012: Ferals #8 Review

Ferals #8

Review by James M. Clark

Ferals #8 Regular Cover

Ferals #8 begins with some good ole fashioned werewolfing and hard-core sex. We as readers have come to expect nothing less than the best in violence, sex and gore from David Lapham and Gabriel Andrade over these past 8 issues. As Dale Chestnutt is balls deep in his FBI partner and has her bent over the kitchen table, a knock at the door from the local ferals interrupts Dale’s passionate romp much to everybody’s chagrin.

Dale’s female counterpart has become rather accustomed to Dale’s rough and rumble S&M love-making and has to go as far as caking on some extra foundation to hide the scars and bruises; reminders of a time well-had. It seems the top brass at the FBI is holding out on Dale; there’s a decapitator known as the ‘Headless Horseman’ that’s been making his rounds and doing what he does best: decapitating people (I hope you didn’t think he was the best at giving head; he’s the best at taking heads away).


Ferals #8 Gore Cover

Dale makes for the wilderness with his fellow Feral compatriots only to find they are less than interested in welcoming Sven Halvorsen (Dale’s newly adopted moniker to hide his real identity) to their feral community. There’s a bit of a misunderstanding: Dale’s claim of enjoying hunting wolves turns out to be a shared pastime of these local ferals, though they want to hunt him.

Elsewhere, as Pia (Dale’s partner) makes her way into town to get in good with the local females, she too runs into a misunderstanding. As a group of local women kick her ass from here to there, the local women then realize Pia is not the revolving man-door they were looking to put a hurting on. Turns out, one of the women is after a nasty little number that has been cheating with her husband.


Ferals #8 Wraparound Cover

Dale’s adventure in the wilderness by his lonesome is setting us up for something big as he stumbles across a deer with its head severed from its body (remember what I was saying about that headless horseman?). When Dale finally discovers said severed deer head, it’s a bit too late: he’s walked right into another werewolf’s territory! After a scuffle, Dale stumbles upon a missing school bus full of kids, all of their heads missing. Just who is this sick fuck? And will Dale be able to stop him in time before he commits another atrocity?

The last page as always hooks us just like an AMC Breaking Bad cliff-hanger: 20 or 30 feral werewolves descending from a hill, all bound for a Dale Chestnutt buffet! This series is becoming far and away my favourite book to pick up. The David Lapham Wednesday’s are my favourite of the month. I’m hoping to see this series win an Eisner or at the very least be nominated… it’s fantastic. I can’t stop raving about it to friends or harassing David Lapham on twitter about how good his work is. You should pull this entire series if you haven’t already and prepare yourself to see werewolves at their coolest!

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011 : Crossed: Badlands #12 Review

Crossed: Badlands #12

Review by James M. Clark

Crossed: Badlands #12 Regular Cover

Crossed: Badlands #12 opens with a hilarious page of “Yellow-Belly” aka Edmund dreaming of umm… well, some big round butt as he floats into it somewhere in the dreamy cosmos.

We can see the progression of our protagonist from yellow-bellied grade-A pussy to the burgeoning possibilities of Edmund being a hero (this is the same dude that hid in a barrel as his mom, dad and brother were violently raped by Crossed geeks). Edmund puts his foot down in this issue – the crossed geeks will no longer violently fuck and kill their way across his community – when he decides he is going to do what he should have done from the hop; warn everyone that the geeks are coming!


Crossed: Badlands #12 Torture Cover

Lapham’s hilarious characterization of a whipping boy turned hero can’t help but win the hearts of his readers as we cheer for him to kick some Crossed ass.

Lo and behold! Nobody believes the starry-eyed teen as he runs around a small town telling everyone that the geeks who raped and pillaged a local carnival are coming to spread their madness and pandemonium to the neighbouring communities. But wait! Our hero discovers a biker bar and as he so aptly puts it: “Biker’s kick ass”.

The biker’s aren’t nearly as stupid as the local townies and ask Edmund to take them to the carnival so they can witness firsthand where the infection began. This leads to another brilliant Jacen Burrows 2-page spread of the Crossed rampantly dismembering circus animals as the bikers and Edmund stumble upon ground zero.

As the bikers and Edmund prepare themselves for a no-holds bar, knock-down, drag-out brimming to the tits with violence war everybody takes a night to relax: Biker-style. Edmund partakes in the festivities enjoying beers, cigarettes that don’t smell like cigarettes and the warm embrace of a biker babe whose “Butt was really nice and a bit jiggly”. If you had of told me the cowardly loser introduced in Crossed: Badlands #10 would be sliding up inside some biker tail not 2 issues later; I would’ve called you a moron.

