start here?

War World Two. The single largest war ever fought in human history. What images come to your mind likely depend on your nation of origin but I have to honestly say that I think it conjures massive armies and battles on a scale never seen before or after. Of cities shattered and nations rendered to ruins. There a number of stories that have captured the imagination of the world, Saving Private Ryan, Enemy at the Gates, Downfall, Bridge on the River Kwai and so on. Most of these stories are epics. They capture great turning points of the war or great deeds done during the war. There are so many that you could simply focus on reviewing World War II stories and never finish. So why start with a the story of a single Jewish family trying to escape a genocide made from 20th century science and industry? Why start with the holocaust?

Because if you want to know what it was all for, you need to both start small and get at the very soul of it. The Holocaust is nothing less than the truest expression of the soul of Nazism. An all too human marriage of industrial skill, logistical know-how, and scientific ability; to vile and monstrous ends. To wipe out entire groups of human beings for having the audacity to exist and have things that the Nazis wanted (The goal of the Nazis in Eastern Europe was to enslave or kill all Slavs and take control of everything from the Elbe to the Urals as agrarian Lebensraum for the Aryan/Germanic peoples). Well, that's part of it. The Holocaust was also about degrading them, grinding them down and robbing them of every ounce of dignity and hope; seeing how many of their victims they could force to act like rats in a trap. Because the Nazis needed to prove that their victims weren't human, weren't people. This constant need to degrade, humiliate and do whatever it took to manufacture proof that their bigotry rested on anything but a foundation of lies and mad delusion is a repeating theme in Nazi actions (To illustrate how deep it ran; in the polish Ghettos, the Jews were crammed into tight conditions and there were no civil services like trash removal; everyone was on starvation rations and so bodies piled up in the streets. When the Nazis made Der Ewige Jude--yes, I’ve seen it--they used the resulting filth and disease to “prove” that Jews were filthy and didn’t care about their surroundings or fellow Jews. Knowing full well that they intentionally created those conditions. “Jews don’t want to work, but barter”, showing Jews haggling over things, even though the work in the Ghetto was very limited and people had to trade for the barest necessities like their lives depended on them. Because their lives did depend on them. They did the same thing inside the barracks in the death camps. They intentionally gave people too little room and no running water. The inevitable consequence was that they were dehumanized and this made it easier for the SS men to torture and kill them). It's writ large across Russia and Eastern Europe, where the Nazis and non-Nazi Germans (And non-German Nazis. The Slovaks paid the Third Reich 500 marks a head to cart away Jews to Auschwitz. Then there was Hungary...) worked constantly to break down the natives of their conquests to rob them of their cultures, their lands and any hope of a better tomorrow. It can be seen in Western Europe, where the Nazis might have been restrained in comparison to the East, they weren't well behaved by any stretch of the imagination.

And in many cases like France--occupied and Vichy--and the British Channel Islands, had the active and willing collaboration of local government officials. At the risk of being too nasty toward France, there are some beautiful things that happened there too. Like entire French villages who took in Jewish children and disguised them as their own relatives. A small village hiding half a dozen Jewish kids in complete secrecy. None of the kids knew they weren’t the only ones, but the entire village did and nobody said a goddamn thing, even when the Nazis paid handsomely or threatened people. No one talked. Despite governmental collaboration, 75% of Jews in France survived. In contrast to the Netherlands where there was less collaboration by non-Nazis, but where only 27% survived. The Netherlands included religion in public records so it was easier to hunt down the Jews. This is why Willem Arondeus and Friede Belinfante, an openly gay artist/novelist and openly lesbian cellist respectively, as well as other members of the dutch resistance, burned down the Dutch records office. Before he was shot, Arondeus uttered a set of last words I will remember until the end of my days. “Let it be known that homosexuals are not cowards” Happy pride month, everyone.

If we’re going to be honest, this bigotry and naked imperialism isn't really anything new or special in human history. It was the lengths that the Nazis took it to and the organized fashion in which they applied the modern technology of the day that brought them to a new plane of atrocity that hasn't ever been matched. Genocide continues to be part of the human condition, whether it be in Africa, Asia, the Balkans, or Central America but only the Nazis made a machine out of it. That's the why of the war by that I don’t mean that the Allies were setting out to stop a genocide. But it remains why the war had to be fought in the end. Because if the Nazis had won, or gone unchallenged, we would live in a world where such events are acceptable and possibly even common. Where some of us are human beings with feelings and thoughts and others of us are not and thus are not to be considered. These were the ideas that powered the Second World War in Europe. Hitler and his followers had, after all, the goal of remaking the entire world in their own image and we need to consider what kind of image that was. It’s the fact that the Nazi Elite were able to conceive of such a thing and then carry it out despite being at war with nearly 3/4ths of the world and needing every resource possible to stave off defeat, that tells us how important this was to them. How dear it was the Nazi soul. This was their great work, as far as they were concerned. They might deny that, they might deny that it even happened but well, by their deeds will you know them. The mass organized slaughter of entire groups of the human species was so important to them that they kept at it even as they were overrun by the Red Army. Even if that meant diverting resources from stopping that sam Red Army. That should tell us something about how high up the priority list this kind of murder was. So you cannot separate the two as far as I am concerned.

