Friday, November 18, 2016

We Stand On Guard: The Ugly Canadians

My first thought when I heard about We Stand On Guard (story by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Steve Skroce and Matt Hollingsworth) was: "We've got John Milius' Red (White & Blue) Dawn for Canucks -- finally!"

Also: Wolverines are pussies.
My first thought once I'd finished was, "Yikes -- does the world really need this right now?"

We used to be friends...
Vaughan's story is high-concept at its highest: the United States of America finally invades Canada for its abundant freshwater resources. Small cells of anti-American resistance fighters still exist, but they are few and far between and vastly outnumbered and outgunned.

Enter: the villains.
The characters are quick studies, all animated by understandable motivation(s). The story zips along, once you start you don't stop until it's finished. And when it's finished, it is finished -- my pet peeve with comic writers is their pecuniary devotion to sequels and the like. Not so here -- the well was deep, but now it's dry.

The art is top drawer. Skroce and Hollingsworth obviously revere Geoff Darrow, but where Darrow would never leave a frame until persuaded there was absolutely no room for any whitespace S&H judiciously ease back on the hyper-articulation.

Maybe this isn't the best example...

Naturally, the American invaders are a hateful, entitled bunch. And when the story begins the Canadian resistance fighters are sympathetic, by virtue of their being evident victims. But by story's end it is apparent that they, also, are hate-full. The wry, belittling generalisations we Canucks currently make of our Yankee neighbours and their quirks and foibles are given just the slightest of tweaks to express unfettered, seething contempt. It all amounts to a nihilistic thrill-ride, which has limited emotional cache for this particular reader.

But is it ART?

Shortly before 9/11 Art Spiegelman lamented that the advent of the "graphic novel" had removed some of the tawdry, trashy element to comics-making that he used to revel in. Post-9/11 Spiegelman followed that observation with a bit of agit-prop that, I thought, was a little too elevated to really penetrate the nervous system.

"Elevation" is certainly not a characteristic of We Stand On Guard -- in many ways, particularly in its framing of our shared humanity, this extended pamphlet expresses a rubbishy glee akin to the leaflets of Jack Chick.

Purgatory ain't for heroes -- but Hell is!
To which I say, hey, if agit-prop is your thing, the worst we could do is go ahead and call it "art."

Given current events, the social media platforms I take part in anxiously press me with Maya Angelou's words, "Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet." Closer to (my) home we have the late Leonard Cohen: "Love's the only engine of survival."

Whether or not we "need" agit-prop, it seems the world in its current state is keen to produce it.

Just remember: what he said.

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