Off the Shelf: White Death

white death(NOTE: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.)

Publication 411: Hardcover edition of the original 1998 title (though the info page is confusing as it lists the copyright as 2014.)

Story:  WWI was supposed to be “the war to end all wars”.  Certainly that level of destruction and death was seen at the Italian Front, where both sides used nature against the other.  Causing avalanches — called “white death” — to decimate troops on the other side, soldiers tried to stay alive though one barrage after another.  When young Pietro Aquasanta returns to his homeland to fight for his country, he finds more than he bargained for.  A look at this piece of WWI from many different angles, with no happy endings in sight.

Thoughts: Based on historical research, White Death blew me away.  Writer Robbie Morrison (Nikolai Dante, 2000AD) focuses on “The White War”; the battle of the Alighieri Plateau.  Teaming up with Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead)  was a shrewd move; Adlard wanted to try a “new style”; charcoal and chalk on grey paper, and it works perfectly here.

The first three pages knocked my socks off.  Plus, Adlard’s use of paper and charcoal gives the artwork a texture and depth that adds to the story.  The silouettes convey more here than many other comics manage in entire runs.  Perhaps that’s due to the subject matter — military history has it’s own emotional baggage we all have a share in — but it’s also Adlard’s ability to know when to shove it in your face, and when to pull back and let you fill in the blanks.  I wanted to stare at the individual lines and shadings, and in doing so I got swept into the thick of the story.  The Nice trick, Adlard.

Morrison balances historical accuracy with riveting storytelling.  Front line horrors and off-the-line daily life in wartime share the stage and paint a picture of the world they lived in.  Hospitals where men are patched up and sent back to the Front, prostitutes who seem to be a soldier’s only comfort, days of inactivity and crazy ways to blow off steam; it’s all here.

Script-to-art pages at the end of this book show the detail that went into both the writing and art in this book. I’m a sucker for that sort of thing, and anyone else who is will definitely eat this up.

Nutshell: right up there with Shigeru Mizuki’s Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, White Death is a must read for anyone who loves military history, history, or just plain-old good storytelling.  I’m cheap selective in what goes onto my shelves, but there’s definitely a space carved out for this book.  From me, that’s about the highest praise I can deliver.

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