This shouldn't be considered as excusing of the very real crimes and flaws of the Western Allies or the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was a authoritarian state ruled by an iron-handed tyrant that killed millions of its own. The British Empire kept hundreds of millions under its rule at bayonet point and dealt with rebellion savagely at times and let’s not forget The United States (And Canada, Australia, as well as New Zealand) was built on the destruction of native culture and peoples and I’m sure we all know about the racial system that existed in the US at the time. But under the West there was hope of improvement. In the 73 years since 1945, western society has improved greatly in how racial minorities, women and sexual orientations are treated (Indeed! I’ve gone from a fully criminalized unperson to a second-class citizen, then finally to an upper-tier second class citizen inside my own lifetime! Woo! 55% of the American population is okay with me sharing office space with them! People actually care when police shoot a 12 year old black kid now! I’m not even being sarcastic, this is good news!). We have improved in many ways in how we treat the world around us and each other. We are not perfect, we may not even be virtuous at times but we have the potential, the methods, and the cultural desire to improve ourselves. Even if we might not agree with each other on what improving ourselves means. That doesn't exist in Nazism. There is no better day. There is only, to mangle a phrase, a jackboot on the face of humanity... Forever.

You might also ask why start so small? With the tale of a single man. Not an important man. Not a really heroic man, really. To be honest Vladek Spiegelman might not even be a good man in a lot of ways. He's flawed, neurotic, quarrelsome, perhaps even grasping. He's also a man who honestly loved his wife and children, as bad as he was at showing it, and didn't ask for much. So why start with his story? As many of you have likely heard until you were sick of it, big stories are made up of little ones. Each small story of a single town or family or single person joins together but if you only step back and look at that whole, you risk losing sight of certain things. Vladek Spiegelman was a lot of things but he was also undoubtedly human, even when drawn as a mouse, and he mattered because of that. It's easy to get lost in an epic and forget the real consequences of those sweeping tank columns and grand fleets and lines of airplanes that blot out the sky. So before we get into that, we need to take a look at what this meant on the ground, what this meant to the people there. That's why we need stories like Maus in our culture, especially about big thunderous events like the Second World War, and that's why I start there. Because these grand epics, in the end are a the joining together of thousands of stories of single people or small groups of people.

The text in the red is our editor Dr. Ben Allen.
The black text is of course me, your reviewer.  

Friday, June 8, 2018

Maus Part I: My Father Bleeds History By Art Spiegelman

Maus Part I: My Father Bleeds History
By Art Spiegelman

Art Spiegelman was born in Stockholm, Sweden in February of 1948. His parents moved to Sweden from Poland after World War II, and in 1951 they relocated to the United States of America. Art began drawing cartoons in 1960 and was earning money for his work while in high school. After graduating in 1965, his parents encouraged him to consider something financially sound, like dentistry, but he choose to enroll instead at Harpur's College to study Art and Philosophy. He attended from 1965 to 1968, working at the college paper while going to classes. In 1968 he suffered a nervous breakdown, to pile it on his mother committed suicide a month after he was released from Binghamton State Mental Hospital. He moved to San Francisco and threw himself into the underground comix movement (which deserves a discussion on a later date). It's in 1972 he produced his first comic about the holocaust showing Jews as mice being persecuted by Nazi Cats. He would return to this but first he moved back to New York in 1975 as the underground comix movement hit a slow down. Here he met his future wife but I'll cover more of this next week.

Maus is an odd graphic novel. It's part history, part biography, part autobiography and part meta commentary on the work of creating the graphic novel. The comic was originally published in Raw, a magazine that Art was editing and his wife was publishing. A new chapter would appear in Raw until 1991 which published every chapter but the very last one. Maus was released at a time when comics were seen as either childish power fantasy with the mass market neatly divided between Marvel and DC or with a stalled and stale underground comix movement that seemed to be running out of gas. Unlike today, there weren't many comics that weren't superhero comics (although I'll admit even today superhero comics dominate in North America). The graphic novel was able to reach a wide audience because it was sold in bookstores instead of just comic shops and helped change the perception of what a comic book could be in the English speaking world. It won enough awards to fill a bookcase, among them the Pulitzer, the Eisner, and the Harvey award; and a small academic industry has grown up around the graphic novel as it is taught in schools across the world. As of 2011 it has been translated into 30 different languages, including German and Polish. It's not without its critics as its depictions of the Polish people is less than flattering (given that Mr. Spiegelman draws them as pigs just to start with), but let's discuss the comic.

