cover image Four-Fisted Tales: Animals in Combat

Four-Fisted Tales: Animals in Combat

Ben Towle. Dead Reckoning, $24.95 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-1-68247-416-7

Possibly the first military history that could be described as adorable, this episodic graphic novel from Towle (Oyster War) recounts the animal cohorts of human warfare. Towle devotes each chapter to either a particular species or one unique creature, which are valued either for their mascot appeal (the Aussie RAAF’s penchant for pygmy flying phalangers) or battlefield utility (messenger pigeons’ centuries-spanning usage owes to “near-supernatural perseverance”). Jack, a Civil War hero dog, was wounded and captured by Confederates multiple times before, in 1863, he became the only canine ever traded for a human prisoner of war. British Royal Navy felines nap through various bombardments, and dolphins are secretly trained as underwater assassins by the U.S. Navy. Some animals enjoy even more tongue-in-cheek presentation, such as Wojtek, the Syrian brown bear adopted by a unit of Polish soldiers in Iraq, who is depicted as a doll in a mock–GI Joe package. Towle’s rigorously detailed art evokes the kind of spot illustrations found in old-school children’s encyclopedias. (Even the pagination is shadowed with paw prints.) An inscription from the Animals in War Memorial (“They had no choice”) points to a tension, which Towle doesn’t quite resolve, between ode and exposé. This undeniably captivating book is nearly too cute for its own good. (Aug.)