Is there any sub-genre of fiction more overstuffed than alternative World War II historical fiction? Hell, “killing Hitler” is practically one all by itself, for better or worse. Sadly, Son of Hitler falls squarely into the latter category, as clearly something is amiss in this “spy thriller” – namely, spying and thrills. There’s also the disappointment one feels roughly one-fourth of the way through Anthony Del Col and Geoff Moore’s new graphic novel is one of wasted opportunities and lack of execution.
Here is a work of alternative history (read: fake news!) that wants you to take it seriously, to think that it’s telling a story of great significance and corollary to our modern world. Not only does it fail on both accounts, but it also does what I never thought possible: it manages to make a story about Nazi killing both dull and boring.
First of all, it’s being touted as a spy story; it isn’t. There’s shades of what a proper spy story might have been – all the pieces are here – but no real or clever attempts are made to assemble them into a proper story that intelligently unfolds with carefully thought out plot twists and genuine surprises. None of that happens here.
Secondly, and most egregious of all, is how easily and with profound laziness Anthony Del Col and Geoff Moore’s script veers into the banal, cheating readers by removing any tension or suspense with regards to the actual story itself. While it’s possible care about underdeveloped characters if they act in service to an overarching plot, none exists here, leading to one pointless transition after the next.
It’s 1943, and France has been occupied by Nazi forces. Pierre Moreau, the handsome baker’s assistant working under Monsieur Petit, the famed Parisian war hero who may also be working for La Résistance using his irresistible product to transmit underground messages. Unlike his boss, though, Pierre only wants to be left alone to bake his precious madeleines in peace. That he also has a devil’s temper and real flair for pummeling Nazis into bloody bits makes this difficult, of course, as does the uncertainty of his paternal lineage. These traits, especially the latter, make him the ideal specimen to carry out a plot so crazy it just might work. But probably won’t.
Initiating this would be Cora Brown, the British spy who will risk anything to kill Adolf Hitler, an endeavor that’s already failed a whopping 23 times before. When three Nazis escape from the Reich, they quickly turn to Brown in an effort to trade information for their freedom: Adolf Hitler fathered an illegitimate son, and they’re willing to share this info in exchange for a new beginning in America. Without bothering to question the trio’s motives (or even perform background checks) she agrees, setting into motion her feverish goal of finally ending the war.
Why is Cora so obsessed with killing Hitler, besides the obvious? Who knows. The real question is how someone this patently stupid could have risen to such a high position in British intelligence becomes the book’s biggest piece of fiction, and its characterization of “spy work” is where the story ultimately fails. Her plans never amount to anything more than “subject meets subject”, as though simply arranging a clandestine meeting between mysterious figures constitutes meaningful strategy. This isn’t chess, it’s not even checkers; it’s more like duckduckgo.
Instead, we’re left with yet another mediocre attempt to cash-in on the current “Nazis Are Bad” craze that’s reemerged in recent pop-culture. Yes, Nazis are bad – very bad – and there’s a good argument to be made that a little punching and kicking them might be cathartic, at least in the comics. But again, these aren’t the Nazis of actual history but comic book Nazis, the type that have been great fodder for the medium since the very beginning and, if you can believe it, are more popular than ever. Especially if you love videogame villains; check out Bethesda’s insane Wolfenstein II to see properly dressed up fictional Nazis.
We see where a better version of this story may have led us in Cora Brown’s incredibly stupid plan to infiltrate Pierre into Hitler’s inner circle by putting him in touch with a famous Nazi doctor. Could it be the diabolical Dr. Mengele? No, that would’ve been too easy. Instead, we’ve got another real-life Nazi doctor: Der Reichsspritzenmeister, i.e. Theodor Morell. He’s also known as “The Injection Master” – Hitler’s grossly obese personal doctor with a zeal for injections and methamphetamine.
We see shades of Hitler’s rejuvenation efforts at the apex of where the story could have veered into an entirely different, and vastly more entertaining, direction. While pegged as “alternative history fiction”, the story is presented in such a way that the ridiculous events might have still taken place, thereby never quite affecting actual outcomes of events. Frankly, this might have been a better story had it gone full-tilt bonkers and embraced the very thing the creators obviously wanted to write: a proper comic book.
You can tell the pull in this direction was probably strong; there’s a scene toward the middle where the “son of Hitler” kicks a gay Nazi in the face, one who’d just been gay-shamed by the allies into forcing his cooperation with their ludicrous plan.
I won’t spoil it here, but I’m genuinely surprised the finale didn’t “go there” with it’s reveal of a surprise villain’s plans to manipulate the American economy to make it “great”. Yeah, it’s pretty much what you think it is, though I will give the writers props for not going full tinfoil hat crazy just to appease a current subset of the zeitgeist. What, you thought I meant the Rothschilds? Yeah, you know what I was getting at. We all do.
The most interesting thing about Son of Hitler is the cover, showing a triple-chinned Der Fuhrer being choked by, we assume, his titular progeny. In fact, the only reason to flip through this one is to see how badly Jeff McComsey’s usually successful artwork attempts to dress up this dull, humorless trod through disappointing tropes and half-baked ideas that never go anywhere. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but people who hate Nazis deserve better than such a lackluster attempt.