SARA Review – For the Motherland (or Your Local Comic Shop)
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Steve Epting
Color Artist: Elizabeth Breitweiser
Letterer: Rob Steen
Publisher: TKO Studios
In the last few weeks, cities, counties, and states have issued stay-at-home orders in an effort to lessen the impact of the Corona virus. These orders have, for the time being, shuttered all non-essential businesses. Much to the dismay of Geeks across the country, comic book stores are not considered essential. Comic shops are small businesses that already operate on razor thin margins, so being forced to close for a month or more could mean that some shops won’t be able to afford to stay in business. Just when things seemed to be at their grimmest, a ray of hope shone through the darkness. TKO Studios announced that they would split the profits made from the sale of their books with local comic shops. Wanting to help my hometown comic shop, I paid TKO’s website a visit. All the available comics intrigued me, and after previewing the artwork of a few titles, I chose to purchase SARA.
Written by Garth Ennis, SARA is a six part war story. The setting, World War II during the siege of Leningrad. The story follows a team of seven female Russian snipers as they support their unit against the invading German forces. Of the snipers, Sara is the best of them. She is responsible for more confirmed kills than any of her comrades, male or female. Before picking up this comic I’d only read two other of Ennis’ works, Preacher and The Boys. All of Ennis’ series have similar themes, but it speaks to his talent as a writer that the content and tone of each story are vastly different from one another. Where both Preacher and The Boys are purposely irreverent and over the top, SARA is more subdued and low key. Even with its more serious tone, SARA is still entertaining and compelling.
SARA is much more than just a war story. There’s the expected plot points of combat and camaraderie between the soldiers, but Ennis also explores themes of anti-establishment. This series is as much a character study as it is a war story. Each chapter switches between flashbacks and the present. This technique helps build tension in the scenes set in the middle of the war. Ennis then uses the flashbacks for the majority of the character development. Interestingly, especially because this is a war story, this series is not as violent as the other Ennis comics I’ve read. One thing I found odd is that all the dialogue spoken by the Russian characters is presented in English while all the German dialogue is presented in German. Luckily, for those who don’t speak German, it’s easy to figure out what the German soldiers are saying based on the context of the scenes they are featured in.
Before teaming up with Ennis on SARA, the majority of artist Steve Epting’s work has been in superhero comics. He’s known for illustrating The Avengers, Captain America, and Batwoman. In SARA, Epting proves that muscled crime fighters are not the only characters he knows how to draw. His artwork in this series is detailed and realistic. Sara and her fellow snipers look like real women and each have their own unique facial features and body types. On the other side of the coin, all the German soldiers basically look like the same guy. This may just be my interpretation, but this artistic choice seemed intentional. Making the German troops seemingly identical hearkens back to the Russian snipers’ philosophy of Nazis are animals not humans.
Color artist Elizabeth Breitweiser does a tremendous job of using color to highlight the fine detail of Epting’s illustrations. Breitweiser uses a limited color palette that fits the story’s setting. By using only select colors, she is able to depict the frozen forest where the snipers’ unit is stationed and convey the visual of the fog of combat. I really loved the bright red color she chose to use for the blood. It really stands out against the white of the snow and the drab colors of the soldiers’ uniforms. One complaint I do have about Breitweiser’s color choices is that everything looks too clean. The white camouflage uniforms are brighter than the snow and unblemished, even though the snipers are living in a dilapidated cabin miles from Leningrad. I would have liked to see the level of realism achieved by Ennis and Epting further accentuated by some grittier looking colors.
If you’re like me, you always want to get the most bang for your buck. After purchasing SARA, I can tell you with confidence that buying a comic from TKO is a wise decision. The actual book is much larger in size than a normal trade paperback. Not only did my order arrive sooner than expected, but TKO even threw in a free button and sticker. Plus, my purchase helped support my local comic book store! The cherry on top of the whole deal though, is that TKO’s comics are well written and look amazing. I was so enthralled by SARA that I read it in a matter of hours. Halfway through the book, I found myself cheering on the sniper team as they fought back against the Nazis. By the end, I found myself moved to tears by my emotional response to the story. Bottom line: you should purchase a series from TKO. Do it for the Motherland, do it for your local comic shop, and do it for yourself.