I’m going to be honest with you. I’ve been excited for We Stand On Guard since the series was announced at the Image Expo six months ago. Described by the National Post as “like the War of 1812, but cooler”, Brian K Vaughan (American) and Steve Skroce (Canadian) have introduced us to a world 100 years into the future where Canadian freedom fighters go up against the invading Americans equiped with robots.
Robots. Canadian freedom fighters. A Tim Hortons cameo. I’ve found a comic that speaks to me.
This debut issue has done a great job setting up its premise and characters. Amber seems to be the readers’ entry point as we watch her parents die in the first wave of the invasion before forwarding twelve years even more into the future. Now a teenager, Amber comes face to face with the Two-Fours, a group of Canadian civilian freedom fighters, after they rescue her from an American robot dog. What made this part interesting as a Canadian was the use of French. The first instance was when the robotic dog — part of the Dogs of War — spoke to Amber in English and then in French which acknowledges Canada’s dual official languages. The second was when the Les LePage character spoke only in French but is understood by the characters and never translated for the reader. We Anglophones only ever understand what he’s saying through the responses he receives and it’s a great use of the language. It places the burden on readers to seek out what he’s saying without hindering the story’s clarity which gives relatively equal weight to both languages.
It’s moments like these that speak to me as a Canadian reader. The build is slow which is expected in a first issue, but the page where Amber holds the smoking gun is when we’re told as readers that there’s more happening below the surface. That there’s more to these characters and more to this armed conflict that pits neighbouring and friendly nations at odds with one another. Despite having a great experience with Vaughan’s previous work (Saga, Y: The Last Man), this is my first time with Skroce’s art. I really enjoyed the one/two splash pages that made use of juxtaposed of images (like in that opening page with young Amber and the burning White House or the American robot behind Booth in the distance) or showcased the spectacle of destruction (two page layouts of the invasion or the fall of the American robot).
What elevated the art was the colours by Matt Hollingsworth who I’ve loved on Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye series. The two page bombing of Ottawa looks stunning and vibrant with the yellows, pinks and oranges as a city gets destroyed. Then a few pages later you have cold light blues, whites and light grey-browns for the wintery forests of the Northwest Territories. There is a clear move from the loud city life to the quiet murmurs of nature. It’s in this new environment that the Americans become a more visible invader on the page.
I like the diverse group featured in the comic but haven’t made any immediate bonds yet. I’m definitely intrigued and the “Canadianisms” in the text have satiated me (CBC News!). Overall, I had fun. The comic ended with a promise of more to come but I do hope that we get to see Aboriginal characters play a large part in the series as well. A great start!