Book of the Month

Book of the Month – American Flagg: The Definitive Collection Volume 1

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Size: pages
Price: 49.99

In the history of comics, there is a list – a sacred list – of comics that you absolutely must read. 

And when you talk to an old school comics nerd and they hear you haven't read one of the titles on this list, you are greeted with an immediate eyeroll followed by enthusiastic excitement as they tell you that, "You simply must read *insert Comic Title here*!!". 

One of the titles on this sacred list has been American Flagg by Howard Chaykin. 

But there has been, up until now, a catch because American Flagg was originally published by First Comics in the mid 1980s, and hasn't been available for literally more than a decade.  Those who have read American Flagg read it in issues and the greatness of this comic became the stuff of legend.  That is until recently, when Image Comics and Dynamic Forces joined together to release American Flagg: The Definitive Collection.  A hardcover collection of Chaykin's masterpiece, collecting the original issues as well as additional stories done after the initial run.  This collection is truly something to marvel at and made it an easy choice for iFanboy Book of the Month.

Of the landmark books of the 1980s, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and American Flagg, in my opinion, fall under the same categorization.  Both depict the world in the not too distant future, both are super hero stories at heart, and both utilize the trends and politics of the time to establish the setting of their story.  Additionally the role of the media is a huge factor in both books, and looking at both books together, the resemblance between the two is uncanny.  But they diverge from one another.  Where Dark Knight Returns is loyal to the DC Universe/Batman archetype, American Flagg delivers a different sort of story, with a different kind of hero.  Deeply layered in Science Fiction, American Flagg's hero, Reuben Flagg is unlike any other hero you've read.  In trying to describe him and compare him to other super hero (or even any comic book character) I come up empty.  Chaykin created American Flagg before the grim and gritty comic trend hit and the anti-hero was celebrated, so Flagg carries a level of "do the right thing" attitude that is shared by Superman, but the attitude and snark of a Remo Williams/Bruce Willis action hero type.  Or perhaps if The Punisher never took that murderous left turn, he would have been like Flagg.  That said, if Chaykin created American Flagg, maybe 5 years later, I wonder how much that anti-hero trend would have influenced him (but that's an exploration for another time).

American Flagg is set in the year 2031 and let me tell you, America as we know it is fucked up.  In 1996 there was a huge financial collapse, and the American government and their corporate backers relocated to Mars where they set up their base of operations, leaving the Soviets to collapse from Islamic insurrection and when the dust settled, the Brazilian Union of the Americas is left standing as the super power of Earth.  But America is rarely left out of the game, and from their base of operations, the American government and their corporations formed "The Plex," a union of corporate interests and governments that manages commerce and government on Earth from Mars.  In creating The Plex, Plexmalls are established, which are huge centers of commerce and living where civilization in the Americas has holed up.  The Plexmalls are secured by the Plexus Rangers, a police-like force that ensures safety within the Plexmalls.  And that's where we are dropped into the story.

In the Plexmall that was once Chicago, the main Plexus Ranger, Ranger Hilton "Hammerhead" Krieger needs a new partner, and we're introduced to the hero of the book, Reuben Flagg.  A former TV star who was replaced by a CGI character, Flagg joins Krieger in securing the Plexmall and the story takes off from there.  Gang violence, media manipulation, back room politics, sex and interpersonal relationship drama all unfold as Flagg becomes entrenched in life in the Plexmall, uncovering scandals, insurrection and general wrong doing within the Plexmall infrastructure.   In just 14 issues, I was amazed at the number of plot threads and themes Chaykin was able to pack into American Flagg and still have it not only make sense, but become completely gripping and engaging.  Edge of your seat suspense, action and comedy make American Flagg a wonderful work of both speculative science fiction and satire.  To see the vision of the future crafted by Chaykin at a definitive time in our country's history, it's eerie to see how spot on some of his satirical ideas are.  The fact alone that one of the key plot points for Reuben Flagg is his replacement by a CGI character on his TV Show is down right prophetical to what has already occurred in the movie industry.

