Tomorrow, Top Cow releases The Rest of Heaven Was Blue, a new graphic novel written by Matthew Wilkins, and featuring art from Emmanuel Xerx Javier. The comic depicts a story set during the Vietnam War, and opens each chapter with a quote from haunting literary works such as Poe's The Black Cat, or Dante's Inferno.
The Rest of Heaven Was Blue finds a group of American soldiers assigned to round-up local villagers and secure the area. The mission quickly descends into savagery and violence, despite the best efforts of a soldier named Wayne. He hopefully hands out leaflets to the endangered villagers and functions, according to the dialogue, as a "one man civilian affairs program."
Another soldier, Garrett, watches the violence perpetrated by his fellow American soldiers, and participates in it to some degree, but also undergoes an existential crisis. In a world of light and dark, he finds himself "wandering through the blurred margins," grappling with his duty to his fellow soldiers, but also his duty to humanity at large.
Garrett is so troubled by the actions of his fellow soldiers -- and also by his own inaction in the face of their bloody behavior -- that he finds sleep impossible to achieve. The "blessing of rest" eludes him.
Worse, he begins to see strange sights in the jungle. A fellow soldier seems to return to twisted life as a zombie. And a dark figure with glowing eyes -- Garrett's so-called "Shadow Companion" -- is never far away, dwelling in the periphery of his world...
The Rest of Heaven Was Blue is an intense story featuring some very violent imagery, and yet the violence serves a noble thematic purpose.
The narrative grapples meaningfully with the idea of how we, as individuals, react in the presence of wanton (and yet sanctioned...) violence.
What happens when we can't escape what we've done, or what, through inaction, we've permitted to happen?
The bloody and persistent violence featured here essentially lands the reader in Garrett's situation, and makes him or her question individual senses of morality. Indeed, the graphic novel comments on its own nature, actually, when the author notes: "It's said that Heaven hides nothing from our view. And neither does the deep tract of Hell."
Garrett's curse is that he must witness everything (along with the reader...) -- far beyond his capacity to process in terms of right and wrong -- and the nightmare seems unending, so much so that the soldier fears he has finally tread "beyond the mercy of Heaven." His final choice in the book reflects that terror.
Very much like Lance Henriksen's, Joe Maddrey's, and Tom Mandrake's To Hell You Ride Dark Horse series, The Rest of Heaven Was Blue seems to desire to probe deeply into American history and into many unquestioned assumptions about our behavior as a nation and as a people.
In the former series, a Native-American "curse" was apparently enacted through the white man's ubiquitous mistreatment of nature. In The Rest of Heaven Was Blue, Garrett begins to feel that he and his fellow man have, similarly, "tainted everything." Interestingly, both narratives are historical horror tales, and also eke out territory as morality plays as well.
The Rest of Heaven Was Blue also plays a lot like a Twilight Zone episode ("The Purple Testament,") or perhaps Jacob's Ladder (1990) in terms of its wartime setting, and in the questions raised about death, and about personal responsibility in an arena where group-think dominates. The graphic novel makes for a splendid, visceral read, and the blood-stained imagery is unforgettable.
What pleases me most, however -- as it pleased me with To Hell You Ride -- is the idea of the horror genre deployed as a vehicle for human tales of honest inquisitiveness and speaking truth to power.