A Near Miss: Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors graphic novel adaptation

A Near Miss: Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors graphic novel adaptation

by David Krigbaum

The current unpleasantness, through no fault of my healthy and vaccinated self, had us locked down again. So, all travel plans were canceled for a spell. On the upside, Doug Murray and Steven Sanders’ adaptation of James Hornfischer’s book about the Battle off Samar, Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, is finally out.

During the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Adm. Kurita’s Center Force, composed of the battleship Yamato and her entourage of battleships, cruisers and destroyers, engaged Taffy 3, an American task force of destroyer escorts, destroyers and miniature escort carriers, providing air support for the ground invasion. Yamato by itself weighed more than the entire American task force combined. None of the American vessels had guns which could penetrate even a cruiser’s armor and their aircraft were equipped with depth charges and high-explosive bombs with no penetrating power.

The outcome to the scenario which played out on Oct. 25, 1944 off the island of Samar should have been obvious.

Center Force got a one-sided pistol-whipping and retreated. Yamato never again was able to fire its main battery in anger against anything bigger than an Avenger.

The graphic novel plays out like a 200-page action comic that narrates the battle’s key events in a blow-by-blow style with flying projectiles and torpedoes, placing the reader on the decks and in cockpits. It plays to the visual medium’s strengths of showing instead of telling as much as possible. Likely a stylistic choice, text panels are kept to a minimum and the information delivered is sparse to the point it can sometimes get confusing as to who I am following. The art style is technically proficient in its depiction of ships, aircraft and men, though has a certain stiffness to it and the layout is very static. Nothing exactly leaps off the page. The color palette is beautiful but a bit flat.

If you’re coming with little knowledge of the battle, the book is visually engaging and will hopefully leave you wanting to learn more. But I think more could have been included with little disruption of the narrative flow. There also could have been more of an epilogue about the battle’s impact and the fates of men like Capt. Ernest Evans, destroyer USS Johnston’s captain, who was never found after abandoning ship and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Looking at his actions, which played out prominently in the book, it would have been a proper way to end his story and that of others so readers know that these men weren’t forgotten.

If the book had been called “Battle off Samar” I don’t believe I would have faulted it as much but I feel the title is a little misleading because while it covers some of the book’s material, it does so without making use of Hornfischer’s colorful prose or bountiful contextual information. What makes Hornfischer stand out as a military author was his ability to be academic and detail-oriented but also deliver in a memorable way. This doesn’t feel like an adaptation of a Hornfischer book but more like a World War II battle comic with a famous name plastered on the front.

If you want to read a graphic novel about a battle that delivers in storytelling and art, sharing the big picture and the little ones that comprise it, I recommend the works of Wayne Vansant. Like Murray, he’s a veteran of Marvel’s The ‘Nam, and concerning World War II he has made graphic novels on the Battle of the Bulge, Normandy, Guadalcanal, and America’s early days in the Pacific War. His dedication to his craft is impressive as his art and writing are backed by meticulous research making it as visually accurate as the story itself is true. He packs in more history with equally compelling battle scenes in 100 pages than this book did in 200.

Dead Reckoning, the US Naval Institute Press’ graphic novel publishing branch which made Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, published his historic fiction Katusha: Girl Soldier of the Great Patriotic War.

This graphic novel is worth a digital look, as the physical copy is not worth $29.95. Kindle editions are sold by Amazon for half that price.

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