Retro Reviewer: The American Remains Relevant
In the late ‘80s Dark Horse Comics published a gritty, sinister, somewhat bizarre, but best, a plausible story by future talent Mark Verheiden, who does such a great job writing The American it remains relevant today. Released in 1987, it withstands age because Verheiden’s incredible emerging storytelling skills.
The title launched his career, but he was very lucky Dark Horse Comics opted to take a chance on this exceedingly alternative superhero story. While Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is credited for comic’s black and white craze, it’s storytelling like The American that demonstrated people wanted something meatier to read.
The story is told by down and out reporter Dennis Hough, who saves his job by telling his editor he’s doing an investigative piece on The American. Behind this good guy is a spook agency that is using the belief that a superhero is protecting the good ole USA for its own agenda.
Spoiler Alert – Hough learns its actually just pyrotechnics, explosives and plastic surgery on blonde haired army recruits. Verheiden lets the reader in that something is up during the rescue sequence by having – hilariously – The American handing out t-shirts to hostages before they’re saved.
“What are you doing?” The agency asks via remote. “I’m making a buck, McLoughlin! Tee-shirts were off fifteen percent last month!” The American retorts.
There’s plenty of plausible government evil to keep all the secrets from Hough (like royalty rates), but like the agency we won’t give away too much more. It gets a little black and white comic weird too… Cyber Ike!
Verheiden does such a great job telling his story you almost believe The American is real or could be, real. He uses broad-strokes to develop characters and refines them down by putting them in SNAFUs. He even re-creates a back-story within the series involving WatchFob Comics – a little known Canadian publisher that released an original run of The American. Hough grew up reading them and they’re weaved into the story arc via reprints.
It’s plausible President Obama would call on the agency to take down ISIS or any number of current day baddies with The American. When the presidents popularity is sinking who do they call? The American. You have to wonder why the US government hasn’t employed a roster of faux superheros from its NAVY Seal roster? Then you read The American and realize it’d all go badly.
Some of the art is really great, but some of the pages are weak. Over the course of the book Chris Warner finds his own style. Seeing Warner’s improvement every issue was another reason I picked this title up.
For the 2005 TPB re-release, Dark Horse Comics added art heavyweights Jim Lee, Frank Miller and Mike Mignola. I don’t have the 2005 version, but re-read my 1988 TPB and have the individual series this week to determine whether it holds up over time.