Crossed: Badlands #12 Wrap Cover

Edmund gets some war paint tattooed on his arm before him and his biker comrade’s head out to kick some sadistic zombified ass! Another beautiful Jacen Burrows 2 page spread of the biker’s gunning down Crossed with some kick-ass Uzi’s and biker babes. This issue comes with a reappearance of a character from Edmund’s quiet high-school days; you’re gonna cheer so hard when you see who Edmund has to go toe to toe with!

The latter pages of the story are gripping as we witness just exactly how far Edmund has progressed from pussy to cold-blooded killer and the events of Crossed: Badlands #12 definitely take their toll on the psyche of an otherwise harmless young man. This issue is one not to be missed! A brilliant cliff-hanger ending to be concluded next issue in Crossed: Badlands #13 before the beginning of The Darkness writer David Hines’ arc.

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010 – Review: Ferals #7

Ferals #7 Review

By James M. Clark

            David Lapham’s Ferals #7 with art by Gabriel Andrade is available 8/15/2012: go to your local comic book shop or www.inter-comics.com to purchase today!

Ferals #7 Regular Cover

When we last saw Dale Chestnutt, he was in a pretty rough state from the events of the first Ferals arc (see issues #1-6; previously reviewed) which culminated in a Mexican stand-off and shoot out free-for-all between Dale, Christopher Ingebritsen and the Ferals clan as well as the FBI agents.

Ferals #7 opens with some beautiful landscape art by Andrade of the snow-topped West Coast mountains. Having just come back a few days ago from vacation in British Columbia and Washington, I’m telling you… dude can draw some seriously mean mountains! I was pretty rattled when the shop I visited in Washington didn’t carry Avatar titles because I didn’t get to read this until I got back yesterday and I can’t go without my Avatar titles. But wait… I was talking about that epic shootout! Dale is somehow alive, though barely and page 1-3 show Dale chowing down on gorgeous Gerda’s innards. Page 2-3 really blew me away with a great double page shot of Dale stuffing his face full of Gerda’s guts.

I’m telling you… dude can draw some seriously mean mountains!

Ferals #7 Gore

Page 4 brings us back to reality with Dale hospitalized though unscathed by the events of Ferals #6. How can this be? As the FBI explains to Dale and fills us in; the feds are taking care of him and having his nails trimmed as far back as possible so that he doesn’t go Feral on their asses. Yet not too much can contain a handsome, slick-talking, shit-kicking werewolf like Dale Chestnutt and the feds have to unleash a blast of buckshot on Dale though he obviously survives now that he’s Feral.

“The feds have to unleash a blast of buckshot on Dale though he obviously survives now that he’s Feral”

Ferals #7 Wrap

The feds have come in to a position of power over Dale and aren’t seeking to experiment on them, though readers get the impression that their use of him in another Ferals cell spells nothing but bad news down the line for our beloved anti-hero. I was a bit pissed that Lapham killed off that babe Gerda but trust me, there’s a lot more sex to come; did you honestly think Dale wouldn’t continue boning babes? Hells yeah he would.

I don’t want to spoil it any more for you guys, this series is amazing, you should all go out and buy it or give David Lapham, Gabriel Andrade and Avatar Press an apology for being such an ignorant shithead and not reading it.

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009 – Review: Crossed: Badlands #11

Crossed Badlands #11 Review

By James M Clark

            Part two of David Lapham’s “Yellow-Belly” arc continues in Crossed: Badlands #11 with art by Jacen Burrows, the issue is on sale 8/15/2012. Go to your local comic book shop or order from www.inter-comics.com

Crossed #11 Regular Cover

The issue opens with Edmund having returned home from the carnival and confessing to his mother and a police officer the brutality he witnessed while at the carnival with his father and brother (both now dead; having fallen victim to the Crossed in issue 10).

Edmund’s yellow-bellied cowardice begins to show even more in this latest issue with a series of events that would test any man’s mettle. However, Edmund’s pant-peeing cowardice isn’t just yellow… it’s downright ‘yella’. As the Crossed descend on the town, the townies start to realize perhaps Edmund has a good reason to be the cowardly bitch that he is and perhaps they could all do with taking a page from his book. One of the guys that gave Edmund such a hard time at school even commends Edmund for this and thanks him for warning them about the plagued legions of Crossed wreaking havoc on the town.

Crossed: Badlands #11 Torture Cover

We’re introduced to some more characters from the school Edmund attends and are given their backstory. The events of this issue lead to an epic few final pages with more great art by Burrows and as much pandemonium as readers can handle!

