Rating:Fantagraphics Books continues its fine, fine run of hardcover, black-and-white reissues of timeless EC comics from the 1950s with Bomb Run, a collection of stories drawn by the prolific and detail-oriented John Severin. Unlike many titles in the series, Bomb Run focuses not on horror or science fiction, but on the war stories that EC was also justifiably famous for. Titles like Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat are the source material for the stories here, and Severin excelled at portraying the grit and violence inherent in such work.
What’s striking about these 34 stories, written by Harvey Kutzman and illustrated with bold, deft confidence by Severin, is their range of tone. Sure, there are the expected heroics of American soldiers fighting in the relatively contemporary war zones of WWII and Korea; there are strong-jawed sergeants, good-natured grunts and daredevil flying aces. But there is also plenty of cowardice, irony, shame and sheer wastefulness—elements that must surely be part of any large-scale conflict, yet are often excised from their comic-book portrayals.
In one story, an out-of-control GI murders his own brother; elsewhere, a Roman centurion’s hubris drives him to ruin in the desert. A crippled French peasant muses on the tragic history of war; a Japanese soldier contemplates the pointlessness of kamikaze sacrifice; a German fighter ace dies as abruptly as the many pilots he himself has murdered. For every story of brave Americans fighting against long odds in defense of the principles, there are stories that subtly undermine the notion that war—any war—is anything other than a horrific waste of life and potential.
The majority of stories here are concerned with WWII and Korea, the most recent conflicts at the time, but the latter half of the book also contains numerous stories set during the American Civil War. Severin’s attention to detail is evident in the almost documentary-like correctness of the uniforms, weaponry and landscapes he portrays, critical details in convincingly bringing these stories to life.
Bomb Run also has a smattering of stories told during other eras—the Roman Empire, the Revolutionary War, the Indian Wars, and several tales from the WWI. This variety prevents visual monotony setting in during the second half of the collection, although this is something of a problem early on, where there is an overabundance of helmeted GIs tromping in lines across the wooded countryside. The stories themselves are varied, but the milieu is similar on the surface. Even then, stories like “A Platoon” and “Night Patrol” address this problem by setting the action at night, lending a gloomy, shadowy palette to the tales.
Fantagraphics has been doing an outstanding job with this series of reissues, and this edition is no different. With crisp inks on heavy stock paper, hard covers and a brief biographical sketch, Bomb Run is a pleasure to hold and leaf through. The stories range from competent to gripping, and the art is always first-rate. As ever, the only quibble is the lack of color reproductions; full-color presentation would make for a genuinely perfect volume. Regardless, though, this is a great collection of tales, and like the rest of the series, is strongly recommended.