Nevsky: A Hero of the People
written by Ben McCool
illustrated by Mario Guevara
It’s been almost 75 years since Sergei Eisenstein’s epic battle film Alexander Nevsky was released. The 1938 film told the tale of one of Russia’s greatest heroes, a 13th-century prince who rallied the battle to fend off the Golden Horde of Mongolia. But the film did not represent Eisenstein’s complete vision, nor did it greatly adhere to the truth (mostly as a result of Joseph Stalin’s heavy-handed overtaking of the film’s overall storyline --- which you can hardly blame Eisenstein for accepting).
Now, an intense and groundbreaking graphic novel picks up the pieces of the great film (much beloved, it turns out, by not only epic-cinema enthusiasts but many comics creators).
Let’s start with the art: It’s amazing. Mario Guevara vividly captures bloody scenes of war as well as he does the frozen Russian countryside, interiors of castles, and wartorn villages. The danger in graphic novels depicting page after page of gory battles is that the action is often incredibly hard to follow, and it can be hard to distinguish one character from another. Not here. Guevara’s style keeps the action flowing solidly, so the reader is drawn in and then swept away, as the story moves along at a crushing, breakneck speed. (The book finishes with a too-brief two-page art gallery from Guevara; sadly, the penciled work is presented too small. A larger gallery would have been impressive.)
Guevara’s work is beautifully complemented by the work of three colorists --- David Baron, Allen Passalaqua, and Peter Pantazis. The credits suggest that Baron did most of the heavy lifting with the coloring (he also art directed the book), but no matter how the workload was divided, the end result is stunning. The colors really contribute to the storytelling here in a crisp, clear way.
Writer Ben McCool (Choker, Memoir, Pigs) keeps the action moving at a swift pace. That the story is reminiscent of 300 (how could it not be?) is openly acknowledged, and obviously the movie serves as the storyline’s template, but McCool infuses the tale with enough of his own style and personality to create a unique vision (albeit not a wordy one --- this is a visual tale much more than a written one).
Steve Saffel provides a very informative short overview of the story behind the making of the 1938 film, and movie historian Naum Kleiman is interviewed as well, both of which yield wonderful insights behind the entire project.
Nevsky is both thrilling and engrossing, and moreover, the entire project is beautifully presented and well worth the $25 price tag for the hardcover.
-- John Hogan