Hawke (Rules for a Knight, 2015, etc.) and Ruth (The Lost Boy, 2013, etc.) deliver an impressionistic overview of the Apache Wars, fought between the United States Army and several bands of Apache tribes in the southwest territories of mid-1800s America.
This graphic novel cruises along a quarter century of conflict, depicting poignant moments in the lives of Apache leaders and warriors and members of the United States Army charged with “civilizing” the land claimed as spoils of the Mexican-American War, land many Apache call home. It’s a brutal, bloody time, with violence begetting violence, exemplified by Goyahkla, an Apache warrior who lost his mother, wife, and children to an attack by the Mexican Army and earned a new name from the pleas for mercy of the last man slaughtered in the Apache’s revenge raid on a Mexican village (“San Jeronimo…por favor”). Hawke and Ruth interweave this Geronimo origin story and other legends of the era (Cochise escaping arrest by simply cutting an exit through the side of an Army tent; U.S. soldiers torturing and murdering Mangas Coloradas—who had come to negotiate peace—before finally boiling his decapitated head over a campfire) with historical fiction, allowing for some literary license and philosophical dialogue on the politics of settling an already-inhabited land. Bookending the work with the doomed Apache perspective underscores the tragedy and magnitude of the events. An afterword by Hawke explains his personal connection to the material, and a Further Reading section gives the nonfiction roots for the work. The narration is concise and lyrical, perfectly wed to Ruth’s wonderfully expressive illustrations, whose gorgeous photorealism—calling to mind the works of Alex Ross—breathes vivid life into the historical material. The paneling gracefully carries both intense action scenes (the book is exceptionally violent) and stirring cutaways (to the majesty and menace of nature).
A beautiful, elegiac entree to an era of violent transition.