cover image The True Story of the Unknown Soldier

The True Story of the Unknown Soldier

Tardi, trans. from the French by Jenna Allen. Fantagraphics, $19.99 (64p) ISBN 978-1-68396-513-8

Befuddled and traumatized men float in disconsolate confusion amid baffling, violent events in this collection of two avant-garde comic classics of the 1970s. In “The True Story of the Unknown Soldier,” Tardi (Goddamn This War!) sends a buggy-eyed author of “thriller novels that were simplistic and deplorable, but outrageously popular,” in ill-fitting Chaplin garb, shambling through a string of stock surrealist backdrops: sumptuous palaces with fine gardens and classical statuary appearing at random intervals. His baffled encounters with suspicious men and lascivious half-dressed women lead to a bloodbath that seems nonsensical until the conclusion’s tragic Twilight Zone reveal. The mix of lewdness, blood-splattering violence, and nightmare panics informs the similarly erratic plotting of “The National Razor.” Another bowler-hatted man (this one returning home “after a too long journey through horror and fear” that he does not detail) stumbles past inexplicable events (murder, suspicious figures, naked women) before being sent to the guillotine in front of a jeering crowd. Tardi’s artistry is top-rate throughout, his exquisitely drawn buildings studded with creepy details and dramatic shadowing. Though modern readers may find his eagerness to shock occasionally juvenile, Tardi can still captivate with a pulsating sense of existential dread. [em](Jan.) [/em]