Maus is focused on Vladek Speigelman, a Polish Jew (or as some would insist a Jew living in Poland but if a man whose father and grandfather were born there isn't a Pole than who is? (That’s an interesting question. It would depend largely on whether the Jews living in Poland considered themselves Poles, and whether the Poles considered said Jews to be Poles. Remember, these are ethnic concepts of nationality, not ones where place of birth--even after multiple generations--necessarily matters.{I'm aware of this as an anthropologist, but the thing is Vladek has enough Polish cultural traits that if he was a Catholic, everyone would call him a Pole} I would hazard, given the history of the Jewish people and the depths of antisemitism that existed--and still exists--within the country, that the answer is probably closer to Jews Living in Poland, though mileage may vary! You have to remember that while Poland produced IIRC the most Righteous Among the Nations acting as individuals, resistance to the Shoah was not organized like it was in Denmark, and collaboration by the Poles in the Shoah was absolutely rife, as much as the modern Polish government tries to deny and even criminalize acknowledgement of that fact. The reality was, Jews in Poland were associated with Bolshevism and seeing as there had been a war with Soviet Russia in 1920 and the USSR had invaded and annexed half of Poland in 1939...yeah. Note: I am using the Shoah to distinguish between the mass murder of Jews, and Holocaust which I tend to use for the whole Nazi program of slaughtering all Untermenschen und Mindervertige. There otherwise wouldn’t really be a word to describe that because both are often used only to refer to the killing of Jews. The other six million people who were worked to death or crammed into gas chambers are often little more than a footnote. Gay men were killed by the tens of thousands and to this day that’s pretty much ignored in the media and school curricula. Gay survivors were also kept in prison after the war because our existence was still criminalized. Anyway, I’m rambling and I’ll stop.)) who in the ending years of the 1930s has become an adult started a business, married, and started a family. Vladek as you might have guessed is Mr. Spiegelman's father and the book also includes scenes set in the late 1970s/early 1980s of him discussing what happened to him with his now adult son. As such we see the young Vladek and the old one at times right next to each other. We learn that Father and son have a rather complicated relationship, part of this is driven by Vladek's personality. He's quarrelsome, miserly in a lot of ways and suspicious of people (Gee, I wonder why…). Meanwhile Art Spiegelman is not without his own personality flaws and the writing addresses his own frustrations with his father and their relationship. That said our writer is not the only person having a strained relationship with Vladek, as the book also features Mala, Vladek's second wife. Frankly given what I've seen in this book, Vladek and Mala have one of those marriages you sometimes see where you're constantly asking yourself why they stay together or why they got together in the first place. That said most of the characters we are introduced to are in the past.

This part of the novel covers Vladek meeting Anja, his wife and Mr. Spiegelman's mother. We see their courtship and early family life. Here we learn that Anja actually came from a wealthy family and marrying her helped Vladek in setting up his business. That said, we also see a bit of Vladek's true feelings for his wife as he is willing to go to lengths to help her deal with postpartum depression after the birth of their first son, Richleu. We see that even without the Nazis there was a great deal of anti-semitism in Poland before the war, as Vladek and his family have to worry about riots and other actions by the Poles against them. I would like to note for the record here that this wasn't unique to Germany or Poland, there were many nations in East and Central Europe where Jewish people weren't safe (Read: All of it). Nor were they immune from discrimination and attack even in Western Europe. We also see a bit of the German invasion of Poland, as Vladek is called up into the Polish army and sent to fight and finds his first experience with Nazism as a POW. The book covers Vladek's actions to keep his family out of the concentration camps; hiding in bunkers or the homes of local Poles, some of whom are willing to hide Jews as long as those Jews could pay (See what I mean?). Mr. Spiegelman also gives us a look at the extent to which some Jews cooperated with the Nazis or at least tried to enrich themselves at others expense. Whether it be the Jewish councils who were put in a situation where they could give up part of their people or all of their people, black market profiteers or Jewish men who choose to work as enforcers in the ghettos for the Nazis. We are given a look at how the extreme situations gnaws at people's bonds to one another and to what extremes people will go in desperation to protect themselves and the people they love (If I go into complexity of this and how it was part of a complex Nazi scheme to both dehumanize their victims and keep them divided among themselves to prevent resistance...more than I already have...I won’t stop. If you can’t tell dear readers, the editor gets a bit worked up over the Holocaust.). Part I ends as every scheme, tactic and hidden place that Vladek can conjure up to protect his ever shrinking family finally fails and he and Anja are taken by the Nazis to perhaps the most dread place in Nazi occupied Europe in 1944. Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Vladek himself interestingly enough doesn't express a lot of anger or judgment at the people in these situations with him. Even mentioning being on good terms with a man who took advantage of his family in some ways but in doing so likely saved his life. His view is those were the times they were living in, where people did what they had to do to survive and that's really the stakes they were playing for. It's hard for me to condemn someone who trying to avoid being gassed and shoveled into oven, knowing that the people in charge of their fate viewed them as less than human and were happy to do so. The book pulls no punches when it comes to how Jews were treated. We see a nightmare through the eyes of a man who survived it. It's only through Vladek eyes that we see this nightmare, his wife Anja did leave between written records of her experiences but they were destroyed after her suicide by Vladek while he was in mourning. Mr. Spiegelman himself shows no interest in the experiences of Vladek's second wife, Mala within the book for that matter, focusing entirely on his father. Which suggests to me that among other things, this was Mr. Spiegelman's attempt to try and understand his father and make some sort of peace with him by traveling with him through the most traumatic time of his life and one of the great traumas of the 20th century even if it was only in memory.

Maus is a very small scale story in a lot of ways. You don't get discussion of what was going on in Europe or the world at the time. You don't see the great sweeping battles or the decisions made by the powerful that would dictate the fate of entire continents; and it's a stronger and better story for it. Instead you see the very human effects of those battles and decisions. This isn't the story of Europe or even the story of European Jews. There's no great action scenes here or epic intrigue. It's the story of a Jewish businessman trying to keep his wife and son alive while the entire world around him loses its damn mind and decides to try and kill him and his people over their heritage. It's a stronger story for maintaining it's low to the ground view and focus on a single person and his family because if nothing else it gives a face to those statistics we have drilled into us at school. Learning six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis for daring to exist is just a set of numbers, reading a man watching his father-in-law being send to his death or having to speak about the death of family members makes it something that happened to a person (There’s a reason why I periodically rewatch a multi-part documentary series called Auschwitz:The Nazis and the Final Solution, and watch other interviews with survivors. It has a lot of interviews with survivors. The Shoah, and the larger Holocaust, are not something we can afford to forget. Already the words Never Again ring hollow because as a global society, we have failed to prevent genocide in the post war period. In part, I think, because it has been reduced to numbers and it’s hard for humans to care about those.). Mr. Spiegelman does a good job of telling a human story set in an inhuman time. Maus Part I: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman gets an A. As for why I'm using this story to talk about World War II... Well, I'll speak on that to.