Crossed: Badlands #11 Wrap Cover

Having a go of a series after Jamie Delano is a tough task for any writer but Lapham has taken the reigns with fervour and delivers some really high-octane story. Jacen Burrows shows more and more that he was meant for the series and I’m really hoping Avatar Press pairs these two again in other Crossed arcs.

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008 – Review: Chronicles of Mayre #0

Review: Chronicles of Mayre Issue 0

By James M Clark

          I was chit-chatting with Chronicles of Mayre author Joseph Carbone via Twitter and received a PDF copy of Mayre issue 0 to review. If you would like to preview a copy before purchasing, you can check out Coat of Arms Comics website at http://www.coatofarmscomics.com/

Mayre Team Pin-up Cover Courtesy COA Comics

Mayre #0 gives you 36 pages of comics goodness for only $3.99!

Joseph Carbone and Julian Aguilera team up to produce a creator-owned book of epic proportions. Mayre begins rather slowly so as to establish a viable backstory. I took my time to notice the intricate Celtic-style border and yellowed parchment background. While small details, both of these work to Mayre’s benefit by giving it an authentic feel of an age-old fable.

Mayre #0

I felt the backstory was well done with a lot of work done to create a Lord of the Rings/Fable/Legend of Zelda style narrative. I’m not that interested in fantasy books but this book pleasantly surprised me by capturing my interest with a fresh story and very well done art on Aguilera’s part. One thing that will blow you away about Mayre is the colours… brilliant blues and reds during the war scenes and backstory!

Whilst reading the backstory, I initially perceived the book as having a younger audience (6-12). Though once I finished the backstory and moved on to the present events of the comic, I re-evaluated its target audience and would give the book a PG-13 rating due to language and sexual content in the latter scenes.

After a war of the Gods; dragon Lords rule over the world of Rhain. Quoting Carbone’s caption on page 18 of Mayre, “this is the story of one man’s personal vendetta against the Maghim and their dragon masters!”. The man that Carbone refers to, the hero of our tale is Wolfgang Von Harsack; a human trying to make his way in the world of Rhain nearly 1000 years after the Maghim and the dragon lords have assumed control.

Von Harsack is a lumbering brute of a man that looks like he could take on just about any problem that came his way. His lover, Ninfire is extremely sexy; both under Aguilera’s pencils and inks and the way Carbone writes her. I give Carbone 2 thumbs up for his use of diction in Ninfire’s dialogue. In my own writing, I really like adding authenticity to a character by giving them an accent and showing that through diction and I’m always happy to see other writers doing the same thing. Ninfire is my favourite character from Mayre so far and I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of the series just to see more of her.

When the Maghim stumble upon Wolfgang and Ninfire, our hero is thrust into action to save his beloved Ninfire. The action sequences and fight scenes near the end of the book are awesome and set up readers for a cliff-hanger ending that begs the purchase of Mayre #1 in order to find out what happens.

Mayre #1

If you like fantasy genre books than this is a must-have for you!

Coat of Arms Comics produces not only The Chronicles of Mayre but also two other series; Conquistador and Kieu.

I really enjoyed reading Mayre and am excited for COA’s other publications. If the other books can hold a candle to Mayre then we should see this independent publisher grow quite rapidly.

Q & A with Joseph Carbone and Julian Aguilera

50 Shades: Though different from other works of fantasy, I see a lot of Lord of the Rings and Fable at play in Mayre. By this I mean the whole epic war results in a tyrannical rule and one Christ-like or God-like figure rising up to fight against the tyranny. Wolfgang reminds me a bit of Aragorn from LOTR, was this something you were hoping to achieve? What do you think makes Wolfgang different from Aragorn?

Joseph Carbone: That’s a very good question and a hard one for me to answer because I see huge differences between Wolfgang and Aragorn. I think one of the clearest and most important differences between both Wolfgang and Aragorn is their drive. From the start of LOTR, Aragorn is haunted by the past; the actions of his ancestors have directly affected his life. That overall fear forces him to hide from the world as a ranger. He knows he is meant to be among men and lead them, yet he hides from that and tries to find his peace in solitude.

Wolfgang isn’t like that, when the story starts in issue 0, Wolfgang IS at peace with his life. He has found happiness and is willing to live a simple life, content just to bask in that happiness. Wolfgang knows he is loved by Ninfire and that’s all that matters to him. She is the heart and soul of his universe and once she is taken away from him, his hate becomes the driving force in his life. In my eyes Wolfgang’s more like the Punisher than any other character we’ve seen in fantasy before him. For Wolfgang friendship, personal wants and needs, and even his immortal soul means nothing to him. Like Frank Castle from Punisher, Wolfgang’s mission to avenge his loss is all that holds meaning to him. Wolfgang wants to bathe in the blood of those who have wronged him, he doesn’t care how or the costs it will take to make that happen as long as it does. In all truth Wolfgang is willing to burn the world to ashes if needs be. Aragon on the other hand, I always felt knew he was only hiding and at some point he would need to come forth from the shadows to become the king he was meant to be. Wolfgang never had such burdens or desires; he was a simple farmer and would have remained one his whole life had Ninfire never been murdered.

