“Brian K. Vaughan brings the thunder with biting social commentary while Steve Skroce creates a cinematic orgy of high -tech mecha, bullet casings, and ballistic missiles that will singe your retinas.”
We Stand On Guard #1 & 2
Welcome to a new edition of 1-2 Punch, FreakSugar’s double-sized review column featuring two consecutive issues of a comic book series. This edition features the first two issues of Image Comics’ We Stand On Guard by Brian K. Vaughan and Steve Skroce.
First things first: When I was a boy, I was obsessed with Canada. You can go ahead and assume that Alpha Flight was my favorite comic book and I’ve even dated a Canadian or two in my lifetime. Hell, I still want to live in Toronto to this day. You can only imagine my excitement when I initially read about We Stand On Guard…Canadians being attacked by their evil, imperialistic neighbors to the south. Big Mechs. Graphic Violence. Vaughan’s knack for scathing political commentary and oh-so-glorious Steve Skroce artwork…
Let me run that back by you again…Steve Skroce artwork. I get lightheaded when I think about his gorgeous work and, sometimes, I wish he drew at least three or four monthlies. What can I say, I’m a fan.
We Stand On Guard is quite a departure from Vaughan’s runaway success, Saga; in fact, it’s almost antithetical in nature. Saga focuses on an unlikely pair of aliens whose races are at war with one another. They create a family in spite of their inter-species conflict. Within the first six pages of We Stand On Guard #1, Vaughan and Skroce annihilate the family of series protagonist, Amber, as an embattled United States launches a full-blown assault on Canada. Flashing forward, Amber is alone, living and hunting in the wilds of the Northwest Territories. She runs into some trouble with a U.S. robotic patrol dog but is luckily rescued by a band of Canadian rebel insurgents.
(Also, let’s not forget that We Stand On Guard #1 is a whopping 40 pages. I like the commitment of a larger first issue.)
Vaughan’s story is lean in terms of what readers are privy to in terms of initial setting and conflict. Prior to the first strike in 2112, Canada seems prosperous and technologically advanced. In the present setting of the story, in 2124, Canada appears to have been annexed by the United States…but, contrary to popular humor in the U.S., these Canadians are NOT quietly laying down to their Imperialist masters.
Against Vaughan’s minimal story, readers will be immediately drawn into the highly detailed, widescreen cinematic vision of Skroce’s snowy battlefield in the first issue of the story. I felt like I was watching a combination of Red Dawn and the Hoth scenes from The Empire Strikes Back. Skroce’s work has certainly changed since his early work at Marvel in the 90’s as well as with his work on high-profile projects like the Matrix films and the film adaptation of V for Vendetta. I also enjoyed how well his work paired with Matt Hollingsworth’s colors; from start to finish, their pages are absolutely scintillating.
The second issue featured more fast-paced non-linear narrative as readers are given another glimpse into Amber’s struggle after the death of her parents as the American military storm the house of some pacifists who were hiding the girl and her brother, Tommy. Skroce’s work maintains a level of articulated fluidity as the story jumps back to the present of 2124 as the Canadian rebels take Amber back to their secret base.
This might be the only criticism I have of We Stand On Guard: I need more background. Over both issues, the introduction of the primary cast is executed deftly and in a way that seems unabashedly unassuming; readers get the sense, almost immediately, that no one is particularly “safe”. However, I find myself asking “Why?” a lot by the end of #2…which, in a way, might service the mysticism of Vaughan’s fictional world. I want to know more about the spirit of 2112 and 2124. I want to know why the U.S. rations Canada’s water. I want to know why the White House was being bombed in the opening sequence of the first issue. Maybe I’m being impatient; maybe it’s just a simple issue of pacing because this comic reads like a serialized book that’s “made for trade”. I don’t mind that so much…but it definitely frustrates me in terms of wanting more from the story on a monthly basis.
If you’re into the current avalanche of futuristic dystopian reads, We Stand On Guard will definitely cleanse your pallet with it’s snowy guerrilla-warfare and chilling look at the future of the United States as a brutal, militaristic imperialist force. Brian K. Vaughan has created a fast-paced, fight-or-flight style action comic with a hefty amount of subtle political commentary. Throw in Steve Skroce’s detailed illustrations with Matt Hollingsworth’s skilled color pallet and you’ve got a really exquisite and unique near-future character drama that will knock your socks off.
Be sure to grab issue #3 of We Stand On Guard when it hits shelves on 9/2/2015. Issue #1 has already sold out at Diamond. Scramble to get them while you can. – Steve