This is a powerful and valuable work that both shows and tells you the true horrors of the First World War. Rather than a traditional linear narrative with a protagonist this is a series of vignettes. Tardy has taken the words of French soldiers and actual war photographs and come up with a nightmarish scrapbook of how horrific things were.
Many of the tales prove truth is stranger than fiction, as absurd coincidences and tragic events occur along the journey to death. Many of these tableaus will stick in your mind just as they did the soldiers who wrote them down.
The art is superb being mostly grey with black and white saved for the highlights or dramatic effects. There is gore and revulsion but it is very subtle. A tragic silhouette, a mangled limb just in frame and corpses everywhere. This is a very intelligent and affecting use of powerful imagery. What is highly disconcerting is that a number of characters look right out of the page at you as if accusing you for not doing more to save them. It’s eerily well done.
Because this is a short volume compared to a novel you never become inured to it. Tardi takes as many different instances of horror as possible so each fresh tale is uniquely disturbing. Soldiers being shelled intentionally by their own side, giving themselves gangrene in order to get discharged, civilians and ‘cowards’ being shot, and a tragic waste of men and animal’s lives.
The book includes an introduction and a passage of prose that complement the rest of the visual work and it finishes up with an illustrated list of statistics detailing the toll of the war.
This is a Double Thumbs Up!!