In my eyes Wolfgang’s more like the Punisher than any other character we’ve seen in fantasy before him. For Wolfgang friendship, personal wants and needs, and even his immortal soul means nothing to him. Like Frank Castle from Punisher, Wolfgang’s mission to avenge his loss is all that holds meaning to him. – Joseph Carbone

Julian Aguilera: I don’t know how Joe feels but for me I think he is much more of a bad ass then Aragorn. Wolfs saw them raping and killing the love of his life right before he life gave out. In the next book he is out for some big payback and it shows on his face and his actions.

50 Shades: I’m quite engrossed in the series now and looking forward to reading #1, is Mayre going to be an on-going series or is it a mini-series with a foreseeable conclusion?

Joseph Carbone: Mayre is and will remain an ongoing story. At this point I have around 21 issues outlined and more than 9 scripts completed. However that’s not to say that this story doesn’t have a defined plot line.  There will be moments where the “story”, readers are reading will end, but those tales will only lead towards new chapters of the overall plot. I tend to think of Mayre as an ongoing comic book novel.

50 Shades: How long have you two been drawing and writing for? Any other publications?

Joseph Carbone: To be honest I don’t have much of a “formal” writing background. I’ve never been published or paid for any written works however I have a lot of video production and script writing experience. I wrote a short film in college that was a mock of “Night of the Living Dead”, and I’ve written a few local commercials and worked in the nightly news, so I’ve been around production work for a very long time.  

Julian Aguilera: Wow, for as long as I can remember I have been drawing. As a kid I always knew what i wanted to do. Draw for a living. My very first publacation was for a RPG gaming company called AEG. I worked on some of their inside art work; like story filler and what not. In comics my first big publication was for Zenescope. I worked on Grimm Fairy Tales #10. Then worked on there Jurassic Strike Force 5. Working on #0 and doing all of the character designs. Also worked on lots of Indy comics.

50 Shades: Who/what would you say is your biggest influence for Mayre?

Joseph Carbone: That’s easy, my friends that used to play Dungeons and Dragons with me back in the day. I was a huge gamer growing up and played D&D for hours. Wolfgang originally started out as my D&D playing character and some of Mayre is very loosely based on that game experience. Also, some of the names and relationships that will develop within the story come from my old gaming days but the story is purely original to the characters and the universe created in Mayre #0.

Julian Aguilera: In the art. The first part i wanted to show something that one douse not see often. I talked to Joe about doing it in a stain glass look. You know like what one sees like in a Gothic Church. To tell the back story. something different. Then use my normal style for the rest of the book. this way the reader can tell when the back story ends and where the new part starts. I hope we pulled it off.

50 Shades: What was the first comic book you read and what is your favourite book on the market today and why?

Joseph Carbone: Well the first comic I ever read was Incredible Hulk issue 255. In it Hulk fights Thor and ends up in the Midtown tunnel where he finally lifts Thor’s hammer only to have it turn to Dr. Blake’s cane! I loved it and thought it was the coolest thing I had ever read!

Today I mostly read things like The Walking Dead, The Mighty Thor and Daredevil. Personally I think Walking Dead has been one of the best written comics ever. The Mighty Thor is just a creative entertaining work of art month after month. If you don’t believe it, go and get the back issues where Thor fights the Silver Surfer, which will hook in and keep you coming back. Mark Waid’s Daredevil is just a masterpiece of writing and storytelling but everyone in comics seems to know that at the moment, so I’m not pointing out anything new.  Oh and I can’t forget “The Chronicles of Mayre” that story rules!

Julian Aguilera: Hum, my first book… It was X-Men 218. I liked the art on the cover and studied it. But the book that got my full attention was Grendel by Matt Wagner; by far was my all time favorite book. I learned how to do panels by reading Grendel. And learned how to tell a story by studying Art Adams work. As for what book I read today: the only one I could think of is the Walking Dead… but i have fallen behind a lot on that story.

Uncanny Xmen #218

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007 – Review: Before Watchmen July

Review: Before Watchmen

July 2012

By James M Clark

Minutemen #2

It’s strictly dynamite, Hollis.

