This is the latest in a recurring feature recommending classic comics that you should probably reread now you’ve got some time on your hands. The last one was Daredevil: Born Again. Next up: American Flagg!.
There were a lot of great books in the 80s. You will probably know of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, but buried beneath the hype was a classic sci-fi thriller, layered with satire and social commentary and filled with some of the most stylish and groundbreaking art, and lettering, that comics had ever seen.
Howard Chaykin’s’ American Flagg! was printed by First Comics in 1983, and told the story of an America run by corrupt corporations that have since decanted themselves to Mars.
The first arc introduces us to Reuban Flagg, ex adult entertainer drafted into the Plexus Rangers in an attempt to lift the mood of the populace and help try to bring the current gang situation under control.
The gangs are going nuts, violence is out of control and no one is safe, but what is causing the outbreaks, and will Reuban even care enough to find out?
The comic was critically revered and had it been printed by any of the big two, it would probably still be running, but the complex plots, characters, and situations provided readers with a truly unique reading experience.
Stories and characters would evolve and intertwine and nothing was ever dumbed down for the reader. You would have to read the dialogue very carefully and inspect the panels to get every perfect nuance from Chaykin, and the payoff was following the events and being enveloped by the incredible world-building on display.
The hard-boiled detective story meets Judge Dredd, and Reuban is an incredible protagonist, surrounded by a more incredible supporting cast. However, the whole package would be less without the incredible work of letterer Ken Bruzenak. His use of different fonts and graphics gives the book a unique style. Every panel has a style enhanced by his work on the book, and his collaboration with Chaykin is a true moment of lightning in a bottle.
The first 12 issues of the initial 50-issue run is a masterpiece of comic book storytelling and should be required reading for anyone that is interested in story and art.
Chaykin’s cynical and razor-sharp script matched with the crisp clean lines of his art and Bruzenak’s letters is only further enhanced by the colors of Lynn Varley. There is no weak link in this comic book chain and even though in later issues Chaykin appeared to get bored with the title, the first two years of this book are just sublime, and you can probably get them real cheap as single issues or just splurge for the trade.
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Louie Fecou reviews films, tv shows and comics for Ready Steady Cut, HC Movie Reviews and We Have A Hulk. He currently runs his own business in between watching films.