Apr 19, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 784: The American Special #1, 1990

https://www.comics.org/issue/48910/

Nothing like coming in literally at the end of a story to promote confusion and discomfort in the morning.

That said, I'm intrigued by The American, a story of a government-produced line of superheroes-as-propaganda that ends in tragedy. This issue follows the tale of the last American and the journalist who exposed the program, one that cost most of the individuals wearing The American costume their lives. The comic, and the series, come at around the same time as the realistic superhero stories of the 80s were having their most profound effect, and deals with many of the same issues: how does a world like our own, one that is twisted and difficult to navigate, suffer the existence of the far simpler ideal of the superhero. Not well, by the looks of things.

Today's featured creator is Doug Braithwaite. I know his name, and I've got some of his stuff in the collection, but I can't for the life of me recall any of it off the top of my head. I do know he pencilled issue #25 of Morrison's Doom Patrol, a story starring Josh Clay and Dorothy Spinner, but today's comic is my first considered experience of his work. It's very superhero. And that's a good thing in terms of the comic we're looking at. The set up of The American is that a flashy superhero is created by the American military as a propaganda tool, though those who wear the costume are also trained soldiers, so The American participates in numerous battles in hotspots around the world. As such, the character, and his world, should look like a superhero comic, but shouldn't necessarily read like a superhero comic - which is exactly what Verheiden, Braithwaite, and company do. The characters look one way and behave another. It raises the interesting notion of a superheroic aesthetic that somehow transmits that notion of a simpler world visually, though the characters might be acting and interacting in much more complex ways. This again puts me in mind of something like Watchmen, which is unsurprising. The juxtaposition has also made me want to read the rest of the series (8 issues prior, 4 following), just to see exactly how it's all pulled off. Calgary Fan Expo is coming up. I'll have to keep my eyes open.

To be continued.

(I forgot to add that this comic does something awesome that I love - at the end of the issue, we get a few pages of what the comics that would have been published in-continuity would look like featuring different versions of the The American throughout history. Alan Moore's Supreme pulls this off to perfection, and I always enjoy seeing these kinds of takes on characters that are also a part of the fiction.)

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