Minutemen #2 begins with a diner scene involving the original Nite Owl (Hollis Mason) discussing the possibility of his yet to be published expose, Under the Hood. The tag line DC pumped for this issue occurs in one of the last panels when a character states, “It’s strictly dynamite, Hollis. This isn’t a book. It’s a bloody confession.”

With that, writer Darwyn Cooke sets the stage for another brilliant issue of Minutemen. As Cooke begins the rising action in Minutemen’s story arc, fans of the original Alan Moore series begin to see the progression this prequel is taking towards the events of Watchmen.

Not only do we get to see the progression of Hollis’ book in this issue but also important life events of other members of the original vigilante team. For example, readers are shown a few panels of the budding relationship between Sally Jupiter (the original Silk Spectre) and her PR man Larry. Readers of the original will take note that Larry and Sally eventually have a bit of a fling, and viewers of the film will remember the powerful scenes where Larry is belittling Sally for her relationship with Comedian a.k.a. Eddie Blake.

One thing I want to draw to everyone’s attention is Cooke’s use of panel-heavy story. I actually found the reading of both Minutemen and Silk Spectre rather daunting in terms of length. This is by all means a good thing. Panel heavy stories give readers more comic for their buck as there is obviously more story when there are more panels in a comic. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember the last comic I bought that came close to Cooke’s Before Watchmen titles in terms of the number of panels.

I know I stated in my previous review of the Before Watchmen #1’s that I wouldn’t be reviewing the 2 page Crimson Corsair titles in the back of each issue until the conclusion of the series. However, I feel compelled to note that this issue is important in terms of Crimson Corsair as well because it features the introduction of the title character, The Crimson Corsair!

Silk Spectre #2

A real ‘groovy’ issue, man… the Before Watchmen series is becoming a great ‘timepiece’.

Much like Minutemen, Silk Spectre #2 is another panel and text-heavy story by Darwyn Cooke. I don’t mean to rub anyone the wrong way, but I’ve liked Silk Spectre much better than Minutemen and I think it has to do with the art. Cooke is a very talented artist and writer, though I feel his strong suit is writing and Amanda Conner definitely steals Cooke’s thunder when considering the difference in art.

I LOVED this issue! We see young Laurie Jupiter taking on a gang of thugs as a letter to her uncle Hollis Mason is captioned simultaneously. This particular issue is very much a tale of Laurie’s transition from the troubled youth rebelling against an overbearing mother and her blossoming into womanhood.

Laurie is now independent and living with her boyfriend. Now free from her mother’s shackles, Laurie spends her days with her lover and friends living in a shared house and experiencing the things typical of many 1970’s young adults.

Cooke’s use of the 1970’s setting is spectacular and maintains continuity in the Watchmen storyline but also shows us a different Laurie at the same time. Conner’s art also compliments the time period and one of my favourite panels from this issue was a living room scene where the décor and style of dress are spot on.

The rise of hallucinogenic drugs is also portrayed in this issue and Cooke does them well. Psychedelics such as LSD play a major part of the storyline and we get to see our young heroine experiencing the wondrous joy of marijuana with her friends.

What Cooke did to make me really enthralled in this issue of Silk Spectre was the reference of Ken Kesey in both the storyline as well as a quote at the end. I was a big fan of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and just a big fan of Kesey in general. Cooke’s use of the Kesey quote near the end of the story is fitting both in terms of its relation to his own story as well as the prevalence of Kesey’s writing at the time. This particular period gave voice to many of my favourite writers: Kesey, Hunter S. Thompson and William Burroughs. It’s excellent to see the intersection of comic book fiction with prose literature, the mirroring of the two mediums is something that always fascinates me both as a reader and as a writer.

Comedian #2

“Better run through the jungle” as CCR would put it. Comedian #2 is my favourite title yet. Watch Eddie seriously $%^& $%#^ UP!

Comedian #2 grabs you from the get go, beats the living shit out of you and then takes you further through the brutally violent narrative that is par none in the Before Watchmen series thus far. I was saying to a friend the other day that #1 didn’t blow me away but this issue definitely served me up all I was looking for.

The story opens with 4 beautiful pages by JG Jones of the Ali vs. Liston fight depicting Comedian at the fight alongside Bobby Kennedy. I love boxing, and Ali is a personal favourite so this really blew me away and sucked me right into the story. I really enjoy Azzarello’s use of real historical events with his characters written in to important world history.

From the fight, Comedian makes his way to ‘Nam. JG Jones does an excellent job of drawing this theatre of war. Vietnam and war comics in general are some of my favourite and most compelling narratives. This story doesn’t disappoint at all. There’s a lot of action in the jungle, and Eddie Blake is in the thick of it.

