Thursday, December 13, 2007


American Flagg by Howard Chaykin (First Comics)- Trade paperback

I've been reading trades lately like DMZ, The Nightly News and The Immortal Iron Fist, all of which I've enjoyed, but after running across my trade paperback version of Howard Chaykin's classic hard sci-fi series from the 1980's, I have to say I prefer the old to the new.

Chaykin's book is not for children, or for people who are easily offended. There is ultra-violence galore, sexual inneundo out the ying-yang (ahem), and mature language throughout this book, but if you loved the tone of the film "Robocop" or the sardonic wit of Ellis' "Transmetropolitan" or the moral ambiguity of almost everything that's been published since, you'll find plenty to rave about in Chaykin's "American Flagg".

For the uninitiated, the main character is Reuben Flagg, a once popular soft-porn/action star of television's "Mark Thrust: Sexus Ranger" who has been replaced by a holographic version of himself (so the show goes on without him) and has now been drafted into service with the real "Plexus Rangers" military/police force on what is now only loosely recognizable as what you and I remember as Planet Earth.

After the United States Government evacuated the Nation to rule from Mars (only temporarily of course) due to a series of catastrophic disasters, terrorist attacks and biological plagues, the United States are now known as something called "The Plexus". Most mega-cities are now infested with various religious and political militants who battle every night on reality television to the delight of viewers and corporate sponsors who supply the factions with free ammo and weapons.

Corruption, violence and crime are rampant. The Plexus Rangers exist to protect the local government and the remaining aristocracy from becoming collateral damage in the various ongoing conflicts. The criminals and terrorists pay the Rangers to "aim high" in order to maintain the status quo.

As Reuben is thrust (pun intended) into this cesspool of corruption he becomes the one Ranger willing to stand up against the system and go against the grain.

The book begins with the realization that Flagg is the only person able to see the subliminal messages contained in every episode of the top rated television show "Bob Violence", other than a talking cat but that's beside the point. Every night, after each episode, the local Chicago gangs attack each other, and the Rangers, in a frenzy of violence. Flagg makes the connection between the subliminal messages and the daily violence. Going against his superiors wishes he cuts the transmission and the violence ends immediately. Clubs and restaurants see revenues increase exponentially and the gangs themselves are found too drunk and high to fight each other.

Round one goes to Flagg, but whoever is behind these subliminal messages isn't too happy about being pre-empted and this sets up the first story arc.

Chaykin's book is a seminal work. His work on other books like "Dominic Fortune" or "The Shadow" or even "Star Wars" is weak in comparison. For Chaykin, it all comes together in this series. The story, the art, the characters, all combine here in an epic display of artistic convergence. This is the story Chaykin was born to tell, and he tells it very, very well.

Chaykin packs a lot of great detail into every frame of this book. I found myself scanning the posters in the background for political jabs and faux product advertisements, and even the dialog makes reference to the over the top decadence of this future world, providing clues to the mindset of those living in this dystopian America.

"American Flagg" is a fully realized, visionary work of great science fiction. Full of great ideas, sandwiched between intriguing characters and blended with mounds of ultra-violence and sprinkled with sexual overtones, this book is a treasure of artistic genius that even Chaykin himself has yet to duplicate.

"American Flagg"- I salute you.


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