Saturday, January 5, 2019

American Carnage #2 Review and Spoilers

Racial Tension

Written by: Bryan Hill
Art by: Leandro Fernandez
Colours by: Dean White
Letters by: Pat Brosseau
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: January 2, 2019

The thing about Bryan Hill and Leandro Fernandez's story about a white-passing psychologically damaged FBI agent infiltrating a white supremacist organization is that the reader already knows the broad trajectory of where that story is going. In detective shows and movies from True Detective to BlacKkKlansman, there's an inherent tension for the viewer in wanting to know whether the charade will be effective and just how far the character concerned is prepared to go in order to maintain it. This is certainly the case with American Carnage. Undercover FBI agent Richard Wright's attempts to infiltrate Wynn Morgan's supremacist organization have so far been both straightforward and successful, but we know that they're not going to stay that way. How does he get on in the series' second issue?

Apart from Richard himself, probably the most intriguing character last issue was Jenny, Morgan's daughter, who oversees Richard's recruitment into her father's organization. As his work on The Wild Storm: Michael Cray attests, Hill is very good at portraying assertive yet flawed women and he does an exceptional job of presenting Jenny as someone with both strength and a certain vulnerability. One of the first things we see her do this issue is calm an associate of her father's down, exuding a cool, demure authority in the process before, once the man in question is gone, that she won't be alone in the same room as him because he told her she was pretty when she was twelve. Later on, when Richard meets and converses with Jenny's deaf daughter Amy, there is that mix of strength and vulnerability again as Jenny tells Richard that Amy is not someone he needs to know.

At that point, Richard has already met Wynn Morgan and had a fight with one of the roughnecks partying in his back garden. Violence as a mechanism for establishing social hierarchy and validation is a key theme in this issue and Hill's portrayal of it rings true. Wright has 'over-egged the pudding' a little bit in humiliating his opponent, Billy, an ex-army man who has found a precarious sense of belonging and self-respect in Morgan's organization. Jenny urges Richard to go and make things right with Billy, which leads to the issue's final page which places Richard in an impossible dilemma.

In some respects, this is a very low-key issue, but actually, there's a lot going on here. There is a real sense of tension in Wright's confrontation with Billy and, later, his conversation with Morgan himself. Hill's story is less focused on the ideology of Morgan's group than it is on the psychological reasons men are drawn to it. While Morgan is a (quite literally) shadowy and somewhat enigmatic figure, the men he attracts are presented as lost, fragile and infected with a dangerous frustrated rage as a result. It's uncomfortable but compelling storytelling.

Bits and Pieces:

This is a skilfully constructed second issue with clear dynamic artwork and populated with damaged, believable characters. After having lulled the reader into a false sense of security, that final page is a jolting reminder of just what kind of character our flawed hero is dealing with. American Carnage is shaping up to be an intriguing, unsettling and dramatic read.


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