Spotlight on Graphic Novels: The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks, Illustrated by Caanan White

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I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not very familiar with the Hellfighters. They were mostly a footnote in the European history class I took in high school. To my credit, at least I knew they existed. When I saw that The Harlem Hellfighters was (1) a graphic novel, (2) written by Max Brooks, and (3) available for review, I jumped.

There were a lot of things I liked about this book. The story was very well researched. You could tell that Brooks wanted to do justice to the story and that he knew accuracy was the way to do it. It is a fictionalized version of the Hellfighters’ history. It was, however, very well done. Even though you knew that the characters were fictionalized, they were realistic and relate-able.

The artwork is fantastic. It’s largely linework with a spectacular sense of light and dark and negative space. It feels a lot like a woodblock print or a woodcarving, with very bold lines. It does become a bit chaotic when some of the panels are similar, but overall is very striking.

The only thing I really wish we saw more of was the individual characters’ reactions to the events in the story. We’re introduced to about four or five very interesting characters at the start, but the focus doesn’t stay on them. There was a lot of history to cover, so this is understandable, but it does take away from the possibility of very interesting character developments and examinations.

Overall, though, I was very impressed. The story originated as a screenplay that Brooks wrote, but was adapted very well. Hopefully that movie gets made one day. 3.5/5

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