Red text is our editor Dr. Ben Allen, dark text is me, your own reviewer.

Next week Maus Part II: And here my troubles began. This Sunday, Sidebar why start here? Keep Reading.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Elves Vol I: Crystal of the Blue Elves By Jean Luc Istan Art by Kyko Duarte

Elves Vol I: Crystal of the Blue Elves
By Jean Luc Istan
Art by Kyko Duarte

Elves, a French fantasy comic published by Delcourt, is set in the same world as Dwarves. This volume was written by Jean Istan, a screenwriter, comic book author, and designer who was born in August of 1970 in Pontivy. The lead artist is Kyko Duarte who was born in Spain in 1975 and started out in advertising before branching into the world of comics. But let's turn to the comic. Elves is set in the same world as the Dwarves series but focuses instead on the Elvish peoples. The Elves are of this world are immortal beings unless killed by violence or accident and are highly varied, as they have spread out to a number of environments. There are 19 graphic novels in the series at the time of this review, each one focused on a specific group of Elves.

Crystal of the Blue Elves is a story of the Blue Elves, unsurprisingly. We would call them Sea Elves I think, because they live near the water and have a strong affinity for water and water magic. They are also a very calming shade of blue. The story itself is divided between two plot lines which intersect toward the end. The first plot revolves around the discovery, by a Blue Elf adventureress named Lanawyn and her human friend Turin, that all the Elves of Ennlya, a small port town have been savagely murdered. Among the dead a dagger of Yrlan is found, the Yrland are a group of humans whose King, named Rinn, hates the Blue Elves because they have the audacity to refuse him fishing and sailing rights in certain areas. However, while the Yrlan are a war like bunch and likely good fighters, it does seem strange that they could massacre an entire town of Blue Elves with no witnesses and leave behind a single dagger. Not to mention this is out of character for them, as they tend to look down on stealth tactics and prefer open warfare. Lanawyn and Turin find themselves charged by the King of the Blue Elves Aamon to figure out exactly what happened to the elves of Ennlya as inconsistencies mount and King Rinn of the Yrlan readies to take an opportunity for war and genocide. Luckily Lanawyn is an intelligent Elf and Turin has friends everywhere, they're going to need every scrap of wits and favor that friendship can call in to solve this and fast.

Meanwhile Vaalann, a young Blue Elf lady, finds she might have a storied fate in front of her. Long ago Ulronn, an Elf Mage, used unknown magical means to create three crystals. Each crystal has a unique but terrifying power. In fact, the creation of the Crystals drove him mad and he became a Dark Elf. Rather then give up the crystals or use them responsibly, Ulronn used them to try and (all together folks) conquer the world! A Blue Elf mage played a key part in defeating him so the crystal with the power to control the ocean (yes, the entire thing) was given to the Blue Elves. Worried about the corrupting power of such a powerful artifact, the Blue Elves hid it on the floor of the ocean and convinced a race of sea monsters known as the Myst to guard it. The Myst have the ability to look into the soul of anyone who approaches them, if that person's soul has anything but a desire to use the crystal peacefully and for good, the Myst drown them. A number of Blue Elves have risked their immortal lives because there is a belief that one day a chosen Elf will rise to use the power of the crystal and craft a golden age. Vaalann believes she just might be that chosen Elf but is she or just another in a long line of folks who've let their ego write a check they can't cash? The Blue Elves will need an answer soon, as they may find themselves in a war that if they lose will see the extinction of their race. So they might just need to resort to using the ocean as a weapon to stay alive.

The graphic novel gives us a pair of stories that are rather separate until the very end of the novel and frankly in my opinion the graphic novel suffers for it. The story has about fifty pages and as a result can't really devote enough time to really get into either plot line. So both stories feel like they're moving incredibly quickly, has such we know a lot less about Turin and Lanawyn then I would like and Vaalann feels a bit like a plot device. Additionally, there's a twist ending that just didn't feel satisfying. The story itself is a rather solid one and the characters are fairly likable and not uninteresting but they need more time and development to pull in the reader in my opinion. Additionally I didn't really get a sense of Blue Elf Culture or their beliefs. They seem to use water magic for a wide variety of things, foretelling the future for example but other than that? When I read Redwin of the forge, I got a good overview of a living breathing culture with Redwin as it's representative. Here I'm not sure how the Blue Elves live, how their culture functions or what they hold important beyond the sea itself. Nor am I left with an understanding of any of the characters, or what they're doing when they're not trying to prevent unnecessary wars. So I'm left with a mild interest in the Blue Elves and in the characters but not much else. That said, the art is amazing in this comic and I do get the sense that if given the proper space to tell this story that it would be a good one. So I have to say I think this fell victim to the page count, so I'll have to hold it as an example of remembering to match your story ambitions to your space. I am hopeful as I go further into the series though that I will see an improvement. From what I understand Elves was the first series so it would make sense that Dwarves benefited from it's lessons. All in all Elves Vol I by Jean Luc Istan and Kyko Duarte gets a C- from me. It's not awful but it's not anything I can honestly recommend either.

