Review: Rebels #1
“Rebels #1 is that rare comic book that makes historical fiction come alive and makes real connections between the audience and material. The best compliment I can give the book is that I would use this in high school history classes and be well-assured that the students would stay engaged with the material in a way that other media about the American Revolution cannot always accomplish.”
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Release Date: Wed, April 8, 2015
I’m a history and social sciences nerd. And I love comic books. However, it’s rare that I’ve encountered a historical fiction comic book that I found engaging in the least. Most of the offerings that companies have churned out in the way of historical comic books feel like pedantic lectures on the importance of this or that piece of history, focusing more on the rote recitation of events rather than the finer details of crafting a captivating tale that just happens to be set amid a time of swirling, important events.
Luckily, writer Brian Wood is no stranger to crafting character-centered historical fiction comic books, as seen in his work in Northlanders. With Rebels #1, his newest offering from Dark Horse, Mr. Wood shows once again that historical fiction comics don’t have to be a chore like vacuuming or eating your vegetables, but can be just as compelling as tales focusing on the spandex set seen in superhero fare.
Focusing not on the leaders of the American Revolution, but rather the men and women on the ground who were affected by the day-by-day oppression by the British Empire, Wood looks at the struggles of Seth Abbott who, along with his friend Ezekiel, are members of the militia facing off against the Crown. While facing off against Redcoats taxing New Hampshire landowners out of their earth and livelihood, Seth learns of unrest in the other American colonies and is approached by a wealthy landowner who prompts Seth and others to act. Meanwhile, Seth is slowly courting Mercy Turner, a farmer that Seth, despite his quiet demeanor, can’t help but show his affection toward the young lady.
The characterization of Seth Abbott and the supporting cast is what makes the story truly come alive. Seth is a man of few words, and we get to see the genesis of why he is careful with his tongue. His father rarely gave words to his boy freely, which Seth resented at first, but came to take on in his own personality after his father went to bat for his son when helping him shoot at Redcoats. That genesis is subtle, and Wood is careful not to be heavy-handed and using bright neon letters that exclaim why Seth is the way he is. Seth also learns from his father the place for vengeance and the place for honor and compassion, a compassion that bleeds through his gruff exterior. Seth takes on that compassion when befriending a former boy who worked with the British against the rebellion, acknowledging that a man is more than a single deed or an unfortunate circumstance.
The story is itself is timely, true, but, really, the idea of revolution is also universal. Thomas Jefferson himself, speaking of Shay’s Rebellion, spoke of the need of a republic to have upheaval 20 years to stave off complacency in government. Regardless of what side of the political spectrum you land on, Americans are fascinated by stories that speak of the need to resist tyranny. It’s in our national DNA. Wood taps into that fascination, but also reminds readers that revolution starts at the micro level. The character of Seth becomes embroiled in the resistance against the British crown for reasons that are personal and on the community level. Wood recognizes that men and women fight for freedom and hold ideals in theory and on the macro level, but are moved with much more immediacy when oppression hits close to home.
Andrea Mutti is perfect for the book in that his stylized art is a beautiful match for the grit and grime of war that is sometimes wiped away with antiseptic in the history books. The characters are not shining marvels, but real people whose every worry and laugh line shows in their faces. While his work in the action scenes standout, particularly in the opening pages showing a young Seth and his father facing off against Redcoats, the scenes that resonate most to me are the more quiet moments when Seth can’t help but look at Mercy with love or when the two gently touch one another’s hand. That kind of subtlety is often missing from many superhero books and it’s a welcome breath of fresh air
Rebels #1 is that rare comic book that makes historical fiction come alive and makes real connections between the audience and material. The best compliment I can give the book is that I would use this in high school history classes and be well-assured that the students would stay engaged with the material in a way that other media about the American Revolution cannot always accomplish.
And also be sure to check out our exclusive interview with Brian Wood!