The first issue of Margaret Atwood’s War Bears was an interesting comic book. Set in Canada during World War II, the story deals with Al Zurakowski, a young man who is juggling his difficult home life along with his dream of becoming a famous comic book artist. While Ken Steacy’s art looks great, the writing suffers from generic characters and uninspired writing. Still, the miniseries from Dark Horse Comics has potential as the comic ends with Al’s comic on its way to becoming a hit.
The second issue of War Bears picks up right where the last one ended. Steacy’s art is fantastic, and it’s more than just a matter of the book looking good — it completely succeeds in taking readers back to the 1940s. The pages have an almost pulp comic look to them that is reminiscent of newspaper comics of the time. The characters are drawn with the heavy lines that were common of the era and there are some seriously detailed pages throughout the book.
Much like the previous issue, Steacy uses shadows and lighting to his full advantage. War Bears #2 has more of a noir look. These pages are stunning to look at and add a new visual layer. It’s almost as if the less colorful art is mimicking the darker tone of the story.
Steacy pulls double duty as War Bears includes Al’s comic Oursonette as part of the issue’s narrative. The two stories shown in the issue look like something found from a different era. The paneling, dialogue boxes, and art would lead an unsuspecting reader to believe they were reading a vintage comic.
The placement of Al’s work in War Bears also serve to highlight its greatest weakness. In a vacuum, the comic would be a melodramatic story that tried too hard while also doing nothing new. Al has a near romantic encounter in what is supposed to be a shocking moment, but comes off flat. What would appear to be a defining moment in Al’s life is dealt with in one page and a throwaway line. The issue’s ending lacks any emotional impact. The entire issue is a series of emotional misfires.
Where War Bears is hurt most is in its dialogue. While the characters are all tropes, the first issue did succeed in giving them personality. The use of the colloquialism of the time was in present and noticeable, but it never got past being a minor annoyance. After all, the story is set in during the 1940s, so it would only make sense for everyone to speak the part.
Unfortunately, what can be explained away in the premier issue is heavy handed in the second part. Atwood goes all in with the WWII era vernacular. Instead of adding flavor to War Bears, it actually does the opposite and makes the whole story almost come off as parody. It is almost as if the characters themselves do not take things seriously. This really stands out due to the use of Oursonette multiple times. It would make sense for a superhero fighting Nazis to speak in grandiose terms. It’s silly when who are supposed to be normal people are speaking the exact same way.
War Bears has an interesting premise and the art is magnificent. Unfortunately, heavy handed writing takes away from the seriousness of the book. Still, there is a good book hidden in War Bears — the question is, would anyone be willing to spend time looking for it?
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