Publisher: Osprey Publishing
Author: J. Chambers, E. Hendrix
Illustrator: E. Polls, IHQ Studios, G. Papadakis, K. Tsiakos, J. Baroady
Colourists: G. Torres, IHQ Studios, M Salinas
Letters: A. Hendrix
Release Date: 23rd January 2020
For any wargamers out there, particularly historical ones, Osprey Publishing will be a well-known name. Their invaluable resource books on everything from the biblical age through to modern warfare are well renowned for both their ease of access and the handy guides with plates from such greats as Angus McBride. On top of this, Osprey have, in the last few years, grown their gaming arm to release over twenty table-top wargames rule books (in the same recognisable Osprey format as well as hardcover), boardgames, and most recently roleplaying games. As if that wasn’t enough, they’re now airdropping a new line of OGNs (that’s original graphic novel if you aren’t familiar with comics) focussing on WWII.
So, after getting my hands on the physical copy, what are my first impressions? Weighing in at over 300 pages, this is a fair size book for your buck. At 17×26 cm, this is a format I’m happy to get behind. The binding is the high quality you’d expect from an established publisher like Osprey, and it sits well for either lazy afternoon armchair reading or, if like me, you enjoy a wee read before bed. For those more digitally minded, there’s also the electronic versions that you would be accustomed to. Having seen an electronic copy as well as the physical book, there’s no loss of visual quality or ease of reading so it’ll be down to individual preference what option to go for.
Opening with a short but solid bit of prose to give historical context, there’s an important editorial note. We’re given a clear insight into what this book is trying to be as well as what it is trying to avoid. Namely, that as ambitious a project as this is, the focus will be on only a handful of key events or points throughout D-Day itself – and also that some artistic license has to be employed to deliver conservations where no records exist. Obviously, one would expect a fair amount of dramatization and leeway in the portrayal of historical characters to provide an engaging read. I really appreciate though that efforts have been made to try and keep this as historically accurate as possible though, with the truth often being far stranger and exciting than any crafted fiction. With that said, it’s important to remember that this is effectively a historical account delivered in the medium of coloured panels. It’s not a spandex superhero comic, nor is it over the top Commando action, although some details still surprise me. I was very pleased with how the overall tone weaved throughout the book managed to deliver so much detail of what happened that fateful day whilst maintaining respect to both the survivors and those lost.
Although I consider myself a bit of an amateur dabbler in military history, my usual reading is normally reserved for periods much further back in time. With some local Bolt Action events happening this year (a WWII based wargame published by Osprey in conjunction with Warlord Games), I’ve been on a bit of a period kick. Whether watching old movies like A Bridge Too Far, as well as reading the book on which it was based, or more general non-fiction, efforts have been made to brush up. It doesn’t help that the 30s and 40s didn’t feature much in my school history education. Why is any of this important? I think it’s wise to bear in mind my specific knowledge and how that may influence the review overall. A disclaimer up front that anything within will be taken as read (or seen) with the caveats given earlier, of course.
The story proper opens with a series of panels showing the various beach landing sites for D-Day. These look like coloured overlays of actual photographs and are almost poignant in their stillness. Portraying the beaches at midnight on the 6th June 1944 it’s a quiet but stark introduction with us readers knowing full well what was to come.
Opening as it does, D-Day Storming Fortress Europe then dives right in. We don’t have to concern ourselves with the logistical planning and mammoth undertakings that led to this pivotal moment in the war. Instead, as the Under Fire range intends to do, the focus is squarely on the action of this Longest Day, and the personal stories of individual heroism and sacrifice that were made in their thousands. We leap from ironically peaceful beaches to join the Ox and Bucks as they make their approach to Benouville Bridge.
Being honest, I felt the panel shifts were a little choppy at first and flitted quickly from scene to scene. However, where that would normally be quite jarring and throw you from immersing yourself in the story, I actually became accustomed very quickly. It has the benefit of adding a bit of pace and helps to propel you along. Indeed, it’s easy to become caught up before the sucker punch that hit me with the cut away naming Brotheridge as the first Allied casualty of D-Day. I found this a simple but really powerful way of grounding the book and firmly establishing the respectful tone throughout. Whilst not graphic, I was not expecting the personal horror and tragedy to be so moving; a testament to the talents of the team.
From the securing of the bridge we travel instantly to Strongpoint 5 Utah Beach and another strong point of this book. Many potted histories and tales of battle that I’ve read have been decidedly one-sided. Here, efforts have been made to give a rounded view of the events as they took place. The grim reality that regardless of what ‘side’ you were on, notable exceptions aside, the majority of belligerents were just ordinary men in situations far from family through little choice of their own. Admittedly this will barely scratch the surface of the details of what occurred, but it was a more engaging read overall to dip in to such a variety of locations and individuals.
One can’t discuss a comic or graphic novel without taking a good look at the art and lettering. Drawing on a such a large team of artists, finishers, and colourists, the fact the book maintains such a cohesive look throughout can’t have been an easy task. There’s notable differences and stylistic touches in the facial expressions or background details but rather than feel like a collection of tales or ensemble, it holds together very well. Careful and consistent palette choices maintain a respectful tone which also allows for those shows of heroism and explosive, dare I say exciting, moments.
If you are going to have a war comic, you’re going to have to portray battle and action. I mentioned above that whist this is not what I’d consider ‘graphic’ those of a sensitive disposition might want to consider whether it’s for them. Overall, it’s more how the ‘feel’ of the gun fights, engagements, and tank battles happened that’s on show than the nitty gritty detail. For those wargamers this will no doubt inspire scenarios to be fought across the table. For me it’s win-win as a book that’s chock full of great imagery and great reading, as well as a handy reference resource which I’ll return to regularly.
All good things must come to their inevitable end. I don’t consider this a spoiler, but the opening panel is wonderfully bookended with panels of the same beaches later that same day. Perhaps a touch strange to discuss an ending of such a work in a review but given we’re discussing actual events, I’m sure this won’t come as a surprise. With books such as these there is a danger that they close unsatisfactorily. For some there will be arguments about which moment would be best to end or how such and such was left out. For me, the human element and narrative plays strongly here and I can’t imagine a more fitting end to what has been created by the whole team.
If you have even a passing interest in the period then I’d happily recommend you take a look. For some aficionados, this might feel a little too light on specific details. In trying to cover so much, in spite of a generous page count, there is an inevitable jump from place to place or individual as the team attempt to do justice to the story unfolding. There’s an argument that perhaps focussing on specific elements would have made for a more ‘substantial’ work but if the line does well, I’m sure there’s scope to return to this Longest Day. Overall big thumbs up from me and I’m eagerly awaiting the next helping of Under Fire with The Battle for Guadalcanal.
Under Fire 1: D-Day is available now from Osprey Publishing (CLICK HERE: https://ospreypublishing.com/d-day)
The writer of this piece was: Adam Brown
Adam Tweets from @brother_rooster