During the age of superhero movies, more people than ever before can tell you about how Captain America faced the Red Skull, how Loki pined for the throne of Asgard and in mere months, how the uncle of Darkseid was fended off by the Justice League and the world was safe for another moment. Sometimes, when watching Wonder Woman brave the trenches of the war to end all wars, we forget those who dug the trenches in the first place. We forget the months of territory slowing moving inch by inch. Further back, we lose sight of the attempts warlords and emperors made to unite the whole of human civilization through fire and bloodshed. We also forget those serving today to protect their loved ones or their way of life or at the very least for another breath. This is where Annadale Comics delivers us a history lesson, reminding us of siege warfare and what many consider to be a turning point in warfare itself.
700 Knights tells the story of the siege of Malta, when the Ottoman naval forces came in full force to rescue a hostage princess and take over what could be the most strategic point to effectively take all of Europe. For those of us who aren’t history buffs, it didn’t go as planned. This is a story about the Knights of Malta, the oldest remaining chivalric organization to still draw breath. It is also dedicated to those serving in the United States Marine Corp, lest we ever forget that our species has a nasty tendency to find more causes for warfare. In particular, dedication is mentioned to specific service members related to writer John Rapp. With his son and nephew in mind, he tells a story that shapes our world even today.
Where Rapp excels with this collection is his apt emphasis on geography and how it shaped siege warfare in particular. The characters who understood this were the ones to watch for and this became the defining characteristic that separates the better generals from the soldiers who followed their orders. Despite knowing to make these distinctions, Rapp wouldn’t be one to talk down the contributions of those who followed orders, always depicting the knights of Malta as being worthy in each other’s’ eyes of admiration and thanks. War may be Hell, but the soldiers who honor each other and carry themselves with dignity are the most glorious. As a byproduct of this big-picture approach to both plot and characterization, we don’t get to know much more about the characters themselves. Most seem devoid of any real personality other than base motivations. It wouldn’t work for a heartwarming popcorn flick, but this is a story with a wholly separate agenda.
Artistically, the story feels very full. Each page is speckled with tone-defining elements that genuinely do aid the reader in feeling the stakes. Even if they don’t care much what happens to a specific general, they can feel the chaos of the battlefield and the inevitability of conflict for those behind the walls. Illustrators Lou Manna and Nadia Rapacciuolo do an exceptional job of bringing the story to life while colorist Santosh P Pillewar fills the scenes in ways that maintain variance and color without ever breaking the tone set by the former. Other than an awkward pose here or there, the art captures what is needed to tell the story and to tell it well.
A theme in Rapp’s work would be the role of technology and how great of an impact it can have on the world in settings from fiction to historical. The hand cannon plays a role in the history of this siege that’s every bit as important as those who wielded them. We know all too well that those serving today would be receiving quite different training if it weren’t for these terrifyingly powerful miracles of science.
Since this theme along with the battle strategies are fleshed out more than the characters, this points to an unfortunate gap in showing, rather than telling, how important something is to a story. Other than a small detail of showing a soldier how to fire, it could serve much greater emphasis to hear from the soldiers what the implications of what they’re wielding truly are. In fact, those who brought the technology had no lines to speak of. No words of caution or awe. No doubts from the receiving party or talk as to how these affect the honor of those in possession of them. In modern times when these hand cannons have had countless technological offspring that are a heated topic to discuss in all uses for good or evil, it would be nice to at least have a nuanced reaction to their inception.
Nevertheless, this comic is a great starting point for those of us who want to know a little more about the history that shaped the world and the ever-evolving conflicts that punctuate it. Annadale Comics proves once again to have a strong knack for concept that you won’t be able to find on just any comic shelf. For readers who want a bit of reality thrown into their narrative cravings, the Siege of Malta is the setting for you and 700 Knights is the story to read.
Siege Warfare plot format
Tonal Consistency in art and writing
Appropriate doses of wit (can you spot the planet of the apes reference?)
Hollow, undeveloped characters
Bits of clunky posing/dialog