in Books, comics, sf

American Flagg episodes 1-30 (and special 1), by Howard Chaykin and others (Books 2008, 15)

I came upon these when I was digging out some old comics for my son. These are _not_ for eleven-year-olds, but I realised I hadn’t read them in years, and I thought I’d see how they had aged (plus, I remembered next to nothing about the story).

The story is not bad, but not that great. In a post-collapse America, corruption and gang violence are rife, and the government (perhaps all the governments of the world) have left Earth, and are still ruling (or trying to) from Mars. On Earth the law – and to some extent, the peace – is kept by the Plexus Rangers. Or rather, as you eventually realise, the PlexUS Rangers, since there are also PlexUSSR Rangers. The Plex is the overall world government. Or something.

Reuben Flagg was a video star (ie TV or movie: there’s a lot about ‘video’ here, but it’s pretty much all broadcast stuff) on Mars. He played the eponymous ‘Mark Thrust, Sexus Ranger’. But new technology has made actors unnecessary, and he has volunteered as a Plexus Ranger and been sent to Earth, to Chicago.

He is the one (relatively) good man in a corrupt environment, and with the help of a clumsy android, a talking cat, and various women in their underwear, he tries to keep things under control.

Oh yes, the underwear thing: Chaykin is unable, it seems to draw women wearing anything other than basques, stockings and suspenders. No matter what they’re doing, pretty much. There’s nothing like wearing your fetishes on your sleeve, I suppose. Or, you know, lower down.

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  1. Hang on, you’ve missed all the stuff that was great about Flagg! Chaykin’s storytelling is brilliant here, the first 12 issues are him at his peak, right after he worked out what he was doing, and right before he became a self-parody. The story itself is, as you say, rubbish, but ooh the way it’s told… the design of the thing… the lettering, etc.

  2. Well, I didn’t say anything _against_ any of those things! And I’ve no idea what Chaykin did next, so I don’t know about him becoming a self-parody.

    But this just shows how I’m not really a visual person (or not so much as I am word-influenced, anyway). I read comics for the _stories_. As long as the artwork is OK – basically, if you can see what’s happening – it very rarely bothers me one way or the other. This attitude may horrify and appall you. Sorry.

    That said, I do remember comments on the innovative lettering style at the time. But wasn’t that down to the letter (whose name escapes me at the moment)?

  3. Chaykin’s work right after the first year of Flagg! was Time^2 and The Shadow, which were just riffs on the same old same old by that point. I stopped paying attention after that.

    Pretty much everything that’s good about Flagg! is the visuals (and maybe the timing of some of the snappy dialogue) so I’m not surprised (and not horrified or appalled) that it’s not setting your heart on fire.

    I think it’s difficult now to see Flagg! without the lens of Dark Knight Returns and its follow-ons. I think Flagg! must have had a huge influence on Dark Knight, in the way Miller uses pacing and graphic elements. Dark Knight is a lot faster paced and glibber than Ronin, some of which must have come from Flagg!

    The letterer was Ken Bruzenak, and indeed he did an excellent job, but the placing of the lettering in the image, and the use of lettering as a design element was (I believe) Chaykin’s.