One of the pleasures of working in publishing are the occasional advances or preview copies of titles which cross my desk (usually by way of the Marketing staff, who still don't seem to have realised that it would be easier to just give me the freebies to start with, saving themselves from a lot of hassling). So when Cleburne from Rampart Press arrived, I was pretty chuffed, to say the least.
Coming in a 208-page paperback volume, Cleburne tell the story of Patrick Cleburne, Irish immigrant and general in the army of the Confederacy, who proposed the plan to enlist slaves into the Southern army in return for granting them their freedom. Opposed at very high levels by members of the Confederate armed forces and government, Cleburne's proposal made him a marked man, and saw him thrust into battle with increasing regularity, both against the Union troops and his own superiors.
Story and pencils are by Justin Murphy, who presents Cleburne in a traditional movie-hero style (indeed, the graphic novel reads very much like a screenplay - not that that is necessarily a bad thing) and, while the subject matter may be a little close to 1989's Glory, the story is eminently suited to the big-budget, grandiose epic Hollywood does (or, at least, did) so well. Cleburne's life off the battlefield is addressed in some detail, notably his courtship of Susan Tarleton and his wranglings with the Confederate leadership, but it is the battlescenes that the novel really stands out. The art is deceptively simple, without much of the clutter that seems prevalent in modern comics, but with a vibrancy of colour that gives it much of its 'Hollywood' feel. This is best exemplified in the battlescenes, with Blue and Grey clashing in a maelstrom of smoke, fire and gore. The sudden and brutal contrast in the artwork through this unexpected gruesomeness of the battlefield wounds leaves a lasting image in the mind of the reader, and one which reinforces the central theme of the graphic novel - that of equality regardless of race, creed or political affiliation - in the face of a cannonade, all men are equal, whether Blue, Grey, black or white.