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VINE VOICEon May 7, 2014
Like a lot of people, I am really looking forward to a day when we can stop referring to important parts of American history as "Black" history and simply recognize that it is all "American" history. And while I'm not holding my breath, I hope that day is soon so that a book as wonderful as The Harlem Hellfighters will be read by a wide and all-inclusive audience. The book is wonderful fictionalization of an important event and people that is generally relegated to an afterthought or footnote. In that sense alone, this is an important work.

That being said, and out of the way, it is also a terrific work of historical fiction where the words and pictures work together to create a seamless and moving whole.

I have never previously read any of Brooks' work, though it has been recommended to my from time to time, but if this is any indication, I will likely be reading more in the future. This story is well-paced, involving - wrenching in many places - and his main characters live and breathe and never fall into stock ciphers or cardboard cutouts.

Which is also a reflection of the art here. The action sequences are suitably chaotic without ever becoming confusing, and the quieter moments are illuminating, as well. The details are telling and apt (a well-placed wink plays an important part in a character's development, for example) and the grim mood never becomes morose or bathetic.

I am very glad that I read a review of this (in a different forum) that pointed me to this worthy book. I hope that this review, as well as the other fine and more detailed reviews here, pique others to pick this up and be transported into an important chapter of American history. Highly recommended.
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on April 3, 2014
This is an exceptionally well-done book that details the story of the 369th infantry regiment's involvement in the First World War. The truly shameful aspects of Jim Crow America and the dignity of these men who still fought for it are the focuses of this graphic history. This is a book that should be, but due to Common Core Social Studies blather that destroys any emphasis on cultural literacy won't be, a part of every Modern American History class. Students interested in learning more about the First World War through graphic novels should look to Pat Mills' Charley's War (Vol. 1): 2 June - 1 August 1916 or Jacques Tardi's It Was the War of the Trenches.

(For those interested in a specific Military History focus, the book does a good job with the First World War in general but probably needs a supplementary text on the nitty-gritty of French-loaned equipment of and battles fought within by the 369th to fill that need. (This seems like an ideal title for the Osprey Elite series but sadly such a Harlem Hellfighters volume does not exist.)
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VINE VOICEon April 25, 2014
I read an article about this in Entertainment Weekly and had just finished reading another book about World War 1 (Sergeant Stubby) which had whetted my appetite to find out more.

Canaan White's illustrations are FANTASTIC. Each character is clearly identifiable, the inked black and white pages are both moving and able to capture movement. Some of the best art I've personally encountered in a graphic novel in quite some time.

As to the narrative itself, Edge is the main character (he is fictional, but named after someone Brooks knew in real life). Edge like many soldiers before him is eager to get to the front lines and prove himself in battle. However, he and the rest of his battalion learn that this isn't that kind of war. Through Edge's eyes and experience Brooks takes his readers on a tour of both World War 1 trench warfare but also the experiences specific to the Harlem Hellfighters ( a name given to them by the German troops, they had others too).

Like many groups that continue to face adversity their most triumphant moments in history are often swept under the carpet of general knowledge. Brooks learned of this group of soldier via an enthusiastic college student that worked for his parents when he was younger. He carried this story with him through his whole childhood and and education and into adult hood. He tried at first to get it made into a film (and we can see where that is going to happen now, no doubt) and was told there would be no public interest in such a venture.

Edge himself is a fairly straightforward character, since he is mostly serving as a POV for the audience. There are other characters that he encounters in his story that have more flare to them. They are both fictional as well as non-fictional. We meet, for example, one of Jazz's most influential early members, James Europe.

What this book is great for is giving its reader a snapshot of something all Americans should have been learning about since it happened. It is a really quick read and you finish it feeling like you know a bit more about the world you live in. Because it is so quick and also has to pack in fact after fact it doesn't allow much room for character depth--everyone we meet is a pretty quick sketch. What we essentially get is a tour of Harlem Hellfighter life. It isn't a character driven piece (which hopefully whenever they do develop it into a movie, they will add more character depth, its potential is there). With all of the facts that Brooks has packed in a reader runs the risk over being overwhelmed, he luckily has set the narrative a such a pace that that really doesn't happen.

It is definitely worth reading and I wouldn't be surprised to see it earning a place along side Maus in terms of the educational importance of graphic novels.
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‘The Harlem Hellfighters’ written by Max Brooks and illustrated by Caanan White is an entertaining new book by author who marked the horror genre with his two excellent zombie books that in a different ad more intelligent way dealt with this topic.

The Harlem Hellfighters is the name the Germans gave to the 369th infantry back in the World War I and in this book Brooks is telling story about their fictional adventures that started from the boot camp to the bloody combat confrontations that have marked this worldwide conflict.

Except for the fantastic display of battles that are drawn excellent, this topic is particularly interesting because is this conflict for the first time it was possible for American commanders to be black.

The illustrations are made in black and white technique which is a good choice given book theme.

Overall, a great fictionalized account of an African American infantry unit during WWI that was made by author who once again proved that knows how to make a great story.
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on February 12, 2016
This is an absolutely wonderful book. I feel like I owe the author and the artist a debt for making this book. It really moved me. As I am typing this review I can feel the emotion, energy and the weight of the story of The Harlem Hellfighters churning inside of me.

