Today, Taylor and Ryan are discussing We Stand On Guard 1, originally released July 1st, 2015.
Taylor: You don’t have to sort through many comics, movies, or books before you find a story about a war, on earth, set in the relatively near future. A lot of the time, these stories are a good way of capturing the zeitgeist of time in which it was written. Take, for example, much of the sci-fi written during the Cold War. What percentage of that writing focuses on a then-likely war with the Soviet Union and/or nuclear holocaust? Keeping that in mind, some might find it surprising that Brian K. Vaughan’s new series We Stand On Guard is about a future war between the USA and… Canada? Yes, the country known for its benign nature is now the centerpiece for a story about war. But why? As it turns out there are plenty of reasons which make this a promising series premier.
We Stand On Guard opens in the near future, specifically Ottawa, Ontario in 2112. Amber, a young girl, and her family are watching a newscast about a bombing on the White House. As they speculate who could be behind it, the USA launches an attack on their city. Amber’s parents die in the attack but she and her brother survive. Twelve years later, Amber roams the Northwest Territories fighting for survival. When her brother goes missing she has a chance encounter with the Two-Four, a resistance group struggling to fight off American invaders in Canada. After a swift take-down of a mammoth American robot, the Two-Four let Amber join their ranks.
A big question I, and probably a lot of other readers, had coming into this debut was: why Canada? There are plenty of countries that the USA currently does not get along with which would make more sense than its northerly neighbor. After all, with the exception of the War of 1812, as is pointed out in the issue, the US and Canada have always been friendly. So why did Vaughan choose to pit these two countries against one another? The answer, it turns out, is quite simple.
While that explanation sounds simple, if perhaps overtly so, keep in mind many experts predict many future wars will be fought over life’s most important resource. And ultimately this actually seems like a plausible development as well. When I think about how this story takes place in 2124 and numerous predictions about water shortages in the future, I can’t but feel that this title lends itself more to science than fiction. Additionally, this helps create a near-future world that seems all too plausible. Water shortages, terrorist attacks, countries battling long-time allies – it all rings disturbingly true to life. I feel like Vaughn is sending us a message here: just because we in the first world are well off now, it doesn’t mean we’ll always be. In essence, Vaughan is using his art to hold a mirror up the world and in this case, the reflection isn’t all that pretty.
Just as countries are driven to extremes by the need for resources in We Stand On Guard, so too are its characters. After the Two-Four bring down a gigantic, gorilla-like American robot, they are surprised to learn that it is piloted not by a computer, but by an American soldier. To prove that she isn’t a spy, the Two-Four demand that Amber execute the helpless soldier. My normal conception of a protagonist had me thinking Amber would be horrified by such a thing. Vaughan, however, subverts this thought by having her execute the soldier without a moments thought.
This act is jarring, but made all the more so by artist Steve Skroce’s artwork. While we don’t see the execution, we do see Amber’s face as the deed is done and it is the very definition of intensity, hatred, and vengeance.
Making this panel all the more effective is that it mirrors a similar frame from Amber’s youth, pictured inset. Notice the same intensity in the eyes and the blank expression when confronted by an extreme situation. I also noticed how in both portraits, the right sleeve of Amber’s shirt is cut in the exact same spot. I think Skroce wants us to compare these two portraits because it informs us about Amber’s motivations. In the inset picture, Amber is watching as her father dies from burns and blood loss. In the outset picture, Amber watches as she takes revenge for her father’s death by killing an American soldier. This shows me, without saying a word, that Amber is a character driven to extremes by her surroundings. I find it hard to believe that given a normal childhood Amber would kill a man in cold blood. But throw her into a terrible war and and kill her parents and that’s what she becomes.
Ryan, there’s a lot going on in this first issue. Heck, I didn’t even really talk about giant robots! Do you have any thoughts on those? What about the Two-Four? Are there any characters in that group you want to know more about? And what about that little bit with the Superman tattoo and how he was actually created in Canada? Is there some sort of message there?
Ryan: Well, Taylor, what could better represent the giant American war machine than… giant American war machines? With the U.S. spending as much as $610 billion per annum on Defense, which is more than the next seven countries combined, the Guerillas do not seem very far-fetched.
It is a battleship on four legs, designed (I would guess) as a battle platform capable of navigating large spans of land featuring varied terrain – perfect for the Northwest Territories of Canada featured here. The fact that the particular Guerilla seen in this issue was piloted surprised me just as much as it did the Two-Four, seeing as the current trend in both military and civilian technology leans towards the use of drones. Many other comic authors such as Warren Ellis have been using drones as commentary to great effect, so I am interested in finding out why America now mans the Guerillas.
These mechanized behemoths serve as one of the strongest visual calling-cards for this series thus far, with their appearance on the cover being a huge hook to pick this title up. The other easy reason to read We Stand on Guard would be Brian K. Vaughn, himself. Vaughn has stood as a golden boy in comics for a decade now, with ten Eisner Awards to his name and a little ongoing series called Saga which may ring a bell. It seems as if this writer imbues everything he touches with a sweeping, cinematic feel. He and Skroce do a magnificent job during the first 6 pages of this comic, establishing a breathing universe without giving me that awful feeling we get so often from mediocre media from the obligatory exposition dump.
This page alone tells us so much. We know it is the near-distant future, and technology advanced in many — but not unbelievable — ways. It seems as if holography found its use in households, and Mum accesses some sort of information network installed cerebrally. Despite these changes, this future shares many familiarities with our current time, such as a Canadian man wearing flannel, or the Tim Hortons (the Canadian Dunkin’ Donuts) seen through the apartment window on the next page. We also get snippets of the political landscape as the family guesses for the culprit of the bombing on the White House: the GVN (Vietnam?) and Hanguk (Korea) may seem status quo to our modern sensibilities, but the inclusion of Cuba and Greece (hooray! still a country!) shows us that things done changed a bit on this swiftly tilting planet over the course of a century. Lastly, check out the novel which Tommy holds, titled “The Outlander” by Gil Adamson. The book chronicles the escape into the wilderness of a woman hunted by her brothers-in-law. The immediate parallel to draw is that of Amber, on her own in one of the world’s harshest climates; however, though we have no idea as to whether the U.S. has developed any means of brainwashing POW’s, it would certainly be pretty crazy if Amber and Tommy found themselves on opposite sides of this conflict.
We Stand on Guard 1 provides a fun and though-provoking romp through a future war featuring an interesting group of characters in a dangerous and believable world. I found myself drawn towards the actor in the Two-Fours, Les LePage, who speaks solely in French despite obviously understanding English. I am sure that these rag-tags will flesh themselves out over time as Amber becomes subsumed further into the group, and I plan on reading on to see some freedom fighters stand up against America to defend truth, justice, and the Canadian way.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?