By Brian K. Vaughan, Steve Skroce, and Matt Hollingsworth
Brian K. Vaughan is one of the most eclectic talents in comic books today. He’s had a lot of critical success with series like Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, and Saga. What’s strange is that despite spending nearly a decade as a critical darling thanks to his unique blended of grounded humanism with fantastical story elements he’s never really transitioned to mainstream superhero comics. The most he’s ever done is Runaways from Marvel, a solid series that has strangely faded from memory in recent years. It’s just strange given so many of Vaughan’s contemporaries like Jason Aaron, Jonathan Hickman, and Rick Remender have transitioned to be Gods of the superhero genre but Vaughan is still plugging away on the 3rd party indie scene. To wit, We Stand On Guard is his latest dogmatic refusal to return to the superhero genre/comic book endeavor.
We Stand On Guard could best be described as a Canadian reimagining of Red Dawn. At some point in the future America has invaded Canada and now occupies the country with a force of giant robots and drones that look like what would happen if the G.I. Joes had designed the imperial walkers from Empire Strikes Back. It’s a bizarre series still very much in its infancy but with a lot of promise to be found. The focus is on a group of Canadian resistance fighters situated in the vast Canadian wilderness of Yellowknife. Like Red Dawn, there really isn’t much of a sense that these characters could legitimatly displace the American occupation so the story is less national and more personal. The emphasis and stakes are all ground level, it’s a story about surviving and needing to fight back to protect your home against people who just see it as some place.
So far We Stand On Guard’s relative youth has been more of a bug than a feature. The characters have all been introduced, but not quite as established as it would take for us to engage with them. It’s a problem because the framing of the story as a harsh realization of occupation and war on a continental scale means not everyone is making it out alive. The problem is that without a great amount of definition and investment some of the character deaths feel a little stock and un-impactful. Still, these are early days and there are a lot of good aspects to the comic. Vaughan hasn’t lost his knack for imagining a well-worn world that truly feels like it exists beyond the few panels we’re allowed to see.
However, it’s artist Steve Skroce and colorist Matt Hollingsworth who really elevate this comic. Skroce’s art is incredible, a perfect blend of grounded realism and sci-fi scope. Whenever he’s called upon to imagine the vast machines of war that populate this conflict like the American war dogs or the Canadian transport trucks he really lets his creative flag fly. The designs are all weirdly animalistic, machines emulating the physicality of beasts in some manner while the actual texture and detail of the things is very chunky. You can almost feel the weight the second you see them and all the bolting and moving pieces make them seem more real. It’s most reminiscent of the G.I. Joe/Transformers mash-up toyline Acid Rain from a couple of years ago.
Hollingsworth complements Skroce’s work expertly. His coloring remains very crisp and well-defined regardless of location, instead relying on unique palette choices to afford each scene its own overriding tone and aesthetic. The scenes in Yellowknife are coated in the stark whites and steel blues of winter, there’s a government facility sequence that combines crisp whites and stark oranges to emphasize the minimalist nature of the facility, and there’s an opening scene that contrasts the pastels of suburbia with a harsh military color scheme. It’s some really strong work and enhances the book exponentially, taking it from an enjoyable sci-fi war story to something near artisanal in its production.
However, no amount of excellent art can really imbue the story with deeper meaning and at the end of the day We Stand On Guard is currently just pretty good. It’s a pretty fun and imaginative sci-fi war story elevated by the artwork and presentation rather than deeper themes or well realized characters. There’s nothing wrong with that and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable concept executed with a ton of faith in its own craziness, but if you’re looking for something deeper it doesn’t really seem to be here. Still, it’s early days and there’s still time for the series to develop more meaningful themes and focus, but until that happens consider this one to pick-up if you have a lull in your pick-up list or otherwise maybe wait for the trade.