It’s the far-flung future, but it sure looks familiar compared to today. Reuben Flagg, the star of MARK THRUST: SEXUS RANGER has been fired from his TV show and replaced by a holographic version of him. Disgraced, he now finds himself working for the Plexus Rangers, an outfit of soldiers run by the company that now owns a solid chunk of the planet and runs it from Mars. Roving biker gangs, illegal sports, subliminal messages sent through pirate broadcasts, racial strife, hot women, lots of kinky sex… AMERICAN FLAGG remains Howard Chaykin’s personal masterpiece, and this excellent hardcover collection of the first fourteen issues presents the work better than we’ve ever seen it before.
Why does it work? Sometimes it can be difficult to point it out. After all, Chaykin’s vision of the future got plenty wrong, starting with the year his world had it all fall apart (1996). Having one of the characters be a talking cat was a risky move, and even twenty-five years later, I still don’t think that flies. But the stuff that’s right completely counter-balances. Flagg is a terrific character, full of swagger, yet not invincible. He takes his lumps, and he isn’t always right. He’s also a moral man in an immoral world, and you feel for the decisions he has to make. The supporting cast is also terrific; Flagg’s lover, Mandy is a complex and clever woman who doesn’t always see eye to eye with Reuben. The mayor, C.K. Blitz is a venal, corrupt man who is still capable of great compassion and love when prompted. Dr. Titania Weis is a Jewish woman who has rejected her heritage and wears a swastika, repulsing the Jewish Flagg as she seduces him, even as she turns him on. The action isn’t always of the traditional kind in FLAGG; much of it is intellectual in nature.
I suppose the elephant in the room considering this book is its lateness. The book was originally scheduled to hit shelves a couple of years ago. And to the people who complain, I say this: you’re totally wrong.
WATCHMEN, CAMELOT 3000, ULTIMATES, SPIDER-MAN/BLACK CAT… these egregiously late books were delivering original content. AMERICAN FLAGG is a reprint, and one that needed serious restoration when it came to the coloring. Anybody who was in a hurry to read this stuff could have picked up the original issues in a comics shop or on E-bay. The intended audience for this book was going to be happy with it, no matter when it came out. Pissing and moaning about the delays is ultimately disingenuous. You either want the book or you don’t.
The book’s design, by Chip Kidd, is terrific, and the color restoration really looks brilliant. The time it took to get the book done really pays off, because it looks outstanding. I hope this experience doesn’t prevent these two publishers from moving forward with more volumes in the series.