Next week, we kick off a month of looking at books that deal with World War II and its repercussions. So join me for Maus Part I. Additionally, coming in August will be Solarpunk month, if you have a solarpunk book you'd like me to review please leave a recommendation. If you have no clue what Solarpunk is? Don't worry you will by the end of August. Keep Reading!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IDW Vol: I By Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IDW Vol: I
By Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were first created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1984. The story being that during a brainstorming session Mr. Eastman sketched out a ninja turtle with a pair of nunchucks and everybody thought it was hilarious. The first issue of the comic (funded by a tax refund and a small loan from a relative) was partially meant to parody comics like Daredevil (the Foot Clan was inspired by Marvel's Hand clan of ninja's) and Ronin who were going through a celebrated run of stories using a gritty and dark tone. The first issue had all of three thousand printings and mostly sold at a local convention, but it caught attention because, dear readers, this was the eighties and there were powerful forces afoot in our entertainment industry: the Turtles caught the attention of the toy companies. By 1987 there was a cartoon series that would last for ten seasons (with more cartoon series that would come in the 21st century), later would come live action movies, more toys, a rock-band tour and of course during all of this was comic book after comic book. The Turtles survive to this day, despite the best efforts of Hollywood. Let's talk about the series creators first and I'll talk about Tom Waltz, who wrote specifically for this comic book series.

Kevin Eastman was born in Portland, Maine, in 1962. He was following a waitress he had met while working in a restaurant (He was dating this waitress, right? Not like, just following her? Because the way you put this is really up for interpretation{No idea, no source says, anyways it's not part of the review}) when he met Peter Laird. They founded Mirage Studios, the name was chosen because, having no money or facilities, the studio was more of a mirage than anything else (Okay, that’s actually pretty damn funny as far as I’m concerned). Eastman would try a number of things out besides creating the Ninja Turtles, such as founding Tundra Publishing (now defunct) and was the owner of Heavy Metal from 1992 to 2014.

Peter Laird, was born in North Adams, Massachusetts in 1954. Before the Ninja Turtles he was trying to scratch out a living doing illustrations for the local newspaper (which paid him the grand sum of $10 a picture) and local fanzines (I'll talk about these another day). It was that experience that lead Mr. Laird to set up a press kit for the release of the Ninja Turtles which helped them grab attention. Additionally Mr. Laird's Uncle actually loaned him the money to set up Mirage Studios, something that profoundly affected him. This led him to founding the Xeric Foundation, a charitable organization that would award grants to comic book creators to help them self publish. In twenty years they would award over 2.5 million dollars.

Now, Tom Waltz is a former active duty Marine serving during Desert Storm, he also served in the California National Guard, he is currently an editor for IDW and served as a writer for this graphic novel.

This collection serves as a reset on the Turtle Origin story. While a good amount of it is left the same as the other comic origins (where the Turtles and Splinter were lab animals, not pets accidentally exposed to the mutagen ooze). The turtles origin is in a botched case of corporate espionage, as they and the mutagen were stolen from the lab they were housed in by Foot Ninjas only for that to be foiled by Splinter in his pre-mutated state. Added is something only referred to a Psychotropic Compound, something that was injected into Splinter greatly increasing the rat's intelligence (thus he was a lab rat with human intelligence before he was mutated) and triggering something odd. Because in this origin the biggest deviation is the interjection of reincarnation. Splinter is not the pet rat of Hamato Yoshi, the wronged and murdered foot ninja, nor is he the ninja mutated into a rat. Instead he is the reincarnation of Hamato Yoshi and being injected with the Psychotropic Compound not only altered his physiology (as his blood now produces the compound) but awakened those memories within him. The turtles are also reincarnations, in this case the reincarnations of Hamato Yoshi's son's murdered by the Shredder many years ago. The turtles themselves don't have any memories of their prior lives but are able to learn the ninja arts at an accelerated rate, possibly due to being exposed to Splinter's blood when they were stolen by Foot Ninjas and rescued by Splinter (Oh wow… this is actually really touching in a way…). New characters are also introduced; in this case the figure of Old Hob, a mutated stray cat. His grudge against our heroes is the result of that botched break out, as a stray cat he tried to nab one of the turtles and fought Splinter. Splinter was injured and left bleeding, but Old Hob lost an eye and didn't get his meal. Old Hob seems to have taken that fight personally and made it his mission to kill the turtles and Splinter. Old Hob has also been exposed to the Psychotropic Compound through contact with Splinter's blood and uses his new intelligent for the twin goals of building an empire on the streets of New York and gaining blood soaked revenge on Splinter for daring to defend his loved ones.

There are also plenty of returning characters. April O'Neil returns as a college student, who while working as an intern Sees Too Much (™). Also we have Casey Jones, who returns as a troubled youth with a heart of gold and a drunken abusive father. Casey Jones is also Raphael’s best friend in this version and they get together at least once a week to cruise the streets and beat up criminals (Awww, they’re bonding!). There are also enemies that return here, such as the Shredder (can't really have a Turtles series without him can we?), along side of the Shredder are Kari, his granddaughter and right hand woman as well as the gang bangers Rocksteady and Bebop, although they aren't mutants yet (Aww man!). Also present in the background is the alien general Krang and taking center stage in this graphic novel, Baxter Stockmen, who was experimenting on the Turtles as a weapon development project for Krang. In this series, Baxter is a scientist and successful businessman. In fact he's the guy who develops the mutagen from the ooze provided to him by Krang. He also played a key role in the development of the psychotropic compound, but for reasons unexplained isn't able to replicate his work and as such funds (but doesn't aide) Old Hob on his quest for revenge as long as he gets Splinter's body reasonably intact at the end.