These were men that were tougher than the tough times that they lived in. Their story is one of incredible courage. They lived in a world that gave them nothing but subhuman treatment and were then placed in grave danger in defense of that world. Despite being stuck between a rock and a hard place they enthusiastically jumped at the chance to fight for their country. This story may be a fictional account but I have learned enough of the real story to know that much of the book is, in fact, factual.

I first learned of The Harlem Hellfighters by watching a World War I documentary. Admittedly, I never heard of them until very recently. I was astounded that I had never encountered a single story about them in my entire life. I purchased this book - as well as other literature - in order to learn as much as I possibly could about the 369th in the War to End All Wars.

I love that the story is told in the Graphic Novel medium. The illustrator is quite brilliant in his ability to visually enhance the author's writing and convey the grit and raw emotion behind the words. A picture really is worth a thousand words. Some of the panels depicted scenes that would have taken many pages to describe in words.

The real life picture at the end was a fantastic touch. I looked into their eyes and I could see the fire and passion that drove them.

I would like to thank the author and the illustrator. This is already one of my favorite books. Thanks to your choice to use your powers and skills to educate and entertain an audience with your take on the story of The Harlem Hellfighters their victories will continue to awe and inspire This was a moving tribute to them.
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on September 12, 2015
There were quite a few errors in the story itself which as a WWI Black Military History researcher I picked up on immediately but the purpose of the book and the fury and devastation that was presented was very real and I am glad he wrote it. I just wish he had done more research on the subject before he wrote it. The unit, like the 371st was trained for combat but was not allowed to fight because of Jim Crow, Pershing, who had fought with Black troops before, wanted them to have the chance to fight but initially his hands were tied until the French made a request for manpower. They reminded Wilson of the help the French Navy provided in the Revolutionary War and requesting a "Return of the favor". Wilson did not want the Regular army to go into the field until the were all there but the Black troops were National Army and were given two options, be stevedores or combat troops, they elected to fight beside the French. Pershing was the one who worked that out for them. He wanted them to have the opportunity to prove themselves to America and the World and they did a damn good job. Also the 369th was part of the so called Lost Battalion, but that is another story, my great Uncle was in that unit and I have personal knowledge of that story. So there are a lot of errors in the book but it makes for a good read though it is bias and misleading in many areas.
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on March 13, 2016
I admire Max Brooks for his perseverance in telling this story. Too often stories are left untold because Hollywood says they won't sell. This is true for the Harlem Hellfighters.

Of all the times in history, I find WWI to be the most fascinating. I remember learning in my IB world history class that something as simple as an assassination could start this huge war and involve nations across the world. I remember thinking how insane that seemed, as a naive 10th grader. What I don't remember is learning anything about these decorated soldiers who came home to the same racism and hatred they faced before and during the war.

Elements of the story are fictionalized but the sentiment is there. Even though the art isn't my style, it does the job of adding to the story. It's a quick little history lesson that will get you thinking.

I hope you get you Medal of Honor, Henry Johnson.
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on August 30, 2014
As a history teacher, I overlooked the history of this regiment and am so happy to be exposed to it by Max Brooks. This is not the 'best' historical graphic novel, but it does explain to me and help me emotionally connect to the material and history VERY WELL. I could see using excerpts in a classroom. Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon April 12, 2014
In the long history of war we have many instances of minorities who are treated many times as less than second class citizens. This is very inherent in the imperial armies of the French in Indo-China and Northern Africa and the British all around the world where the sun never set on its Empire.

Such anomalies were in existence in all of the United States Armed Forces throughout the late 18th and the entire 19th century and half of the 20th century. During this time frame the black men of these times served in the military very often times as support troops doing menial tasks very much like slaves prior to the Civil War. During the 19th century we see for the first time that blacks were used in the Indian Wars of the West and were given the name of Buffalo Soldiers.

This piece of historical fiction is based on factual material written by Max Brooks and illustrated in black and white by Caanan White which gives us a detail account that many Americans have no knowledge of. This being the centennial of the start of WWI, we are also given an education of a black 369th Regiment from New York. The fact that this unit was one of the first American units to be deployed to France and the French at this time were in desperate need of fresh combat troops to be the needed fodder to fight the German Hun, we see the 369th fighting not with other American units but rather the French.

At this time in American history the American army would not use a black regiment to fight in any combat arm during WWI. However the French needed bodies and for them the color of the skin did not matter. Brooks shows the frustrations and the injustices that the black soldiers had to endure. What the author also brings to the table is that this regiment was one of the most decorated of all the units in WWI. It endured the most time of all American units on the combat line.

If you go to Harlem today you can visit the 369th Regiment Armory and see a monument of the Harlem Hellfighters so named by their German adversaries on the Fields of Flanders.

This book gives a wonderful history of this unit and is an enduring story which should be imbedded into American Military History.
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on August 26, 2014
loved this book. I am so glad that it did not come in the usual comic book form. I am going to have to read more about these great American fighters. if you like action and comics, it is a must to read.
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