Jess Ruliffson’s Invisible Wounds doesn’t pretend to be an earth-shattering story about war heroes; it is simply a tale of how facing death, danger, and heartbreak on the battle front can irrevocably change the men and women sent to fight for other nations’ freedom around the world. Based on interviews with Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, the comic gently and kindly tries to show how PTSD and other hidden injuries affect our warriors after they’ve come home from a tour of duty.
I have family members and friends associated with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, plus I live within easy driving distance of Fort Hood, so the reality of emotionally fragile war veterans attempting to reintegrate into society is ever present. Even those that don’t face combat often find that the world passed them by during their year or so abroad, and they are the lucky ones, since their world view hasn’t been tainted with constant fear for their lives, struggles at providing useful aid, and increased adrenaline. As a result I was predisposed to be open to Ruliffson’s short work about a struggling veteran after his return from Iraq. The nameless soldier doesn’t have dramatic outbursts or act out violently, but civilian life simply doesn’t fit as well as it did before his experiences in the war. People around him treat him differently, and, sometimes, he faces fear and anger from those he expects to understand. The gently winding tale hurt me to read, because I could see parallels in what I have read and heard from veterans I have spoken with on a few occasions; however, the ending gave me hope that if we can provide societal support for these men and women, they can gradually heal enough to live in the civilian world without fear.
My only complaint with Invisible Wounds is that the story just stopped rather than winding to a real conclusion. I could see what Ruliffson’s intent was for the book, but the dialogue/words didn’t adequately express it; however, given she was basing the story on real-life interviews, her subjects may simply have not offered a neatly tied up resolution. Humans don’t work that way after all.
Ruliffson’s black-and-white art work isn’t technically perfect, but it helps create a sort of “inside the head” feel for the work. I got a sense of viewing situations almost from the protagonist’s point of view, which made the rough feel of some scenes perfect.
Invisible Wounds isn’t a comic to pick up if you want a light read about soldiers saving the day; however, if you want a look inside the mind of veterans refined from their own words, this is touching, heartfelt, and meaningful. If it helps to opens more people to the difficulties our servicemen and women face reintegrating into society after time in a war zone, Ruliffson has done a good deed for everyone.
4.5 Explanations of Wildly Seesawing Emotions out of 5