Waiting for the Moment- a review of Garth Ennis, Steve Epting and Elizabeth Breitweiser’s Sara

Let’s just get this out of the way immediately— Garth Ennis loves his war stories.  

Working with Steve Epting and Elizabeth Breitweiser, Ennis’ Sara doesn’t have the tough guy texture of a typical Ennis story, but if anything, Ennis is a far more versatile writer than he gets credit for.  When you look at some of Ennis’ more popular work, Sara lacks some of the self-loathing that shows up in Preacher, Punisher or his Nick Fury stories. Maybe that’s mostly due to Epting’s classical realism, with his line work resembling a cross of Milton Caniff and Al Williamson, that doesn’t allow any part of this book to be ugly either physically or even soulfully.  But even the story, the tale of a female Russian sniper in World War II, reads as something different for Ennis. This writer/artist/colorist collaboration has created a comic that melds each of their talents and tastes to produce a stoic, cold and efficient story about how wars change the people who have fight in them.

So while this is a story set in the snowy fields of Russia during World War II, Sara may not be an actual war story.  The character Sara is a product of her Russia as Ennis’s best stories are not about the wars but about the ways that the struggles of war and fighting transform the non-soldiers who are conscripted to fight enemies who remain largely faceless and nameless.  All we know about Sara before this story is that she was a college student before war came to Russia. Now she’s a killer of Nazis, a ruthless and efficient killer. Ennis and Epting focus on the stories’ present and not its past but they do give enough glimpses of the formation of Sara into the soldier that she is.  

Employing a cinematic clarity, Epting and Breitweiser create a stoic, cold environment which perfectly matches the stoic, cold story being told.  Epting’s concise storytelling has a job to do and it gets it done with the same professional attitude as Sara wielding her rifle; this is a job that demands the best of its professionals.  Epting’s characters are true actors on each and every page. He tells each person’s story through their body language, whether they’re a scared Russian girl or a shocked German, reacting the the guns and violence around them.

Epting’s realism also gives him and Breitweiser the ability to create the environment of this story.  They allow it to act as another force, working for and against Sara and her team. The cold, snowy, Russian front depicted here reflects Ennis’ characters.  They’re tough, isolated, and focused. Ennis and Epting build a past around Sara that is everything to the character as it gives a fiery soul to the story. In the book, there’s a structural conflict between the frozen environment of Russia and the revealed source of Sara’s anger towards the world around her.  Sara is the only one who knows what her and her comrades are fighting against. For as evil as the Nazis are, Sara recognizes the blood that’s on her countrymen’s hands as well as the blood that’s on the German’s hands. This frontier isn’t the place for innocents and children. The warriors like Sara have to be as icy as their environment, without letting the chaos of the fighting distract them.

A college student before the Germans invaded Russia, Sara is a now a killer- a ruthless and efficient killer.  Epting shows in her eyes that she constantly is aware of who and what she is. Unlike some of the others that she’s fighting alongside, she is not idealistic or even patriotic.  As they flash back to the past, Ennis and Epting reveal the events that have made Sara the professional that she is. She’s not a fanatic or a believer. If anything, she ends up being quite the opposite. Some war stories are propaganda, even decades after the real battles took place.  Ennis isn’t interested in war as an expression national pride or prowess. He explores how it eats away at people, stripping them of who they were or revealing them for who they truly are.

War made Sara the sniper that she is in this story.  When Ennis is at his best, he allows actions to define his character and in some ways this comic is all about the action.  Epting’s straightforward artwork makes Sara’s cold emotion concrete and rigid, like the character herself. Combined with Ennis’ lean dialogue, Epting’s artwork helps define the frozen nature of all involved, creating a book that feels as chilly as its characters.  Reading Sara, we may be waiting for some glimpse of warmth but even the warmer moments are tinged with a bone chilling cold that reminds us of the bloody Russian fields.

So, yes, Garth Ennis loves his war stories even as he hates what war turns us into.  Even the classically traditional artwork of Steve Epting and Elizabeth Breitweiser cannot disguise the corruptive effects of war on the human soul.  Sara should still be a college student somewhere, studying something like economics, art history, or political science. She should know anything other than how to sit in a tree waiting for just the right moment in time to kill a Nazi.  Sara is a war story that shows the cost of war on the human soul.

Written by Garth Ennis
Drawn by Steve Epting
Colored by Elizabeth Breitweiser
Lettered by Rob Steen
Published by TKO Studiovs