Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Wednesday Comics: American Flagg!

In a quick sketch, Howard Chaykin's American Flagg! might seem like some people's version of utopia: the Federal government is nonexistent, the coastal elites (indeed, the coasts) are gone, gun ownership (and use!) is unfettered. Of course, there's also a plan to sell whole states to the Brazilians by the U.S.'s corporate managers, prostitution is legal, surveillance is common, morning after contraceptive use is ubiquitous, and the lucky upper classes get to live in shopping malls instead of post-urban and rural wastes. Chaykin's 2031 seems to be his projection of where the unbridled capitalism and emerging media omnipresence of the Reagan era and the foreign policy of the American Century in general was taking us.

Enter Reuben Flagg, hunky, Jewish former actor (he lost his job to a CGI version of himself), turned lawman for the Plex (perhaps derived from "government-industrial complex," but this is never made clear). Raised by parents with unconventional ideas, he's got a rosy view of America. One he is soon disabused of when he arrives in Chicago and sees the televised firefights between legal policlubs and the illegal rampage of gogangs. A rampage, it turns out, is being fueled by subliminal messages in the hit tv show, Bob Violence. Thanks to Flagg's Martian diet and metabolism, he can see the messages others are blind to.

What follows is a satirical, sometimes farcical, chronicle of Flagg and his eccentric cohorts as they try to save America (metaphorically and Chicago actually) from threats both internal and external, including fascist militias, agents of Communist Africa, and the Plex's own incompetence and greed. Flagg has a noble heart, but he's sometimes distracted by his libido and inflated sense of self. By sometimes I mean quite frequently, at least in the former case.

American Flagg! pioneered a number of the storytelling techniques put to use in Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns a few years later, and if it wasn't an influence on Max Headroom and Robocop, it at least beat them to the punch. Its biggest flaw is that after the first "big arc" (12 issues) Chaykin's attention seems to wane, or at least he appears to be feeling the pinch of the monthly grind. What follows isn't bad, but it doesn't quite build in the way it seemed it might. 

The original issues suffer from poor color reproduction of the era, but the Dynamite two volume collections have thankfully fixed all that.

1 comment:

Knight of Roses said...

Agreed, it does lose the tight storytelling after that initial arc but still such a great series. It remains one of my favorites of Chaykin's work.