Publisher: Aftershock Comics
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Simon Coleby
Release Date: 30th December 2015
The story of the Tuskegee Airmen, as they were known, is one of those heroic tales that you can’t quite believe is true. How these men, who experienced vile bigotry and racism from both sides in WWII, were able to overcome such wicked obstacles and go on to play such a vital role in turning the tide against the Nazi war machine is simply incredible. ‘Dreaming Eagles’ sees writer Garth Ennis recount the true story of the first African American Airmen accepted into the USAAF through the eyes of fictionalised characters created for the comic.
This first issue deals with the relationship between Reggie Atkinson and his son, highlighting their relative struggles at the height of the civil rights movement. By framing the story in this way, Ennis is able to subtly incorporate a detailed background for the story, whilst introducing rounded, authentic characters attempting to address the complexities of the African American experience at that time. Their differing mind-sets are defined in terms of experience; Reggie’s son is angry and eager to dive into conflict – his face contorted into a grimace almost every time we see him – but is unaware of the level of sacrifice required to truly make a difference, something his father knows only too well. This leads him to mistake his father’s desire to keep a low profile for apathy, which prompts Reggie to be more truthful and decide to share the experiences that haunt his dreams.
In terms of writing and art, it looks like the series will avoid the glorification and romaticisation of war, embracing a more realistic tone from the outset. Lead character Reggie carries an obvious heavy burden, and Simon Coleby emphasises this in his world-weary features, using facial close-ups as a prominent storytelling tool throughout. We are also given a glimpse into Reggie’s past, including a pulsating dogfight sequence that really brings the human cost into sharp focus, subverting the idea of air combat as a balletic engagement of expendable machines, a point alluded to by Reggie when attempting to rationalise the act of killing another human being. It’s all done in Coleby’s trademark style, with crisp, finely detailed linework emerging from cavernous black shadows, punctuated by occasional flashes of colour breaking up the largely restrained palette.
Dreaming Eagles is one of those comic books that prompts you to learn, a process which leads to a greater understanding of how our present was shaped, but also of the work itself. It’s the perfect combination of a captivating story, characters to care about, and artistic spectacle; in short, everything you’d want from a comic.