A review a day: <i>The Killers</i>

Onward, with World War Two action! Who doesn't love killin' Nazis?

Every once in a while, I buy comics from Arcana. I can't say I'm all that interested in much of their output, but I like the fact that they try a lot of different things. The next two reviews are Arcana books, and while I don't love either of them, I like the both of the ideas behind them. The first is The Killers, which is written by Frank Tra, drawn by Eric Z., colored by Megan Spence, and lettered by Josh Williamson.

It costs 1,495 pennies. Chump change! It's an older book, but hey, it might be new to you!

This book begins in the heart of Germany on the day after V-E Day. Some German troops are still fighting, and we begin in the middle of a battle. Then Commander Kurt Schneller shows up, shoots his fellow officer, and tells the soldiers to go home. He, however, doesn't take his own advice, and he gathers a small group of men and they begin killing Allied soldiers. So Sergeant Thomas Kane is tasked with tracking him down. He gathers his own force, and the search is on!

There's a lot of interesting stuff in the book. It's unusual to see a work of fiction where the Nazis are so much better at warfare than the Allies - Schneller's men are always a step ahead of the men chasing them, and Kane gets madder and madder as his troops are whittled down. They discover that he's heading for Berlin and assume he'll stop to pick up his lover, so they get to her first and set a trap. Unfortunately for them, Schneller knows they've set a trap, and things continue to go poorly for our heroes. Another interesting idea in the book is that Tra manages to humanize Schneller just a bit - he's mostly an enigma and a complete bastard, but there's an odd nobility about him, as we see when, in a flashback, he refuses to salute Hitler and almost gets a bullet in the head from the Führer.

Whenever a writer wants to make a Nazi noble he makes him a reluctant Nazi, but Tra does a bit more with Schneller - he loathes Hitler but seems to be fine with Nazism in principle, and he absolutely hates what has happened to his homeland, not from the way Hitler ruined it, but the way the Allies are carving it up. Unfortunately, this is mostly speculation, because that's where the book really does fall apart.

As we read through this book, we don't really get a sense of what Schneller is trying to do. Is he simply a psychopath, killing people because he's been trained to do that and doesn't know how to stop? He seems to want to reach Erika, his lover, and the very end seems to confirm that. But if that's true, why kill his way across Germany and bring attention to himself when, had he just walked away and reached Berlin more quietly, he could have avoided the attention of the Allies? It's one thing to be ambiguous about your characters, as Tra is deliberately writing this, and leaving out so much they become complete cyphers. We can only wonder about Schneller's motivation, because Tra never gets too far into his head. It's less important to get into Kane's head, because his purpose is clear. But as we move through the book, we never get a sense that Schneller is anything more than a killing automaton, and it actually makes him less interesting as we get closer to the end, which is an odd way to build a character.

Still, Tra does a nice job with the action sequences - the book takes off when the two sides fight, and although this falls into the "so many characters it's tough to figure out when they die" scenario, Tra does enough to give each character a bit of personality, so we do get some sense of when they bite it. One of the characters falls into the trap of talking to an adversary when he should be, you know, killing him, but that's the way it is sometimes.

Eric Z.'s art isn't great, but it's serviceable. He's kind of a poor man's Jon Proctor, using photo referencing but integrating it fairly well into the general scene. It's a shame when an artist does this kind of work, because action scenes usually suffer - the figures often look stiff and posed - and that's a problem in this book, too, although it's not awful. The final set piece in Berlin and its immediate aftermath is done quite well despite the limitations of the art, and the final scene is a brutal and evocative piece of violence, beautifully colored by Spence.

Both the art and the writing in this book are similar - tantalizing but not quite enough. As far as World War II comics go, it's pretty interesting mainly because of Kurt Schneller, despite the mystery surrounding him, is a fascinating character. It's an exciting and well-paced book, and it's definitely not a waste of time. I just keep thinking that it could have been a lot more interesting, and that Tra missed some great opportunities. So sad!

Tomorrow: Time travel? Oh, this can't be good.

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