Not much has been heard from Max Brooks since he changed the world of zombies forever with his runaway international bestseller, World War Z, but it was going to have to be something pretty impressive to equal or top his debut novel. And now the graphic novel The Harlem Hellfighters is here, and it’s pretty darn awesome.
Brooks first learned about the African American infantry regiment known as the “Harlem Hellfighters” when he was eleven years old and the interest and fascination grew within him the older he got, while it seemed that less and less people knew of such a regiment ever existing. At one point he had plans to do a movie, after receiving support and advice from the well known actor Levar Burton. But things didn’t work out and it wasn’t until sometime later when Brooks collaborated with Avatar Press for the Zombie Survival Guide, his first book, that an opportunity showed itself. And now the finished, published graphic novel exists, skillfully illustrated by Canaan White.
This is the story of the 369th infantry regiment composed of African American infantry in the year 1919. With plenty of research, Brooks tells the moving story of how the infantry first came to be, with rigorous training in preparation for going to war. From the very beginning they were a shunned and mocked infantry, who had to keep to themselves and not get involved in any fights or altercations with other regiments or infantry. Brooks shows this harsh reality through short powerful scenes that reveal while these soldiers were working hard and willingly looking to sacrifice themselves for their country, they met ire and animosity at ever corner.
Brooks eventually moves the story to fighting on the front lines in World War I. They spent more time in combat than any other American unit, never had one of their men captured, and never gave any ground to the enemy. These are the facts that are known about these incredible people. Brooks tells a complete picture, while White paints it, revealing their lives and wants and emotions. The artwork is harsh and stark, matching the subject matter, in clear black and white. The Harlem Hellfighters is a powerful, moving story about a regiment that few know ever existed, and Brooks and White do a tremendous job in bringing this great story to light through the incredible medium of the graphic novel.
Originally written on June 20, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.
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