There is also great historical authenticity on Azzarello’s part in his explanations of communism, how the war began and how Washington doesn’t seem to give a shit hence a lack of funding.

I honestly haven’t seen a Vietnam comic done as well as this since Jason Aaron and Cameron Stewart’s The Otherside. I’m enthralled in this series and will definitely be writing my thoughts about it when the next issue is out.

Nite Owl #2

First appearance of Rorschach in Before Watchmen!

The first appearance of my favourite character in Before Watchmen: Rorschach! The issue begins with Nite Owl (Dan Drieberg) and Rorschach chasing a perp. From there, Straczynski’s story takes a dark sexual twist as Rorschach and Nite Owl encounter a dominatrix with some poor sap bent over her horse.

We get a bit of a peek back into the events of Rorschach’s past and Dan’s friendship with one of comic’s most remorseless characters. This issue gets real noir, grimy and gritty with Rorschach and Nite Owl taking on the investigation of a murdered call girl. Not going to spoil it any more (ok… maybe it’s a high-profile murder case… but I won’t say any more!) for you because you should definitely be buying this issue from www.inter-comics.com! There is much exposed about Dan’s past pre-Nite Owl as well as the current story taking place during a team up with buddy Rorschach.

Commenting on the art, I believe Andy and Joe Kubert are producing the series best artwork in terms of its relativity to Dave Gibbon’s art on the original Watchmen. I also think that Len Wein and John Higgins’ Crimson Corsair short in the back of this issue had an awesome tie-in with Straczynski’s story and that this is becoming more and more apparent as both Crimson Corsair and Before Watchmen continue.

If you want to catch a review of Before Watchmen by a different set of eyes, check out Resident of Gotham’s blog postings on www.inter-comics.com

Follow me on twitter: @JamesMClark87. Blog reviewing only the most bloody and visceral comics!

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Story 002: Simon’s Springfield

Simon’s Springfield
A Short Story by: James M. Clark

            I stood in the muddy trench, a hard rain pouring down on me. The fat droplets made a panging sound as they beat down upon my helmet. Beside me, the rats tore flesh from the face of a dead German; his eyes had already been plucked from their sockets by the ravens.

I unscrewed the lid to my canteen and held it high above my head to capture the rain. The canteen hadn’t filled halfway when I pressed it to my lips, letting the water soothe my parched throat with the hopes that it would fill my stomach since I cannot recall the last time I ate. I dumped the rest of the rain water onto my sleeve and tried to wipe the blood from my lapels. My name and rank were sewn in black thread on the left breast pocket of my jacket. The tag read, ‘Private Simon D’Arcy’.

I looked to my left and a few metres away the other men said nothing to each other; the only sounds made amongst us now were the occasional cough and sneeze. What was there to say? We had very little in common, except maybe our age and nationality – Canadian. Other than that we were just a bunch of worthless pawns in a never ending game of chess, the loss of our lives had been deemed a necessary evil by politicians, policy-makers and the rest of our countrymen.

The trenches were rank with the smell of something similar to chlorine, which seemed to linger on days after a battlefield had been doused with mustard gas. Coupled with this were the pleasant, irony scent of fresh rain, and the pungent odours of urine and excrement. At first the scent was unbearable, but after the first week in the war I didn’t even notice it. Hell, after I had been in the war a week I had lost track of how many lives I’d taken… could be two… could be twenty; I didn’t care to recollect. If one spent enough time in war, it wouldn’t even register that one was in fact human, or had been at some point. War turns men into savages, like the filthy rats I’m staring at as they pick apart this poor German bastard. Half the men in this war have already come to this realization, and there was certainly no turning back if they wanted to ever see home again.

Before I left for war, my parents had received a letter from my Aunt Jenny and Uncle Jerry. My eldest cousin, Aaron, was K.I.A. (Killed in Action in civilian terms). The letter read that Aaron had ‘fought bravely, was a true patriot, and died honourably defending his country’.

During my second or third week here, I met a soldier from Aaron’s regiment, the 86th, named Bricolluci. I asked him if he’d known Aaron, and he replied, “Yes, I knew him alright. His second day here, we were fighting in the trenches in France. Ypres, you heard of it?” I nodded yes. “Well, the Germans must have been outnumbering us two or three men to one up front. We had nearly run out of ammo for our rifles, we drained two munitions boxes if I recall correctly. We needed to conserve what little we had to fight our way back to safe ground. Aaron took a grenade, pulled the pin and hoped for the best. Unfortunately for him, we came under heavy fire just then so anyone sticking their head above the trench would have got a face full of buckshot. He held the grenade, I don’t know why – probably just scared – and it ended up killing him wounding three others. Shame really – how did you say you knew him again?”

