blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

War Story: Condors (2003)

War Story Condors  1After Condors, I’m even more decided on the idea—Garth Ennis wanted to write a play. I’m not sure if he wanted to be a playwright or just write a play, but Condors is a play. The entire comic takes place in a bomb crater with four different soldiers fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Only one of them is Spanish. There’s an IRA man fighting on the side of the fascists. There’s a British socialist. Finally, there’s a German flier.

At some point, Ennis—in a practically wall-breaking bit of exposition—explains many think the Spanish Civil War is just where Hitler’s testing out the Nazi war machine before unleashing it on France or England.

What’s so interesting about reading the War Story series twenty years after they released, after reading twenty years of Ennis war comics, which have consistently improved….

I get to see where Ennis went wrong and adjusted. Because there’s also the sophomore slump here, and on the wrong book to have one. War Story’s got so much against it already: it’s a war comic, which not even 9/11 made popular again, and it’s an anthology (has anyone checked to make sure the supposed one-time popularity of anthology series isn’t actually just historical gaslighting). And it’s Vertigo, so even if you were a super-duper mainstream fan of Preacher, your shop might not carry it.

So not the time for Ennis to be phoning in a script.

And it’s better than the last story. Condors is third in the collection, third released, so Ennis has at least halted the decline. Though coming after J for Jenny—the excellent first story in the collection, which I remain convinced got moved to start out on a solid footing—Condors would’ve been a disappointment.

But coming after Reivers? And having frequent Ennis collaborator Carlos Ezquerra on the art? Condors is all right. I mean, it’s a disappointment, but with some asterisks. It’s too bad it isn’t better; it’s just not a surprise it isn’t. Because Ennis doesn’t have the story here, either, he’s trying to talking heads his way into insightful, leaving it up to the reader to decide. But the reader’s deciding between a Nazi and a psychotic terrorist. The Spanish soldier knows what’s up, so he’s the history lesson. The comic makes a little fun of the socialist’s idealism, but even in 2003, Ennis wasn’t saying he’s wrong.

The four men sit around and tell their stories. No one’s got a weapon; everyone’s tired; let’s hang out until the shelling stops.

Ennis gives them all complicated, traumatic back stories—they all grew up in the shadow of the First World War, which irrevocably broke their respective childhoods—but they’re still caricatures in the present. Maybe it was a spec script? There are a bunch of flashbacks, including recent ones establishing how the men ended up in this particular bomb crater on this particular day, so there’s lots of war action. Ezquerra does an okay job contrasting the “glory” with the reality (the German’s father came home without arms or a face; alive) but the present-day battle stuff’s filler.

I’m glad I’m finally reading these original War Story comics, but I’m also really glad I know Ennis won’t be stuck in this mud forever. Or even much longer.

But I also know why there wasn’t a third Vertigo volume.

Condors is okay. But there’s better (and worse) Ennis and Ezquerra out there to read.

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