A new outing from Brian K Vaughan – he of Y: The Last Man, he of Ex Machina, he, more recently, of Saga – is something serious comic fans need to pay attention to. Wired’s Erik Malinowski called Vaughan “the greatest comic book visionary of the last five years” (a sentence that doesn’t altogether make sense but we’ll let it slide) – the key point being Malinowski said that back in 2007 and Vaughan’s work has only got better since then.
We Stand on Guard is the kind of comic book that would provide a flattering diversion for political sorts: the narrative unfurls about 100 or so years in the future, the US is waging war on Canada, water having replaced oil as the dominant commodity people are prepared to lose lives over. It’s probably the furthest from a spoiler to say that the Americans are the bad guys. They have all the guns, they have all the technology, they have all the know-how and they are working all out to quash any and all insurgency. The book opens (in 2112) as a family sit watching a news report about a terrorist attack on the White House. Within moments, there is retaliation, and the two younger members of the family, a girl called Amber and her brother Tommy, are issued with a deathbed edict from their gruesomely dismantled father.
Flash forward 12 years and we meet Amber again, alone in the snow in Yellowknife, up in the Northwest Territories. Pretty much before you have the breath to ask yourself what’s this all aboot, Amber is doing battle with a large metallic dog tank and finds herself introduced to the Two-Four, a small group of freedom fighters looking to drive the US back before they suck up all the Great Lakes. That is broadly speaking the story of this first volume: the US steal a march, the Two-Four get their own back, one step forwards and two steps back. George RR Martin has gifted us a world where no main character is safe from death and that applies in spades here (good looking characters earning a frame all the themselves usually in the moments before they meet their makers). Skroce’s art (and it should be said Matt Hollingsworth’s colouring) are fine and detailed (you get the sense these two enjoy studying blueprints and detailed mechanical specs in their spare time), and there is a brutal bluntness to some of the narrative shifts that occasionally recalls Mark Millar (not that we’ll hold that against them).
For all that, though, there is ambition here, and intelligence, Vaughan managing to ease nice erudite asides (on the creation of Superman amongst other things) into proceedings in a way that feels like he isn’t wearing his research on his sleeve. It’s neater than Saga (at least at this point) because Saga (as it’s name suggests) is an epic and this, even though it has a wide cast of characters, is something of a more old fashioned good vs bad story (at least at this point). All we need from a volume 1, really, is enough to keep us reading, enough to keep us coming back for more, and at this point, We Stand on Guard is doing that admirably.
Any Cop?: A bold new kid on the block, We Stand on Guard is the kind of book that we think shows promise. We’re already looking forward to issue 7…