Socrates is believed to have once said: “The more I learn, the less I realize I know.” It may seem strange that a fictional graphic novel set during the latter years of World War II should make me think of classical Greek philosophy, but Son of Hitler does just this. With a provocative title and storyline to match, co-writers Anthony Del Col and Geoff Moore, along with illustrator Jeff McComsey, have created a narrative filled with espionage, mystery, and intrigue that keeps readers guessing from beginning to end. Just when you think you have it figured out—think again.

This alternative history is equal parts war story, personal quest, and mystery that takes its readers on a tour of war-torn Great Britain, Germany, and France as well as the United States to follow its many threads. Central to the fray is British intelligence officer Cora Brown, a woman so dedicated to the destruction of Adolf Hitler that she is willing to disobey orders from above in order to follow up on a tenuous rumor about an illegitimate child fathered by “Der Fuhrer” while he was stationed in France during World War I.

This quest leads her to Pierre Moreau, who may be the key to Hitler’s downfall if the two are indeed father and son. After some convincing, the young Frenchman joins Cora on her mission to assassinate Hitler, an uphill battle that involves meeting with the German resistance, near misses with Nazi soldiers, and enough hidden agendas, ulterior motives, and sinister characters to keep readers questioning and reassessing what they believe to be true until the very end.

The complicated yet charismatic characters are a main gateway into the story as they often times embody major thematic ideas through their actions and inner dialogues. In Cora, readers find a tough-as-nails heroine whose penchant for sniffing out the truth is as constant as the cigarette in her hand, perhaps a nod to so many classics within the noir genre. As one of the only female characters in an otherwise male-dominated world, her confidence and high rank serve as a counterpoint to the inner struggles she hides from most. And it is this duality, the disconnect between appearance and reality, truth and deceit, that forms the crux of thematic exploration within the multi-layered story.

Pierre also has his share of dissonance, seesawing between acts of violence and compassion. In fact, it is often his protectiveness for those he loves that fuels his propensity for impulsive and uncontrolled aggression. Because of this, he escapes typecasting as either “good” or “bad,” in part based on his sympathetic backstory revealed through a series of flashbacks. The authors use this device to provide more information about a troubled childhood rife with bullying and isolation caused in large part to his single mother’s line of work, namely, prostitution. With the newly acquired knowledge that Pierre is the alleged son of Hitler, things get murkier as it begs the question: Is Pierre’s behavior predetermined by his very genetics? In a classic nature vs. nurture conundrum, readers are left to weigh the influence of DNA against the loving environment Pierre finds himself in as the local baker-turned-mentor, Monsieur Petit, takes him under his wing.

Through food, Pierre finds solace, calm and even a sense of belonging as he pours his emotion and energy into each new batch of handcrafted madeleines. After all, is there anything more life affirming than nutriment itself? Interestingly enough, the French pastry also has its own duplicitous role to play, serving as the perfect vehicle for Petit to smuggle hidden messages to the German resistance, which ultimately results in his untimely murder. We are left to figure out the culprit, sorting through a plethora of plausible motives from both the German and British camps. Talk about muddying the proverbial waters.

Add to this mix a scheming and sadistic Nazi doctor, three purportedly defecting German soldiers, and a myriad of sketchy minor characters, and the search for truth grows ever more elusive with each new tidbit of information revealed. Perhaps my inclination to quote Socrates was not so far-fetched after all.

Complementing the story’s narrative are illustrations that enhance and build upon the text. Through organic and expressive lines rendered in sketch-like fashion, McComsey deftly conveys the characters’ emotions. Colors indicate both setting and mood, offsetting flashbacks through cool blues with the addition of warmer sepia tones as the story moves toward its climax. Intense shading that contrasts light and dark in tandem with enlarged panels to enhance dramatic plot points also manipulate mood.

In Hitchcockian fashion, the images also supply readers with more information than the characters themselves possess, relying on suspense more than surprise to build anticipation for things to come. Only we see the gun hidden under the pillow or tucked discreetly within the trench coat, giving us an almost omniscient presence enhanced by the birds-eye view of the action as it unfolds below. Text bubbles that present French, German, and English dialogue in a common language also allows us to move fluidly between the different languages that serve as barriers for the characters within. We alone have access to all sides of the equation, or so we are led to believe, providing a framework from which to tackle the questions that become more complicated as more pieces of the puzzle come to light. Ironically, the more we learn, the less we know.

McComsey also uses the montage as a clever way to cue readers in to the passage of time. As he interweaves panels depicting salient battles and events such as D-Day with those documenting the malicious activities of one evil German doctor, the resulting combination of history at the macro and micro level makes the reader writhe with anticipation for things to come.

On the other hand, readers may border on the impatient when they encounter disruptions to the narrative’s overall flow. For example, the authors’ unexpected and somewhat didactic foray into the dangers of big business involvement in politics and war may lessen the story’s appeal. To be fair, some may make the valid argument that such content is both timely and appropriate, and I would not disagree. Overall, this is a well written, complex, entertaining, and thoroughly researched graphic novel. Due to the publisher’s “M” rating along with the abundance of gore, violence, profanity, and sexual content, this title is most appropriate for adults.

Son of Hitler
by Anthony Del Col Geoff Moore
Art by Jeff McComsey Moore
ISBN: 9781534302242
Image Comics, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: M

  • Johanna

    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! Johanna Nelson is a full-time graduate student pursuing her MLIS at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Through her studies, she discovered a love for the graphic novel format thanks to the likes of Raina Telgemeier and Art Spiegelman. While the two may seem like opposite ends of the spectrum, both masterfully combine narrative and picture to create a compelling, rich story greater than the parts alone. As an aspiring school librarian, who will soon be on the path to teacher greatness through dual certification in education and library media specialization, Johanna also loves to explore the seemingly endless possibilities graphic novels hold when it comes to teaching and building literacy skills, helping English language learners, reaching out to reluctant readers and matching each and every kiddo with just the right book thanks to the wide range of subject matter available in this format. Prior to leading the “glamorous” life of a toiling student, Johanna served as features editor for a cheese and dairy trade newspaper that helped to cultivate her writing skills as well as her love for deliciously unique artisan cheeses – triple cream anyone? She also has held several library positions including page and library specialist in the children’s department of a public library. In her free time, she enjoys embracing her inner nerd through watching Jeopardy!, doing crossword and jigsaw puzzles, bird watching, hiking, sketching, and of course, reading whatever she can get her hands on.

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