I’m taking a break from talking about manga on this Monday since it’s July 4th and I’ve had this in my “to review” pile for well over a month now. Brian Wood’s first creator-owned series for Dark Horse had its problems, but still managed to run for thirty issues. “Rebels” is his ground-level look at the people who fought in the Revolutionary War and it lasted for all of ten issues. I would’ve liked to have seen it last longer because it’s main story, about the exploits of taciturn rebel Seth Abbott, is pretty entertaining. After a brief look at his childhood growing up with a hardassed father, we see Seth jumping into the thick of the revolutionary spirit fighting against land-stealing Redcoats, sinking a British granite transport, and overseeing the hauling of cannon several hundred miles overland during the winter. It’s good high adventure, but Wood also infuses every step of Seth’s journey with the politics and upbringing that inform his present-day decisions. Which don’t always turn out to be the right ones, as his wife will attest to. Seth emerges as a character worth following through the war, and Andrea Mutti’s detailed, gritty pencils represent the period and the character’s journey well.
It would’ve been nice if the ten issues in this collection had been given over entirely to Seth’s journey. There’s some awkwardness as the story jumps forward seven years between the first and last issues to show us the beginning of his adjustment to the post-war era. I was involved enough in Seth’s journey that I wish Wood had focused entirely on it in in these ten issues. Instead, we also get other stories of uneven quality about other people contributing to the revolution in their own ways. The story about Sarah Hull, who fought on the field at the Battle of Bemis Heights, is quite good with its focus on the role of women in the military still feeling relevant today. As for the others, stories of a rebellious poster-printer, Seth’s encounter with a former slave, a Native American who has loyalties to his people and the local militia, and a British citizen who chose to sign up for the regiments rather than go to prison, they really needed more space to reach their full potential. Especially the last one.
Better to have given the space to fleshing out Seth’s story in greater detail is how I felt about them in the end. As it is, “Rebels” is an interesting look into an era that doesn’t often get any significant focus in comics. It’s also one whose potential was not, and will likely not ever be, fully realized.