It’s easy to see someone as a monster and not a person. In fact, life is often simpler when we see those who disagree with us as being totally inhuman. Of course, there’s a price for seeing others as monsters, and it’s this price that writer Joe Hill, artist Gabriel Rodriguez, colorist Jay Fotos and letterer Shawn Lee are interested in. In IDW’s Locke and Key… In Pale Battalions Go… #2, this creative team revisits World War I and asks us to see something new.
Hill drops us in the middle of World War I in the first page of this issue, but we land in unfamiliar territory. We’re not following American or British soldiers, but German soldiers. The enemy. But what kind of enemy does Hill make us face? The most frightening of all. One with a human heart beating in their chest. These German soldiers don’t sneer at dead bodies, or get giddy at the idea of killing their opponents, they stand up to their leaders over the use of chemical weaponry. So when John Locke comes swooping in and German soldiers crumble in his wake, there isn’t a sense of victory. There’s a feeling of loss over human life, no matter the side they stood on. Hill humanizes the enemy to lead us into a final issue where we may not fully know who we’re rooting for.
Rodriguez brilliantly shows in this issue how the brutality of war feels both personal and impersonal at the same time. Focusing in, at the opening of the issue, on discolored corpses choking on their own vomit, the brutality feels close and real. But when German soldiers are being brought down in large numbers, Rodriguez pulls us back. The scene no longer feels close or personal, but like it affects everyone. War doesn’t discriminate, it’ll take whoever it can get. Yet, in the final moments of the battle, we see an up close attack and the panicked look on a dying man’s face. This tension Rodriguez creates is both terrifying and depressing, just as war should be.
Much of this issue seems monochromatic, even dull. Fotos uses many of the same colors, creating a kind of bland look on the battlefield. But the moments that stick out, stick out for a reason. The green canisters, and later green clouds, of chlorine gas stick with the reader, as do the bright red spurts of blood. It’s all the most difficult moments to swallow. The moments Fotos knows we want to ignore. But Fotos makes them impossible to ignore. Lastly, as soldiers enter a house, Fotos shows the juxtaposition of the earthy tones of the battlefield and the brighter tones of a welcoming home.
One of the most noticeable things about IDW’s Locke and Key… In Pale Battalions Go… #2 is its lettering. Lee shows the confidence of these characters with the large balloons, full to the brim with dialogue. Their words aren’t parsed out or broken up, they’re like speeches with brief intervals. At one point, as two German brothers talk, Lee does with the balloons what the younger brother does with his dialogue. He’s saying his older brother isn’t like everyone else, says he’s still back in the classroom talking about ethics while the rest of them are all here fighting in the mud. But when he describes his brother, it’s in one balloon, and when he describes everyone else, it’s in another word balloon attached to its side. Through this, Lee creates a sense of alienation for the brother. He isn’t just divided from everyone else in how he acts, but even in how he is spoken about.
IDW’s Locke and Key… In Pale Battalions Go… #2 makes war feel universal. It focuses in on “the enemy,” and makes us like them. In so doing, it complicates the simple “right” and “wrong” of the battle and of this series’ plot. We’re left wondering who we’re rooting for. An American who revels in taking the lives of Germans, or Germans who are agonizing over the indecencies of war? IDW’s Locke and Key… In Pale Battalions Go… #2 is a brilliant new issue in a strong series, and it’s out October 7th at a comic shop near you!