Women at War

Article by, Mariah Senecal

Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Matthew Woodson
Color: Jordie Bellaire
Cover Artist: Tula Lotay
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics  

In celebration of women’s history month this review focuses on Rebels, the historical fiction comic series written by Brian Wood (DMZ, Demo). Rebels #7 is a standalone issue based on the American folktale of “Molly Pitcher.” Pitcher wasn’t a real woman, rather, it was a name chosen to represent what many women did in early American wars; they followed the army cooking, cleaning, hauling water and foraging surrounding areas for food. In addition to these tasks several women engaged in actual combat either by disguising themselves as men or simply by joining the fight when the situation called for it. Rebels #7 tells the story of an extraordinary woman named Sarah Hull who stood by her husband’s side during the war, and even took his place in battle when it became necessary. As much as this is a story of bravery and love, it is also the untold story of many women who were never recognized or rewarded for their contributions in early American wars. Brian Wood is joined by the remarkable artist Matthew Woodson (Northlanders, Meathaus) and Jordie Bellaire completes the comic with her stunning coloring skills.

Sarah Hull is described as untameable and was viewed as an irreplaceable asset to her husband’s cadre. Most of her story is told through a letter written to the American government by her husband as he explains the circumstances of their meeting and marriage, and ultimately her role in the Saratoga campaign. Sarah’s husband, Sam Hull, was a Captain in the army and after his passing he requested that his wife be granted not only half of his military pension, which was customary, but also her own full military pension for her services in the war. In his letter he describes the extreme lengths Sarah went to as both a camp follower and a woman who engaged in combat. This story may not be entirely factual, but there were many women like Sarah Hull during the American Revolutionary War who have never been recognized or compensated for their service.

This issue (so presumably the whole series) of Rebels is extremely well written. It effortlessly blends a heartwarming love story with American Folklore and some history you may not know to create an epic recognition of women during the American Revolutionary War. Brian Wood is passionate about historical comics and this is undoubtedly apparent through his writing. The story is half told through a letter recounting past events and is coupled with dialogue between characters to set the perfect scene. Wood uses a tone and language appropriate for the time period, and he uses dialogue sparingly and appropriately throughout the issue. I truly enjoyed and savored every word of this comic in a way that I usually save for my favorite novels. Wood asks his readers to open their eyes to the reality of our history, and to read between the lines to do so. Many of the issues he presents are clear, but to get a true understanding of his goal I would highly recommend reading the page long afterward at the end of this comic. 

Matthew Woodson is an extremely talented freelance illustrator who has worked for dozens of clients including Dark Horse, Image and Vertigo comics, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and many more. His work is versatile, as it seamlessly captures not only the intensity of being at war, but also the tranquility and passivity of the natural world. Each panel is a beautiful work of art, and Woodson’s depiction of Sarah Hull shows her to be both joyous and fierce. His work is almost painfully expressive as he is capable of capturing the love shared between Sarah and Sam, and also the horrors of being at war. I could spend days talking about the art in this issue. Woodson says so much without using words, and coupled with Jordie Bellaire’s brilliant coloring this issue is phenomenal. Bellaire’s coloring depicts eerily orange skylines lit with cannon fire and the gritty reality of being at war. 

This is an extraordinary story of love, bravery, and pride, yet to Sarah Hull it was simply an account of her dedication to her country. She fought by her husband’s side when she was needed, and never complained about the lack of recognition. Although this story may not be entirely factual, there are many accounts like this one that were never fully recognized. In honor of women’s history month you can read about some extraordinary women here, and if you’d like to jump straight to a relevant stories about women in the American Revolution start here. The creative team did a fantastic job with this issue, and having read only the 7th so far, I feel some historical fiction may be in my future. Rebels #7 was published on October 14th, 2015 by Dark Horse Comics, and can be found on Amazon or through Dark Horse. 

On a side note, if you like the idea of women fighting equally alongside men you should definitely check out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (go ahead and bring a copy of Rebels to the theatre and read it during the previews!)  What better way to celebrate women than reading historical fiction and watching badass ladies kill zombies!

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