Let’s be honest. When was the last time you can remember reading a comic that was historical fiction? If you are like me the answer is, “Have I ever?” Historical fiction comics always seemed like something that was left for the last page of the Sunday comics right after Pickles, but before The Family Circus. Luckily, I was happy to find that Rebels, the new series from Dark Horse Comics, broke this prejudice of mine.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
As a young boy, Seth Abbot was raised by a tough father on a farm in the New Hampshire Grants in the mid-1700s. On one fateful day, Seth joins his father and several other farmers as part of a militia. The men plan on attacking a group of British soldiers marching up into New Hampshire. It is a day in which fear and hesitation changes his life forever, and Seth vows to never let that happen again. Flash forward to 1775, Seth and his new friend Ezekiel Learned are men of the militia heading into Westminster to support a group of farmers being taxed out of their land by the British. Along the way Seth and Ezekiel run into Mercy Tucker, and learn her father was bullied by the British to sign the grant papers to his land over to them. Seth promises to get those papers back for her.
Sadly, British soldiers attack the farmers in the Westminster courthouse and try to force the colonists into retaliating, in order to have an excuse to kill them. Seth stops what could have been a bloodbath, and the surviving farmers from the courthouse are arrested and imprisoned. Upset about the injustice, Seth and Ezekiel are approached by Ethan Allan, who informs them of the unrest in the rest of the colonies and plans to push back against the British. A few days later, Seth heads back to the Tucker farm to give Mercy the papers he promised. The two, who would marry soon after, prepare for a night of protecting the farm from possible British retaliation, and a war for independence that looms over them all.
Brian Wood (DMZ, Dark Horse’s Star Wars) offers up a story that is able to compact such a massive undertaking as the Revolutionary War so that it feels far more personal. The book mentions the learned men that were working in Philadelphia to solidify their freedom, but Seth’s story gives a look into the struggles of the working men and women in the colonies. How can one fight against an oppressive political system when they don’t even know how to read? The story has a tone that feels very much like the Mel Gibson film The Patriot, but offers characters that feel much more human, and less like Revolutionary superheroes.
Seth Abbot is a man anyone can look up to. A man who is not afraid to fight and stand up for what he believes in, but is also smart enough to understand when that fight should or should not be pushed. The story’s pace is also enough to keep any section from feeling bogged down or dragging on too long. There is a lot going on in the country regarding the revolution and Wood makes expertly employs caption text, used as Abbot’s voiceover narrative, to inform the reader of events that the characters themselves are not present for, but are ultimately important to the story moving forward.
The artwork in this book, crafted by the talented Andrea Mutti (Noir, Dark Horse’s Star Wars series), builds a level realism that adds weight to the story that is being told. Mutti keeps the art in the same realm as the Sunday paper historical fictions by keeping characters from looking cartoony. The book is not burdened with heavy shadow contrasts or drab coloring, which is a testament to Jordie Bellaire’s consistently excellent work. It makes for accurate depictions of people and events that don’t get weighted down in overly dark or gritty visuals. This is not to say every panel is made of flat pastel colors; there is plenty of texture and depth to the work presented, and every panel feels like a painting. It is this very aspect that make the book feel like one that could be offered to younger readers to help better understand this period of time. The book does not whitewash the horrors or violence of a war, but it does not make a point to be disturbing or an overly mature read either.
Rebels is a rare treat in the world of comic books today. While many readers are still attracted to the glitz and glamor of superheroes from the likes of DC or Marvel, Dark Horse has always been a publisher looking to tell a good story above all else. Rebels is a good choice to balance the fun and camp of other Dark Horse titles from this month, like Archie Vs. Predator. The book offers a great start to a more intimate story of our country’s founding, and is something that speaks a lot of truths about the state of our nation then and now. Be sure to keep an eye out for this series.