Howard Chaykin's classic American Flagg has come back into print, showcasing a comic that still seems ahead of its time 20 years later - and making us wish that Paul Verhoven had made this into a movie way back when.
For those familiar with some of Chaykin's other work, there are definitely echoes to be found in Flagg - the corny puns, the stocking-and-heels combo fetish, the square-jawed hero out of his depth but somehow still irresistible to all women and able to save the day (despite his complaints) when the situation demands it. But there's enough elsewhere to distract from the Chaykin Formula and turn you into a believer.
In concept, Flagg is very much a product of its times - You can see echoes of the media-led futures of Blade Runner and Max Headroom in here, as well as a Cold War paranoia/parody that wouldn't be imagined today - but the execution is amazing and, at times (specifically in the first storyline, "Hard Times"), almost faultless.
The set-up for the series is that, in the not-so-far future, the US Government and various corporations have fled Earth for Mars, leaving a power vacuum cemented by the fall of the Soviet Union and only partially filled by "The Plex," a new body made up of US officials, corporate heads and former Russian scientists who run things in America from afar. The police force of this new America are called Plexus Rangers (Told you about the puns), and one such Ranger is Rueben Flagg, a former television star replaced by his own CGI stunt double and drafted into service on Chicago's mean streets.
Of course, none of that really explains what the series is actually about, which is a heady mix of political and social satire (Not for nothing is one character called Medea Blitz), old-school action adventure and Chaykin living out his sexual fantasies through his lead character. The intentionally-absurd quality to the stories manages to work, surprisingly - everything happens with a kind of hyper-reality, amped-up and unbelievable but enjoyably so - that leaves the reader breathless by continually pummeling them more and more information to take in.
Helping out considerably with that pummeling is the look of the book. It's not just the artwork, although this is Chaykin at his best and most daring, before he fell into the (admittedly pretty) rut that he's in now of tight close-ups and familiar layouts - His linework, as ever, is crisp and attractive, a distinctive collection of influences from fine art, design and comics blended together to come up with something that seems timeless even now - but the look of the book. As much as Chaykin, Flagg's aesthetic is defined by the stunning lettering of Ken Bruzenak, which goes so far beyond speech balloons and thought bubbles and sound effects that it becomes one of the most memorable things about the book, a visual hook that explains the chaos of the future in a way that seems as much musical as anything else.
The two collections dip in quality towards the end - Chaykin's writing becomes emptier, and other artists take over on the last couple of chapters - but it never becomes dull or a chore to read; when American Flagg is at its best, it's a classic piece of science fiction satire that stands up there with Robocop and Brazil, but even at its worst, it's an enjoyable piece of eye-catching comics that offers a future at once recognizable and distant.
American Flagg is available now and published in the UK by Titan Books and in the US by Dynamite Entertainment.