‘Four-Fisted Tales’ Tells the Story of Animals in Combat in a Graphic Novel

Comic Books Entertainment Reviews

As I have studied military history for decades, I have often come across stories of how animals were used during human conflicts. The carrier pigeons used to carry messages during World War I and other wars are an example. First-hand accounts of training dolphins for the navy were shared with me by relatives who were involved in the program. Therefore, when I heard about a graphic novel dedicated to telling the stories of animals in combat, I was intrigued and wanted to read it for myself. 

What Is Four-Fisted Tales?

The graphic novel Four-Fisted Tales provides stories of many different types of animals and their roles during combat. It was written and illustrated by Ben Towle, a four-time Eisner-nominated cartoonist. The book is published by Dead Reckoning, an imprint of the Naval Institute Press. It is available in a softcover edition, which can be purchased at your local bookstore as well as several online sellers including Amazon. A Kindle digital version is also available. The suggested retail price for both editions is $24.95. 

slugs in WWI
Slugs are used in the trenches of World War I. Image courtesy of Dead Reckoning.

Four-Fisted Tales provides 11 different tails—I mean tales—of animals large and small used to help soldiers, sailors, and airmen during combat. A prologue and epilogue start and end with a jar of insects with the Harlem Hellfighters during WWI. “Jack,” the story of a canine serving with the Union Army, starts off the stories. Ships cats, navy dolphins (as I mentioned earlier), mascots, another dog (this time during WWI), rats, bears, horses, birds, and even slugs are all included in this graphic novel. 

rats in Vietnam War
Rats were used to sniff out mines left over from the Vietnam War. Image courtesy of Dead Reckoning.

Why Should You Read Four-Fisted Tales?

Ben Towle’s writing and illustrations provide a great medium for honoring the roles of animals throughout military history. While I was aware of some of the stories told in this graphic novel, most of the tales were completely new to me. When I began reading Four-Fisted Tales, I intended to just read a story or two. However, after finishing one story, I decided to read just one more. By the time I set it down, I had read the entire graphic novel.

While the individual stories are fairly short, usually 5-9 pages, each one engages the reader, taking them to a new time in history and a new location. Each also offers a different manner of storytelling. This variety used by Towle really impressed me and made the graphic novel feel like it was a collection of stories rather than a single narrative with different chapters.

War is filled with death and destruction, and animals are often the unwilling victims of mankind’s conflicts. Yet Towles has focused on positive relationships between animals and the people with whom they work. Whether you are interested in military history, animals, or just enjoy interesting anecdotes, I recommend Four-Fisted Tales. I not only enjoyed reading it, I learned much and gained a greater appreciation for the relationships between humans and animals forged in the crucible of conflict.

navy dolphins
Dolphins were trained to stop enemy divers. Image courtesy of Dead Reckoning.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this book for review purposes.

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1 thought on “‘Four-Fisted Tales’ Tells the Story of Animals in Combat in a Graphic Novel

  1. As I just discovered from a quick web-search for this book, it appears that its title is actually a riff on a popular (?) series of war comics from the 50s called “Two-Fisted Tales” that sought to convey the realities of war as opposed to being wartime propaganda or to glorify war as most war comics of the time apparently were/did.

    FYI: it doesn’t appear that Barnes & Noble carries this book.

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