In addition to the social satire/commentary and layered plot threads, Chaykin creates a universe of characters that are unique and amusing.  From Reuben Flagg, with all the swagger and attitude of a TV star but with that certain heroic trait that makes him win the day, to C.K. Blitz, former Plexus Ranger and current mayor of Chicago who manipulates and pulls political strings throughout the book, to Raul the Cat, a talking cat who is the voice of knowledge and intelligence, to Sam Louis Obispo a shady character whom Flagg befriends while in Havana and assists with his adventures in Brazil.  Even the robot partner Flagg is given after Krieger perishes is adorable in his own way. 

When you're talking to someone who has read American Flagg, or any other book on the sacred list, sometimes that can be a turn off.  To be told you HAVE to read something can sometimes get in the way, like what happens with the Watchmen, or any other major work of import.  But with American Flagg, I urge you not to be turned off by such passion.  Admittedly the first couple of issues in the collection were a rough read.  We're thrusted into this universe that is extremely complex and hard to understand, but once you get the feel for the storytelling and the characters, it's almost impossible to put this book down.  The story is just so engaging and fun at times, it's like watching an action packed TV show. 

Chaykin's art as well is a huge asset for the book.  We've discussed Howard Chaykin over the past few years as he's reemerged in comics working on titles for Marvel here and there, and not everyone likes his style.  But seeing it here in a book of his own creation, it's hard to argue against Chaykin being an immense talent.  His layouts and ways of depicting action are beyond comparison.  Even the use of the sound effects in the flow of the action help to illustrate the story.  His facial expressions are an asset in getting across the snark or jealousy or anger presented by the characters, and it's entirely possible that folks like Terry Moore and Kevin Maguire have been very much influenced by Chaykin in their depiction of emotion and facial expression.  American Flagg is truly the best platform for Chaykin's artwork, in that he's able to tell his story in a way that only he can. 

In the recent trend of omnibuses, absolutes, and other hardcover collections, American Flagg is a welcome addition to my library and one that I strongly recommend you give a shot.  Not only is the book an opportunity to see one of the comic industry greats telling his story at the peak of his career, but it's a wonderfully complicated and layered story that is well worth the price tag.  With a forward by Michael Chabon (The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay) and an afterword by Jim Lee, as well as a bunch of extras, make this book a must have.  If anything, you could be that person telling someone else, "You haven't read American Flagg?!?! You have to read it right now!" Won't that be fun for you? I think it will be. 

Ron Richards
ron@ifanboy.com

Pick up American Flagg: The Definitive Edition Volume 1 at In Stock Trades or Amazon!

Comments

  1. Ron – that looks awesome!  And in a nice hardcover it’ll look great next to my Starman and Ex Machina editions!

    One question to you or any of the iFanboys – I know that if I buy this through your Amazon link it does good for you…does the same occur if I buy through the instocktrades link?

  2. Picked this up at the Baltimore con (got it signed, too, as detailed elsewhere), but con plague has prevented me from cracking it open to give it a good read. This, along with Miracleman (or Marvelman or McFarlaneman or whatever you want to call it), are the only two "must reads" left on my list.

    I generally like Chaykin’s art style, although a lot of his Marvel stuff does kind of look the same. His writing, however, is always interesting – not always good, not always bad, but you’ll definitely see something interesting you’ve never seen before.

  3. @geekmonkey i don’t think the instock trades link helps them because thier is no identifier in the link to give them credit plus they are a sponsor

  4. InStockTrades is our sponsor.  Of course it helps to purchase this from them.  It’s where I will be buying it.

  5. @geekmonkey chrs7637 is correct, we get direct benefit when you buy from Amazon, but Instock Trades is one of our sponsors, so it’s a win for everyone – we don’t mind if you use either retail option!  thanks for thinking of us though.

