Garth Ennis has been writing war comics for a couple decades now. Most of them are very good, with a few ranking right up there with “Preacher” and “Punisher MAX” as some of the best stuff that he’s ever written. Even with that being the case, there are certain tropes that creep into the majority of the writer’ war comics. The focus on the rank-and-file soldiers. General disdain if not outright contempt for the chain-of-command that orders said soldiers around. Characters pontificating very seriously about the state of the war and world around them. Gallows humor. Lots, and lots of gallows humor. The presence of these tropes isn’t inherently bad in Ennis’ comics, it’s just that they lend the proceedings a greater sense of familiarity than you’d expect them to have.
Such is the case with “Sara,” which sees Ennis and artist Steve Epting focusing on an all-female squad of snipers in the time of the Siege of Leningrad in 1942. All of the above has been recalibrated for Soviet standards, which balance the expected and the intriguing. In the case of the former, there’s the title character and her bare. As for the latter, there are little things like Vera, the soldier who loves torturing prisoners just a little too much, or the political officer who comes off like a joke until it’s revealed that she’s very good at listening. Splitting the difference between the two extremes are the examples of how Russia enforces loyalty at the cost of everything -- including logic -- which are central to Sara’s story and no less frightening because of how familiar they are.
While Ennis’ war comics usually have good art, Epting provides great art for “Sara.” After years of toiling in, and sometimes being an ill fit for, the superhero trenches, the artist delivered some career-best work on “Velvet,” and this is a great follow-up to that particular title. Epting delivers a thoroughly detailed world that feels lived-in by its characters, with their weariness, concern, or fear expertly captured on their faces. He also captures the rush of war as combat can break out in a second as a result of an ill-timed bathroom break, or roll over the defending side with an implacable singlemindedness. It’s art that elevates the series as a whole and results in the rare (probably only) Ennis-written war comic where the art outshines the writing.