Review by C.J. Bunce

If there was a Sergeant York or Audie Murphy on the Russian side of the fight in World War II and the soldier was a woman, you’d have the lead character in Sara, a new six-part graphic novel from TKO Studios, a new publisher for 2019 (more on that below).  In Nazi-occupied Russia, the Russian forces are losing.  A small band of skilled Russians snipers is making headway one kill at a time.  The undisputed best of the bunch is Sara, an ex-college recruit reputed to have 300 kills.  She soon becomes the target of Nazi Germany’s own best special military forces.  From Eisner Award winning writer Garth Ennis (Preacher, War Stories and Battlefields, Fury) and artist Steve Epting (Velvet, Batwoman, The Winter Soldier, The Avengers), with color by Eisner and Harvey nominated artist Elizabeth Breitweiser and letters by Rob Steen, the gritty realism, badass protagonist, and top-level artistry is sure to make Sara a contender come award season.

If you’re a fan of Russia or Soviet-era stories like Doctor Zhivago, From Russia with Love, and The Hunt for Red October, or graphic novels Nevsky: A Hero of the People, Red Son, and The Death of Stalin, there’s something in the Sara graphic novel that you’re going to like.  But that’s just the setting.  The real fun will be the callbacks readers will experience along the way.  With a Russian twist, expect the same kind of war experience from watching movie classics like Stalag 17, Sands of Iwo Jima, Memphis Belle, To Hell and Back, and Sergeant York.  Ennis’s historicity and Epting’s adherence to detail anchors the story in a way that will have you feeling like you’re right there in the forest among the soldiers.  This is the story many of us were hoping for when we heard of the Russian espionage movie Red Sparrow.  

As with all new TKO Studios releases, the story is available as a graphic novel in a digital or print edition, or as six issues in a collectible box.  The six issue/chapter shifts are well plotted: an introduction of key characters in the middle of activity and flashbacks to Sara’s military training are all nicely paced to a vintage 1940s war movie style, and the battlefield threat increases gradually culminating in a nicely planned cliffhanger, followed by a satisfying payoff–it has all the beats in the right places.

Epting provides smartly drawn uniforms and environments, and the women’s expressions and body language reveal plenty to push Ennis’s story forward.  Epting’s style is a bit different from his more recent work, providing a mix of Mike Norton (Revival) and Rick Hoberg (Green Arrow, All-Star Squadron) styles, contrasting far-off cinematic landscapes with up-close conversations between the soldiers, always with a focus on Sara.  Readers can see Alex Raymond and Al Williamson’s work come through as Epting influences.  As for the dialogue, I would have preferred Ennis add some Russian phrases now and then to get me deeper into the culture, and less profanity might plant the story in more of a classic WWII-era vibe.  A significant contribution to the story comes from Elizabeth Breitweiser’s choice of colors–every page she provides a powerful complement to Epting’s pencils and inks.

Just check out the six covers and preview pages:

If you need a suggestion for some music to accompany your reading, I found the story timed well to Prokofiev’s musical score for the Russian film Alexander Nevsky.  You might even find yourself trying to cast 1940s Hollywood actresses in the key roles as I did (Jeanne Crane, Gene Tierney, Jennifer Jones, Teresa Wright, Deanna Durbin, and Shelley Winters would have been fun to see in these John Wayne/tough guy roles).  As to today’s actors, I’d cast Ksenia Solo for the lead, with supporting roles filled by Aleksandra Bortich, Billie Lourd (each has Russian backgrounds) and the versatile Bella Heathcote.  Maybe not enough for a full theatrical adaption, Ennis and Epting touch on a unique character and story, begging for something like an hour-long episode of Black Mirror.

Sara is a perfect inaugural release for the new publisher TKO Studios.  TKO is launching four series this month, each printed in a slightly larger format than typical comics.  The larger size is more worthy of the gorgeous layouts, but most readers will only notice the size difference when compared to standard books.  Frankly all books should be so lucky to have this larger format.  Echoing the now standard same-day release of streaming programs on services like Netflix, TKO Studios plans to release its six issues all the same day, and as stated above, readers have the choice of buying single issues bundled, or as a digital or print graphic novel.

If you’re after an hour or two of fun reading, order Sara now from Elite Comics, your local comic book shop, or direct from TKO Studios.  Find out more about TKO Studios, and read the first of six issues of Sara free now at the TKO Studios websiteSara is also available at Amazon here.

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