Bear’s Tooth 1: Max, a graphic novel by Yann and Alain Henriet, is the first of three books so far that tell the story of three childhood friends whose fates will be linked as adults throughout World War II.
Translated from the original French, Bear’s Tooth begins with an exciting World War II battle scene: an American convoy fighting off a kamikaze attack at sea. One pilot’s actions stand out, and via flashback, he is introduced as a child, along with his two friends.
Max, Hanna, and Werner grow up in Silesia, a Polish area whose control is disputed by Germany. The kids all dream of piloting planes, but complicating matters is the fact that Max is Jewish, while Werner and Hanna are of German descent.
Werner dismisses Max’s concerns about the creeping Nazi influence: “Nazism? Pah! It’s just like scouting!” But Max’s family, fleeing persecution, emigrates to America, putting Max on the course to becoming a pilot for the United States. Before he leaves, the three children vow to be friends forever, but the book’s ending sets up a dramatic confrontation that will test that promise.
Yann’s story soars, placing three innocent children in the path of historical events that alter their lives uncontrollably. Though there’s a grand drama playing out, it’s the small instances of characterization—Werner’s ignorance of the Nazi ideology, and his later efforts to protect Max, for example—that bring the book to life.
Henriet’s art is outstanding, crisp, and clean. He excels at detailed battle scenes and the subtle expressions and gestures of conversations. Bear’s Tooth 1: Max is a compelling book whose ending will have readers breathlessly anticipating the next volume.
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