New Reviews of Old Comics
Back in the late 80s I remember Howard Chaykin was one of those buzz-worthy names; if you read in Comics Buyers Guide he was working on something you made a note of it. DC’s Shadow and Blackhawk series were notable, even if they met with mixed reviews. Black Kiss made news because it was so naughty, even if no one knew what was going on (or at least that’s how I felt, but I only read a few issues). But I think for most readers at the time Howard Chaykin was synonymous with American Flagg! I had picked up a few issues here and there and remember liking them. I even bought his Times2 graphic novels. It’s been years since I read American Flagg! so I was kind of excited to see this at the local consignment store recently.
Of course it’s just my luck I find an issue that’s part two of “Red Highlights and Permanent Waves.” The nice folks at First Comics placed a “catch-up” page on the inside front cover to help any newbies along; an idea that was years ahead of its time. The futuristic story starts with some people getting ready to visit Lenin’s body, proudly on display in a country that used to be the Soviet Union, but the body is gone, replaced with an inflatable sex doll. Surprise! The rest of the issue is basically Plex Rangers, led by Reuben Flagg and his robot pal, Yakov, looking for the body. There is a lot of spy type intrigue and such to move the story along. Some guy in Africa wants the body and is working on a deal to get it, but it’s not working, and somehow Flagg’s long lost father is somehow involved in the whole thing.
That’s kind of short shrift summary, which might seem to imply I didn’t enjoy this comic, and that would be wrong. I actually did like it, but I have to admit I found myself very distracted following all of the different country names and trying to figure out how they all played together. Plex, P.A.L. and others. What do they mean? Chaykin is an excellent visual storyteller, using enough dialogue to move the story, yet using his considerable artistic skills instead of narration, which is a huge plus for me. I really enjoy futuristic, alternative reality type stories, however they do make for difficult one-off issue reads. I think someone like Chaykin writes his stories like a movie; if you walk into a movie 20 minutes after it starts you’re going to be lost. American Flagg! needs to be read from the beginning to be fully appreciated and enjoyed as it was meant to be seen. Am I saying not to buy single issues of American Flagg!? No. Not at all. But if you get one and feel a little lost, don’t give up on it, get a couple more and piece it together. It will be worth the effort.