Page 45 Review by Stephen
"My grandson was ten years old before he understood that people died in any other way than violence."
So there's a sentence to dwell on.
This is a beautiful book.
Its crisp white, satin-sheen pages boast the most fluent storytelling through the most fluid choreography, and the tightest figure work rendered with loose, sweeping brush strokes from the creator of THE LOST BOY.
Horses' limbs become a blur of motion when galloping. Yet when at rest they have all the weight, along with their flanks, which could carry a man for miles. Their eyes scream with a not-knowing terror as bullets blast into their skulls. When they fail to skitter up vertical hard-rock or scree-slopes which only Apaches and their ponies could conquer, you instinctively understand the skill, momentum and grip required and the gravitational insanity of any such attempt.
These giant mountains rise from the dusty plains like ancient, implacable, geological gods. A testament to time, 'awe' is the word we are looking for.
Faces stare out at you with hardened anger as eyes - which speak volumes and seem older than those who possess them - reflect on what has been seen, what has been done and that which is yet to come. What will be wrought their own hands; and by the White Eyes'.
The fists are very physical, clutching a burning branch to set fire to a pyre, and the hand which reaches out to lift a young girl's wrist from the palm of her mother's is unmistakably both flesh and bone. Such is Ruth's craft that you can feel not only the softness of skin and the tenderness of its touch, but also the emotion behind such a separation.
In a juxtaposition which drives the cruelty and gaping loss home, Goyahkla's daughter - alive and well and on the verge of becoming a woman - appears in a ghostly, fleeting flashback, her transition celebrated with due ceremony. Oh, it may delay the Apache in pursuit of their prey, but equally important to them is this: it means that the antelope they are hunting purely for sustenance will enjoy another day of life.
The balance of life and nature is brought home to you on the very first pages, in a tranquil, pure-water pond in private. It is a private moment, part ceremony, part presentiment, part passing of lore.
Contrast all that - as both Hawke and Ruth do - with the public, knee-jerk, incendiary actions and reactions of a Bluecoat Colonel whose ego gets the better of him in defending a lie he barely believes in himself, and whose pricked pride then ignites an unnecessary war all in the name of saving face, maintaining authority and his own personal power.
Contrast all that - as both Hawke and Ruth do - with the unnatural, seedy and duplicitous assignations of a prospector called Bruce who boasts of his sexual conquests before throwing them away like Kleenex into an alley of actual excrement. The White Man was always ever so very fond of declaring that his "Civilisation" surpassed the "Savagery" of those whose lands he successively invaded then stole for his own, but which one here stuck scalps up on stakes and boiled heads up in pots?
This is the crux of the matter: the appropriation of life-giving land, freely roamed by the Apache in harmony with nature, by the White Eyes in order to colonise it, dig out its gold and make money.
"Who are the Bluecoats to give us part of a thing which Usen gave us as whole? It is all our land."
"Not anymore. None of it is yours but what the White Eyes give you. Understand this."
"A Bedonkohe does not wait to be given back what was stolen from him!"
There is so much control, vital for a tale this terrible, and it is all too true. It's just not the one which have been telling in nearly a century of cinema. It is a story of betrayal.
Over and over again, individual trust is rewarded by betrayal.
This is no hagiography whitewashing the extent of the Apaches' revenge taken in anger. Indeed it begins with the wholesale slaughter of Mexicans including women and children in retribution for the same done to them. But it does redress the balance after years of careless or deliberate, propagandist fiction depicting the Apache people at the time as aggressively and gratuitously vicious, and it does so by presenting the multiple, successive provocations. And I emphatically do not mean provocation by confrontational word; I mean by murderous deed.
Actions and reactions are very different beasts.
This is in its truest sense a tragedy, for we know what will happen both to individuals like the legendary Geronimo and to the Apache people long after this graphic novel concludes. That is set in all-too-bloodied stone. But Hawke and Ruth compel us - with such passion, compassion and skill - to watch the wretched, hateful and inhuman events unfold before our eyes that we cannot look away. We are simply left to mourn their occurrence.
It's that historically inevitability which demands I leave you to witness the shameful specifics for yourselves without giving even a hint as to who does what to whom, when and why. At so many junctures so much could have been averted by individuals credited here for their more honourable interventions which are so blithely ignored or thwarted by gang-mentality hatred and flagrant insubordination.
Man's inhumanity to man. And so it very much goes.