Comic Picks By The Glick

The Stringbags

September 21, 2020

It’s another war story from Garth Ennis, and not even the last one I’ll read this year:  The deluxe edition of “Into the Blue” is currently en route to me.  That this is another war story from Ennis should also tell you what you’re in for:  A respectful tale of combat grunts trying to do the best with what they’re given against overwhelming odds.  This time around the focus isn’t specifically on the men themselves.  It’s on the plane they flew, the Faery Swordfish, a.k.a. “The Stringbag,” nicknamed for how it could carry just about any kind of armament.  Like the string shopping bags that were in use at the time, as Ennis tells us in his informative afterword.


The writer also lets us know that historical accuracy was more of a focus for him this time around, and that the invention of his three protagonists -- Archie, Ollie, and Pops -- was mostly done to keep the narrative from turning into a dry history lesson.  This produces mixed results as the battles covered here -- the attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto, the struggle against the Bismark, and the effort to stop a Nazi fleet during the Channel Dash -- do come off as engaging stories that showcase how the woefully outdated airplan was able to contribute to them and are enhanced by the writer’s attention to detail.  Unfortunately Ennis doesn’t spare the same kind of attention to the three main characters as they’re more personality types than actual characters.  That is to say you won’t see “Uptight and By-the-Books,” “Joking Lad Who is Only Serious When it Counts,” and “Old Veteran Who Has Seen it All” go through any changes, let alone character arcs over the course of this volume.


Ennis “Battlefields” and “World of Tanks” collaborator P.J. Holden illustrates the story and he provides pretty great work for the most part.  He’s got a great eye for keeping the action distinct and easy to follow during all of the aerial combat scenes, and he’s great with the military hardware with his double-page spreads of the Bismark being particularly impressive.  Though Holden is also good with the expressiveness of his characters, they also have a sameness about their looks.  More than once I had to differentiate Archie and Ollie by comparing their chin sizes.  All of this adds up to a volume that’s middle-of-the-road in terms of the writer’s oeuvre of war comics, a decent read that’s best enjoyed by his completists.

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