The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors (2021)

Last stand

According to the "About the Creators" section, the 2004 prose non-fiction book, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, is based on declassified documents and interviews with participants, which raises the question of whether or not Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors comic adaptation writer Doug Murray ever read the book. Or were all the participants original author James D. Hornfischer interviewed so insipid and bland as Murray writes them?

Insipid is almost too complimentary a phrase for Murray's writing because insipid suggests some ambition. You have to try to be insipid. But inept suggests too much basic competence and incompetent… well, it also implies there's a possibility of competence, and there's nothing remotely competent about Murray's script or Steven Sanders's art. I guess some of the military machinery is appropriately detailed, but not all of it. Like, Sanders does not give a crap about detail on the ships, and the comic's all about the ships.

It tells the tale of World War II sea battle where Admiral "Bull" Halsey (played by Jimmy Cagney in the movies, not John Wayne) lets his megalomania and stupidity get in the way of being a good commander and a bunch of people suffer for it. Tin Can Sailors doesn't give a hoot about the casualties of the battle—I'm trying not to just curse the book out because it's not worth the energy—because Murray's primary interests are the low-key racism, boring toxic masculinity, and the occasional vague misogyny. It, of course, can't be racist because the Japanese were sub-human after all… oh, wait, hole in the logic at literal first glance. If Tin Can Soldiers were any more competent, it might be a concerning bit of Christian nationalist, white supremacy, but Murray's a laughable writer. Most Beetle Bailey strips are better written than this comic.

And then there's Sanders. What's worse, his inability to draw people or him using pictures of the ocean instead of drawing the ocean? I kept hoping there'd be at least one good idea for a panel, and maybe there's a first-person POV one with some ambition, but Sanders is so bad at the drawing part of it trying for composition one panel out of 200 pages isn't anywhere near enough.

Murray's also got the problem he can't make the battle interesting because he's got to show the Japanese as incompetent, unworthy enemies to the white men. Also, he's terrible at plotting out the battle. And showing how it affects recurring cast members. And writing those recurring cast members to be distinct characters instead of disposable jingoistic, narcissistic numbskulls. At best. If they really are supposed to be so indifferent to the death and destruction around them—does Murray believe in PTSD, or is it just for wusses—they're even worse. Because it's hard rooting for them.

Murray doesn't, you know, show the Japanese side of things. Sanders would then have to do more than two drawings of their admiral instead of reusing the same one over and over. So it's basically the Japanese did a sneaky maneuver, the Americans caught them, then kicked their asses all day long because they suck, and the USA is great; also, lots of people died, the fleet admiral was incompetent, and whatever. Man up or something.

Murray and Sanders's Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors is clearly terrible from the first or second page, and there's no reason to keep going with it except self-flagellation. The writing starts bad and stays bad, with Murray missing very obvious opportunities to make the read more engaging or informative. Because it ought to be informative, right? Like, it's a history comic, it ought to convey some historical data into the reader's mind to process. Nope. It's the worst written thing I've read in ages. Murray's copying-and-pasting it in and without the enthusiasm of a disgruntled office temp.

And Sanders.

I mean.

You could read Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors as your first work of "graphic non-fiction" or whatever they're calling non-fiction comic books these days, and you still wouldn't have read one. Because it doesn't qualify as a comic book.

The whole project is an unmitigated disaster, which then manages to get even worse when it turns out Sanders isn't going to draw any water. So it's not even embarrassing for the creators. I mean, I'm sort of embarrassed I finished it, but I've got the "I'm writing a blog post" excuse. But the creators shouldn't be embarrassed. Their work is too obviously bad to expect anything better from them.

The comic also skips what seems to be the most interesting historical aspect—this battle is when the Japanese air force started doing kamikaze attacks? It's an aside from Murray. Because he does a terrible job. Because the comic's terrible.

Almost unimaginably terrible. Especially in 2021, especially when the medium has gotten so much more competent across the board. It's a dreadful experience.

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