Pullbox Reviews: White Lily #1 – Welcome to the war… hope you survive the experience.

Welcome to the War!
From creator Preston Poulter comes this series of comics showcasing the real life story of the two highest scoring female combat pilots in history. The series will examine their battles both in the air and on the ground as they move from civilian flight instructors during the Battle of Moscow, to fighter pilots during the Battle of Stalingrad, to free hunting aces at the Battle of Kursk.

Lilya Litvyak and Katya Budanova, two historical figures that made a huge impact in their time & through the years to come, are front and center in this World War II historical fiction piece from Common Sense Press originally, now Red 5 Comics. The story opens up with the two very different women living in 1940’s Communist Russia. Lilya is an embittered Polish Jewish immigrant, friends against all odds with Katya the wide-eyed optimistic patriot. Through lifetimes of crazy random happenstance & driven by their own personal motivations, the two are working as flight instructors when the two are recruited for flight combat training. From there it’s a whole new set of complications as Lilya and Katya set themselves apart in the face of chauvinism and friction from ranking officers threatened by competence in their subordinates.

I got this comic from writer Preston Poulter while walking the floor of Wizard World Chicago (the LAST Wizard World as the promotion is joining forces & moving on with the Fan Expo label). I was minding my own business when out of nowhere this guy tackles me, shoving a comic into my backpack & telling me that he’s from the future and if I don’t read his book a black hole will swallow all reality…

All of that is a lie. I’m sorry. Honestly, I was following Pullbox Poobah Eric around, stopped paying attention to where I was going, and walked into the back of him as he’d stopped to check out Poulter’s booth. While I was trying to stem the ensuing nosebleed, being super careful not to get bodily fluids on Poulter’s wares (he was watching me pretty close the whole time), I became interested. Having heard none of Poulter’s pitch to Eric, I asked the poor guy to repeat it all for me. He ran through his spiel, and handed me a book on the house. There’s a chance that he was just tired of me at this point and was hoping that I’d move on.

Well I did move on, and I read Preston Poulter’s White Lily #1, and I liked it enough to track down the rest of the series.

At first, the premise might sound a little familiar. There’ve been a number of historical comics highlighting the Soviet Union’s female military divisions during WWII, but the ones I’ve read have been more broadly focused. One issue in, White Lilly looks to be taking a character driven approach, putting the spotlight on two very different and unique people in Lilyana and Katya. In that regard, the story is working very well although in the first issue there really wasn’t much time to build up a good head of steam. When I hit the end, I was left kind of hanging and thinking that this could very well be a series that’s going to read better in larger stretches rather than single issues. All of that aside, I liked the work Poulter’s done to establish his characters and I’m looking forward to reading on.

Where White Lily shines is in the artwork. The pencils by Lovalle Davis set up some really great panel arrangements as he moves from day in the life activities like rolling out of bed and stepping out for coffee, straight into air raids, bombings, & fighter plane dogfights. Davis has a great touch in setting his work apart from the pack. I thought it was very cool during a training dogfight, when Davis zooms in on the individual pilots as he details the cockpits and fades the rest of the plane into the cloud-filled background. The ploy works to give the impression of plane becoming an extension of its pilot.

The added touches from Walden Wong & Diana Greenhaight (inks) and Alonson Espinoza (colors) bring out the best in Davis’s work and give depth to the world, although Espinoza might have toned the color palette down a bit in some areas. His 1940’s Soviet Russia was as bright and cheery as the Austriran countryside in The Sound of Music.

If I have one quibble about the book’s design, it’s in how the air combat was laid out on the page for the physical book. Instead of double-page spreads, which is how it looks like the pages were designed, the reader has to turn the book sideways. While I’m not against a bit of active participation, taking a spread that’s laid out as beautifully as Davis has and then limiting it to a single page anyway was self-defeating to say the least.

My bottom line here is that after reading the first issue, I’m gonna say that White Lily is off to a solid start with a lot of promise to live up to. The visual appeal alone is enough to drive a title like this, but that’s only a piece of the puzzle. The characters are interesting, the dialogue is sharp, and the historical spotlight on these high flying warriors might get readers interested enough to dip into the events they’re built around.

Final Score: 10/13

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