Four-Fisted Tales Review

By | Thursday, September 23, 2021 Leave a Comment
Four-Fisted Tales: Animals in Combat is Ben Towle's latest book, which came out last month. It's in an anthology format, telling the stories of various animals that have been used in human warfare. Some of the stories focus on a particular animal, while others look at how a species was used more broadly, and still others fall somewhere in between by providing snippets of stories of individual animals to provide a kind of overview.

One of the things that quickly stood out to me while reading this was the variety. Certainly in the animals he chose to write about (from slugs to seagulls to dolphins to elephants) but more poignently in how he told their stories. He never anthropomorphizes any of the animals, so none of the tales are expressly told from their perspective, but he still finds a number of different approaches to relay them. Some are told by the humans they helped, others from the enemies who stood against them, some are in the present tense, some are past, some relay a single incident, some cover an entire career... Towle has clearly made an effort to ensure the book doesn't get repetitive in any manner, and I suspect that helped spur him to make some very clever decisions in creating this. I thought his dual-storytelling technique on the story about rats was especially clever and well-executed, and his wordless story about Wojtek the bear, while clearly inspired by Larry Hama's famous "Silent Interlude" story in G.I.Joe, is more creatively successful than any of Marvel's "Nuff Said" event books from 2002.

Another standout element for me was that Towle's choice of subjects is surprisingly uplifting. I'm aware, for example, of how some animals have been essentially used as suicide bombers, unaware that they're sacrificing their lives for the sake of killing others and just racing into enemy areas with bombs strapped to them. But none of that is here. In fact, the vast majority of examples fall into the categories of either providing communication or detecting enemies and their equipment. So there's an emphasis on their saving lives, not taking them. In fact, none of the animals presented here are even shown at the ends of their lives -- if their deaths are mentioned, it's generally in a kind of mini-epilogue after a summary of a long and valiant career.

The book is printed with only two colors: black and a kind of beige-y green. This tends to serve Towle's art style well, showcasing some really punchy spotted blacks while still providing tone and texture with the green. It's a style he's certainly used before, and it especially suits the historical material giving it something of an air of fading, but not yet forgotten, memories. An you all know I do enjoy those history comics!

If I had to lodge a complaint, I might say that I was thrown a little by the lettering. It's not bad, by any means, and it actually took me a little while to pinpoint what stood out about it. At first, I thought he was using different font sizes between stories or, if they were the same size, the pages themselves were scaled differently. But I don't think that's what's going on. I think that he's just using different types of fonts for dialogue and captions. They're both Blambot fonts with a hand-written feel, but the dialogue is rendered in all caps as is traditional and the captions have a capital/lowercase mix. Which isn't a problem conceptually, but I think he may have been using the same font size for both -- but with one of them being all caps, it appears larger visually even if they do have the same overall heights. That would be a difficult balance, trying to get that just right, I think, and it's a fairly minor issue ultimately. But, hey, I have to call out something so this doesn't read like Towle just paid me off to write a glowing review!

(Although, Ben, I can delete that previous paragraph for a small "donation!" 😄)

I was really pleased with this. On top of being just a good book of the type of material I usually enjoy reading, the anthology format helped serve the reading/focus challenges I was talking about last week. The book retails at $24.95 and came out from Dead Reckoning last month. Worth picking up!
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