War is Hell (2019) #1 Review

by Brian Renninger on January 23, 2019

Writers: Howard Chaykin, Phillip K. Johnson
Art: Howard Chaykin, Alberto Alburquerque
Publisher: Marvel

The War Is Hell title has been in circulation since the 1970’s, originally containing reprints of WWII wartime comics and by issue #9 containing original, supernatural tales of the horrors of war. This new entry into the Marvel series is another attempt to bridge on-the-nose metaphor with wartime imagery, delivering us two separate stories of the supernatural designs of the infinite conflicts of mankind. And overall, it still serves as a solid series and format for exploring these themes.

            The first story is titled “Swing Verboten!” and is written and drawn by Howard Chaykin, artistic legend and original artist on the Garth Ennis scripted War Is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle. In the story, a Nazi pilot named Jurgen is shown to be a massive Jazz enthusiast, something severely punishable as a member of Hitler’s army. In an effort to avoid spoilers, I’ll just say that Jurgen’s story is an excellent example of how war destroys the innocence of the individual soldier hell bent on defining himself on his own set of morality separate from that of the campaign, should the morals of the campaign be below the moral mark. Jurgen says at one point how he fights for German, not Nazi Germany, while a member of his squadron highlights the irrelevance of his statement. This is that sweet spot where this title excels: not too on the nose, but just enough to feel melodrama of the old 70’s comics. This story in particular manages to play with themes such as the death of art in war and cultural conflict in a very effective way, making this first story worth the cost of the issue as a whole.

            The second tale, titled “War Devil” is written by Phillip K. Johnson, is drawn by Alberto Alburquerque, and does not managed the line between melodrama and war/horror quite as effectively as Chaykin in the previous story. However, it does manage to deliver some powerful themes of war begetting war and war being a sort of natural defense mechanism over man through infinite conflict. This story deals with the transfer of a war spirit from solider to soldier throughout time as a curse and response to mankind’s mistreatment of nature in times forgotten. The art is a decent fit here, but overall feels a bit too cartoonish for what the writer is attempting to highlight here. Plus, the art feels much more straightforward of a tale than what the writer seems to be wanting to tell. Still, it’s overall a solid story.

            I’m happy to see the series return and even happier to see that the storytellers so far involved are delivering challenging and competent narratives dealing with such heavy and complicated themes. Definitely worth a look through if you’re a fan of the series of old or a fan of war comics in general.


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