Review: We Stand on Guard #1

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist/Cover: Steve Skroce

‘O, Canada!’

Brian K. Vaughan is a living legend among comic book writers. The list of his work at the Big 2 publishers is renowned as quintessential character crafting – RunawaysDr. Strange: The Oath, and The Hood: Blood from Stones are stories as important to their cast as any, and it’s the same with his work at DC on titles like Young Justice and Swamp Thing. The writer known simply as BKV, however, is truly known for his work on more independent-esque comics like The EscapistsPride of BaghdadY the Last ManEx Machina, and, of course, SAGA. Well, Vaughan has delivered the quality comic consumables we’ve come accustomed to seeing from the author with his latest offering, We Stand On Guard, which is as equally thought-provoking as it is entertaining.

Note: This review contains spoilers 

The Background

We Stand on Guard is the story of the invasion of Canada in the year 2112 in retaliation of an attack on (wait for it) The White House. That’s right! The United States of America invades Canada. The story opens on a Canadian family watching the news coverage of the drone attack on The White House, discussing the possibilities of who or what may be responsible for the terrorist attack, and suggesting that it could have been anyone…even the Canadian Government itself. Then, the bombs drop in a retaliatory strike from the U.S., killing both the mother and father of this family, leaving the young siblings Tommy and Amber orphaned in the attack. Jump forward 12 years to a now adult Amber surviving in the Canadian wilderness, which is now a battleground full of invaders from the South. Amber is stalked by robotic U.S. soldiers, and all seems lost for a moment, before she is rescued by a team of Canadian Freedom Fighters whose favorite pastime is taking down gigantic American military robots, and, boy, do they do it well. Known as the Two-Four, this group of “insurgents” recruits Amber to their team, setting up the rest of the story.

The Good

In the not too distant future (about a hundred years or so) things do not appear much different. The countries and nationalistic groups of the world are still fighting over the Earth’s limited stock of resources, and parents are still watching TV with their children. While this may sound simplistic, the way BKV is able to drop readers into this recognizable but wildly different future without so much as a stutter in the step is simply perfection on a paneled page. The writer expertly delivers a futuristic story built upon the present day’s global status quo, and the political undertones and comparisons to current and recent American military efforts isn’t so much subtle as it is indirectly referenced to simply by being such a big part of the current social consciousness. While there’s certainly some debate about America’s involvement in Iraq and the Middle East because of energy resources in the region, BKV uses this aspect of discord to suggest that the U.S. invaded Canada because of its water. While this was an understated aspect of the overall story, there is just no way to miss the relative similarities of that side of the Iraq War debate and the invasion of Canada we see in the pages of We Stand on Guard, and I’m hopeful (nearly certain) that Vaughan will continue to use this series to make political statements, and I’m perfectly okay with that. The comic medium should be a vehicle for stirring social conversation – as it’s always been – and, in the hands of such a talented writer, this could become a uniquely important comic book series.

BKV’s skilled storycraft is on display in all of its brilliant glory. The characters are compelling, the pacing is spot-on perfect, and the potential for future greatness is as vast as the great white north itself. Vaughan is subtly mixing great storytelling with hard politics, which is certainly nothing new to the creator, and it’s simply a joy to read this type of story from the writer again.

Steve Skroce, a relative unknown to me prior to this book, has become one of my new favorite artists in the span of only 40 comic book pages. Skroce’s panel work is full of detail, his character depictions are full of emotions, and his action scenes have just the right amount of gore without going overboard. Everything about this fantastic, difficult to believe, scenario of the future feels that much more plausible thanks to Skroce’s amazing work. While I picked this ish up because Brian K. Vaughan’s name was on the cover, Steve Skroce’s name on ANY book from this point forward will be a book that I buy.

The Bad

There was just very little going wrong in this issue. The plotting, the pacing, the story and art working in conjunction all resulted in such a joy of a comic to read, with the political undertones attributing to this enjoyment without taking anything away. If I had to find a single problem, however, it is that same political leaning, which can become a burden in future issues. While I have full faith and confidence in Vaughan, there is always the chance that things become too political, taking away from the core story and becoming just another critique of America’s foreign policy. Again, I’m okay with the political tones of this ish, but I don’t want it shoved down my throat, and there’s a worry that this series could take that turn at some point. None of these worries, however, did anything to spoil the quality of this first issue.

The Verdict

BKV has done it again! Not only has he weaved a very entertaining story with subtle, timely, and important aspects woven in, but he has brought yet another rising star artist into the limelight. We Stand on Guard is the perfect balance of imaginative writing and art mixed with subtle political discussion, and the title has a real opportunity to do what comic books do best: Make people think about real-world issues. While I’m not suggesting that this series will make headway in correcting either the fact or the perception that the U.S. and other nations invade countries for ulterior motives, this is certainly not the first time this question has been asked, but an invasion of Canada for water certainly puts the question in a new context. Additionally, We Stand on Guard deals with American invaders in a foreign land, with the real-world context of this exercise being halfway around the globe in a strange and distant land. Putting a nation like Canada – America’s closest geographical ally – in this same context may give readers a newfound understanding of the motivations of so-called freedom fighters around the world. Entertaining and full of potential for real social importance, We Stand on Guard is a perfect scored comic. Run, do not walk, to your local comic shop and pick up a copy right now.

Story: 5 Out of 5
Art: 5 Out of 5
Overall: 5 Out of 5

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