White Death is a chilling portrait of real Alpine warfare during WWI

White Death is a chilling portrait of real Alpine warfare during WWI

A boilerplate WWI story is made real by "Walking Dead" illustrator Charlie Adlard.

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Title: White Death
Author: Robbie Morrison
Artist: Charlie Adlard
Publisher: Image Comics (Sept. 9)
Price: $14.99
ISBN: 9781632151421

It's a well documented fact that war is hell, and World War I, doubly so. Robbie Morrison and Charlie Adlard's White Death tells the based-on-true-facts tale of Italian soldiers fighting in the Alps who came up with the bright idea of using artillery to drop avalanches on their Prussian opponents. These avalanches are the titular death. Like all weapons of war, this idea eventually gets turned against its own creator, and life for everyone on the front lines gets even worse.

That's sort of the main point of difference here, anyway, between White Death and every other World War I story ever told, and it isn't that key to what's going on. You've still got your overwhelming dread of trench warfare; your men returning horribly disfigured, wishing they were dead; friends from opposite sides of a border now forced to kill each other — all your classics.

This is not to say that this is not a story worth telling, but the addition of man-made avalanches does not really elevate Morrison's script out of being boilerplate World War I stuff.

What does elevate the book is Adlard's artwork. The piece was entirely drawn in charcoal and white chalk on gray paper, and it gives the work the immediacy of trench art. The drab grays, overwhelming everything, work well with the terminally depressing subject matter. It also helps the snow really pop; you can't forget that these soldiers are surrounded by this hostile environment. When the soldiers are ordered to stack frozen bodies to fortify their trench, their lieutenant tells them that they won't start to stink until they thaw. Adlard's art never lets us forget that the thaw is a long way away.

While I think it might be perverse to say that I enjoyed this harrowing tale, I will say that I thought it was good. If you're a fan of trench warfare narratives, it does offer up just enough of a fresh angle to keep it new while still hitting all the classic points of the genre. Adlard's art, however, takes it over the top.