Embarrassed at my cousin’s misfortune, I replied, “Oh, he just took out a cousin of mine a few times.”

A silence followed this (which made me feel a bit queer) and dumbfounded I sat there and said nothing more to Bricolluci. Aaron didn’t die defending his country; he died because he was too damn dumb and too damn scared to throw his grenade. What a bunch of lying bastards the government were, I didn’t see how anyone could consider that an honourable death. When you think about it though, death isn’t very honourable to begin with, so in a hell like war, what gives our government the right to say soldiers died honourably? War robbed men of all the dignity they had, turned most into cowards, others to vicious, sadistic killers. War brought out the worst in men; honour is therefore non-existent in war.

Thinking this, I suddenly remembered the posters at the recruitment office. The posters were adorned with bomber planes, bullets whizzing through the air and infantry soldiers with their Springfield rifles at eye level; taking aim at some imaginary foe. What the recruitment office didn’t have posters of were men standing knee deep in mud, water and excrement. There weren’t any posters of the rats. There weren’t any posters of men being shot down like the wild animals they had become or coughing and spluttering as toxic gases seeped into their lungs. There weren’t any posters of this insanity.

My thoughts were interrupted when a shell fell right on top of the two men furthest from me. Blood and limbs flew through the air coupled with the murky water, creating a mosaic of muted colouring against the greyish blue and white canvas of the afternoon sky. Blood and fleshy debris clinged! and CLANGED! against my helmet as it fell from the grey sky above. Then more shells began to fall.

My heart raced but instinct grabbed hold of me just as I grabbed hold of my Springfield rifle. One of the men made for the top and I followed suit. A thick bluish mist was drifting towards us and because of this, we couldn’t see anything more than five feet ahead. Shells continued to fall around us, but all I could think was how the landscape was eerily reminiscent of Emily Bronte’s description of Wuthering Heights in the opening pages. Too bad this wasn’t an English moor and I wasn’t Heathcliff; I doubted very much he ever had to wear a gas mask and carry a rifle when he walked the grounds. I pulled my gasmask down and over my head to avoid suffocating on the bluish mask which I thought to be mustard gas. The soldier flanking right donned his gas mask as well. It was Barker, we didn’t talk much but I knew he was from somewhere in southern Ontario and a couple years older than myself.

We had only been holding that trench for less than two hours. Somehow, we had managed to sneak behind enemy lines and since our radio was damaged we couldn’t radio for proper support to strengthen what little troops we had. With us completely unaware, the Germans must have snuck up behind us and were now attempting to smoke out the remaining men to shoot them down. Barker and I raised our rifles, kept low and surveyed our personal hell from left to right before moving ahead five or ten paces at a time. Caution and patience were virtues in war, after all.

Barker put his hand up as if to say ‘stop’, I shot him an awkward glance but then I too heard it, quiet at first but growing louder. That loud, crass German talk. Even when trying to keep quiet they couldn’t help but be loud. If they weren’t foreigners, they would be Americans for damned sure. They were despised by all of Europe, just as Canadians loathed the Americans. Barker raised his hand again, and I watched as his hand trembled. He slowly mouthed to me, ‘no blind fire, it will give away our position’. Luckily, the gas had begun to rise from the battlefield and we were now able to see light silhouettes, maybe 75 or 80 metres ahead and to the right.

I motioned to Barker, in order to let him know where the enemy was. Without waiting for him I opened fire and then dove at the ground to reload. I didn’t hit one of them, but I didn’t mean to either. Barker pointed to his left and I pointed to the right and we both took off in separate directions. The enemy was curious and clueless as to where the shots had been fired from. It didn’t take long before one of them pointed straight ahead and they began making their way over; single file.

I yelled “NOW!” to Barker and we both emerged from our different positions on one knee and took them out. The first life I took was hard, but this was just like taking candy from a baby. I tried to remember one of my soccer games as a boy as I shot each of them down to sooth my nerves. But this didn’t help much, just like after a soccer game, down on one knee while coach tells you where you went wrong, and what you did right. Six enemy soldiers, four of them fallen with five rounds from myself. Barker took out the remaining two. My stomach churned and I tried to focus on soccer once again. If coach could see me now, would he be proud? Would he be telling me I had done the right thing? The only answer I could give myself was this; in war, there are no winners. I tried to muster the strength and courage to walk over and look upon the faces of the men I had just murdered but my knees and stomach were weak, I merely fell over and vomited. I had no food in my stomach so the little amount of bile that came up scorched the back of my throat and dried my mouth, but I must have lost my canteen in all the commotion.

