Wheels of Terror: The Graphic Novel by Sven Hassel and Jordy Diago

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Wheels of Terror: The Graphic Novel by Sven Hassel and Jordy Diago

Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A most vividly designed war book, with what seems like a faithful adaptation of a galling read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 128 Date: October 2015
Publisher: W&N
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780297609766

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War books and anti-war books, in my mind, have a lot in common and only a couple of easy things need be changed to turn one to the other. This is dressed as an anti-war book, but here is the lead character surviving against all odds – the platoon whittled down several times while he and his few friends go strong; here he is overcoming all kinds of difficulty and adversity and still coming out the other end; here he is doing proper heroic deeds – or his colleagues saving the day at the last minute – and the war carries onwards towards its inevitable end. The difference perhaps is in the minutiae of what those difficulties and deeds need be, with the anti-war book having a simple honesty about them and their overall worth that the gung-ho, militaristic piece would patently lack. And when you face the guts and gore of the kind of warfare on these pages, you don't really expect jingoism and 'hoo-rah!' attitudes. No, even if the DNA is pretty much the same, the result here is definitely, grimly and firmly anti-war.

How grim? We start with our platoon – a Penal Panzer regiment, made up of criminals, the politically unstable, the intellectual – hurtled by alien physical forces through a firestormed city, suffering nightmarish sights everywhere, avoiding renewed phosphor and incendiary attacks from the RAF on every page. When the dead are buried and torched, their reprieve is to send political prisoners to the firing range – and carry out the deed. But their main fate is to be in tank warfare on the Soviet Front, and I don't think you need me to say it's not going to be a breeze. Their numbers will drop, they will freeze or burn, they will face untold friendly fire episodes – and perhaps the only thing worse than facing other massive, armoured tanks, is when they have to encounter Soviets one-to-one, face to face…

I haven't read any of the original novels from Sven Hassel, but I know they were certainly around when I was a lad and with artistic new editions they seem to be on the shelves to this day. The UK was one of his larger markets, apparently – even if he was a Dane serving on the Axis side during the War. This edition doesn't say who translated, edited or adapted the text, but it starts artfully enough – poetic descriptions of the firestorm show you're not just reading a Commando war comic for boys. Similarly, each chapter is introduced with a few well-chosen words foreshadowing what is to come, and a full-page panel, with a pleasant landscape more often than not ruined by one of those temporary grave markers – pale, thin sticks with a hat on top. The text maintains a certain mood throughout, although at times I didn't completely twig what was going on. Close re-reading still made me think that panels had been edited out in error, or someone hadn't got the drift enough to pass it on to me.

I could have words, too, with the letterer – too often the narrator's square boxes clash with the square boxes of attributed speech bubbles, which as graphic novel fans will know are more easily distinguished when circular, and again too often the right-hand bubble, by dint of being a millimetre above that on the left, is to be read first. My words for the artist, however, are only generally ones of praise. This is a luscious book to pore over, courtesy of Jordy Diago's work. There's hardly any colour on the characters, bar from one soldier's shocking red hair, and his bright Mad Hatter's titfer that is so against regulations but is so predominant. On the whole characters don't get differentiated enough, but that's a piece with the anti-war theme – these people, disposable by dint of their conflict with echt Nazi ideas, are definitely given little to distinguish themselves in the war machine. The players in this theatre, the message has it, don't deserve their spotlight, and so are generally a uniform grey shading, even while all around them are purple dawns across the Soviet steppe, or vivid tank shell and flame-thrower activity.

There is just colour enough in the script – the story has to convey the inexorable while being varied enough, and this is what we get. It's a fine contrast between barrack room banter and the nightmarish on-the-spot decisions of a few grunts. So while on the whole things could be given just a tiny twinge of bias and this would be a colourful pro-war book, the reality is that any kind of close reading proves the opposite is the case. Close reading, much swooning over the artwork, and quite a lot of plaudits, are what this volume deserves.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For an absurdly different look at World War Two in comics, that again questions the nature of heroism, we recommend The Royals: Masters of War by Rob Williams and Simon Coleby.

Buy Wheels of Terror: The Graphic Novel by Sven Hassel and Jordy Diago at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Wheels of Terror: The Graphic Novel by Sven Hassel and Jordy Diago at Amazon.co.uk.

Buy Wheels of Terror: The Graphic Novel by Sven Hassel and Jordy Diago at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Wheels of Terror: The Graphic Novel by Sven Hassel and Jordy Diago at Amazon.com.


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