by Art Spiegelman
I was a bit concerned when Maus II began with a big text dump in which Spiegelman expresses his apprehensions going into the project, along with inadequacies he felt growing up. Of course, this soon enough makes way to his father, Vladek, up to his old miserly shenanigans again, and I could see that the magic of the first instalment wasn’t lost forever. However, what I initially chalked up to a severe lack of subtlety on the author/artist’s part is better explained by the new direction he takes the modern-day parts of the graphic novel. Yes, they still serve to link his father’s story, and, yes, they still humanize the victims, but Spiegelman also uses them to explore his growing guilt and depression associated with the Holocaust, the declining health of his father, and even the success of Maus I, as well as his concerns that he will never be able to produce a follow-up that can give proper respect to his subject matter. And I believe that, as in the first, it’s because of Spiegelman’s honesty when approaching such a serious subject that he both finds the respect that he desired and significantly adds something to his story.
On the Holocaust side of things, Maus II picks up where Maus I left off, with Spiegelman’s parents arriving at Auschwitz. From there, it chronicles their harrowing experience up until their freedom at the end of the war. Much like with the first, a distinct humanity from the present is contrasted against the inhumane conditions in which the prisoners found themselves, where they try to cling to any shred of their civilized selves that threatens to leave them forever. And this method still proves hugely effective in grounding Maus in reality, making Spiegelman’s portrayal of extreme suffering carry significant weight. Unfortunately, the ending felt somewhat lacking, anticlimactic, to me. This isn’t to say that the ending to Maus I was any better, but, when that one left me wanting more, I was able to rush out and purchase Maus II to continue the story; this time around, I had no recourse other than to reflect and hope that further consideration would allow me to rationalize the ending, making it more fulfilling. No such luck.
That being said, as much as I will admit that I enjoyed the first Maus better than the second, I can’t imagine recommending that anyone reads one without the other. While I can imagine that Maus I is strong enough to stand on its own merit, neglecting Maus II seems akin to skipping out on the story partway through. And, besides, Maus II is still fantastic.