This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 24, 2017.
This week writer Greg Rucka and artist Leandro Fernandez launch their new Image Comics series The Old Guard. It’s the story of seemingly immortal soldiers who walk the Earth searching for new conflicts and accumulating new skills. It’s both a fascinating character study and high-impact story of combat, as only these two creators could deliver it. One point of interest The Old Guard raises is how uniquely comics can tell war stories. The ability to cross-reference time periods, technology, and techniques allows for the depiction of battles that would be difficult to impossible in any other medium.
Image Comics is filled with examples of how well comics can tell war stories. They range from the retelling of historical conflicts to imagined futures in which wars are fought with ideas we can hardly fathom. All of these horrific battles are realized with an artistry that seems counter-intuitive, capable of invoking scenes only describable as “terrible in beauty”. We’ve collected six of the absolute best comics related to the war genre from Image Comics. Once you’re done checking out The Old Guard #1, be sure to give these a read, if you haven’t already.
Age of Bronze
Created by Eric Shanower
The incomplete Age of Bronze is a comic worth seeking out, even if it never reaches its planned conclusion. This comic by the inimitable cartoonist Eric Shanower is an ambitious retelling of The Trojan War. Shanower weaves Greek mythology, The Iliad, and historical elements of Greek warfare together in order to deliver a version of the most famous war in history that is entirely his own.
Each page of the story is rich in detail with a vast cast of characters and entire armies that stand out clearly as individuals. The amount of attention paid to each element of the story is stunning and reveals the complexity within a two-dimensional ink drawing. It’s not just the detail that makes Age of Bronze worth reading though. It is a comic that is shocking both in its sense of humor and violence. Shanower humanizes this ancient war and makes it seem vital millenia later.
East of West
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Dragotta
Colored by Frank Martin
This science fiction tales meets alternate history of the United States uses a very real war between seven different factions in the country to craft a metaphor about modern strife. While it might actually serve as a commentary on regionalism and irreconcilable differences, East of West is also just an insanely good war story. The complexity and scope of its conflicts have led to an endless array of new inventions and stunning battles.
The creators of East of West have carefully designed each of the different nations within the series to have their own technology, politics, and strategies. That has made the conflicts behind the scenes just as enthralling as the bloodiest days of war. Every issue features some new change and it’s difficult to keep up, much like a war reporter scrambling on the ground. All of this may be based in metaphor, but it’s still a great war comic.
Written by Corrina Bechko and Gabriel Hardman
Art by Gabriel Hardman
Colored by Jordan Boyd
Invisible Republic looks at the beginning and end of a long conflict, tracing the roots of rebellion to the fallout of a crumbling autocracy. Partners Bechko and Hardman have carefully crafted the history to allow the two narratives to support one another in one of the smartest war comics coming out today. The story is packed with soldiers and violence, but its focus is always aimed directly at the motives behind everything.
The sci-fi setting of Invisible Republic does not detract from its analysis of violent change. In fact, it allows it to move away from direct comparisons to modern war zones and make comments that can be connected without being too close for comfort. Despite that distance, it’s still difficult to avoid thinking of current conflicts while reading, making this a great pick for the politically minded.
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Michael Lark
Colored by Santi Arcas
Whereas Invisible Republic and East of West use science fiction to create distance, Lazarus attempts to predict a very possible future for warfare in our world. The fallout of this comic may still be a long way off, but it’s easy to connect threads of genetic engineering, corporate control, and advances in technology to current trends. This is a comic about war as it may very well be in some of our lifetimes.
Underpinning these dark, drastic predictions is a story about those commanding and fighting the wars. The most recent stories have all focused on a conflict between two major houses in Lazarus, and it’s the people on both sides that make it function. Even with all of the grand ideas on display, Lazarus never loses track of its humanity and that is what makes it a great war comic.
Pretty Deadly (vol. 2)
Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by Emma Rios
The second volume of Pretty Deadly, also titled “The Bear”, leaps from its previous setting as a Western into The Great War, also known as World War I. The characters and mythology of the series are consistent, but the new setting is equal parts gorgeous and appalling. Even for those without knowledge of the story so far, the second volume of Pretty Deadly has a lot to offer.
Emma Rios is one of the best artists working in the medium today and she captures the horrors of trench warfare with a stunning sense of grace. Poisonous gases, mud, bullets, and blood drift across these pages savaging bodies. There’s no turning away from the endless misery of this terrible conflict, and Rios offers new lessons to be found in the pain and suffering of so many from just one century ago. It’s a remarkable comic book, to say the least.
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples
There’s no way that Saga was not going to land on this list. It’s a comic that has always featured war at the center of its premise. The romance and struggles of every character within the series is defined by the ongoing war between Wreath and Landfall. Whether Saga is actually exploring that ongoing campaign or using it to provide new motives for individuals, everything traces itself back to that war.
In this way Saga is attempting to say something about the nature of war, and how people are both greater than these “great” conflicts, but how we can also all be consumed by them. It is a study of what conflict really means on a personal and international level, and the many, many unintended consequences of each violent action. When it comes to war stories in comics, there are few that reach the same heights as Saga.