This is an origin story, a retelling of the origins of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their enemies. As such they do make it a point to make the characters work to find out just who the Foot Clan are and why Old Hob is hunting them. The series doesn't drag it out, knowing full well that most of us already know the answers to these questions so there's not much to be gained to prolonging the story. That said there are things that this series does pretty well. Perhaps due to the reincarnation angle, the feud between Shredder and Splinter feels more visceral, more driven by rage and loss then previous versions I'd seen. Additionally each of the Turtles gets an issue to themselves allowing work to be done on their characterization. The Turtles feel like individuals with their own family dynamics within the unit. Donatello, isn't just the smart nerd in the back, he's the one who openly doubts the idea of them being reincarnated people and is the one most willing to question Splinter while at the same time showing nothing but love and respect for his father. This makes him rather independent in a lot of ways. Leonardo is given more to do then just be consumed by the martial arts. He's the most spiritual of the group, the most willing to explore the idea that he might have been a Japanese teenager at one point in the past who was murdered by a warlord. He is also the Turtle most prone to accepting everything Splinter tells him, which is both a strength and weakness. Raphael is the angrest of the group but is also the first one to make a human friend. While he has a good amount of rage within, it's balanced by a desire to honestly help people. He's the one most likely to jump into a situation to help someone in trouble. Michelangelo might enjoy pizza and partying but he's also the biggest social creature out of the four and out of all of them seems to want to be able to be a part of human society the most. He's also the peace maker of the group, being the one to step in when any of the others are on the verge of brawling and reminding them of what's important.

This series carries the themes of revenge and family. Splinter wants revenge for not just his murder as Hamato Yoshi but the murder of his wife Tang Shin and their four sons. Old Hob wants revenge for his eye. What separates the two of them is that Splinter puts his love for his sons first and is willing to give up vengeance if it will be better for his children, showing a true devotion to fatherhood. Meanwhile Old Hob hates everything alive. The Turtles themselves are bound by brotherhood against a world that would hate and fear them if it knew they existed. On the flip side of that Shredder, Kari and the Foot Clan are held together by toxic and abusive versions of the family bonds that the Turtles display. We also see this in April O'Neil and Casey Jones, Jones family fell apart when his Mother died, his Father crawled into a bottle and never came back. Because of that Jones life is slowly circling the gutter and street violence is really his only outlet left. Meanwhile April's father has suffered a stroke but her family has pulled together to ensure his well being and that April finishes college. Having all these different versions of family as well as a look at revenge (for example Splinter certain has a better complaint then Old Hob but is willing to abandon it for the safety and well being of his sons. Old Hob won't drop his complaint even to save his own life) really ties the graphic novel together. I also found it a good buy in that it had 12 issues and 4 stand alones all brought together so it weights in at over 300 pages. Not bad in a world of shrinking comic page counts and rising prices. I'm giving Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol I an A.

Next week, Elves.

This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Log Horizon Vol IX: Go East Kanami By Mamare Touno

Log Horizon Vol IX: Go East Kanami
By Mamare Touno

So once again we have returned to the world of Log Horizon, where thousands of players found themselves trapped in the world of Elder Tales, a MMORPG turned real. The trapped players aren't helpless because they’ve awoken in the bodies of their characters and have gained their in-game powers and abilities.  Through the actions of Shiroe, in Akiba (Which is geographically Japan, we’ll get to that later), a government has been hammered together to bring rules to the interactions between player. Peace has been made with the People of the Earth, who in the game were computer run NPCs; but are now sapient people with their own goals, desires, and feelings.  That's Japan though, where the last 8 novels have focused but what about the rest of the world? Volume IX attempts to give us a bit of a peek at the rest of the world. As such it doesn't feature any of the characters from the last eight novels but instead gives us an entirely new group battling it's way across Asia to reach Japan. Let's met these folks.

Kanami, while never directly featured has been mentioned and discussed before in the series, as she was the leader and instigator of the Debauchery Tea Party, the old group where Shiroe, Naotsugu, and Nyanta meet and formed their friendship. Kanami back then was playing a swashbuckler but now is playing a monk and was online when the game pulled everyone in.  Only she was in Europe living in Italy, with her husband (who was a member of Doctors without Borders) and young daughter. As such she's fairly interested in getting back to Earth. Kanami is a fairly whimsical woman, whose main motivation is seeing new and exciting things, but she is also a lot smarter then she lets on and fairly brave. For example looking around the chaos of Western Europe, she was able to find and recruit two powerful companions and logically figure out her best bet in achieving her goals.  Kanami wants to get back to Earth, to that end she needs to figure out what exactly happened. Odds are high that it is related to the new expansion, Homesteading the Noosphere, which was only fully implanted on the Japanese servers before everyone was transported to the world of Elder Tales. Therefore she needs to get to Japan. Given how most characters are busy losing their minds in reaction to being transported to a fantasy world that looks like a video game they were playing... That's pretty impressive. Let's look at the people she's recruited for this.

KR is another member of the Debauchery Tea Party that Kanami was able to link with.  He's a summoner, a magic class that makes its bones by summoning spirits and creatures to do their fighting for them.  KR had decided to scout out the parts of Asia closest to Japan and used a summoner skill where he transported his conscious into the body of such a servant.  In this case a horse like creature called a hakutaku from Chinese myth. KR isn't able to do much more than advise as while the hakutaku is fast and able to travel quickly for long periods of time, it's not really a combat monster.  That's okay because Kanami has other members of the party to do the actual fighting and it's not like she's a lightweight in a fight being at max level. That said she does have company on the front line.

