Review - War Bears #1 (@DarkHorseComics)

"Hmph! You really shouldn't be reading such trash!"

Comics have a long and storied history, one that ranges from beloved to reviled to ignored to being the basis for just about every movie being made. That being said, the actual industry itself is a tough nut to crack because it requires an immense persistence and some luck. In War Bears #1 from Dark Horse Comics, the main character has a lot of the first and a little of the second. The issue is written by Margaret Atwood and illustrated by Ken Steacy.

Oursonette, a fictional Nazi-fighting superheroine, is created at the peak of World War II by comic book creator Al Zurakowski who dreams of making it big in the early world of comics publishing. A story that follows the early days of comics in Toronto, a brutal war that greatly strains Al personally and professionally, and how the rise of post-war American comics puts an end to his dreams.

The script in War Bears #1 is extremely tight and succinct--a testament to Atwood's ability to craft an engaging story without superfluous details. The entirety of the narrative centers on Al Zurakowski's quest to make it big in comics as Atwood emphasizes his struggles, a lot of which are probably hits very close to home for many comic creators. Zurakowski is likable enough as a lead character and Atwood's funneling the narrative through him serves as a good primer to the non-informed about the struggles faced by creative talent within the comic book industry. That being said, the setting of the book is decades ago when the comic industry was slightly different than it is now (not everything is being made to eventually hit the big screen), but Atwood pays homage to the different era of making comics respectfully. It'll be interesting to see how Atwood focuses the direction of the story as the series progresses; whether or not she devotes more time to the Oursonette character going forward will be fun to see.

Steacey's art style is appropriately dated in its approach that helps establish the book's era. Steacey uses thin and crisp lines to define the characters, emphasizing subtleties such as wrinkles in clothes without being too detailed. Each panel is also laid out quite meticulously with Steacey emphasizing emotion on the face of the characters, framing those emotions well and making them easy to decipher. The empty gutters also do a great job of cranking up the nostalgia, a sense of nostalgia further heightened by the penciled pages showcasing the titular character. Steacey does wonders with the colors, emphasizing light/dark and weather effects well.

War Bears #1 is a pretty straightforward and tightly knit first issue that uses the new character concept to tell a broader story. Al Zurakowski is fighting to make a name for himself as a comics illustrator and very thorny subjects such as character rights come to the forefront in the issue. Atwood's tale is engaging and entertaining, following along with Al's plight as if we're a fly on the wall for much of his learning curve. Steacey's illustrations are a great fit for the subject of the comic itself, relying on an older illustrative style that feels appropriate. War Bears #1 is a really enjoyable look at the harsh reality that is the life of a comic book illustrator.

War Bears #1 is available September 5.