Pullbox Reviews: Broken Gargoyles #1- Action, a gas mask, & a trip to the circus…

In this Dieselpunk post-WWI mini-series, two men come home from the war scarred and forgotten. One man is looking for redemption as the other looks for revenge. Both are on a collision course toward each other and nothing can stop them.

Throughout history there has been a universal truth. Hollywood can glorify it. History books can justify it, but regardless of the cause over which it’s fought, war leaves its mark and the scars go much farther than bone deep. That applies to the people and locations wars have been fought over, the ideologies that have sparked them, and very much so the people who have fought them.

Back in 1925, things are very much the same. Soldiers fought in The Great War, because that’s what soldiers do. When they came home, they were expected to slide right back into civilian life, thankful for the opportunities their great country and its citizens have provided them. Men like Commander Douglas Prescott find themselves fighting their demons from the safety of a bottle while families find themselves being treated like strangers and pushed away. Others are left so disenfranchised, disabled, disfigured, that they find themselves left with nothing but empty promises of a return to normalcy & prosperity… promises yet to be delivered. Enter the “forgotten men of the 117th Infantry Regiment”, a sort of veteran’s support group with their own ideas of what that means, and woe be unto anyone with the poor judgement to get in their way.

“Woe be unto…”? Who talks like that?

Look, don’t worry if the opening of my review makes it sound like Broken Gargoyles is all doom & gloom. There are some serious themes being addressed, but the tone doesn’t lean too far into heavy-handed. On that point, I have to give credit to writer Bob Salley. He’s tackled a subject that could have easily spiraled out of control, wrapped it up in a slick dieselpunk package, and delivered the goods by providing plenty of humorous beats to relieve some of that pressure. Salley seems to have some understanding of the soldier’s mindset, and whether that be through research or personal experience, he handles this story well. In the context of this new series, themes of PTSD and abandonment are addressed as the story naturally progresses, with readers given enough information to take them to the next page and no more. We know that there’s a deep history between many of the characters, and we know that the men of the 117th have a mission for which they feel wholly justified, but how it all intersects has yet to be revealed.

On the subject of characters, I’m very impressed with how deeply layered many of these people are. The story opens with Prescott drinking himself into something resembling “peace”. From there we’re introduced to Ben, an incarcerated black man working on a chain gang (not one of the military veterans of the story, he’s still easily one of the more interesting people I’ve met so far and I’m looking forward to finding out more about him as he weaves his way farther into the narrative). Not content to pay attention to a close circle of main characters, Salley invests the effort to ensure that all of his players come across as noteworthy and interesting, regardless of their actual time on the page. Supporting characters seem to have been given as much thought in their development as the three (presumably) mains. The other thing that Salley does right with the cast of Broken Gargoyles is in the all-important sense of camaraderie among the members of the 117th. It’s a subtle thing that may not take up a lot of time on the page, but it’s just enough to make the point. Even after a second read through, the issue struck me as being very balanced with all of the story elements working well together and not allowing any one of them to take over.

It’s important for a comic book to be well-written, but it’s still a comic and for that you need art. Happily, the folks at Source Point Press had the good sense and fortune to put artist Stan Yak and colorists Marco Pagnotta & Robert Nugent on the job. Not just a post-war narrative, Broken Gargoyles is also a very cool looking action comic. Yak creates some slick looking cityscapes, depicting a New York that’s all shiny & neat looking from a distance. Look a little closer and the city’s harsh edges are revealed in the artwork, in keeping with her real life counterpart as well as the dieselpunk ideal. Pagnatta & Nugent stay consistent with that aesthetic, making sure that wherever they may be in the story, the color palette reflects the tone.

I would be sleeping on this one if I didn’t give mention to the outstanding lettering laid down by Justin Birch. While the majority of his work is handled without flourish, there’s one notable exception. The speech bubbles for the guy in the gas mask (his name is Doug, I kid you not) are fashioned to look like gears. Now, there’s a lot going on with this guy , most of which has yet to be revealed outside of a few lines of dialogue referring to his military service. This little bit of flair, however, only deepens the interest I already had & highlights how creative lettering can help add layers to the narrative.

I had high expectations coming into this book. The title alone generated interest for me. Then I saw the cover art by Raymond Gay, Jeremy Clark, Juan Fernandez, and Rich Bloom. Knowing nothing else about this book coming in, no clue as to the setting or plot, I knew that I wanted a look at Broken Gargoyles based on that cover alone and wasn’t at all disappointed. With some great character dialogue, a dash of world building, and a whole lot of information yet to be discovered, Source Point Press has delivered a fantastic series opener.

Final Score: 13/13

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