Elias Hackblade, is an Ancient, a turbo powered NPC.  The Ancients were high powered NPCs who played a major part in the video game's backstory.  They were presented as the last line of defense for the People of Earth, powerful magic users and knights who stand between them and extinction.  However all the Ancients have disappeared leaving the People of the Earth dependent on the Adventurers (the players who have found themselves stranded) in the exact moment that the Adventurers are least able to serve the role.  Elias himself was locked into a magical sleep until Kanami found him and rescued him, thinking that such a powerful NPC might be helpful. Elias had a fairly unique backstory written out out for him but with a rather harsh weakness.  He can't actually kill monsters with his powers, as that would be kill stealing from the PCs. Back when Elder Tales was just a game, Elias was just a background character but now he's a person with his own powers of reason and motivation.  Elias wants to find out what happened to the other Ancients, why it happened and who did it because if someone out there can wipe out every powerful NPC, it's likely they don't have good things planned for the people of this world. He and Kanami aren't alone however.

Coppelia is an interesting character in her own right.   A high level cleric who Kanami found in France, she doesn't really have goals of her own but is content to follow where Kanami leads.  We learn that she does however have her own reasons for heading to Japan even if she was unlikely to do so on her own. I can't really discuss her however without dropping large spoilers so I'll just say this: it's her relationships with the other characters in this book that are pivotal or maybe I should say relationship with one certain character that's important. Let's talk about him shall we?

Leonardo, named for a popular hero who is a ninja but totally not a turtle, is a New York Geek who fled his hometown during the chaos of the change (the world of Elder Tales actually uses a half size map of Earth, which is kind of clever.  I mean think of it, you could simply use Google Earth to design your overworld, that has to save on some man hours). He did so by leaping through a not completely functional fairy ring, an instant teleportation device meant to ease travel between cities.  The darn thing dumped him in Central Asia of places. Because of the lack of player base in Central Asia, it's very undeveloped in game content but as Leonardo finds out, underdeveloped doesn't mean completely undeveloped as he finds himself trapped in a raid event all by himself until Kanami and her crew get him out.  Leonardo makes for an interesting change but is also honestly the weakest character here and I don't mean combat-wise. Most of Leonardo's character arc is taken up realizing things that we already know or seeing him commit to being a hero like his name sake. We've kinda seen this arc in the series, most effectively in Shiroe himself.  So... Why is he even here then? Don't get me wrong, he's a cool character but I don't see what he's bringing to this story that hasn't been done already.

Additionally, I'm not convinced on Leonardo's Americaness.  He doesn't act like the New Yorkers I've known, nor does he act like an American Geek.  Instead his actions and preconceptions match pretty closely with the Japanese characters we've already seen.  As far as I know Mr. Touno has never spent a lot of time in the United States, so I'm not shocked that he's not quite able to nail an American character in his first attempt.  For that matter this isn't a unique thing on his part, I've noticed European writers have problems writing North American cities and characters as anything but Europeans with slightly different accents and I'm pretty sure there are North American writers who have utterly failed to get European characters (if you’re a European fan feel free to name names in the comments!).  Now I'm not saying that any nation or people is a hive mind and all Europeans, Japanese, or North Americans will act or think or even believe the same things but there are cultural habits, beliefs and actions that make us different from one another. I've been lucky enough to speak to French men, English folks, Indonesian students, and people from Vietnam and East Timour; and we all approach things from a place that's informed by what we're taught growing up, our experiences, and places in life.  An American Geek who models himself on a Ninja Turtle (sorry, frog) isn't going to act like a Japanese shut in. I suppose that while we should always remember the things that bring us together and that we have in common, we also need to keep in mind our differences as well.

Through this story we're given a peek at the rest of the world and we're shown that Akiba's government is a rare thing, perhaps the only example of it's kind in the whole world.  A government where guilds cooperate with each other and the People of the Earth. I'm not entirely sold on that either but I'm willing to go along with it to see what Mr. Touno does with that.  Although I would admit in such a real life situation I would be a touch disappointed in my fellow Americans. I mean really guys, not one of you would not try to follow the example of James Madison and write a Constitution?  Not one of you would try to be George Washington, or at least Thomas Paine? Okay, I'm being silly here, this is a Japanese story and I shouldn't be surprised that Japan and the Japanese take center stage. The book also gives us information on the different character classes, it appears each server got a pair of it's own unique classes and I like that touch.  It's something I could see a computer game company doing to help drum up local interest. Log Horizon Volume IX is interesting in it's change of scene, Mr. Touno clearly has been to Central Asia and admits as much with his vivid description of the environment and the sky. He also introduces new plot elements and clues in the ongoing mystery of how the hell did this happened.  That said, Leonardo kinda brings the story down and having to suffer through the same character arc only from square one is a bit grating. The other characters help to an extent but I find myself asking why couldn't Kanami have center stage instead of Leonardo, as she at least has her shit together and it's her goals and agenda driving the plot in the first place, not to mention it's her name in the title.  Log Horizon Volume IX: Go East Kanami by Mamare Touno gets a C+ from me. Not awfully done but Mr. Touno should be more careful in retreading the same character arc over and over.

Man, now I want to review some Ninja Turtles.  You know what let me post our schedule.

Next Week, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the IDW Collection I.
After that, Delcourt Comics, Elves I
We'll kick off June with Maus Vol I and then Vol II.
Then we go historical with Trail of Hop and Black Wings.

