To most Americans, World War II began in 1941 with the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. While this was a tragedy for our nation, most should realize how fortunate that we were as a country to be quite literally a world away from the bulk of the conflict. While husbands, fathers and sons left familiar shores to help our beleaguered allies in Europe, and seek justice for ourselves and our allies in Asia, families and those unfit for fighting were left safe at home.
In Europe, and in continental Asia, World War II started much earlier, however. From the Japanese invasion and occupation of China in July of 1937 and Hitler’s wars of aggression shortly after, most of the world was engaged in war years before we were. Many forget, however, the Soviet Union’s attempt to capitalize on the confusion caused by these conflicts and their attempts to conquer both Poland and Finland. Winter War is the story of the four-month Finnish defense of their homeland against the Soviets, before the League of Nations ruled their aggression illegal and expelled them.
I will say upfront that I am not typically a fan of war comics. The glorification of violence so prevalent in comics hits just a bit too close to home in many examples of the war comic genre, and the stories themselves have always rung hollow to me. War is not glorious, it is not honorable; it is bloody and violent and terrifying. Writer/artist Kurt Belcher has done a tremendous job of portraying that.
Belcher’s characters, a small portion of the relatively small number of defenders Finland had at its disposal, are human. They are inexperienced, more than occasionally frightened, and at first, sickened by their own taking of lives. They grow as warriors, and try to find ways to remain people. They find humor, and even love, where they can as they defend their homeland and revel in the poor equipment, ignorance and inexperience of the Soviet troops, if not in the fighting itself.
Belcher’s pencil art, ably inked and toned by Berryhill in this issue and Henrik Hovarth in the previous ones, is as well suited to this story as any art possibly could be. While it wouldn’t work for many stories, its raw and somewhat stylized depictions feel more real than a cleaner line art style might. These characters, Finn and Russian alike, are not merely images on paper, they are representations of people long gone who deserve to be known.
I read the first issue of Winter War, originally published by Earthbound Comics, quite some time ago and was very disappointed I hadn’t found more issues. Belcher, the storyteller himself, personally informed me of the change in publishers and the switch to a digital format (to be followed by a printed trade paperback). With the fourth and final issue of the series imminent, I urge everyone to visit 215’s “Winter War” page and pick up the first three issues on Wowio or DriveThruComics.