Friday, January 29, 2016

"The whole thing still had to be fought out to the end." Dreaming Eagles #1 review

Some years ago I watched a film called The Tuskegee Airmen on TV; it was a pretty good movie on the subject of the African-American pilots of World War II. A few years ago, George Lucas released a film called Red Tails on the same subject, only to be critically panned. I recently decided to give Red Tails a chance on Netflix because some of the dialogue around the film called it "old-fashioned" or a "throwback to 1940s air war films." As I liked The Tuskegee Airmen a bit and have a lot of fondness for classic war films, I thought Red Tails might be to my liking. It was not.

If I could boil down Red Tails' problem to one word it would be: "believability." Take the 1940s aerial film Air Force by Howard Hawks. It's pure Hollywood corn (although with some good melodrama) but Hawks was fascinated by the planes and spent an immense amount of time on the details of how things worked. Red Tails didn't look back to classic Hollywood, but rather carried problems similar to its contemporary war films - unconvincing CGI, heroes have unlimited ammunition and (consequently) no sense of stakes or danger. Ultimately, I couldn't finish Red Tails; it's about as much like Air Force as Bay's Transformers are like Pinocchio.

Which brings me to Dreaming Eagles, a new series from Aftershock Comics, a company I haven't previously sampled from before. Selling their series on Comixology with a mere $1.99 for the first issue and a striking cover by Francesco Francavilla was enough to catch my eye. Once I saw the author of the series was Garth Ennis, the bargain was accepted. I don't connect to many of Ennis' comics but I do connect to his war narratives.

Dreaming Eagles has its feet in two time frames: the 1960s as a young African-American man is participating in the civil rights movement and the 1940s as his father serves in the air force. None of this seems like a natural topic for Ennis; he's not American, African or African-American, after all (which makes his use of the n-word a question of "n-word privileges," I suppose - comics fandom was not particularly impressed with the recent series Strange Fruit which tackled African-American issues through the viewpoint of a lily-white creative team). But so far as the first issue goes, Ennis seems to have a story worth reading.

The art by Simon Coleby tells the story in a straight forward fashion, capturing many mundane details. There's energy to be found in the book's sole action scene, a flashback where the pilot recalls watching a German he'd shot bail out of his plane.

Dreaming Eagles has potential and I'm curious to see what Ennis ultimately has to say. Even if he has nothing to say about race beyond the most facile observations I'm at least hoping for some solid thoughts on the hell of war, which he has delivered on in the past.

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