The Night Witches

by Russ Braun, Garth Ennis

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Book Cover: The Night Witches
Editions:Paperback Original with French Flaps: $ 24.95
ISBN: 9781682473900
Size: 10.25 x 6.62 in
Pages: 256

As the German Army smashes deep into the Soviet Union and the defenders of the Motherland retreat in disarray, a new squadron arrives at a Russian forward airbase. Like all night bomber units, they will risk fiery death flying obsolete biplanes against the invader—but unlike the rest, these pilots and navigators are women. In the lethal skies above the Eastern Front, they will become a legend—known to friend and foe alike as the Night Witches.

With casualties mounting and the conflict devouring more and more of her comrades, Lieutenant Anna Kharkova quickly grows from a naive teenager to a hardened combat veteran. The Nazi foe is bad enough, but the terrifying power of her country's secret police makes death in battle almost preferable. Badly wounded and exiled from her own people, Anna begins an odyssey that will take her from the killing fields of World War II to the horrific Soviet punishment camps—and at the top of the world, high above the freezing Arctic Ocean, this Night Witch finds she has one last card to play.

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Reviews:Etelka Lehoczky on NPR wrote:

“With this fiction, [Ennis] does a remarkable service to women's history. There are other books about the Night Witches, but none could possibly be this much fun…. Braun and Aviña's work is downright glorious. Scenes of ferocious dogfights, with planes peppered by bullets or exploding in midair, are as gripping as they are beautiful. Back on the ground, Braun draws people with formal precision and an almost frozen quality that makes every panel iconic. Aviña's colors are gorgeously versatile, ranging from subtly enameled tones for the people to flat, bright hues for the action in the sky.”

Publishers Weekly on Comics Book Review wrote:

“Those who know Ennis as a creator of off-the-wall, black-humored, and hilariously obscene twists on the usual superhero or SF tropes may be surprised to see his more serious side on display in these three tales of WWII, based upon true events, in which Soviet airfighter Anna Borisnova Kharkova faces off against German enemies, strict military decorum, macho chauvinism, and petty vindictiveness. The character is fictional but based upon the history of the Night Witches, the female Soviet flyers. The artwork by Braun eschews superman proportions for a characteristic look of realism that adeptly distinguishes different characters. He provides a sweeping sense of action across panels to evoke the dynamism of battle…. Anna’s saga and eventual triumph of spirit are rewarding. This is equal parts a sharp and enthralling history lesson and a powerful and touching graphic novel.”

Booklist wrote:

“Based on a real Soviet WWII-era, all-women flight regiment, this cinematic, decade-spanning graphic novel follows one pilot as she faces down snickering from her commanding officers, battles Nazis in the air, mourns lost friends and comrades, and suffers through Stalin’s draconian policies around captured Soviet soldiers. Ennis has clearly researched the history, including technical language about planes, troop movements, and so on, but lest this become a dry piece of military history, he focuses the story tightly on Anna, whose growth, setbacks, and triumphs drive the story forward through three distinct chapters, in which she struggles to balance her own fierce independence with stalwart loyalty to her comrades and country. That character growth expands to secondary figures as well; instead of a typical good-versus-evil story, Ennis offers a narrative invested in individuals making the most of dire situations in wartime. The suspenseful fight scenes focus tightly on the planes, and the realistic art style might please history buffs looking for some semblance of accuracy. An afterword helpfully sifts fiction from the already thrilling facts about Soviet women pilots.”

Meduza - 2019's Top Russia-Related Books wrote:

"The women who flew Soviet biplanes in extremely risky missions against the Nazis are already a historic legend, but this graphic novel approaches that history from a new angle. First, it depicts the life of a single ‘Night Witch’ visually, putting readers in the hands of two veterans in the world of comics. Second, it explores the complications of standing (or flying) between the Nazis and the threat of Soviet repressions, complicating a narrative that tends to be purely patriotic.”

Book Bit for WTBF-AM/F wrote:

“Here’s a very interesting read for Women’s History Month, a fascinating graphic novel based on true events and real woman pilots in the USSR during WWII…. The stories are powerful, very graphic, with lots of adult language and situations. But they show how Soviet women sacrificed to prove their worth.” (3/28)

Mark Bielski on History With Mark Bielski Podcast wrote:

"Very sophisticated. I recommend it to my fellow academics. You can really learn a lot from a book like this."


About the Contributors

Russ Braun

Russ Braun has been working in comics for almost 30 years, with a 7-year break for a stint with Disney Feature Animation. Best known for his frequent collaborations with Garth Ennis on The Boys, Battlefields, Where Monsters Dwell, Sixpack & Dogwelder and most recently Jimmy's Bastards.


Garth Ennis

Garth Ennis has been writing comics since 1989. Credits include Preacher, The Boys and Hitman, with successful runs on The Punisher and Fury for Marvel Comics. As well as his own war series War Stories, Battlefields, and Dreaming Eagles, he recently revived the classic British aviation character Johnny Red, and has produced two series of World of Tanks for Wargaming.net. Originally from Northern Ireland, Ennis now resides in New York City with his wife, Ruth.