American Carnage #1
Written by Bryan Edward Hill
Art by Leandro Fernandez and Dean White
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by DC Comics / Vertigo Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
The relaunched Vertigo Comics gets its first honest-to-god noir with the debut of American Carnage. Hitting shelves November 21, this new series centers around a pair of disgraced F.B.I. agents of color investigating a prominent tycoon and his ties to a violent emerging neo-Nazi movement. Scripted by Bryan Edward Hill, a writer who recently has impressed with Michael Cray and his run on Detective Comics, and given a wavy, Eduardo Risso-like style by Leandro Fernandez and Dean White, American Carnage #1 stands as a fantastic homage to the line’s crime roots as well as another show of good faith towards Vertigo’s commitment to POC creators and content.
It starts, as this ugly business usually does, with a murder. Told in a taut, time-hopping opening, Bryan Hill introduces us Agent Shelia Curry, who is testifying to superiors about the fallout of her partner’s murder. Through one tightly packed nine-panel grid, Hill and his art team tell us everything we need to know about the stakes and level of intensity they will be working with throughout this debut.
And then they double down just one page later. Seizing readers with a grisly look at a crime scene, Fernandez and White sear the page with yellows and oranges and heavy shadows as a burning house framing the twisting figure of a lynching victim. This debut won’t be for everyone, and might even draw comparisons to another past Vertigo series Incognegro, but the sheer grit of Hill and his team to go full bore with the story keeps it on brand for Vertigo, as well as the current state of modern-day crime stories.
From there, Hill and the artists scale back and establish the rest of our cast, mainly one former Agent Richard Wright. Wright is a biracial man who can pass as Caucasian - and three years ago, Wright shot a young black man, thinking he was reaching for a gun. It’s an all-too-common scene ripped from today’s headlines, but Hill isn’t including it as a ghoulish bit of set dressing. This tragedy informs Wright’s character, and his willingness to go along with Curry, who proposes a risky plan to infiltrate the Morgan family in order to prove his involvement with domestic terrorism.
Like I said, the similarities to Mat Johnson’s period tale Incognegro are striking, but Hill’s script feels so much more of the moment and incendiary to dismiss based on any perceived closeness of concept. Hill’s punchy yet elegant scripting is perfect for the noirish tone of the series and says a lot with very little, especially in the opening sequence. He also taps into a very specific and resonant well of pathos due to the explicit nature of the racial implications of the tale, strengthened by our current era of politically relevant stories. Couple that with Hill’s engaging leads and heavy dread centered around Morgan family, and its patriarch Wynn Allen Morgan (a sort of rough-hewn evocation of Billy Graham), and you have the all the makings for a classic crime comic powder keg, just waiting to explode.
Though you’ll have to wait until November to fully experience it, know that Vertigo Comics’ crime bonafides are in great condition thanks to the incoming debut of American Carnage. Helmed by a rising star around the DC offices and an art team that has a keen eye for character, violence and mood, this Vertigo debut continues their strong efforts from original, creator-driven series with a bracing dose of socially conscious mayhem.