Thursday, August 22, 2013

Great Concept, Overkill Execution: Uncle Sam!

The Good: Amazing artwork, Great concept
The Bad: Thematically overbearing
The Basics: Uncle Sam might look good and have some awesome ideas, but it is so repetitive, oppressive, and thematically uncomplicated as to make for an ultimately poor read.

As a fan of some of the works of Alex Ross, I decided to make an effort to read the other books by him that I had not yet tracked down. In the case of the works of Alex Ross, I only learned about Uncle Sam through the book about Ross’s artwork, Mythology: The Art Of Alex Ross (reviewed here!) and after so much time, I decided it was time to read it. As a liberal, I was excited about Uncle Sam. From the artwork and the foreword, I was pumped for the short trade paperback anthology.

Uncle Sam was originally written as a two comic book release and is now anthologized in a single paperback or hardcover volume. The book was written by Steve Darnall and features the artwork of Alex Ross. Ross made the beautiful painted books Kingdom Come (reviewed here!) and Justice (reviewed here!), the latter of which remains my favorite graphic novel of all time. So, given how high the bar was set for the projects that Alex Ross has worked on, it was reasonable that I would be excited about Uncle Sam.

So, it was that much more of a letdown when it turned out to be a colossal waste of time.

Uncle Sam might be for some people – the so-called patriots who think they know what America stands for but champion war and unbridled capitalism – but for the enlightened and educated, Uncle Sam is just cripplingly slow and intensely repetitive.

Uncle Sam follows an old man who is struggling to remember who he is. His mind is filled with political slogans and sound bytes and as he wanders the street – his boots get stolen early on – and around him are all the signs of urban decay. The man keeps slipping in and out of the present, falling back in time to the past and various essential incidents in American History. The man was a part of massacres of the native American Indians, the abolitionist movement, the fight for women’s rights and a ton of other key moments in the formation of America. But then he witnesses the corruption of government, the destruction of the economy and all of the ways that the ideals of the nation are twisted into something disturbing. He finds the pseudo-patriotic doppelganger of himself and gets into a psychological battle with it, attempting to assert the values of America.

The artwork in Uncle Sam is predictably amazing. Like Alex Ross’s other works, the book features panels that are painting-quality and the book looks great. The coloring and artwork is impressive.

Unfortunately, the book is thematically oppressive and repetitive to the point of being pointless. The reader will get the point of the book within the first ten pages and the book does not get better or more diverse after that. Early in the book, there is a wonderful story that features the lines, "And slowly, over many years, the people realized they were not citizens. They were not members of a community. They were clocking in and punching out and killing time. They were employees. . . I walk past a nation that's covered in equal parts of dirt and despair." It is an incredible and powerful moment and substory within the book. And the book does not get better after that. Moreover, the book just keeps repeating the same idea.

Capitalism has undermined democracy in the United States. As an anticapitalist, I get it. Uncle Sam is obvious and it just beats that theme to death. Given that there is so much space to the book after it makes its point, it becomes painful to muddle through. Sadly, this was not the inspired work I might have hoped.

For other standalone graphic novels, please check out my reviews of:
Watchmen By Alan Moore
Fray By Joss Whedon
The Hiketeia By Greg Rucka


For other book reviews, please visit my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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