Tuesday, September 06, 2022

He Who Fights with Monsters: a WWII Golem Fable

The Golem of legend is an avenger, but its unthinking actions often entail unintended consequences for those who summon it. As a result, it frequently punishes hubris. The desperate Jewish population of occupied Prague has no hubris left to rebuke, but the wakened Golem remains an unpredictable wild card in Francesco Artibani’s graphic novel He Who Fights with Monsters, illustrated by Werther Dell’Edera, which is now on-sale wherever comics are sold.

Now that the Soviets have “liberated” Prague, the old puppeteer can tell his story through his puppets to an interested officer. Three years ago, Jewish Dr. Radek Molnar did his best to tend to his patients, thanks to forged papers. However, he was not a proper arm-carrying member of the resistance, like his lover Zuzka. Yet, perhaps that is why the elderly professor they sheltered is so convinced Molnar is sufficiently righteous to re-animate the Golem. He even knows where the original clay and ancient texts are hidden in the city’s surviving synagogue.

This would indeed be an opportune time to raise the Golem. The occupying Germans are still taking brutal reprisals for the assassination of Heydrich. Transports are due to ship thousands of prisoners to the concentration camps. There is plenty for the Golem to avenge. Yet, the passage of time and the previous deaths on its hands have made the Golem unexpectedly mournful regarding the dire state of humanity.

It turns out, the Golem is one of two highly intriguing characters in Artibani’s fable-like war-horror story. The other is the puppeteer, a former informer. Instead of illustrating Nietzsche’s warning regarding monster-fighting, he is an acutely tragic example of what happens when you make a deal with the devil.

Essentially, Artibani uses the Golem to critique the eye-for-an-eye death-spiral of human wraths, but using occupied Prague as the setting to do so is definitely bold. Arguably, for some, it is so provocative, it might distract from the message itself. After all, if ever there was a regime that had some retribution coming it would be the National Socialists (of course, the same was true of our ally Stalin).

Still, there is something eerily haunting about this incarnation of the Golem. His unexpected sentience gives him a bit of a kinship with Karel Capek’s Newts and Robots. There is also a very era-appropriate vibe to Dell’Edera’s visual style that well-suits the story. This is definitely a graphic novel that will challenge readers, because it is a horror story that ultimately inspires more sadness than fear. On-sale today,
He Who Fights with Monsters is recommended for viewers intrigued by its sophisticated treatment of Golem lore and Czech history.