Unleashing the monster
MONSTER myths – there is at least one in every community. But one community’s monster can sometimes be another’s angel.
The rock monster Golem in Breath Of Bones: A Tale Of The Golem falls into that grey crevice.
An important figure from Jewish folklore, “golem” (Hebrew for “shapeless mass”) is known as a “body without a soul” created to serve the creator. Unlike most monstrous creations, the Golem is brought to life by faith, not evil – it takes a believer to create one, and as legend goes, it usually rises to save the Jews from anti-Semitic persecution.
Here, Steve Niles (30 Days Of Night, Criminal Macabre) and co-writer Matt Santoro reincarnate the Golem for one of the biggest such incidents in history – the Holocaust of World War II. The story opens smack in the middle of a fiery battle somewhere in Europe in April 1994. At the frontline is a young soldier, Noah. In the face of flying bullets and exploding grenades, he is suddenly transported to another time and place in his life when he came face-to-face with death.
Noah then is still but a child in Poland at the brink of WWII, and can only watch his father march off to combat with the rest of the men in his village. One day, an Allied plane crashes in a nearby field. To his grandfather’s chagrin, Noah insists on helping and sheltering the injured pilot.
Fearing the inevitable retaliation from the German forces for protecting an “enemy”, Noah’s grandfather rallies the villagers to make a giant mud man, which he then begins to animate through prayers. When the German tanks and troops finally roar in, the villagers’ secret armour, the Golem, is instantly awakened to protect them.
This memory jolts the older Noah to his next action as the enemy troops advance on him and his squad. Drawing on the secret family “talent” he inherited from his grandfather, he sends his fellow soldiers to safety while he starts gathering mud. Although Noah’s story ends there, we know the mythic monster will rise once again to save the day.
What drew me to Breath Of Bones is the Golem – who can resist a monster story? And the tale of the Golem (not Gollum, mind) already has a familiar ring with so many pop incarnations, from Pokemon toThe X-Files, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds to even Dungeons & Dragons (the game).
Niles’ graphic novel, however, evokes a classic WWII film feel, and this is mostly thanks to its direct narration and Dave Wachter’s hauntingly sombre art. His swathes of dark hues sublimely capture the turbulent emotion of the time.
The darkness is only broken by shards of grey, which put the reader in a quandary in figuring out who the real fiend is: the moment of revelation of the Golem by Noah’s grandfather is cloaked in shadows while the arrival of the German soldiers is manifested in a burst of light.
In the end, just as Noah gives life to the mythic creature, Niles, Santoro and Wachter breathe new life into the age-old story.
Don’t be fooled by their seemingly simplistic narrative, though: Breath Of Bones bends the polar axis of good and evil into a blurry circle, casting the magnifying glass on not only Carl Jung’s theory of our need for an inner monster to project our repressed negative impulses, but also the controversial Zionist dream. As Noah shows us, in order to survive, we humans sometimes need to free the monster to combat the monster, but does that make it right? The question remains.