Graphic Novel Review: The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Graphic Novel Review: The Harlem Hellfighters by Max BrooksThe Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks
Published by Broadway Books on April 1, 2014
Genres: Historical
Pages: 257
Format: Paperback
Source: Blogging for Books
AmazonThe Book Depository

From bestselling author Max Brooks, the riveting story of the highly decorated, barrier-breaking, historic black regiment—the Harlem Hellfighters

In 1919, the 369th infantry regiment marched home triumphantly from World War I. They had spent more time in combat than any other American unit, never losing a foot of ground to the enemy, or a man to capture, and winning countless decorations. Though they returned as heroes, this African American unit faced tremendous discrimination, even from their own government. The Harlem Hellfighters, as the Germans called them, fought courageously on—and off—the battlefield to make Europe, and America, safe for democracy.

In THE HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS, bestselling author Max Brooks and acclaimed illustrator Caanan White bring this history to life. From the enlistment lines in Harlem to the training camp at Spartanburg, South Carolina, to the trenches in France, they tell the heroic story of the 369th in an action-packed and powerful tale of honor and heart.

Wow. Just wow. After I put this one in my book haul vlog, April (Good Books and Good Wine) said she also signed up for Blogging for Books so she could get it because it looks legit. Friends, it is indeed legit. The Harlem Hellfighters drew me in from the first page. It’s haunting, thought-provoking, educational, and powerful. This graphic novel had managed to fly entirely under my radar, but I’m so glad that I ended up with it, because it’s amazing.

The dialog in The Harlem Hellfighters is relatively spare. Graphic novels tend not to be overly word heavy, but, even so, Brooks is particular in his word choice. The words feel very carefully selected and most of them pack a serious wallop. He mixes in his own writing and fictionalized conversations with actual historical documents. For example, a poem written during World War I or song lyrics from the time. All of it blends perfectly.

Brooks pits the pointlessness of war with the senselessness of racism. The latter’s highlighted by the black and white nature of the illustrations, in which it’s really difficult to tell one person’s race from another. And yet such a big deal is made of it. Lives are lost in the war in shocking numbers, but there was a war back home that was never acknowledged. A war for rights, for equality, for equal treatment.

I never knew that there were black regiments that fought in WWI (or if I knew I forgot). The story of the Harlem Hellfighters, a regiment from New York, is both tragic and inspirational. They enlisted to fight for a country that ill-treated them. Unlike white soldiers, they weren’t given weapons or proper training before being sent overseas. The French treated them like equals and then the US sent orders that the French were not to do so. Even so, the Harlem Hellfighters accomplished so much and became one of the most decorated regiments. In the Acknowledgments, Brooks talks about why he wanted to tell this story and it’s basically so that people know it happened.  It’s an important part of history and it’s so great that he’s getting the word out there.

The one aspect of the graphic novel I didn’t love was the art. Caanan White’s illustrations are very effective for the gruesome and chaotic nature of war. What they’re not so good at is character. There was only one character I could tell from all the others, because of his unusual size and a guy with distinctive facial hair. Since I couldn’t actually tell who was dying or doing whatever, I couldn’t get as emotionally attached as I otherwise might have. All the men became sort of faceless, which was really not the point.

If you’re into history or graphic novels, THIS ONE. I am really impressed with the quality of this one. Even the use of dialect didn’t get me, since the dialog was so sparing.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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One response to “Graphic Novel Review: The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks”

  1. Katie S says:

    I have been really into graphic novels/comics lately and you make this sound great. I also never knew there were black regiments! History isn’t always my thing but I can’t help but love some gruesome imagery.

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