Keep Reading!

This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Dwarves Vol VI: Jorun of the Forge by Nichols Jarry

Dwarves Vol 6: Jorun of the Forge
by Nichols Jarry, Art by Pierre Denis Goux

“He's a legend and I'm nothing” Jorun, son of Redwin. 

In the dim past of March 2017, I reviewed a French fantasy comic with the rather undescriptive title of “Dwarves”, written by the prolific Nichols Jarry; who has a large number of comics and novels to his name in his native France published by Delcourt comics. They are still the 3rd largest publisher of comics within the French publishing world. It was then that I learned something marvelous and very frustrating. Despite our long political alliance and the fact that France is our 3rd largest trading partner in Europe, there doesn't seem to be a lot of exchange between us in regards to entertainment and fiction. There is some don't get me wrong, we all joke about French Art Films (I'm sure they joke about American Action Films) and such. But perhaps through an accident of history, we honestly get more comics, movies, and video games from Asia; especially from South Korea and Japan, or at least not a lot of French products end up here. I'm sure if this review series has any French fans, they would be quick to inform me that there is quiet enough American entertainment in France but back to the comic. The comic I reviewed was Volume I: Redwin of the Forge (go read it!), which dealt with the struggles of Redwin, a young Dwarf who had to learn how to control himself and just what it was he wanted in the world. I found the comic fascinating and bought the follow up volumes that, while set in the same world, did not really connect with Redwin's tale. Until now.

Jorun, our main character for this story, is Redwin's youngest son. Redwin has retired and given up on a life of violence and death, preferring to focus on being a blacksmith, husband, and father. For the most part he manages it but every child brings special challenges. In this case it's Jorun, a son who in his own eyes has inherited none of his father's talents in blacksmithing and fighting, but he has inherited his father's nearly bottomless rage and self loathing. It doesn't help that Jorun's older brother Ulrog (named for his grandparents) is a exceptionally talented smith and fighter; as well as charming, friendly and well... everything Jorun isn't,and that only feeds that rage further. This is sparked by a accident in Redwin's forge where Jorun scars himself as a young child and sets the tone for his entire life. People tell him what he should do to avoid getting hurt and angry with the world and he ignores them. He then gets hurt and lashes out. This pattern continues throughout his childhood with his Father trying to reign him in and only pouring fuel on the fire. This leaves both of them completely at the end of their rope with each other. Part of it is Redwin seeing himself in Jorun, his younger, self destructive, angry self that left a trail of death and ruin in his wake. Part of it is Jorun so damn sure that he’s inherited nothing of value from his father and refusing to consider any other options. This continues until after one last escalation, Redwin decides that there's only one step he can take to avoid a future where he and his son try to kill each other. He takes his youngest son and inducts him into the Iron Legion.

The Iron Legion is a mercenary army that takes in the reckless, the desperate, those with no hope and no future. It's a place where those accused of crimes or rejected by their families or even those who simply can find no other way to live can start over. All the Legion asks is utter obedience to their code, relentless training, and that you abandon your past and consider the Legion your new family. If this sounds like the Foreign Legion for Dwarves, you wouldn't be far wrong I think. Redwin sends his youngest son to them, leaving Jorun a magic sword as his birthright. Jorun for his part cuts himself off from his family entirely, burning the letters his Mother sends to him and burying himself in the Legion life. It's here that Jorun finds the mentor he needs, who strangely enough was an apprentice of Jorun's grandfather Ulrog. I mentioned in my last review that Ulrog's life was an utter mystery and here we are only given slight hints and clues. What did Ulrog have to do with the Iron Legion? Why did he leave? What drove him to adopt a strict pacifism that he would only drop to save his son's life? Under new mentorship, Jorun manages to contain his rage enough to have friends and even a lover but he's still just holding it back and he still cannot restrain his self loathing. However, he's going to have to learn to come to peace with not just himself but with his family and his past. Because his Father's past is coming and if they can't figure out how to deal with it, there might not be anyone around for Jorun to be angry with anymore. Because ye olde forces of darkness are marching on Dwarf lands once more and the divided Fortress states are dithering and quibbling instead of uniting. Jorun is going to have to decide what is most important to him and make decisions that will dictate the rest of his life from there on out.

This is a story about family, what brings it together and what drives it apart. Whether it be a Mother's love for her son, or a Father frustration with being unable to communicate with his son or a son's inability to look past his self loathing and anger with the world. Like Redwin, Jorun has to learn to deal with his flaws and find his place in the world. The writing is well done, Jorun is not a very likeable character bluntly but he is sympathetic in a way, as you realize as much as you might dislike him, Jorun dislikes himself even more. That said he doesn't whine about it, this book wasn't dripping in angst but it does dictate his actions. The art as always is amazing. The Dwarves look distinctive from humans even without the height difference and it's done without venturing into the uncanny valley. The action is captured in a very dramatic style and the colors are used in very nice way. That said, I do have to state for the record that the Iron Legion armor design is bloody ridiculous. Stop layering spikes everywhere guys, it's actually more dangerous for the guy wearing the armor then anyone else and makes standing in a shield wall or any other close formation an act of bloody insanity. You cannot stand in close file if the spikes layered all over the guy next to you are as likely to stab you as the enemy. Still that only real complaint I have here. So I'll be giving Dwarves Vol 6: Jorun of the Forge an A.

Next Week? We head eastward, join us for Log Horizon volume 9. Keep reading.

This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen

Read my review of Volume I here: