Dreaming Eagles #1
Creator & Writer Garth Ennis
Artist Simon Coleby
Colorist John Kalisz
Aftershock comics has quickly become the new Valiant, publishing a small group of high-quality titles by big-name creators. Ultimate Comics has introduced me to Marguerite Bennett’s erotic horror, Insexts, and the Conner-Palmiotti superhero Quixote Super Zero. This week, Garth Ennis publishes Dreaming Eagles, a war story that’s not what you think.
Garth Ennis has a long-standing association with war comics, including a limited series about Nick Fury in Vietnam and a Secret Wars miniseries about fighter pilot The Phantom Eagle. So even though I don’t tend to enjoy historical fiction around World War II, I trusted that he would entertain me with this tale of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first unit of African-American pilots in the US military. I figured it would be heroic and sweeping, with lots of cool sound effects.
But instead, Ennis sets his tale in 1966. Atkinson is a veteran Tuskegee Airman running a quiet little bar somewhere above the Mason-Dixon line and trying hard not to think about his nightmares of sending other human beings to their deaths. His son comes home wounded from a Martin Luther King march, angry that his father isn’t taking an obvious role in the civil rights movement, and they begin a long talk about what happened twenty-four years prior and how that has shaped the way Mr. Atkinson sees race in America. Ennis is able to drop historical data, such as the defeat of Nazi athletes by African-Americans Joe Louis and Jesse Owens, without making a sound, and he’s able to transition into the American racism that kept good men out of military service without losing the importance of his message. It is rare to find anyone who can compare anything to Nazi Germany without looking hysterical, and Ennis does it perfectly.
For a story with minimal action beyond one four-page nightmare of a plane getting shot down, this comic was gripping. Mr. Atkinson’s view is a surprise in a world where Facebook has made conversations about race more prominent, if not necessarily easier, and I have faith that Garth Ennis can make this man sympathetic even if I don’t agree with his decision to just let segregation keep going and trust races to mind their own businesses. The younger Atkinson is angry but maintains a nobility, respecting his father enough to talk instead of falling into that tired cliche of yelling in a kitchen and storming out. Mrs. Atkinson also plays this incredible go-between role. She won’t undermine her husband’s disciplining of their son, but when they have some privacy, she tells him, “He’s learned things we didn’t, and he has different ideas than us… He doesn’t hate you. He doesn’t disrespect you. It’s just that he’s going to leave home one of these days, and all he’ll have to live his life with is what he’s figured out for himself. Wouldn’t it be good if his father didn’t seem like such a mystery to him?” I want to know everything about her, a character who knows what she’s seeing and is able to force a change by appealing to the humanity of her men rather than yelling at them to make nice.
I thought I didn’t want to read a war story. I hadn’t realized that the war story Ennis wants to tell is the one for racial equality that we still fight today. Aftershock has nailed it again, delivering a near-perfect comic book with nary a cape to be found. Come on by Ultimate Comics in Raleigh or Chapel Hill and get started on this new adventure.
MATT CONNER for Ultimate comics