I have fond memories of reading The American when it first came out in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Its story of government conspiracies and promises denied really resonated at the time. In the era of Reagan’s America, when secret wars against the communists everywhere in the world were the order of the day, it seemed like an interesting innovation to graft that world onto comics. The world was intense and thoughtful, with weird and quirky twists like a cybernetic version of President Eisenhower, to keep readers interested.
Unfortunately, time’s done this series no favors. Reading these stories today, the whole underpinning of the series seems like a big cliché. Government conspiracies are practically a given now – it seems like every other Hollywood movie has evil government agents keeping secrets from the American people, and almost every hero has been lied to, and is out for revenge due to those lies.
A Hollywood analogy is appropriate, since writer Mark Verheiden has moved from comics to a career in the TV industry. He currently works on Battlestar Galactica and Smallville and writes Superman, so Dark Horse logically thought to capitalize on his popularity with a low cost ($14.95 for over 350 pages!) reprinting of Verheiden’s early comics work. The work’s not bad, but the lack of freshness really hurts it.
What also hurts the book is how wordy Verheiden is. The ratio of words to images is way off compared to comics of its era, and is on a whole ‘nother planet compared to the decompressed comics of today. Verheiden’s wordiness brings depth to his characters, but after awhile reading it, the captions get tiresome. This is probably one of those comics that worked really well from issue to issue, but which just becomes dull reading it as a whole.
Still, Verheiden has energy and style and definite enthusiasm for the material. The art, by a slew of artists, is solid but basically unspectacular. Chris Warner’s art in the early issues is flashy in a pre-Image way, while Marrinan’s art is comfortable but not the kind of thing to make one jump out of his chair.
In the end, this is a nice, slightly above average, comic. It’s solid and professional like a decent action film. With lots of words. Lots and lots of words.