Botching the LandingThoughts on American Carnage by Bryan Hill and Leandro Fernandez
I really thought I’d stumbled on something, here. All the way in the back of Comicopia, tucked in a stack of discount books, waited American Carnage. I didn’t recognize the creative team, but DC’s Vertigo imprint was a good sign, and the blurb had potential. Besides, it was Free Comic Book Day! What better time to take a risk in support of an offbeat institution?
These experiments always entertain, but if they teach me anything at all, it’s most often about how not to make a comic book. While there’s certainly value in those lessons, I’m still always hoping to find a diamond in the rough. As I made my way through American Carnage, I guardedly began to hope that the creative team was on to something.
Ben Oliver’s covers are simply fantastic. Leandro Fernandez’s interior art, while somewhat inconsistent, renders physical pain with a psychedelic flair which really grew on me. Even letterer Pat Brosseau brings something to the table with a unique (if somewhat gimmicky) depiction of sign language. More than any of this, though, it was the writing that really got my hopes up.
Bryan Hill fills the story with three-dimensional characters and spares the reader of heavy-handed narrative editorializing. FBI agent Sheila Curry pushes herself to unhealthy extremes in pursuit of justice. Protagonist Richard Wright is a functional cocaine user whose addiction doesn’t inform some grand statement about drug abuse. The demagogic Wynn Morgan receives space to share a worldview that is as flawed as it is deep. Political consultant Jennifer Morgan is smart and bigoted, afflicted and controlling, loving and ruthless. She delivers my favorite line in the book, a white supremacist dog whistle if there ever was one: “The only reason hate isn’t the ugliest thing in the world is that shame exists.”
So you can imagine my disappointment at the story conclusion by metaphorically throwing Jennifer into a refrigerator. It’s beyond me how a story that gracefully explores such delicate topics can fall victim to so tired a trope, but whatever the reason, it spoils the whole book. That’s why I’ve glumly decided that while American Carnage is a surprise, it isn’t the kind of surprise I can recommend to others.