BOOK REVIEW: MWD: Hell is Coming Home by Brian David Johnson and Jan Egleson, illustrated by Laila Milevski and Karl Stevens

BOOK REVIEW: MWD: Hell is Coming Home by Brian David Johnson and Jan Egleson, illustrated by Laila Milevski and Karl Stevens

Candlewick Press
February 2017
Hardcover, $24.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Graphic Novel

7/10

With unflinching candor, a moving graphic novel follows a young woman’s return from war and her bond with two dogs—one who saves her life in Iraq, and another who helps her reclaim it at home.

Liz served in Iraq with her trusty military working dog, Ender, by her side. But now that her tour is over, she has to readjust to life in her small New Hampshire town. Despite being surrounded by people she’s known her whole life, Liz feels entirely alone and soon gets trapped in a downward spiral of flashbacks and blackout drinking. Things seem destined for a bad end, but when Liz’s on-again-off-again boyfriend, Ben, almost hits a stray dog while she is in the car, things start to change. Brutus might just be the only thing that can bring her back from the brink. Brian David Johnson, Jan Egleson, Laila Milevski, and Karl Stevens have created a searing and honest portrait of reentry to civilian life after war and a touching exploration of the bond between dog and human.

 

Anyone who has ever owned and loved a dog has to feel deeply the pain of leaving a dog behind against their will, but when that dog in question is left behind in a war zone, and when the person leaving the dog behind is dealing with PTSD and having a hard time settling back into normal life… well, you just know that reading this graphic novel is going to be a painful experience. But painful in an incredibly important way. In a way that helps those of us who have never been to war understand the disconnect veterans feel upon returning.

MWD: Hell is Coming Home explores the disconnect between a veteran and the civilians they return to, and the ways in which efforts to show appreciation can actually do more harm than good.

The reader is bound to feel uncomfortable as they witness Liz’s downward spiral, as she pushes more and more people away, and as she seeks, with increasing rabidity, the comfort of a dog that everyone else is telling her is dangerous and no good.

The reader is bound to feel this way because of how accurate and unflinching the portrayal of this downward spiral is, and we’re fed information in such a way as to have the most impact on the reader. 

Dog lovers are also bound to understand the connection Liz feels with this dog, Brutus. The way he brings her a kind of comfort no human can, and the way she wants to help bring him back from the dangerous place he has landed himself, why she is not willing to take everyone’s word when they say he is beyond help.

The only real qualm for this reader is that the journey of recovery is never discussed; the reader is merely shown Liz being given a “second chance” and then at a place where she seems to be coping with things a little more and some things have been resolved “months later”.

This is artfully done, and there are elements of the final image that will tug at the heartstrings of those who have gone on this journey with Liz, but one has to wonder if, had the story covered more of her recovery, would it not have helped further still to show the bridging of the gap between veterans and those who want to help them but can never figure out the right things to say?

 

BOOK REVIEW: MWD: Hell is Coming Home by Brian David Johnson and Jan Egleson, illustrated by Laila Milevski and Karl Stevens

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