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  • Words: Rob Williams
  • Art: Trevor Hairsine & Travel Foreman
  • Inks: Trevor Hairsine
  • Colors: Len O'Grady
  • Story Title: Cla$$war
  • Price: $24.00
  • Release Date: Apr 28, 2009

Adding to the canon of “realistic” superhero depictions, this book can be graphic at times, but ultimately very compelling because it is more concerned with the political than with the enhanced humans.

The American, leader of a team of government superheroes named Enola Gay, has had enough of the charade of the insidious imperialism of the American system of government. With the powers of Superman, and the origin and moral character of Captain America, the American attempts to explode the conspiratorial government by shining the light on their practices and abducting the President of the United States. The remaining members of Enola Gay are dispatched to stop their former colleague and restore order to the “Republic.”

The ideological leaning of the book is decidedly leftist and anti-imperial if not overtly Marxist as the title would suggest. The original limited series appeared in 2002, long before the current Obama centered political environment, but the themes presented are at least as relevant from the 1950s forward, so it doesn't read as a commentary on the Bush administration and so it is still relevant. The unwarranted influence of the military-industrial complex is the reality in writer/creator Rob Williams' America. Superheroes are the stormtroopers of the Imperial regime with an origin born of Nazi science.

The astute reader will catch on that the graphic novel is a British production. The first tell of English origin is use of the term “queue” spoken by Heavyweight, the strong man of Enola Gay. Americans never use this term to describe people waiting in line. This, along with British forms of words like centre (center) betray the creator's nationality, and creates the obvious line of inquiry: how does a British viewpoint color a social and political commentary of America? In truth, not so very different from the radical leftists in America. I did find it ironic that the American looked to Lincoln as a guide for his rebellion from the American power-structure. Lincoln probably did more to create a single nation out of the collection of states, and so definitely more symbolic of a national American state, susceptible to imperial transformation, moreso than the Revolutionary Founding Fathers.

The character of the American seems to embody the author's view of America. He is very powerful, naively moral, and not of superior intelligence. This is not to say that he is stupid, but his success as a Revolutionary is owed to the clarity of his morals and not in being exceedingly clever. The defining event in his career was the murder of an enemy and his defection from his corrupt masters was a personal redemption for the evil act. This is a hopeful interpretation of the American character, as it is not fatally corrupted, and though the graphic novel is not entirely optimistic, it is not anti-American. The door is open for the prodigal son to return to moral and political purity. The American experiment still has merit even in the post-nuclear age.

Artistically, the book has two distinct halves. Trevor Hairsine and Travel Foreman split the art duties. Hairsine's work is reminiscent and compares very favorably to Sal Velluto, a Neal Adams protege. Equally beautiful rendering of bodies and backgrounds, his work gives the book an exceptional look, realistic enough for the subject matter and more than dynamic enough for the action sequences. His work is fully inked, with bold contours. This contrasts with Foreman's work, which is reproduced directly from his pencils. I am not a huge fan of uninked work, especially when it is in full color, but I am aware this is a preference. It should not be taken as a criticism of the fabulous pencils that Foreman has produced. I want to note that Williams did not hold back in the script, and pushes the artists into drawing some incredible scenes including fighter planes, Washington D.C. landmarks, and other challenging images which both artists handle masterfully. Overall the production value of the work is exceptional, and as a complete package, Cla$$war rivals anything being produced industry-wide.

Superhero books with mature themes are no longer the novelty they were when Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns stormed onto the scene in the 1980s. Many variations on the theme of superheroes in the “real world” have been tried with varying levels of success. What makes Cla$$war unique in the sub-genre is that it is not a musing on the place of these super-beings, but a social and political commentary in a world that happens to have these metahumans around. Though the members of the Enola Gay are fairly typical though not uninteresting, the star of the book is the American, and the way he represents the soul of America. Tight writing, excellent art and a package including many extras make this book a must-read. I tend to be a harsh critic of “adult” superhero comics, but I enjoyed this thoroughly, and it definitely raises the bar on political comics, leapfrogging substantially lesser populist musings like Ex Machina. The door was certainly left open for a sequel, and I will be first in line if it is ever attempted.

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  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Jun 30, 2009 at 10:53am

    Sounds good, I'll have to watch out for this

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Jun 30, 2009 at 12:54pm

    Well worth picking up Bart. And for those eho may have missed it I interviewed CLA$$WAR creator Rob Williams for BF a few weeks back: http://www.brokenfrontier.com/lowdown/p/detail/the-politics-of-war

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Jun 30, 2009 at 7:57pm

    Whoops! I also meant to say... great review Steve!

  • Steve Kanaras

    Steve Kanaras Jun 30, 2009 at 11:13pm

    Thanks Andy. A truly remarkable book.

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Jul 1, 2009 at 6:10am

    I read the interview already, Andy. yes I do keep track of the BF. nice try on the pimping though :p

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Jul 1, 2009 at 6:16am

    I like to practice my pimping skills at least once a day Bart. I may be officially retired from the profession but it's good to keep my hand in now and then... I'd love to see Book II of CLA$$WAR eventually. Fingers crossed.

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