Review: The Stringbags HC
I initially missed this in the order forms when it came out until I noticed a customer had ordered it. It's published by Dead Reckoning, a publisher I was completely unfamiliar with as they've only offered a handful of books. Turns out Dead Reckoning is an imprint of the Naval Institute Press, which is the publishing arm of the U.S. Naval Institute, an independent, non-partisan, non-profit, professional military membership association. Kind of the perfect place for Garth Ennis war comics to land.
Stringbeans focuses on three different engagements involving the Fairey Swordfish, a biplane torpedo bomber that Britain's Royal Navy utilized that was underpowered and undergunned against the monoplanes of the enemy.
The core narrative follows an unlucky crew comprised of Archie, Ollie, and Pops as we follow their path through three different historic engagements. The first chapter focusing on the battle against the Italian Fleet at Taranto (Operation Judgement), then the hunt for the German battleship the Bismarck in the Atlantic, and finally the Channel Dash in 1942 (Operation Cerberus).
Ennis creates three completely fictional crewmembers for a few reasons outlined in the afterword. One of those reasons that a crew like this would have seen action at all three engagements, and Ennis wanted the consistency of these three protagonists for the narrative flow. The threesome work as engaging everymen who are neither overly heroic nor cowardly, who fail to shine as promotions continually escape them. They are actually moved around from squadron to squadron so often that their service records were overlooked and they were never given rest.
While the narrative focuses on these three, we're also given a fair share of history and a breakdown of the events our protagonists will be partaking in over the course of the book.
Ennis' love for wartime history and respect shines bright throughout, and this is one of the reasons I really appreciate a lot of his historical fiction. He makes it clear in the afterword what elements are based on fact and what he took liberties with, allow us to absorb the information clearly and also have an emotional context with much of it. While we know these three people did not exist, we know crewmen like them did and partook in these events, allowing us a certain grounding to learn more about the history. It's a bit more engaging for me as opposed to other historical dramas that take plenty of liberties with actual history.
As an Ennis fan and a fan of his war comics I was most likely going to like this no matter what. If you've never read an Ennis war comic I would highly recommend starting here and then branching out. While Ennis has his beats and style of characters that are always familiar in works like this, he does have that additional level of passion and respect in his war stories that offsets a lot of the darker and more violent overtones.