*American Flagg! — Recommended

Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!, a science fiction satire, was revolutionary for its time. Originally published in the early 80s, it tackled mature themes in the wake of the Reagan Revolution. In this future, corporations ruled a dystopic Earth from a colony on Mars, and society is sex-obsessed, over-medicated, and media-driven, with televised live violence reality shows filled with subliminals.

American Flagg! cover
American Flagg!
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Reuben Flagg was the TV star who played Mark Thrust, Sexus Ranger, until he was replaced with a hologram. So he came back to Chicago to work as a real, law-enforcing Ranger. He’s the classic Chaykin hero, a smart, good-looking, tough Russian Jew trying to survive with his personal morality intact in circumstances beyond his control. All the better for dashing action-adventure in which he gets the best of every man and sleeps with every woman.

It’s Blade Runner on paper, although instead of a gloomy noir, we got candy-colored action. The Duoshade stippling provides a distinctive depth to the design-driven graphics. It’s gorgeously aggressive, with solid, blocky figures. The women are tough-as-nails broads with plenty of cleavage and a penchant for garter belts holding up thigh-high stockings.

The culture and its attitudes are conveyed through mentions of TV shows, news announcements, and advertisements. Like many cynical, futuristic takes, what then was revolutionary is now more expected and conventional. You’ve seen, for example, a mutant motorcycle gang before, and corrupt politicians and murder mysteries are timeless, but it’s really about the struggle to define the American Dream in the light of a world run by money and cynicism and everyone out for themselves. And racism unfortunately hasn’t become obsolete.

The first 14 issues are collected in this hardcover, and it’s a dense, long read, as Flagg tackles various challenges, including chaperoning an illegal basketball team through South America, accompanied by various dames, Raul the talking cat, and Luther the robot deputy. Like most science fiction, it’s as much a portrait of the time of its creation as the future. The book also includes additional character pinups and a new American Flagg! short story by Chaykin.

This article chronicles the long struggle to get this volume released, with problems ranging from detailed recoloring work to the book having two publishers. In this short interview, Chaykin reminisces. Here’s a comprehensive review.

(A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)

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9 Responses to “*American Flagg! — Recommended”

  1. Guy Smiley Says:

    Mmm, yes, Flagg. I still have the oversize trades First published back in the day, three slender volumes of, I think, the first 12 issues. If they ever softcover this at a less daunting price point, I’ll consider picking it up for the added material and color quality.

    Such a great piece of work, this series, and it holds up so well …

  2. Johanna Says:

    Supposedly, a shorter, softcover version came out at the end of December, but I can’t find it on Amazon, and the Dynamic Forces site lists it as “Available Soon”.

  3. James Schee Says:

    I saw the softcover of this at a shop that I’d stumbled into a few weeks ago. I had ordered this WAY back when it was first listed, but canceled the order midway through the 4 years.:)

    I may go look for the softcover to srt f give it a try.

    Didn’t he use a similiar looking lead character in a miniseries called Power & Glory as well?

  4. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Jan. 23, 2009: The $65 question Says:

    [...] [Review] American Flagg! Vol. 1 Link: Johanna Draper Carlson [...]

  5. Not so fast Says:

    The quality of reproduction has been harshly critiziced:

    http://marvelmasterworksfansite.yuku.com/reply/163487/t/American-Flagg.html#reply-163487

  6. Johanna Says:

    It looks to me like those criticizing it are only doing so after page-to-page comparisons with the originals, complaining about background color changes and such. The point of the book is that plenty of people don’t have the originals available to do that kind of comparison. Their criticisms might be valid, but I don’t find them significant to most readers.

    I liked the guy in that thread who said, “Does not feel like a shoddy production to me but I know some of you guys are super-fusspots.”

  7. Fleen: Enjoy Our Semi-Abusive Opinion Mongering » New Webomicsâ„¢ (Abridged Title) Says:

    [...] Douglas Adams wrote. I’m picking up overtone vibes of Snow Crash and Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!; just check out the sequence where our hero has to decide whether to order the Very Large Coffee [...]

  8. Die Hard: Year One REVIEW | Captain Blue Hen Comics & Entertainment Says:

    [...] have long admired the work of writer/artist Howard Chaykin but I haven’t liked everything. AMERICAN FLAGG! (First Comics) was ground-breaking. I did enjoy SWORD OF SOLOMON KANE (Marvel) but it failed to [...]

  9. THE CORRIDOR; A Creepy Little Horror Film and its' Writer Who Never Gave Up | Optimum Wound Says:

    [...] Hunter S. Thompson and to Lester Bangs over the years! Off the top of my head, you introduced me to Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg, to novels by Jim Thompson, James Ellroy, Andrew Vachss; you were the first one to send me movies [...]

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