When you live and die by an industry that hinges itself on weekly injections of spectacle, it’s easy to loose perspective.
The nuance of creativity, the power in pacing – we are all too quick to forget the truly sublime when character X is going through their most arduous adventure yet (again). But then something like Breath Of Bones will drop into your lap; a rare release that’ll make you fall in love with the medium all over again; to appreciate that great storytelling is the careful marriage between scripting and illustration, not one or the other.
Stories of World War II defiance against the dehumanising evil that spread across Europe often seem too few. But if you look in the right places there’s evidence of our ability, as a race, to stand up to great acts of injustice with a united bravery and optimism that’s seems absent from our daily lives. It’s this notion that Breath Of Bones carefully covers, becoming an astute examination of the nature of good and evil.
Here, the shadow of war is cast over a small European village as all able-bodied men are ripped from their homes and sent to the front lines, leaving women, children and the elders defenceless. The story centres on one young boys’ accelerated decent into adulthood and the responsibilities that come with it.
The first chapter lingers on the serenity of the village; Niles, Santoro and Watcher are absolutely intent on quietly documenting the soul draining from its residents as reports of the war come in across radio broadcasts. And when that penny drops, when a British pilot crash-lands on the village’s doorstep, drawing the attention of the approaching forces, it’s heartbreaking.
That’s Breath Of Bones’ greatest accomplishment: its nuance. The writing duo are happy to let Watcher do the heavy lifting. His soft black and white pencils never fail to capture and document the emotion of a scene – every panel has something to say. It’s impressive, more so when the graphic novels’ namesake is introduced: the Golem, an important figure from Jewish folklore.
You’d be forgiven if you thought the introduction of a behemoth, created by children from clay, to head off the Axis forces would ruin what is otherwise an outstanding period piece – you’d be forgiven, but entirely wrong. The Golem serves as a powerful reminder that faith will always trump the wicked of this world, even in the face of great adversity. To a point, it’s drowning in symbolism, but you’ll never feel weighted by it.
Breath Of Bones might just be the best scripting from the Criminal Macabre writer yet.
This is an accomplishment for all involved. Watcher steals the show across every page and every panel. His artwork does an incredible job highlighting the contrast between good and evil, between the almost-otherworldly situations these people have found themselves in.
But who’s to say the Golem even exists? Perhaps the greatest lesson is that with hope we can accomplish anything – that’s the lasting impression Niles and Santoro’s story will leave. This is a creative team with something to say; and the message is beautiful and haunting, profound and disturbing.
Isn’t it great when a book reminds you that this industry isn’t just a gigantic superhero circle-jerk?