MonkeywangerIt’s important to note that, if a graphic novel has the note “Warning – Nudity and Extreme Violence Depicted” on its cover, it’s a good idea to take that warning to heart. Even with the warning, Peeler Watt’s Monkeywanger: The Crimes of Oscar Dirlewanger’s unflinching look at this historical horror show can be shocking in its violence and depravity.

Monkeywanger tells of the story of Obersturmfuhrer Oscar Direlwanger, the commanding officer of the SS Penal Batallion Oranienburg. Even when compared to the acts of the SS, an organization known for its cruelty and violence, Direlwanger and his men, criminals who manipulated the wartime climate to continue their antisocial and violent behavior, stand out for their atrocities against the Jews and the resistance fighters of Poland. Watt tells his story through the observations of Untersturmfuher Otto Voge, a fictional character who is a Russian spy within the SS and has been assigned to Direlwanger’s unit through a clerical error. While he is certainly not a hero, or even a good man, Voge is appalled by Direlwanger’s crimes and seeks to undermine the Colonel’s commands as best he can.

Monkeywanger is a hard book to read. Watt’s press release described the book as “a terrifying insight into the madness of conflict and its historical accuracy is of educational value to schools and individuals alike,” but the visual nature of the work and the extreme levels of violence depicted make Monkeywanger an unlikely candidate for classroom use or even school library inclusion, which is unfortunate since Watt’s work does attempt to educate the public on a brutal Nazi villain, one whose crimes have perhaps been forgotten by the world. That said, the horror story never stops, nor is it ever lessened; there is no hero in this story and no hope of redemption. Monkeywanger is dark and disturbing from cover to endpage.

Monkeywanger depicts all manner of graphic, potentially triggering violence, including execution-style killings and the dehumanizing cruelty of Jewish bodies being tossed into a cart for disposal. Sexual assault was among the crimes common to Direlwanger and his subordinates, and this tendency toward the abuse of women is repeatedly used throughout Monkeywanger. Jewish women are seen being forced to dance and play musical instruments nude before crowds of Nazi officers, other women are seen having their breasts and genitals groped by soldiers allegedly searching for contraband, and a row of nude male and female bodies is shown after Direlwanger had people poisoned.

MIND’s art is truly stunning: brilliant grayscale portraits bring each character to vivid life with careful individuality. Most of the book is in stark monochrome, though chapters are separated by solid black pages with Nazi-red text. Occasional pops of color appear and are used to highlight words and add impact to a page. Indeed, the exquisite art adds to the disturbing nature of the work, as the attention to detail makes the horrors of the acts even more realistic.

It’s hard to determine who the intended audience for Monkeywanger is. Certainly, it is most appropriate for mature readers, those familiar with the atrocities of the Second World War and the Nazi’s actions against the Jews. Amateur historians and war aficionados might find that this book adopts a new approach to understanding the depravity of that era’s crimes against humanity, but it seems unlikely that general graphic novel readers would find Monkeywanger approachable or enjoyable.

Monkeywanger: The Crimes of Oscar Dirlewanger
by Peeler Watt
Art by MIND
ISBN: 9781479282302
Self-published, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

  • Beth Rogers

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! Beth Rogers is Coordinator of Reference, Instruction, and Outreach at the Annie Merner Pfeiffer Library at West Virginia Wesleyan College, where she has worked to introduce and develop the library’s graphic novel collection. Also a part-time lecturer in English, Beth has taught courses on graphic novels for college students, lead book discussions on graphic novels including Watchmen and American-Born Chinese, and guest lectured on superheroes in American culture. She also maintains a book review blog, Do I Wanna Read THAT?!?!? When she’s not working, Beth enjoys action movies, knitting wee Avengers, and spoiling her dog.

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