COMIC REVIEW: Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem #2

breath-of-bones-a-tale-of-the-golem-02Steve Niles might be best known for horror classic 30 Days of Night but what Breath of Bones proves is that he should simply be known as a great storyteller. Issue #1 introduces the reader to a soldier struggling to survive in what appears to be World War II. It quickly cuts back several years to the start of the war when the soldier was a boy in a remote village somewhere in Europe.  His father marches off to war and he’s left in the care of his grandfather. Soon after, a British pilot crashes nearby. The boy is impulsive and rushes off to help. The village soon becomes concerned that German army will come to investigate.

Issue #2 of A Tale of the Golem opens with the boy standing at the edge of his village holding a small clay figure. There is already a sense of foreboding on the first page. The town elders (all the ‘men’ have left; there are only the elderly, women and children left) try to convince the boy’s grandfather that they should evacuate before the German army arrives. But it is too late, and a scout arrives. They hide the pilot, but the plan goes wrong, and before long, the German army are on the outskirts of the village. Instead of running, the village children begin to build a giant clay structure. Soon, the village elders join in and the ‘model’ is completed just in time; the army arrives and tragedy strikes the boy.

Breath of Bones is a simple tale of good versus evil. It is the classic concept of man is the real monster while the actual monster is the (potential) hero. Steve Niles co-wrote the comic with relative unknown Matt Santoro (Niles wrote the script). This is about as old-fashioned a story as you can imagine, but all the more excellent for it. It is very refreshing to read a comic book story that is straight forward and honest, without irony or post-modernism. This is classic story-telling. It has themes and plot twists, heart and passion, messages and meaning. Clearly it is about the horror of war and the nature of humanity, but it also about how a boy grows up and deals with fear, loss and grief. His family is torn apart and the series of events might bring a downfall to the entire village. Any good story places a series of barriers in front of the protagonist and we empathise as they try to overcome them. Breath of Bones does this in spades. It’s also a nice magical fantasy, which gives the reader some distance from the horror of war.

Dave Wachter provides the art. He has previously appeared in IDW comics such as True Blood and Night of 1000 Wolves. The art of this Dark Horse comic series is remarkable; old-fashioned without being corny. The characters are drawn so well, you can see the pain in the grandfather’s eyes and the grief in the boy’s slumped shoulders. The panelling is fairly straight forward as befits the tale. Wachter’s use of shadows and shades of grey are a lesson in restraint and visual story-telling. A panel featuring the arrival of the German tanks is as monstrous as any other horror comic.

There is only 1 more issue of Breath of Bones to come. In some ways, this series reminds me of the classic Universal horror films of the 30s and 40s; classic monsters, simple yet effective tales, even the black and white. The Golem is a Jewish legend which makes the story where the Nazi’s are the enemy as profound as you can get in a comic book fantasy. The legend suggests that the creature can only be formed by a holy person, one who was close to God. Niles and Santoro are deferential to the myth, but we won’t know how this battle of good versus evil pans out until the concluding issue.

Rating: 4.5/5
Reporter: Ian J Simpson

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