A Book Review
of Michael Heimos’
Fever Ridge: A Tale of MacArthur’s Jungle War
By Lance Zedric
About four years ago, when attorney turned author Michael Heimos e-mailed me that he was writing a graphic novel entitled, Fever Ridge, based loosely on the experiences of his grandpa while serving in the 6th Infantry Division, and partly on the exploits of the Alamo Scouts in the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA), I was intrigued. But I must confess, given the anachronistic late baby boomer I was, and having treaded precariously for years in the unfamiliar waters of the millennial techno pool, he caught me with my genre down and my age showing.
I wanted to help, but what did he mean by “graphic novel”? The “novel” part I understood, but “graphic” stumped me. Was he referring to “graphic” violence? After all, war is violent—and graphic. Or did the novel just contain “graphic” language? I’d heard plenty of that growing up in a blue-collar town in Central Illinois, and having spent years in high school and collegiate locker rooms and four years in the Army, I could speak “graphic” with the best of them. That “graphic” was right in my wheelhouse, so I used my best online poker face and replied with booming, author-like authority that I would help in any way I could. But what about other forms of “graphic”? Photographic—not a problem. Loved photos. My wife was a photographer, so even by proxy I was in. Or could it be a “lithographic” novel? No, sounded too artsy. Nobody does “old stone” novels anymore. They went out with the pharaohs, so that narrowed it down to either a “typographic” or “pornographic” novel. “Foul! Foul!” I shrieked. Neither was acceptable. One can’t have misspelled pornographic novels circulating! Nah, we’re talking about the Alamo Scouts here. They performed over 110 missions behind enemy lines in World War II. They were real!
So what was a graphic novel? I had to know, but somehow life—and early onset middle age coupled with fatherhood, forgetfulness, and the writing of two books of my own—interrupted my thought stream, which wasn’t all that deep to begin with. Fast forward to late January 2016, when I discovered Fever Ridge, which had been published in 2013, for sale on the internet. So I ordered it. When the book arrived I had my answer in less than a minute. A graphic novel is a comic book on steroids. Lots of them. Boy, did I feel dumb! Must be “Low-T.”
According to the author, Fever Ridge “is a historical fiction substantially based on true events,” that explores “unique perspectives, exotic locales and peoples that may be different than any you have encountered previously…including a secret that could have changed the war, and the world.”
Sounds great, but keep in mind, it is a novel—an eclectic hybrid of sorts, that interweaves elements of the Teutonic Knights, Nazi rockets, WWII U.S. internment policies, fanatical Japanese soldiers, New Guinea natives, Douglas MacArthur, cannibalism and more into what the author calls his “experiment in Intertextuality and Mystical Realism.” I don’t know about all that, but it dovetails nicely into a wildly creative homage to a beloved grandpa and illustrates the author’s admiration for American and Australian soldiers that served in the war.
At the end of the day, Fever Ridge is a glossy, 132-page, four-issue bound volume that blends edgy narrative with outstanding artwork by illustrator extraordinaire Nick Runge. His sometimes ominous, often haunting, but always poignant depictions evoke a darker, almost surrealistic pathos and shame the pulpy rags of yesteryear. Superman, Sgt. Rock, and even the untouchable Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos of my youth pale in style, dialogue, and reader appeal.
Besides a reader-friendly bibliography, real wartime photos of grandpa, and a functional index, Fever Ridge contributes little to the extant body of knowledge on the Alamo Scouts, but rather offers a creative and pseudo-historical interpretation that might connect with a younger, more visually sophisticated, and modern audience in a way that will hold their fleeting attention and spark interest in real events. If that doesn’t work, the “graphic” language that appears throughout the work, along with the pretty naked lady on page 83, just might. In the end, it’s whatever works to get the message out. Worth a read.