I was down on War Bears in my first two reviews (which you can read here and here). Those issues moved slowly, almost meandering with no sense of an endgame despite the series only having three installments. The characters felt flat and the story stagnant. The only thing consistently working was Ken Steacy’s stellar art. He drew the hell out of Alain Zurkowski’s early comic creator story, and the fictional comic Al created, werebear heroine Oursonette. The good news is that Steacy’s art reaches the high bar he set for himself in the first two issues.
The better news is that the story really comes together in this last issue. Margaret Atwood, who I was fool to doubt, masterfully threads the storylines together, reinvents them. She reveals character details that recast everything she and Steacy have shown their audience already. War Bears ends with one of the more effective flash forward endings that I’ve ever read.
The issue starts with the end of World War II in a joyful Canadian diner. Mike is reminiscing about, and anticipating the end of meat rations. He quips, “We’re gonna see a lotta meat—an explosion of meat! It’ll be like someone dropped this enormous meat bomb!” For Gloria, it’s a “reward for surviving the war ’n the depression… Vacuum cleaners, toasters, cars—you heard of television? They’ll need to sell it, all of it, and that means ads.” Al sees it differently. He’s dreading the end of their black and white comics. Making them had always been his dream. Gloria crushes it when she asks if he can draw, “washing machines? Boxes of soap flakes? Cute housewives in aprons hanging out the sheets, pitching woo to their laundry? Sexy little kiss mouths?”
Their conversation drifts to the way the alliance with Russia will crumble, and it’s mirrored in their own friendships. Al, Mike, and Gloria got along in times of war. Al’s a “Francophone,” Mike is by all appearances a meathead (pun intended), and Gloria is a wealthy business owner, but making black and white propaganda comics during the War while American color comics were embargoed from Canada united them. They grow apart, and quickly as their lives return to their old normals.
For everyone but Al, the pre-war status quo is an improvement. It’s heartbreaking to see his new life crumble.
He channels those feelings into the last issue of Oursonette, a harsh critique of the use of atomic bombs with Oursonette and other propaganda comic characters touring the destruction of Nagasaki. Gloria’s loosed the editorial reigns, not caring with comic’s cancellation coming sooner rather than later.
If there’s anything to criticize in this stellar conclusion, it’s the character’s preternatural awareness of global events. They aren’t people the days and weeks after the war ends. They act as though they know about the impending Cold War and the long-lasting effects that the radiation will have on the people who were exposed to it. In other words, they talk about World War II with the knowledge we have today.
War Bears #3 is a strong ending for a series that had a rocky start. If you’ve been following along, the payoff is worth the wait. If you haven’t, you can preorder the trade from Amazon now, or better yet, ask your local comic book store to order you a copy.
War Bears #3 is now available from Dark Horse Comics.