I looked up briefly to see Barker scanning the area for any threats that might have eluded us. He grabbed me by the arm and helped me over a pile of dirt and we lay on our backs behind it. The small granules of dirt fell down the back of my shirt and down my neck, then past the small of my back and eventually to my buttocks. I was uncomfortable, but this was no time for complaining, other enemies could appear at any minute.

Barker peeked around the dirt mound, first on his side, then quietly climbing over me to look on my side. He still had his canteen, so we drank from it before searching for new cover.

“We must leave now, before more of those bastards come.” He said to me as he screwed on the lid to the canteen.

“Not yet,” I said, out of breath and still with the putrid taste of bile in my mouth. “We wait five minutes, for the others.”

“There are no others!” he whispered loudly. “Whoever survived that first shell blast is sure as hell dispersed across the countryside by another blast, or killed off by German infantry. And have you noticed the gas, D’Arcy?!”

I punched him hard on the shoulder for pointing out the naivety of my suggestion. I whispered back, “Quiet, keep quiet. They may still be lurking about, that could have been a reconnaissance unit we just killed off. There are more of us though. I’m sure of it.” I wasn’t sure though; which is why I wanted to wait five minutes. I needed to know that the rest of our troop had been killed off; I didn’t want to leave anyone behind. I wanted to double back and check the trench, but I knew that would be out of the question and would surely get us killed. In war, naivety and hopefulness are two very good excuses to get killed.

Barker’s eyes widened and he lifted his hand, pointing at something ahead I couldn’t quite make out. His mouth began to open and his face contorted as if he were about to speak but two quick shots hit him before he could spit it out. One round hit the bridge of his nose, leaving a gaping hole in his face, and the other tore through his throat, causing warm blood to spurt all over me.

Through the blood, I saw two soldiers coming towards me and I made a dash – staying quick and low as always – for a patch of tall weeds to my right. Back down on one knee, just like at soccer, ‘I’ll do you proud, coach’. I cocked my rifle, aimed, fired, missed. Reloaded aimed, fired, hit. Right between the eyes from thirty metres out in the fog. All that could be seen was his silhouette standing tall and then immediately falling to the ground where it remained; a crumpled heap.

I dove behind the mound of dirt, concealing myself and hoping the other soldier would give his position away so I could make light work of him. After a few moments, I felt a cold barrel press into my neck and I dropped my rifle to signify my surrender. “You shot one of your own, D’Arcy, you dumb bastard… you killed Miller.”

My heart seemed to stop in my chest… had I killed one of my own men in my panicked state? But wait… had they not shot Barker? “What about Barker then… who shot him? You or Miller?” I managed to stammer out.

I looked up at the soldier and I don’t think I recognized him, I couldn’t give a name to the face at least. “You see, D’Arcy, I shot Barker… but my field report is going to read that Miller shot Barker, you then shot Miller, and I then shot you. I’ll be a decorated war hero for it, too.”

It took a few moments for what he had said to sink in. “NO! NO! PLEASE DON’T, PLEASE! I’M BEGGING YOU!”

A smile crossed his face as he said, ‘All the same in the end. The Germans beg for mercy, the Americans, the French, the Italians… and even our own. Grovelling like a dog, look at you… it’s pathetic. Eventually, someone will probably do the same to me… but that day is not today, D’Arcy. Today is the day you beg for your life, not me.” With that he raised his rifle and took aim. I did not hang my head or kneel though; I stood and faced him, staring into his eyes.

As I stared, he seemed to falter. Deterred by my sudden courageousness in the face of death, he seemed for a second like he was going to let me live. I was, however, mistaken as a round hit me square in the chest and I fell to the ground. Another round followed this, hitting me in the stomach, which hurt a lot more than the previous round.

I lay shaking, staring up at him. It now occurred to me that to some men, war was a hellish nightmare, something they never wished for and never wanted to experience. But to others, the hellish nightmare was more of a fantasy in which they could play God. I then realized that war is not one man’s interpretation, but the interpretation of the masses, considering how many people it effects; whether they are directly or indirectly involved. War holds different meaning for each man, thus causing each man to fight his own war.

I tried to purge the thoughts of war from my head as I lay there, dying. I thought of my country home in New Brunswick, a trip to Toronto with my father, skating on a pond near my house, maple syrup, and then of soccer. If coach could see me now, he would be proud. Proud that I had fought, proud that my cousin had died for his country (even though the means were less than heroic) and he would be especially proud that I had not turned into one of the bastards like the one that shot me down.

I looked up at the soldier again. His eyes seemed sad now, perhaps he did not take as much pleasure in the carnage as I had originally thought. He spoke quietly and said, “Rest in peace,” before cocking his rifle and firing a final shot into my heart.

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