Surprise Attack! Battle of Shiloh, Written by Larry Hama, art by Scott Moore and cover by Ron Wagner
Anyone who knows me knows I am devoted to Osprey, the worlds leading publisher of military historical subjects. I have a bookcase full of them. They employ some of the finest illustrators around so when I heard Osprey was getting into the graphic novel business I could not help but be intrigued. The Osprey Graphic History series promises to tell the exciting histories of famous battles, oddly all either set in the American Civil War or American battles in World War Two (Osprey is a British publisher). Now, this is tough, battles are complicated and confusing events that can lead to decades if not hundreds of years of acrimonious debates between academics and partisans of either side with an axe to grind. Surprise Attack! attempts to tell the story of the two day battle of Shiloh and at the same time depict the individual acts of courage, misfortune and good luck that humanises the combatants. As such, it doesn’t do either particularly well. The narrative jumps from one general to another where it might’ve had a stronger narrative following fewer more pivotal characters. The events of the battle are disconnected from each other and difficult to follow. But I sad to say the weakest part is the art. Battles like Shiloh were huge affairs involving thousands of men marching and fighting in mass formations but in the graphic novels battle scenes you get little sense of that. It reads like a few dozen guys running around in the woods. There is little sense of the smoke shrouded chaos of the 19th centaury battlefield, the fear, horror and drama. Particularly disappointing for an Osprey book the Union and Confederate soldiers are in bland stereotypical uniforms while the rendering of artillery, ships and equipment is crude in the extreme. I suspect the artist was working under a serious deadline, however you might think that Osprey might’ve sent him a few of their books for reference. If you want to see the American Civil War stories done right you’d be advised to go all the way back to the Frontline Combat EC comics of the 1950’s, I particularly recommend the ones rendered by that old Confederate Jack Davis. I see from the Osprey Summer catalogue that no other Osprey graphic histories are scheduled to be published. It’s a pity really, it’s a good concept, particularly for younger readers. But it would take more skilled hands to pull off right.
Colin (I’ve been a war gamer for 35 years, gul-dernnit!) Upton