He Who Fights With Monsters (Story by Francesco Artibani, Art by Werther Dell’Edera)

Prague, 1942. The resistance is suffering defeat after defeat against the Third Reich, the boot of the superior forces eradicating anyone who even has the slightest connection to the resistance. Others resist in less violence ways, one man – a doctor – runs an underground hospital, but his connections to the armed resistance brings their defeats to his very door.

One patient, an old man, tells stories of a mysterious creature that can be called on to serve those in need, and – more in hope than belief – the doctor seeks out this creature and resurrects it. The Golem walks again amid Prague, but even an ancient avenger can only do so much against the Nazi war machine.

Atmosphere drips from every page of He Who Fights With Monsters, the story is tightly written and rushes by with such speed that its 150 pages or so seem like half the length. The art, while often not exactly pretty, serves the story well, working with the ugliness of the situation. In places the art is almost impressionistic in its approach, stark, often severe, but still manages to have moments where beauty shines through – most notably with the character of Zuzka.

Though marketed as a horror tale I found very little horrific in He Who Fights With Monsters, outside of the obvious horror of the Third Reich itself of course. It played out – to this reader – more as a supernaturally themed drama. As much as I enjoyed the book – and I did a great deal – this would be the thing I would change if I were able. The Golem is humanised a little too much, its intentions too clear and the control of it too easily maintained.

Black and white are too well defined, and greater grey would have served the story better. While the Golem becomes a weapon against the Nazi, it would have been better if had become one against broader injustice, and therefore potentially turn on those it was tasked to protect if they stepped over the line.

He Who Fights With Monsters is a great read, and highly recommended, but I think with a little more nuance it could have been much more. There’s real greatness potential in such a tale, and it is realised very well, but it does not reach as far as it could, and this is a shame.

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