Review by Win Wiacek
Comics creators have a strong history of treating war stories right, and none more so than those who’ve actually served in combat. Wayne Vansant fought in the Vietnam War. After leaving the US Navy he attended Atlanta College of Art, graduating in 1975, and has specialised in fact-based war comics throughout his career.
Days of Darkness collects his 1990s work detailing the early days of America’s Pacific war, immediately following Japan’s shameful attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Seen through the eyes of a multi-generational and far-flung Texas family, the saga follows events and concerns affecting the Cahill clan. By extension, though, it’s the concerns of every American from that horrific sneak attack to the critical turning point when they finally started winning battles against an apparently unbeatable foe.
With a tremendous amount of detail easily delivered by a range of characters of every stripe and persuasion, the tale begins with a birthday party in Texas and an appalling war crime in Hawaii on the ‘Day of Infamy’, rapidly fleshed out by the immediate aftermath in ‘At Dawn We Slept, At Dusk We Wept’. Here the view is widened to encompass the multiple and simultaneous unannounced assaults on military and civilians in the Philippines.
The onslaught expands in ‘After Pearl Harbor – Japanese Juggernaut’ as British, French and Dutch colonies from Malaysia to Bangkok, Luzon to Burma, Borneo to Wake Island to Hong Kong fall to the Empire and Allied shipping and planes prove helpless against Japanese ordnance and tactics.
When General Douglas MacArthur abandons his responsibilities – and the population of Manilla – he leaves a token American force and many Philippine troops to a ‘Last Stand on Bataan!’. It’s packed with revolting and amazing vignettes of personal courage before the all-conquering Nippon forces compel the survivors to endure the infamous atrocity of the ‘Bataan Death March!’
The unfolding saga and the trials of Assorted Cahills eventually bring us to May 30th 1942 and the narrow victory that changed everything as Admiral Chester Nimitz and the US Pacific Fleet and Japanese forces all converge on a fortified and still fighting island to see fate and destiny play out in final chapter ‘The Battle of Midway!’
Supplementing the pictorial drama are numerous prose and picutre extra features, including the text of President Roosevelt’s request to Congress for a Declaration of War – plus his radio Fireside Chat to the nation on December 9th 1941. Adding context is a Cahill Family Tree, a map and history of the Philippines and a feature on the American nurses who attended the defenders and what happened to them.
Not only solidly authentic, but overwhelming in its sense of veracity and initial hopelessness, this dramatised history lesson is potent and powerful, easily blending military data with human interest and interactions, giving a time of true terror and dry statistics a shockingly human face. Despite never pulling any punches, Days of Darkness is not gratuitous concerning any people, white, black or Asian, male or female, and remains one of the most accessible treatments of the events in any medium. If you crave knowledge and understanding or just love great comics, this is a book you must see.