Saturday, October 05, 2013

All Hallows' Read: Breath of Bones

The calm before the storm in Breathe of Bones #1.
Responding to a prompt about revenge in class this past week (an activity for thematic background building during our study of Beowulf/Grendel's mother section of the epic poem), a student inquired as to the spelling of a character's name from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy: "Is Gollum spelled G-O-L-E-M?" This incorrect spelling of the ring-thirsty Sméagol prompted me to ask if anyone in the class knew what a golem (G-O-L-E-M) was.

Though familiar with "Gollum", not a single student had heard of a "golem" before. Simply put (thanks to Wikipedia) "In Jewish folklore, a golem is an animated anthropomorphic being, created entirely from inanimate matter. There are many tales differing on how the Golem was brought to life and afterwards controlled." Like much of the smaller pieces of information I have trapped in my skull, the kernel of my own basic understanding of a golem was planted by my having read both books about monsters and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night as a child and from a healthy dose of comic books. Very recently there was a Dark Horse comics three issue mini-series that portrayed a fairly realistic depiction of that same creature, Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem.

Written by horror star Steve Niles (perhaps most well-known for creating 30 Days of Night to non-fanboys) and beautifully illustrated in blacks, whites and grays by Dave Wachter, when released, Breath of Bones came in under my comic book radar. I have made the mistake before of missing less heralded mini-series, and later being unable to catch up with them in single issues. Fortunately on this occasion, thanks to my local comic shop and a quick read of numerous glowing reviews, I was able to correct my error early on in the three issue run.

With the Nazi's closing in, grandpa and the townspeople get to work in Breath of Bones #2.
One could easily make the inaccurate assumption that Breathe of Bones is a rock'em sock'em historical super hero comic book, especially based on the beautiful covers to each of the three issues. While there is a tremendous amount of action therein, the slow burn toward the creature's reveal and origin suggests a classic monster movie. In a nutshell, from Dark Horse's own website, Breath of Bones is the story of a "giant clay monster from Jewish legend... on a Nazi-killing rampage in order to protect the inhabitants of a small Jewish stronghold and an injured British pilot." It is also a story of loss, both personal and that of innocence, sacrifice, and honor set against the back drop of World War II. Breathe of Bones is also a story about the power of storytelling, tradition, belief and family. Best of all is that there are Nazi's being pounded into submission by a monster...

From Breath of Bones #3.
Breath of Bones is a miniseries that inspires me to continue to promote the value of the genre as a viable and engaging (and teachable) text. Yes, while occasionally some works, most notably Art Spiegelman's Maus, reach a level of acceptability becoming "canon" of sorts, lesser known titles with content such as Breath of Bones would seem to be natural gateways to discussion in a variety of academic disciplines. Until then, I strongly recommend picking up the title either in individual issues (as is my collection mode of choice, or in trade paperback. Unlikely to be read only once (or thrice) and relegated to your longbox or bookshelf, Breath of Bones is a title which bears repeated readings beyond just October.

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