SARA #1 / Writer: Garth Ennis / Artist: Steve Epting / Colorist: Elizabeth Breitweiser / Letterer: Rob Steen / Publisher: TKO Studios / Release date: December 10, 2018
“A team of female Russian snipers beat back the Nazi invaders on the WW2 Eastern Front.”
So reads the trade copy for Sara, one of TKO’s debut comics and part of a refreshing comics distribution model that offers first issues for free online and an entire trade available to purchase at once, available as either downloadable PDF, set of six oversized print issues, or an oversized trade. You can skip this review and go read the first issue right now. Spoiler alert: I think it’s fantastic.
Sara’s first issue is all about waiting: In the present, Sara hides in a tree waiting for a ranking officer to appear in her sniper scope. In flashbacks, Sara and her comrades enjoy an evening dinner while enemy troops are tortured just next door. Garth Ennis writes World War II as a grueling gauntlet of pain: soldiers are either killing or killing-adjacent, no two ways about it. The only peaceful moments come from awaiting orders between missions, with Sara’s company of grizzled women finding warmth in, say, teasing a cat with a bullet on a string. This is not an origin story about naive young women who find themselves recruited as snipers. They are already trained killers, confident in their abilities and throwing out references to the “fritzies” they hate and are told to hate. Sara’s internal monologue reveals the variables of arranging a good shot, including before, during, and after the pivotal moment. Ennis treats readers to a warfare biography written in blood.
Steve Epting’s illustrations and Elizabeth Breitweiser’s colors are a match made in heaven. The effects seen in the very first panel, with the powdery snow iced on tree branches and shadows intertwining on the ground below, gives readers a taste of the detailed splendor to come. When Sara’s internal monologue says to wait, she may as well be telling the reader to stick around and appreciate the pretty art, too. Uniforms have wrinkles, seams, and collars, and they all change color according to the light of the scene. A single lamp in a cabin will turn the dishes, clothing, brick walls, and wooden chairs into a range of reflective light and dimming shadow.
Rob Steen’s lettering generally keeps internal monologue text near the edges of large panels, while dialog between the snipers can fill closer to the a panel’s center, especially when the layouts during conversations get a little tighter. The text itself is standard black on white with occasional bolding, as clean and impartial a style as Sara’s shooting. Steen uses Sara’s monologue boxes to their best effect as soon as her waiting is over, though. In those moments, Sara’s brief statements to herself are practically a kiss of death sliding across the panel to mark a lost life. This is a comic that rewards patience and attention to detail – that trend continues for the rest of the six issues, too.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5.
Thomas is a teen services librarian who reads way too many comics. He can be found gobbling pancakes at the nearest diner with Jessica Cruz, Forsythe Jones III, Jane Foster, and Hellboy. He reviews media for the public here and graphic novels for librarians at No Flying, No Tights.