Book Review - Bomb (Graphic Novel) by Steve Sheinkin and Nick Bertozzi
The mark of a great graphic novel is one that wants you to slow down. One that says as much with its visuals as it does with its text. Adaptations have done this: both Kindred and Parable of the Sower succeeded with Octavia Butler's work. Other books yielded somewhat mixed but largely successful results like Anne Frank and Sandman. So how does Bomb stack up? Simply put, it doesn't.
Bomb tells the story of the nuclear weapons created for the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It also tells the story of the secrets, the espionage and the race to be the first to build a weapon of this magnitude.
There isn't anything egregious about the graphic novel version of Bomb. The framework is here, but because of the format, it simply reads too quickly. The problem is, this is a complicated book. There are a large number of players all vying to get this bomb made or steal the secrets. Time frame's become wobbly, main characters are introduced and skirted away, complications are layered and then quickly forgotten, and it all just requires a bit more digestion than this format allows.
It doesn't help that the visuals do little to differentiate itself. The style is--flat. It's gone through the motions, but it looks like any other generic war graphic novel. Sepia toned with light splashes of washed out greens and purples. It's all a bit drab. Even explosions and rubble seem to have taken a visit to the land of murky and faded. It's a far cry from the vivid explosions in War Across Time or the bright colors contrasted with hints of sepia in the other major war graphic novel this month, The Ghost Army. Problematically, the visuals don't aide in the story telling beside a few brief moments. I never found myself studying the pictures or wondering about subtext or counter-meaning.
I often wished I was just reading Bomb again instead of this.
So you might be wondering, what does work about this adaptation? The building of the bombs is still exciting, and the testing and inevitable explosions of the bombs feels palpable. In just a handful of pages, the author and artist manage to create the dread, awe and understanding of this bomb. That all works beautifully. In many ways, I expect this to be a great precursor to kids who will go on to read the full text afterwards.
The espionage moments that occur at the end of the novel also feel wonderfully executed, but the groundwork leading up to them felt confusing. I was surprised that certain key players weren't introduced until the last minute, and time frames felt confusing. Who did what? When? And this led to what exactly?
If I had to describe Bomb the graphic novel version, I would say, "it's fine." It doesn't quite live up to the source material. Visually, it needs to do way more to justify its existence. But the moments of excitement will definitely lead to the curiosity of the events around the building of the bomb. It almost felt like three different graphic novels in one: the building, the bombing and the espionage. But in 250 graphic novel pages, that's too much story to tell. I would forego this text in favor of The Ghost Army, or better yet, just read the novel version of Bomb. You'll get the answers you're seeking for there.
Bomb (Graphic Novel): The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon
Release Date: January 24, 2023