War Bears #1
Writers: Margaret Atwood, Ken Steacy
Artist: Ken Steacy
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Review by Michael Farris, Jr.
War Bears #1 takes us back to the Golden Age of Canadian comic books and tells the story of a comic creator who made a successful comic book during the height of World War II. The first issue introduces us to Alain “Al” Zurakowski and his start in the comic-book industry. While he starts out with optimism, not everything is sunshine and roses for Al. His first assignment working with an established illustrator is less than prestigious. His boss teaches him the hard lesson that in her house, nothing is creator-owned. His two brothers have joined the war effort, and he doesn’t hear the end of this fact from his hard-nose father. But when breaks start going his way, he gets a chance at writing a book featuring his heroine War Bear in her Oursonette series.
The origins of this comic book go back to last year during Canada’s sesquicentennial celebration, during which The Globe and Mail commissioned short stories from various fiction writers, one of whom was award-winning Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood (author of The Handmaid’s Tale for anyone keeping score). She wrote a short story about the Oursonette comic series, which you can read here. She then employed the illustration talents of Ken Steacy, a Canadian comic artist and teacher of visual storytelling at Camosun College in Victoria, BC, to create the comic-book version of that story.
As for the story itself, I hope I don’t sound too harsh by saying there’s nothing incredibly groundbreaking here. Our protagonist Al Zurakowski as a character is a pretty-cut-and-dried, wide-eyed kid who seems like he’s dealing with adversity for the first time ever. At one point, his boss remarks something along the lines of, “I think I’ve hired a Boy Scout,” and that’s a good, succinct descriptor of Al. Other characters in the story seem fairly cookie-cutter too: the grim, gruff blue-collar dad, the sports and gal-obsessed veteran co-worker, the rough around the edges, no-nonsense boss, etc.
The narrative leaves you with the feeling of, “Huh…well I guess that’s how things were back then,” impression, but it’s not going to demand that every reader comes back to read future issues. There will certainly be some interest, but probably not as much as there should be.
The artwork does a great job with a variety of different styles. During Al’s story, there’s a good blend of modern-feel comic art that still gives it a classic, Golden-Age vibe. The pages for the Oursonette teaser issue feel like something straight out of a comicbook you find in your grandpa’s attic.
Verdict: Wait and see…
But there are a few exceptions. There is certainly a draw to purchasing this comic with the background information that this is the product of Canada’s 150th birthday, and so hard-core Canadian history fans will find a lot to enjoy out of this. For those of you who might have been expecting something as thought-provoking as The Handmaid’s Tale, well, maybe that’s somewhere down the road.