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If you’ve never gotten around to reading Chris Schweizer’s “Crogan Adventures,” you’re doing yourself an injustice. Schweizer cranks out one of these every two years or so, and he has a bunch to still get to. The conceit is simple: a man is telling his two sons about their family history. Said history is filled with all kinds of colorful characters who just happen to live in exciting times and do exciting things. So far we’ve had a pirate adventure and a French Foreign Legion adventure (which I reviewed here), and now Schweizer checks in on the American Revolution with Crogan’s Loyalty, which costs $15 and comes to us from the fine folk at Oni.
As always, the book begins with a framing device that checks in on the present-day Crogans. The father has some issue with his brother, whom he’s about to see for the first time in years, and so he decides to tell his two sons about two Crogan brothers who fought on opposite sides during the Revolution. Charles Crogan was sent “east” to school – presumably to England – so he wasn’t caught up in rebellious fervor like his brother William. So now Charles is a ranger for the British while William is a scout for the rebels. Early on in the book, Charles is in the woods, scouting for his unit to make sure there aren’t any rebels in the area. Meanwhile, William has been sent to visit the Shawnee to convince them to support the colonists – he and Charles know the chief from their childhood, so William believes he has a chance. They stumble across each other and their adventure begins! They meet Bess, the young lady William is sweet on; they meet Ken Darty, a local man who wants the colonists to expand westward at the expense of the Natives, whom he considers savages; they meet Jonah Red Legs, the Shawnee chief, who doesn’t want to fight on either side but can’t keep the younger men in the band from offering their services to the British; they meet Two-Tom, a fierce Mingo who has his own agenda, which includes kidnapping Bess; they meet Charles’ unit, which is made up of both British and Hessians, including Captain Unterbrüsch, who takes offense that William calls his men “mercenaries.”
Charles and William argue throughout the book, but Schweizer does a good job making sure both that the argument is interesting – they rehash stuff occasionally, of course, but they still score some good points – and that he intersperses the arguments with plenty of action. William is captured by the British, but then they find out that Bess’ farm has been attacked and Bess kidnapped, so Charles lets William escape so he can find his girl after William promises to quit fighting. Instead of scouting, Charles joins William, but he doesn’t know that William has stolen Unterbrüsch’s notebook, which contains maps and troop movements and would be invaluable to the colonists. They find Two-Tom, but Unterbrüsch has discovered the theft, so he’s after them too. There’s a good deal of violence before it all gets sorted out!
The Crogan books are very much boys’ adventures, to the point that Bess is, I think, the first woman character of any consequence in the first three installments (I can’t remember if there were any women in the pirate adventure, and while a woman helps the main character in the Legion story, she’s not terribly active – she just shows him some hidden ways around the desert). Bess can actually handle herself fairly well, as she’s good with a sling and a knife and uses both when the brothers catch up with Two-Tom. This is still a masculine kind of series, with themes of brotherhood and loyalty and fighting for what’s right playing a very big role, especially in this comic. (Yes, I get that girls’ fiction can deal with those themes as well, but they’re traditionally associated with boys’ fiction.) Charles believes that William is foolish, while William doesn’t see the irony of calling Charles a traitor. The best thing about the book is that Schweizer refuses to make anyone a true bad guy – the two worst people in the book are Darty and Two-Tom, and even they aren’t completely evil, as they both have reasons for their actions. The British and Hessians are just soldiers, trying to treat a fellow soldier – William – with respect even if he’s on the other side. Unterbrüsch is more offended that William stole his papers after they treated him fairly well than he is that William escaped. Jonah knows the folly of war, but he also understands that young people are often ruled by their passions, and he can’t stop them. Charles and William themselves are immovable from their positions, and it’s refreshing that Schweizer never wavers on that, even when Charles decides that he has to help his brother. This makes him a traitor whether he wants to be or not. As Unterbrüsch says at one point, “Your duty is not to be a good man. It is to be a good soldier.” Schweizer, however, is not convinced that the latter is better, and that’s partly what the book is about. When does being a good man trump being a good soldier?
As always, Schweizer’s artwork is lovely. His cartoonish style belies a superb attention to detail, and his backgrounds are wonderful, evocative of the primeval forest that once covered that part of the continent. He doesn’t do anything fancy with page layouts, but within the panels, he shows an excellent grasp of body language and precision with scenes. His action sequences are brilliant, too – the big fight at the end with Two-Tom is exciting and gripping and brutal, even though he keeps it bloodless (again, this book is for kids as much as it is for adults). His characters are nicely drawn, each unique and full of personality. The only thing I didn’t like about the art was his design for Two-Tom, whose neck is far too long and is not separate from his face. It almost looks like a traffic cone on top of his body, and I wish Schweizer had done something different with the design.
Schweizer’s Crogan books are really marvelous comics – they’re excellent action/adventure stories, but Schweizer is smart enough and good enough to work in several fascinating themes that are pertinent to the plot – loyalty in this one, for instance – that make them stand out from other kinds of work in this genre. Schweizer always figures out what kind of characters these people are, and then figures out how they would react to certain situations. They’re very good comics, and I encourage you to give them a look.
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