Swan Song Part I

Swan Song Part I
Swan Song Vol. 1 Review
  • UK publisher / ISBN: Cinebook Expresso - 978-1-84918-548-6
  • Volume No.: 1
  • Release date: 2014
  • English language release date: 2019
  • UPC: 9781849185486
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no
  • CATEGORIES: European, Period drama, War

It’s April 1917, the third year of World War I, and the squad of French soldiers led by Lieutenant Kasinsky and Sergeant “Pat” Sabiane are limping back to the French front from another failed assault on the German lines. Their consolation is looking forward to long-promised furlough until another soldier passes by and shoves a crumpled stained document into the hands of one of their men. Nothing more than sheaves of paper with scribbled signatures, it is the fabled Hill 108 Petition, a protest by the common French soldiers against the senseless and despairing mismanagement of the French advance.

Merely having the document in their possession is an act of treason. French gendarmes (military police) crush this kind of insubordination ruthlessly and an argument ensues. Some men argue for signing and taking it to Paris in the hope it will bring change. Others argue for turning it in, simply wanting to spend what precious time they have at home with family. As events transpire, Kasinsky and Pat themselves are forced to make difficult decisions. Stay loyal to the French Military establishment who could care less about them and more about glory, or the men who have spilled their blood for France alongside them?

Writers Xavier Dorison and Emmanuel Herzet base Swan Song on the real events of the 1917 French Army Mutinies, a piece of French and Military history suppressed until 1967, but not fully revealed until 2017. While there were many contributing factors to the Mutinies, Dorison and Herzet focus mainly on the incredible loss of life, the rapidly dwindling confidence in General Robert Nivelle, and the docking of long-promised leave to send exhausted troops back to the front. The resulting story is both action-adventure and a neo-noir crusade for justice.

While the writers take some license, there’s nuance maintaining a believable amiable camaraderie between the working-class soldiery counterbalanced by an equally believable distrust for their more privileged officers. They love their Sergeant, but are less sure about their Lieutenant. At first, the plot seems driven by the idea of doing the right thing, but there is more to it. Events spiral because of unpredictable human responses, not honour, and the human attributes of anger, arrogance, classism, pride and humiliation lead to the inevitable tragedy that follows. How this plays out is well written, the mood building even if the plot is slow to reach what is a gripping cliffhanger.

Artist Cédric Babouche is an animator by trade and though his light fluid cartooning is unusual for the theme and won’t be to all tastes, it gives each of his cast a distinct likeness and personality. The scenes of men both in the trenches and going over the top are impressive and shocking, harsh violence depicted with sepia tones as dust, shrapnel, and powder smoke fill the air. It’s disturbing, but the sense is Babouche could do worse, restrained by choice rather than lack of skill. However, he can present a lovely flourish of the men simply enjoying some pilfered wine and extra rations in rustic French settings adding yet more humanity to the cast.

Swan Song Part I is a tale that rouses curiosity and sends you down google rabbit holes to find out more about the subject because you don’t know as much as you think, and what you do know is whitewashed. For something dressed up as a wartime action adventure, it is thought-provoking and continues with Swan Song Part II.