After Valmy (1792) and Castillon (1453), the third volume of the collection “ Fields of HonorIs devoted to the most famous episode of the tragic retreat from Russia: the battle of Berezina who saw the Napoleonic army escape the Russian army in November 1812. Through the crossed eyes of an emigrant in the service of the Tsar and a surgeon of the Grand Army, Thierry Gloris invites us to relive these tragic hours of 'History of France. The result, however, did not completely convince us.
"It's the Bérézina!" "
In this winter 2016/2017, the Russian campaign and the Battle of Bérézina are in the spotlight in the world of the ninth art since two comics in the name of the famous battle rub shoulders in the bins. The cover of one reveals a proud Cossack wearing as a trophy the helmets of Dragons, the cover of the second lets us see the Emperor approaching one of his Grenadiers on Foot under a dark sky lit by a pale sun. It is this second comic strip, proposed by Editions Delcourt, that we are going to present to you.
This comic is the third volume of the “Champs d'Honneur” collection, each episode of which we had the pleasure to present to you. Following the example of these other volumes the scenario was entrusted to Thierry Gloris, however this third opus devoted to the Napoleonic gesture seemed to us less good than those devoted to the battle of Valmy and that of Castillon.
The choice of the Battle of Bérézina to evoke the Napoleonic wars is quite particular because it is neither the most famous, nor the most evocative of the Napoleonic battles, nor the most decisive. Nevertheless, it remains one of the one which, with Austerlitz and Waterloo, has the most marked the collective imagination to the point that the name of the battle has become a popular expression to speak of a catastrophe. So much so that many forget that it is all the same a French victory ...
A rather disappointing result
We will not dwell on the drawings of Andrea Mutti colored by Dimitri Fogolin. The style is realistic but in reality not very detailed. As is often the case in historical comics, in terms of weaponry and uniformology we are more in the evocation than in the faithful reconstruction. It's still a bit of a shame for the amateur of the period, especially for well-documented periods like the First Empire. Some basic mistakes, such as in the coloring of French flags, however, could be avoided in a collection focused on national identity.
The most embarrassing is undoubtedly the reproaches that can be made to the scenario. The problem is not the narrative choice, Thierry Gloris wanted to tell us about the Napoleonic epic through the crossed gaze of an emigrant who entered the service of Russia and of a surgeon from the Grand Army: two fictitious destinies allowing to 'playfully approach a historical plot. The most embarrassing is the rather muddled presentation of this historical framework. From the first page, from the first box, the bottom hurts: the king is besieged in the Tuileries and fled while the Swiss Guards fight desperately, we are the famous August 10 ... 1782 ... You will have it understood, small entry error, 1782 instead of 1792, we think of the typing error, forgetting to re-read, let's move on.
After a few pages we are in 1805, on December 2, the day of the battle of Austerlitz, and our emigrant in the service of the Tsar serves in the prestigious corps of the Chevaliers-Gardes. Here he is at the head of his men who founded on the French infantry after having declared strongly: "in front of us, it is the Old Guard of Napoleon"! ... Too bad, because the Chevaliers-Gardes did not charge the infantry of the Old Guard at Austerlitz. On the other hand, they were in turn charged by the cavalry of the Imperial Guard, hence certainly the scriptwriter's misunderstanding. Let's move on.
Finally, the battle of Berezina in itself is only dealt with fairly quickly in the comic strip and only offers an image close to the image of Epinal with quite small numbers. A rather important place is devoted to the narration of this confrontation but unfortunately once again things remain approximate, even false. A page before the end, we see the red-haired man standing up to the Russian: "On the right bank, despite the death of Oudinot, Ney's vigorous counter-attacks are pushing back the Russians." Marshal Oudinot died on November 28, 1812 at the Battle of Bérézina? Yet it seems that the Marshal followed his career and did not die until many years later, in 1847, at the honorable age of 80 ... How to explain this ultimate error? Marshal Oudinot, who was nicknamed "the Marshal with 35 wounds" was indeed wounded that day. But from there to declaring him dead in a historical comic, there is a step.
In the end the result is quite disappointing, this volume has not managed to make us vibrate to the rhythm of the epic, or even to give us a historically reliable vision. We can only advise the screenwriter (but also the designer, it's always good to take) to deepen the preliminary historical research to avoid blunders which will perhaps go unnoticed by neophytes but which risk arousing the wrath of passionate. In this case for this volume a few minutes of reading the work of Alain Pigeard on the subject would have made it possible to avoid several errors.
We are nevertheless optimistic about this “Champs d'Honneur” collection and hope to have some good surprises by reading the next volumes devoted to Camerone (1863) and Dunkirk (1940)!
Fields of honor - La Bérézina - November 1812. Editions Delcourt, November 2016