Whenever war is used as a theme in literature it is typically to serve the trope of condemning war’s costs beyond the buildings bombed and bullets fired. Simply put, according to these artistic endeavors, war changes people and often for the worse. War leaves scars on the body and the mind while also reminding us that people capable of love and compassion are also capable of barbarity and bloodshed. War’s effect on one young man is explored in Hound, a graphic novel written by Sam Romesburg and Sam Freeman and illustrated by Rodrigo Vázquez.
Specifically, it is World War I that serves as the backdrop for this dark descent into humanity’s baser nature. Private Barrow is a good soldier, but his new assignment has him interacting with fellow officers who have become much more than good soldiers . . . and much less. Private Barrow has become part of a unit called the Hounds, due to the shape of their gas masks, and their territory is a strip of land bombarded by mustard gas attacks. To Barrow’s horror, his new unit has formed a strange kind of cult that worships violence and they seek to initiate him. Either Barrow joins the Hounds or he is prey.
At about 96 pages of graphically told story, Romesburg and Freeman’s story doesn’t delve too deeply into the horrors of war, but epistolary captions representing Barrow’s journal does allow the reader to get into his head, not only as he sees what the Hounds truly are, but as he himself must do some violent acts in order to survive. Much of the book is Barrow trying to stay ahead of enemy soldiers and members of his unit who seek to either indoctrinate him or run him to ground. However, despite Barrow’s portrayal as an innocent, he must, as the trope dictates, commit acts that tarnish that innocence. A scene where he has to hide from the enemy is a particularly harrowing one.
As a book about the horrors of war, Vázquez’s artwork depicts a lot of graphic images of death and horror. The men who make up the Hounds are not just changed mentally, but physically. Their teeth are misshapen, their skin is covered in sores and lesions, and their howls are depicted as letters that flow across the page and into the readers’ ears. It’s a story that seems light on action but almost drips with visceral and violent imagery. Vázquez is definitely not shy about letting the red run rampant on the page.
The overall ending of the book is somewhat ambiguous, which may deter or captivate readers, but this book is, overall, a solid complement to an adult graphic novel collection. Perhaps it doesn’t cut deep enough to explore its themes of war and violence, but fans of war movies like Platoon or Inglorious Basterds should enjoy the story and perhaps be fascinated by the personal war within one Private Barrow.
By Sam Romesburg, Sam Freeman
Art by Rodrigo Vázquez
Mad Cave Studios, 2024
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Representation: British