There are a number of famous real and fictional European knights that usually jump into everyone’s minds: King Arthur, Joan of Arc, William Wallace, Roland…the list goes on. Few people, however, think of the name Alexander Nevsky, a heroic 13th century Russian knight who stopped not only the Golden Horde of the Mongols, but also defeated the marauding Teutonic Knights of the Holy Roman Empire. Some people, however, probably know about him from the acclaimed Sergei Eisenstein film of the early 20th century which followed Nevsky’s rise to fame and explored his heroic deeds. Trident Media Group and IDW Publishing joined forces to produce a graphic novel based on the film and I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to read the graphic novel in its entirety before its released to the public thanks to my friend, Mark Gottlieb, who worked on the publishing project. What did I think of Nevsky: A Hero of the People? Keep reading to find out!
Nevsky: A Hero of the People wastes no time making the reader hate Russia’s foes. The first scene shows the Mongol horde ransacking a small Russian village, butchering everyone regardless of age or gender. We then jump ahead a decade and a half to meet our hero Alexander Nevsky as he fights off the Mongols, rather than attempting to appease them like the nobles of the nearby city of Novgorod. The Mongols are defeated in short order, but a new and even more vile threat is on the horizon: the Teutonic Knights. The forces of the Holy Roman Empire (modern day Germany, for those who don’t know) maraud across the Russian landscape committing acts even more vile than those of the Mongols, all the while claiming they are on a mission from God. Rather than give tribute, the leaders of Novgorod decide to beseech Nevsky to lead their forces against the army of Grand Master Von Bolk. It is the ensuing battle that decides the fate of a nation.
Ben McCool pens Nevsky and showcases a story full of emotion. We experience the fear of the Russian villagers, see the insanity and brutality of Von Bolk and his forces, and witness the amazing determination and heroism of Nevsky and his troops. We’re treated to some truly inspiring words from Nesky, and it’s difficult for the reader not to feel drawn closer to the plight of his people. McCool does excellent work making us hate the villains: their vicious attacks and single-minded corruption fills the reader with hatred long before Nevsky ever engages them in battle. My only regret is that I wish we could’ve gotten to know more about Nevsky the man: what are his goals beyond the defense of his homeland? Does he have any hopes or dreams or fears? In that same vein, there was a side story concerning two Russian soldiers and a woman they both love; it was an interesting idea, but I felt we didn’t get to know them well enough either, though I felt they were likable nonetheless. Ultimately, McCool’s writing is quite good.
The art team for Nevsky consists of penciller Mario Guevara, colorists David Baron, Allen Passalqua, and Peter Pantazis, as well as letterer Shawn Lee. The art in this graphic novel really is superb. I especially liked the characters designs as their clothing and facial expressions did a great deal to portray their characteristics. The designs for the monsters that appeared as hallucinations were also quite cool, and added another layer of eeriness to the already exciting battles. The coloration is especially important for this, as the brave and heroic Russians were displayed with bright armor and clothing, while the vicious Teutonic Knights merely wore white and silver, making them appear stark, ghostly, and frightening. Even the lettering impressed me, as Lee made sure to only use different fonts and larger letters at key moments, avoiding the trap many letters fall into of overusing these tricks so that they become meaningless; here, however, Lee made a great impact with his choice of when to alter the lettering. Overall, the art on this book is high quality.
Nevsky: A Hero of the People is a superb graphic novel with great writing and exceptional artwork. The fact that it portrays an actual historical story gives the piece further resonance. After reading it, my first instinct was to research more about Alexander Nevsky, and doing so made me realize just how great historical comics can be. It’s a shame there aren’t more out there right now, but at least there’s Nevsky. The official release date is July 31st, so if you’re interested pre-order you copy today here. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed with what you find.
Brett Simon is a twenty-two year old comic enthusiast. He’s wishing Deadliest Warrior had made an episode of Alexander Nevsky.