Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem
Story by Steve Niles and Matt Santoro
Script by Steve Niles
Art by Dave Wachter
Letters by Nate Piekos of Blambot
Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: February 26, 2014
Cover Price: $14.99
Every so often a comic comes along and reminds you why you began reading them in the first place. The perfect marriage of art and story can be used to produce some epic books. Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem is just such a work, from the spectacular writing of Steve Niles to the exceptionally emotional artwork of Dave Wachter this comic is more than the sum of its parts.
The story opens to a firefight taking place in April, 1944. A young man, Noah, finds himself in a dangerous predicament and his thoughts turn to his early life and how certain events changed him and his perception of evil. As his mind focuses on this, so does the story, allowing us a look at what happened we he was but a teenager in Poland during the German invasion.
The beginning of this flashback gives us a glimpse of the young man as his father marches off to war with all the other able-bodied men. Not quite understanding yet, he begins a habit of waiting near the road. A habit that stretches out over the weeks as he slowly begins to comprehend that his father won’t be returning home from the war. One day is much the same as the next until an airplane crashes in a nearby field. Fearing for the safety of his village, the grandfather wants to leave the wreckage alone but Noah insists upon helping the pilot who he found injured but alive. Deciding the time is right, Noah’s grandfather entrusts him with a small effigy and explains that sometimes faith and hope can perform miraculous feats.
Later, even as his grandfather predicted, German soldiers come to investigate the crash. Not believing the stories they are told, the officers accidentally discover the pilot. Escaping the village, one of the Germans goes in search of assistance. Knowing their time is short, his grandfather (now wounded) tasks the children of the village with bringing massive amounts of mud and clay to be piled in the barn. Then, with the help of the remaining villagers, a huge humanoid shape is created from this pile. Once this is complete, the others flee for the border while Noah and his family prepare to fight alongside of the wounded pilot.
While awaiting the Germans, Noah and his grandfather seek to pour their prayers and strength into this man-made mound. As the ground begins to shake, they realize the army has arrived and Noah runs out to bear witness to the invasion. Upon his return to the barn, he finds his Grandfather succumbed to his wounds. Screaming out in anguish, Noah begins to doubt the actions of his grandfather with respect to this creature they were trying to raise. It is during that time that the creation rises from the ground, monstrous and imposing.
Fearless, the boy sends the golem to attack the Germans. And though the soldiers send round after round into the earth elemental, it is not deterred. Crushing tanks and men alike, it sends the soldiers running for their lives. But this isn’t enough for Noah. Having just lost his grandfather, he seeks vengeance. Striking a German officer with a stone, he stands defiant and unafraid. Not until Noah is endangered again, does the golem strike out, slaying the officer and the remaining men.
It is at this point that Noah realizes that the golem arose to protect him. The creature is a defender, a protector, but not truly a weapon. Once its duty was accomplished, the power drained from the creature and Noah was left with the knowledge that it was his strength that gave it power.
As we jump back to the present, we see Noah has sent his companions on to safety while he remained behind to guard their backs. Drawing strength from his past, we see him resolute in his decision. The final panel shows him gathering mud together. Molding it and shaping it into something he can empower to defeat the enemies that are attacking him once again. And though we don’t see what happens, we are left with the feeling that the golem would once again rise to protect him in his time of need.
The symbolism here is overwhelming. Niles is one of my favorite writers in the business today; his words are as precise as a surgeon’s scalpel. And while the story is beyond compare, the artwork carries the show. Not content with merely setting the story to pictures, Wachter creates a sense of timelessness in certain panels. You can almost feel the emotion in the comic, it is that well done.
Simply put, this graphic novel is amazing. And while some would call this horror, I call it suspense. It is violent and emotional but it is also about a young man understanding sacrifice and accepting his role in the world is not predetermined. I cannot recommend this enough. Originally a three-issue miniseries, this graphic novel has everything going for it and I cannot find a single criticism. Even the choice of keeping it black and white lends itself to creating the perfect atmosphere. Pick this book up, you’ll have no regrets.