A review a day: Crogan’s March
The second volume of Chris Schweizer’s Crogan Adventures is out! It’s called Crogan’s March, it’s published by Oni Press, and it costs $14.95. That’s fifteen bucks for over 200 pages of early twentieth-century Foreign Legion action! How can you resist???
Well, you shouldn’t resist. Much like the first volume, Crogan’s Vengeance, the latest is pretty danged excellent. It’s a bit darker than the first, which is, as a pirate tale, more swashbuckling. In this book, Schweizer tackles some more pertinent issues to current events, as the debate throughout the book is whether the French are doing any actual good in north Africa. It’s nice that in what is something that teenagers can read (the book is “rated” for people 13 and up), we get some interesting geopolitical debate. It’s far more interesting than we usually get in comics, I’ll tell you that much!
The set-up of the book is the same as the first, as will probably remain for the series. In the present, Dr. Crogan discovers his sons, Cory and Eric, doing something that requires a life lesson. In this case, Eric (the older brother) is trying to tell Cory what he can do with his money, because his parents told him he needed to “watch out for him.” Cory claims he can make his own decisions, while Eric disagrees. Dr. Crogan tells them that this idea – whether someone can take away someone else’s choices – has a long history, especially with regard to colonialism. Schweizer’s conceit in this series is that the Crogan family has an impossibly impressive pedigree – we see the family tree at the beginning of each book, and it’s full of stereotypical “action” heroes, from “Catfoot” Crogan the pirate to a Japanese ninja (yes, really) to a Wild West gunfighter to a diamond miner to a secret agent to Peter Crogan, the hero of this book. And they all live stories that help teach life lessons! Fancy that! Dr. Crogan explains to his sons that the French Foreign Legion was a group of soldiers from different countries (which isn’t totally true, as many French natives fought in it) who fought for France, always in colonial adventures (Dr. Crogan uses the past tense, but the Foreign Legion still exists). In 1912, Peter Crogan was in the Legion, stationed in north Africa. And so the adventure begins!
Schweizer acknowledges the debt to Percival Christopher Wren, who wrote Beau Geste and set the standard for fiction about the Legion, and in many ways, this book is extremely old school (I’ve never read Beau Geste, so I can’t say it’s like that), with plenty of action and adventure and soldiers awaggering about the Algerian desert. There’s a martinet sergeant, a dashing, heroic major, mysterious raiders who swarm out of the hills and besiege a fort, and a desperate trek through the mountains to safety. If you enjoy action, you’ll love this. But Schweizer adds plenty of depth to the book, too. The martinet sergeant is certainly tough, but he also understands a great deal about what the Legion is doing in Africa. Captain Roitelet is a hero to the men, but when he first shows up, he has been demoted (from major to captain) for unknown reasons (but it’s implied it’s because he’s too “heroic” for the stodgy officer corps). Peter Crogan is more thoughtful than the rest of the men, but even he admires Roitelet and doesn’t understand why Sergeant Ludlow isn’t besotted with him. Ludlow explains himself and his objections to Roitelet, and then Roitelet himself tells Crogan his philosophy. It’s the principle that Dr. Crogan and his kids were debating at the beginning of the book: Ludlow believes that the rights of the French Revolution – “liberty, equality, fraternity” – shouldn’t be exclusive to France, and the common people who live in slavery in north Africa deserve a chance for freedom. Roitelet, on the other hand, believes they’re nothing but savages who should be thankful that France is paying them any attention. What’s interesting about this argument is that while Ludlow is more enlightened than Roitelet, he still doesn’t believe the natives are capable of gaining freedom on their own. Is he any better than Roitelet?
Later on, when Crogan gets separated from the rest of his unit, he ends up in the mountains helping a bunch of native refugees get to the main French fort. One of the natives, an old woman, argues with him constantly about the French presence in north Africa. It’s a fascinating argument, and it keeps getting interrupted by events, where the two often find common ground. Schweizer never beats us over the head with it, and just because the old woman has her moments doesn’t mean she’s going to form a different opinion of Crogan or the French. It’s impressive how Schweizer manages to bring up his points while the group moves through dark caves in which lurk dangerous things. The sequence remains tense even as the two characters argue political and cultural points.
Crogan’s March is more downbeat than the first book, possibly because Schweizer is dealing with things that are still relevant today. Piracy might still be around, but the idea of colonialism remains a difficult point of contention among colonialists and the colonized. Schweizer does an excellent job of giving us rip-roaring action, but there’s always an undercurrent of tragedy (mainly because it’s often tragic) that leads us closer and closer to a conclusion that gives us no easy answers. Dr. Crogan ends his tale in a wonderful spot, explaining exactly why he do so but also making sure the readers understand the futility of war without being graphic about it. It’s really a tremendous ending to a great book.
Schweizer’s the kind of artist who, on the surface, looks a bit cartoony and therefore perhaps lacking in “realistic” details. However, he blends his exaggerated character features with wonderful attention to detail. Check out, for instance, our first glimpse of Tafizet:
We get this throughout the book. The battle scenes are frantic, the scenes in the cave are claustrophobic, and the characters, while they are a bit exaggerated, are still memorably drawn. Each panel gives us plenty of visual information, even the ones that are all black (and there are a few). Schweizer is very good. You know it’s true!
If you missed Crogan’s Vengeance, you should probably rectify that right away. However, if pirating doesn’t sound like your thing but legionairing does, you should definitely check this out. You don’t need to have read the first volume, and it’s quite excellent.