Over the course of only three issues, Niles and Santoro deal with themes as grand as love, death, faith, fear, responsibility, honor, and bravery, and they create full-bodied, rich characters through which to explore these various and overlapping themes. Since the story is grounded in characters more than in action, even when there is no action or when we know what action awaits us, there is still an immense amount of tension and an emotional depth to the story. All of this is breathtakingly brought to life by the gorgeous, quiet, and elegant artwork by relative newcomer Dave Wachter, a recent nominee of the prestigious Russ Manning Award, which is given to an artist who, in the early stages of his comics career, shows exemplary skill and promise. Done in black and white, Wachter’s detailed, realistic art flows from soft and light grays to thick and heavy blacks as the outside world comes crashing in on Noah’s village. The elaborate shadows and shading bring an appropriate somberness to the story and create an ominous environment that hangs over the characters, ready to fall and overtake them if they let it.
The facial expressions of the villagers are so exact and alive that you can see their hopes, dreams, and fears, all in their faces and in their eyes. The characters convey so much through their expressions and body language that, often times, there is no dialogue, as Niles and Wachter magnificently work together to show, rather than tell, creating a truly intimate story. When action happens, it is amazing, conveying power and fear through fantastic splash pages, while never glorifying violence. The action scenes are exciting, but never gratuitous, and are infused with a classic 1940s pulp sensibility, complete with phenomenal sound effects provided with by Blambot’s Nate Piekos. At the heart of Breath of Bones is the coming-of-age tale of young Noah, so when violence does erupt, we see it through his eyes, and it is presented with a measured restraint that perfectly links in with his emotions, anger, fear, and burgeoning bravery.
Breath of Bones is told, through story and artwork, with a natural realism that makes the appearance of the golem both fantastical and completely plausible. The golem’s arrival is something we hope for, if only to prove moments of light can exist in a dark world, and, in some of the quietest scenes, we see the power of determination and the importance of resistance against evil at any cost. Niles, Santoro, and Wachter also remind us of the beauty that can be found in comics, of the resilience of the human spirit, and that there is always hope if you believe.