Saturday, November 13, 2010


By Chris Wilson

Military history publisher, Osprey Publishing, offers a series of comic adaptations of famous battles. THE EMPIRE FALLS revisits the World War II battle at Midway, which occurred after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  From the website:

“One of the most important naval battles in history, Midway marked a crucial turning point in the war in the Pacific, as the US dealt a huge blow to the Imperial Japanese Navy. This is a thrilling tale of espionage, luck, daring, and extreme heroism, shown by men such as Lt. Commanders Maxwell Leslie and Wade McClusky, leaders of the first successful attacks on the Japanese fleet, which ultimately led to the destruction of an Empire.”

The Japanese empire does, indeed, fall in meticulous fashion. Writer Steve White covers the mostly six-panel pages with scrupulous narration. The story unfolds to the timeline often delineating the details by the minute. 

The book begins with a prose introduction. The comic story reads like a novel relying on one  form of story telling –– narration –– sprinkled with an average of one dialogue bubble per page. This poses an interesting question: Who is the intended audience?

For history aficionados the story is straight and uncluttered with no bothersome storytelling to the point the art adds nothing to the story that is not well covered in the text. From a historian’s perspective, this may be advantageous as it strips away any bias to allow for the history of the event to shine through.

From a comic perspective, the story is a bit flat. The art seems an after thought and seems to get in the way of the story. Rather than a comic script, this reads as a prose novel broken apart with pictures of planes shoved between the paragraphs.

Naturally, nonfiction comics are going to include more narration than fiction. The genre typically demands such treatment. However, while I think these comics are interesting, I do believe they would have been better by using the uniqueness comics offer to tell a more engaging story.

For instance, on page 8, the third panel uses narration to describe the Japanese pilots situation: “Ryujo’s aircraft are luckier. They spot the harbor through a gap in the clouds, but they are seen by American radar.”

The same scene could be told without narration at all. Rather than another scene of a plane from the outside, the scene could include a pilot on the inside, looking out over the Aleutian Islands.

PILOT THOUGHT BUBBLE: “Finally, a break in the clouds. Now you are mine.”
PILOT’S DIALOGUE BUBBLE: “We see the target. Americans see us as well.

There can be no charge made against Osprey for dumbing down the story. The historical accuracy is remarkable. I just think most of the details could have been more comic-like. That is to say the story could have been conveyed using other literary forms other than narration, giving the story and art depth, and appealing to a wider audience.

In all, I liked the information presented, but not the storytelling.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 8 and older
There is nothing inappropriate in the title. It can be used with elementary, middle and high school students as a historical text that covers the battle in detail.

There is nothing inappropriate in the title.

THE EMPIRE FALLS is a fact-filled timeline of the Battle of Midway, down to the minute. Tactical information, a glossary, an introduction and an afterward provide an accurate picture of the battle that changed the war. It is perfectly at home in a history class as well as in the hands of the unquenchable history student.

Author: Steve White
Illustrator: Richard Elson
Cover Art: Gary Erskine
Genre: History and War

Format: Paperback
Pages: 48
Color: Full color
ISBN-10: 1-84603-058-7
ISBN-13: 978-1-84603-058-1

Google preview is available. More battles and wars are covered in the Osprey Graphic History series.


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