  6. I really thought the book of the month would be the LOCAL HC.

  7. Cant say I ever read this series, but I have heard nothing but great things about it over the last couple of years. Definitely will give it a go when I see it at my LCS this week.

  8. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    You had me at Michael Chabon.  So, last paragraph. But I’m sold.  

  9. This is better than "The Dark Knight Returns" & "Watchmen" (both of which are masterpieces.) "American Flagg" was consistently brilliant month after month after month as an ongoing series, not a mini. This is one of the true high water marks for comics and is still way ahead of its time. It manages to be both a brilliant satire of the 1980’s & still offer a prescient view of the "glorious" 21st Century. If you haven’t read this by all means order it now, you won’t be sorry. PAPAPAPA-OOOOOO-MOW-MOW!!!

  10. I’ve been wanting to check this out.  The tiny comic shop by my house had it on the shelf the last time I was there, which was surprising because they normally don’t carry any hardcovers.  The owner said someone ordered it ages ago but with all the setbacks before it’s release, by the time it came out, he didn’t want it.  He said he’d give me "a good deal" on it.  I’m nervous to ask about it because I doubt his good deal will be nearly as good as the instocktrades.com price and I’ll feel bad asking about it and then turning down his discount.

     

  11. I honestly have never heard of this but I have yet to be let down one bit by any of the books of the month.  I’m getting my copy now!  

  12. Just ordered this with the new Hellboy Library Edition.  Can’t wait!

  13. Awesome pick.

    Of course, in my ongoing quest to find the black cloud under the silver lining, I will bitch about how I paid full list price for this from my LCS a few months back instead of waiting to get it at the incredible IST/BOTM discount. That said, if there ever was a book worth full list THIS IS IT.

    American Flagg! was one of the first books on my pull list back in 1983-4. I’ve been pimping this series for years. And this is a great presentation. My only real complaint – notwithstanding the above rant – is that it’s ot oversized, and the art practically begs for an oversize treatment. That’s why I’m keeping my trades of the first three arcs. But man, it’s still real, real pretty.I’m hoping the rest of the Chaykin AF! will get the same treatment.

    Go Get This Book!

  14. Was going to wait until the price broke on this… and now it has!  Kudos!

  15. I just got my copy in the mail.  i have cracked the pages to read anything yet but the production of this book is top notch.  PLUS IT HAS A RIBBON PAGE MARKER?!  SOLD!

  16. Plus it smells amazing as all hardcovers should.  

  17. This might be a stupid question, but this is Vol. 1.  Is there more to the series beyond this hardcover?

  18. Amazon just shipped my copy so I should have it during the week. Always wanted to read it and your recomendation just sold it for me.

  19. Damn, I just finished this week’s show where Ron gave his review that got me really interested, especially when he said InStockTrades have this for $26.  Only i now go on the site and don’t see it in stock. 🙁

  20. Yep… out of stock.

  21. The iFanbase purchasing block is mighty.

  22. Crap.  I was getting ready to go hunt for this.  Big vintage Chaykin fan here.

  23. Question about Chaykin:

    Due to Ron’s review, I flipped through my library’s collection to see if they had any of Chaykin’s work. I found "City of Tomorrow" trade 1.

    I have to say that I was underwhelmed (the art didn’t help). Is American Flagg that much better than City of Tomorrow?

  24. Good pick. Flagg! was one of the first comics I started reading back in the 80s.

    I think what it shows is Chaykin’s skill as a draftsman. The layouts are what make it work, and as you said on the podcast, the use of lettering (by Ken Bruzenak) is brilliant.

  25. InStockTrades STILL out of stock.  Oh well… Amazon has it for $32 or so… buyin’ it while still in stock.

  26. I collected it when it first came out but this "absolute" edition is so much more accessable. This is Howard Chaykin at his best and others who have also mentioned Ken Bruzenak lettering is superb. I recommend this also as one of the classic comics of the 80’s. Please read it, you will enjoy it.

  27. In stock at mycomicshop.com for $40.