The romantic Ennis– a review of Battlefields Volume 2: Dear Billy

Who would have guessed that Garth Ennis was a romantic?

Well, probably anyone who read Preacher and saw more than all of the Sturm und Drang of Jesse Custer’s battle with Herr Starr.  I always preferred the friendship of Jesse and Cassidy or the relation of Jesse and Tulip over the shock & awe of Arse Face, Saint of Killers and all of the blustery in-your-face humor and action that really made Preacher popular.  Myself, I liked Preacher but never really jumped on the Ennis bandwagon that was rolling over so many Vertigo titles at the time.  Maybe you’re a Gaiman or an Ennis fan?  I certainly was a Gaiman fan but I don’t really know if the two are mutually exclusive in any real way.  At least, for me, I may finally be becoming a bit of an Ennis fan, particularly thanks to his war stories.

Battlefields Volume 2: Dear Billy begins with a birth, not of a baby but of a monster.  For all intents and purpose, British nurse Carrie Sutton was born on the beaches of Singapore during World War II, as she and other women were raped and gunned down by enemy soldiers.  The only survivor, Carrie wakes up in a military hospital in Calcutta, is given a job and meets Billy Wedgewood, a British pilot.  Ennis shows us her story, her love affair with Billy and her failures to heal.  It’s those failures that ultimately turn Carrie into a monster as every wounded Japanese soldier becomes one of the ones who violated and tried to kill her in Singapore.

I say Carrie was born on that beach because Ennis doesn’t show us any of her life before then; all we know is that she was a nurse and that they were trying to escape the Japanese.  But we don’t know anything about her and we don’t need to.  She had to have been a different person before the Singapore beach; she had a life that must have ended there, cut down by the Japanese rifles.  It’s a death and a birth in one horrible act.  Ennis wonderfully balances out Carrie and Billy’s romance with Carrie’s own inability to heal beyond the events of Singapore.  As the story moves forward, Carrie obviously doesn’t want to be the person she is but doesn’t know how not to be that person.  She sees Billy, a pilot and a soldier, who is shot at, who has killed and who constantly goes back into battle, as what she wants to be; he may have been physically injured during the war but he hasn’t been as emotionally damaged as she has been.  Someday he’ll go home, back to his regular life.  She will never again have that opportunity.

The art in Battlefields Volume 2: Dear Billy is visually very simple but emotionally complex.  Peter Snejbjerg is one of those artists who puts down just the right amount of lines and ink on a page, no more and no less.  Keeping his art fairly clean and uncluttered, he constantly shows us what Carrie is thinking in her eyes.  Wide and warm or focused and determined, her eyes tell the story.  On first glance, his art is very simple and straight forward but it’s when you start looking at Carrie’s determined eyes or Billy’s relaxed stance that you get to know these characters.  Ennis gives Snejbjerg the space in the story for the artwork to tell and convey much of what’s really going on with these characters.  It’s one thing to pay attention to what they say and do; it’s another to pay attention to how they say it and how they do it.

So, it turns out that Garth Ennis is a romantic.  You can tell that he wants Carrie and Billy to be happy in this story; he wants them together.  So, it become a question for the two characters; with everything that’s happened and has remained unsaid between the two characters, can they be together?  Are they even meant to be together or is this just a long two-ships-passing-through-the-night type of situation?  Carrie was born on that Singapore beach, a child of war and death.  That’s not a good way to start life.

Battlefields Volume 2: Dear Billy (tpb)
Written by: Garth Ennis
Drawn by: Peter Snejbjerg
Colored by: Bob Steen
Lettered by: Simon Bowland

Battlefields Volume 2: Dear Billy is available on Amazon.com.

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