I was a little curious whether writer Garth Ennis was going to be able to get away withJohann’s Tiger in 2023. The comic came out twenty years ago when Nazis and Nazi sympathizers weren’t (openly) part of the public discourse. Tiger is one of those “German army” stories, though. They’re not Nazis; they don’t like the Nazis; they’re just trying to survive with war and preserve the lives they can. Well, the lives on the same side, but still. They feel bad about the rest, but it’s war, after all.
It’s a tank story. Ennis would go on to more tank stories, but he very quickly gets to the heart of what makes a tank story so singular. It’s a group of guys living inside “burning coal.” Tiger’s cast is also different because they’re trying to escape the war, heading west hoping to find the Americans. They want to surrender and be done with it. Germany has lost, the Russians aren’t so much kicking ass as grinding it, and the commander—Johann—doesn’t want his men to die for Hitler’s war of aggression.
Johann narrates the comic. At times, I wondered what it sounded like in its native German, then realized Ennis wrote it in English. It’d be interesting to hear in German. He’s trapped with his memories of the war and his profound (and profoundly justified) self-loathing. See, Johann wasn’t ever a gung-ho Nazi; he was just utterly indifferent to the suffering they and he caused. Until all of a sudden, he wasn’t, and it’s breaking him, page after page. Getting his men to safety is all he can do to alleviate the damage. It’s not about amends; it’s about saving instead of killing.
At the same time, he’s an experienced tank commander and sees the world through those eyes, which Ennis does a phenomenal job with in the dialogue and narration.
There are several excellent battle scenes, which artists Chris Weston and Gary Erskine visualize superbly. Weston’s layouts remind of more lionizing war comics, but he and Erskine’s details are all the horrors.
It’s an excellent book.