First things first: writer Garth Ennis does, as usual, get some tears from me. Lion & the Eagle #4 isn’t what I’d expected, for better and worse, but the inevitable Ennis war comic cry arrives; very last minute this time; I’d been expecting the issue to be a constant tearjerker.
Ennis purposefully avoids the consistent dread, fear, and misery to get that final surprise. This issue opens with the British Colonel talking to his Indian major about things and realizing even passive racism is terrible, and he needs to stop perpetuating it. The scene’s a big swing and a big hit. It’s a great start, followed by orders to withdraw; the operation is a failure, and it is over. The troops will have to retreat on foot through the jungle, leaving behind the wounded, something the Colonel promised his doctor pal he’d never do.
Character names aren’t crucial in Lion & the Eagle, though names being important ends up being a plot point in the extended epilogue. Despite opening the series as a character study, Ennis has become comfortable pulling back the narrative distance to a long shot. There are still lots of names floating about. Reports, whether status or casualty, are the majority of the talking heads scenes.
The talking heads scenes are where artist PJ Holden loses the book. He leans into the efficiencies he’s been developing as bandaids throughout the series. Instead of expeditiously getting the comic through an otherwise slow scene here and there, the entire issue is bland talking head panels. Worse, Holden’s rushing through the faces and expressions. At one point, letterer Rob Steen assigns a balloon to the wrong person in a long shot, and his confusion’s wholly justified. Even in long shots, with the characters wearing very different outfits, Holden’s composition’s muddy.
Thank goodness for the script. The issue’s a whirlwind, with the Colonel realizing command means not being able to keep promises, which has all sorts of repercussions for his relationships. There’s a great flashback to him visiting his Indian major’s village, too. Ennis has got some fantastic moments throughout.
And the finale’s good. Ennis brings all the Colonel’s character development (i.e., realizing imperialism is bad, actually) together and loops around to the first issue. Sort of a “and what did we learn today,” but outstanding.
I’d been hoping Lion & the Eaglecould bring Ennis up to the next level. It’s unclear if Holden held it back or if Ennis just hasn’t gotten there yet. Based on how much character development he saved for the final issue, I’m guessing the latter, though the former sure doesn’t help.
Still, the comic’s going to be a superb single-sitting read.