cover image The Stringbags

The Stringbags

Garth Ennis and P.J. Holden. Dead Reckoning, $29.95 (192p) ISBN 978-1-68247-503-4

Ennis again achieves what his best WWII comics, such as Johnny Red: The Hurricane and Night Witches, have done: illuminate a little-known corner of that sprawling conflict and highlight the humanity of those involved in pulse-pounding battles. Ennis showcases Britain’s obsolete and widely mocked Fairey Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers (called Stringbags for their ability to carry just about anything), whose durability and slow speed proved advantageous in three real-life battles. Inventing a fictional three-man crew with something to prove as his through line, Ennis takes the chummy and smart-assed trio of Archie, Ollie, and Pops from Britain’s surprise assault on the Italian fleet at Taranto in 1940 (whose stunning success inspired the Japanese plan for Pearl Harbor) to the desperate mission to sink Hitler’s seemingly unkillable warship Bismarck, and a last-minute assault with little fighter cover on the German Navy’s Channel Dash op. Each battle featuring this “small, peculiar force with a reputation for doing the impossible” is drawn in dynamic and detailed page layouts by Holden (the Judge Dredd series) that pair wide explosion-pocked action panels with tight inserts of pop-eyed characters. While realistic about the costs of war, Ennis still imbues his heroes with a hard-to-resist jaunty humor (“spot of aviation, then?”). A real corker of a war comic, this expertly balances research, amusement, and stirring emotion. [em](May.) [/em]