Island of Terror: Battle of Iwo Jima original graphic novella
Writer: Larry Hama
Artist: Anthony Williams
Cover artist: Gary Erskine
Publisher: Osprey Publishing
Price: $9.95 US/$13.95 CAN
This may strike some readers as shocking, even shameful, but my initial education on the Second World War stemmed from comics, specifically from Roy Thomas’s All-Star Squadron. As a result of my participation in a French immersion program throughout my grade-school years, my social studies courses were all presented in French. That meant a focus on Acadian and Quebecois history. World wars weren’t a big part of the curriculum. With this project and others, Osprey Publishing sets out to combine comics storytelling with history education, specifically when it comes to teaching younger readers about significant armed conflicts, key battles from world-changing wars. This graphic novella about the Battle of Iwo Jima is the fifth in the Osprey Graphic History series.
The island of Iwo Jima in the South Pacific emerged as critical territory in the conflict between American and Japanese forces in the latter part of the Second World War. Both sides faced massive challenges and mounting casualties. Masters of military strategy worked behind the scenes while ordinary men performed extraordinary feats, not necessarily for particular ideals or ideologies, but for their compatriots and friends on the battlefield. The Battle of Iwo Jima was a time of great horror and great valor that has echoes in the world even today.
Anthony Williams’s name will be familiar to comics fans of the 1990s. He illustrated plenty of super-hero titles for DC and Marvel, but I remember him best as the regular artist on a short-lived but entertaining “Weird-verse” title for DC called Scare Tactics. Mind you, Williams’s work here is almost unrecognizable. His own style doesn’t really come through here, but it’s easy to see why. There’s a clear effort to achieve a certain degree of realism, especially when it comes to the depiction of the historical figures involved. Williams renders the entire book in something of a standard comic-book visual style. It’s a little reminiscent of Russ Heath’s work at times, but given how synonymous that artist’s name is with war comics, it should come as little surprise. Actually, it’s a wise choice to have Williams subvert his slightly more exaggerated style in this context. We’re a long way from the subject matter of a band made up of teen monsters and mutants (again, see Scare Tactics); a more restrained approach is called for when a handling this kind of subject matter.
The first few and final few pages actually make this seem more like a textbook, providing additional data for the curious student of history. Those features — including a map of Iwo Jima with notable sites highlighted — along with the matter-of-fact tone of the script really drive home the educational side of the book. Hama’s script wisely doesn’t delve into minute detail. He provides an overall picture of the reasons for and mechanics of the battle, but he also takes the time to drive home a couple of true, personal stories briefly in order to drive home the individual impact. It makes for a nice balance between the historical and human sides of the events.
While Island of Terror is quite informative, it doesn’t really feel like art, like storytelling. Hama presents the reader with pure facts more than anything else. It’s odd that a book about such a well-known military melee lacks a sense of conflict in the script. There’s not a strong flow in the script at all, and it’s clear that certain nuggets of information were deemed important for emphasis even if they didn’t really add much detail to the overall context of the historical events.
Nevertheless, as a pure source of information, this book can’t be beat. Not only would it be great for kids who want to learn, it’s also accessible to adults (and sure to appeal to military history buffs). Hama’s script never talks down. It clearly offers only a superficial overview of the events, but Hama finds time to include the personal consequences of war alongside the cold logic of planning such conflicts. 5/10
Island of Terror: Battle of Iwo Jima is slated for release Oct. 10 in the UK and Oct. 24 in North America. For more information on Osprey Publishing’s Graphic History line, visit graphichistories.com.