Some writers stay in one genre for the whole career. They find what they’re good, where they excel, and stick to their strengths. Others flit between them. No one else switches genres quite as well as Margaret Atwood, who’s found great success writing dystopian scifi with The Handmaid’s Tale, historical fiction with Alias Grace, fantasy with the Maddadam trilogy, domestic realism with Cat’s Eye, as well as finding success as an essayist and short fiction writer. With War Bears, Atwood has entered into the realm of comics for the second time.
There are parts of the comic writing genre that Atwood nails. War Bears is a sendup to the black-and-white World War II propaganda comics that Atwood read growing up. The story within the story—Oursonette—nails that aesthetic. It’s partially the art of Ken Steacy, but completely in Atwood’s writing. The German’s that Oursonette and her bear sidekicks Ursula Major and Ursula Minor fight Nazis who yell in caricatured German accents. “Zat’s vun less shipload of relief for those verdammt Soviet schweinhunz.” The first Oursonette within War Bears #2 also ends with a plea from the fictional editors: “Be sure to reserve your copy of the next exciting issue of Oursonette from a newsagent near you, and join the good fight by buying victory bonds, too!” These true-to-life details make Oursonette feel like it was written during World War II, not today.
Steacy’s art captures that same feeling. Like I said in my review of issue #1, he’s a real talent, transitioning between the style of the comic within the comic to a more realistic style to tell Alain Zarakowski’s story. His strip, Oursonette, has become the companies, “best-selling title” since the last issue.
Unforunately, Atwood’s writing can’t keep pace with Steacy’s art in the real world scenes. They’re melodramatic without seeming to have a purpose. Characters are constantly exclaiming, throwing things, and threatening to fight one another. There’s no doubt that the atmosphere would be tense during a war, but it all happens feels forced rather than realistic. She’s tackling discrimination against minorities with the way other character’s mock Alaine’s “Francophone” background and the grief of losing a loved one in the war. Melodrama doesn’t work when dealing with important, real world issues.
Worse though, the real world stuff with all of its melodrama and exposition in dialogue about the sociopolitical climate that led to rise of these black-and-white comics, it isn’t particularly interesting. Give me the Oursonette and leave the frame story.
War Bears #2 is now available via Dark Horse Comics.
WICKED RATING – 6/10