Iron: Or the War After original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: S.M. Vidaurri
Editor: Rebecca Taylor
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Archaia imprint
Price: $19.99 US
I’ve found that over the many years I’ve been reviewing comics, one of the benefits has been the opportunity to sample storytelling that might not have otherwise come to my attention. As of late, whenever I experience something surprising, unconventional and decidedly different from the usual fare offered in mainstream comics, the source is often a graphic novel published by Boom! Studios. Iron: Or the War After is another such instance. Taking a page from such cartoonists as Art (Maus) Spiegelman, creator S.M. Vidaurri uses anthropomorphic animal characters to bring a poignant and touching story of socio-political and cultural relevance to life. This graphic novel is challenging; Vidaurri doesn’t provide all of the pieces of the puzzle at first, making the ultimate images that appear by the end of the book something of a mystery at first. But it’s an engaging journey, as the melancholy mood that permeates the book envelops the reader.
In the wake of a war in which an oppressive regime has taken over the countryside, there are those who still resist, who plot a path back to freedom. Chief among them is Hardin, a rabbit with a plan to strike a devastating blow to the government’s transportation infrastructure. But there are forces within the military who are onto him, and it threatens the Resistance’s plans. Suspicions within the echelons of power, the precocious innocence of children, and fears and flaws that paralyze good people all converge to bring tragedy and even justice to a sullen society.
The promotional copy for this book indicates this is Vidaurri’s debut graphic, and that’s a surprising and impressive factoid. The storytelling is incredibly mature, meticulously thought-out and moody. There’s a classic, storybook look to many of his animal character designs, notably Hardin, but there’s also a clear Mike (Hellboy) Mignola influence at play as well, granting the characters a palpable gravitas. His backgrounds are sparse, but it reinforces a sense of isolation and desolation. The wintry setting reflects a thematically chilling atmosphere as well. Also noteworthy in the art is the color palette Vidaurri employs. It’s incredibly limited, with blues and greys used to reinforce the mood and barren backdrops. My one quibble with the art stems from the writer/artist’s choice to portray a handful of the military/government players as large cats; I kept losing track of who was who in those scenes.
Vidaurri’s main goal here seems to be an exploration of contrasts and contradictions. He establishes heroes and villains in the story, yes, but he also examines how some of the supposed “good guys” are deeply flawed and selfish, while also showing us there’s honor to be found among those working in the administration of the regime. There’s a timeless quality to the storytelling here. The stark settings and plot elements bring a historical quality to bear. The disjointed and odd nature of some of the characters allowed this fable to remind me of the unusual nature of the films of Wes Anderson (though those movies are far more playful in tone than this artistic endeavor).
I think what I found most interesting about the story was how characters projected Hardin’s valiant qualities onto his son, James Jr. Even the child feels he has to live up to his father’s example, but the opposite happens. The boy’s effort to inject himself into his father’s work with the resistance hinders rather than helps, and his behaviour in the aftermath is more reflective of the cruelty of the adult antagonists. I love how Vidaurri uses the physical resemblance between father and son to blindside the audience with the role reversals later on. 8/10