This war correspondent’s graphic memoir packs a smart-bomb blast, as powerful as the volume is slim and elliptical.
A follow-up of sorts to Axe’s War Fix (2006, with illustrator Steve Olexa), the book doesn’t waste a word, an emotion or an image. The illustrations by editorial cartoonist Bors capture both the terror and the tedium of life in the hot spots of international terrorism. Why does Axe feel compelled to go to war? It isn’t for the money, as he scrounges together a living as a freelancer for C-SPAN, BBC Radio and the Washington Times—an assignment that opens doors more readily when confused with the Washington Post, as Axe happily discovers—while a military trade magazine subsidizes his expenses. It isn’t even for the adrenaline rush, for the author repeatedly relates that the romance of being a war correspondent (which he “hates being called”) is more of a fiction than a reality. The problem is that, having experienced the heightened reality of surprise attacks and corpses in the streets, he finds himself unfit for domesticity in America. “As boring as war can be,” he writes, “peace is much worse.” Through his narrative and Bors’s illustrations, Axe doesn’t cut a very glamorous figure, as he drifts among ever more dangerous war zones, even having his credit cards cancelled in Somalia after resisting an order from his publisher to return home from what had been classified a “level-five security risk.” Ultimately, the author wonders if “war [is] an aberration or the most basic human function, the thing we resort to when all our comforts crumble?...Had war chosen me or had I chosen it? And what did that say about me?”
Axe’s ground-level perspective, as a free agent who is there by choice, makes much war journalism look like an aerial view in comparison.