Before their arrivals, revolutionary comics like 100 Bullets, Unknown Soldier, and Scalped carved out a place for raw, real-world-based stories at Vertigo Comics, an imprint that was largely known for fantasy and magic-based tales. They starred deeply flawed characters that operated in violent spaces, intense situations, and heavily blurred lines. Writer Bryan Edward Hill (Detective Comics, DC Universe's Titans) came up with a crime title that would be worthy of the crime pedigree for Vertigo's 25th anniversary roster, American Carnage.
SYFY WIRE has the exclusive preview of select unlettered pages, by artist Leandro Fernandez and colorist Dean White, from the first issue, which comes out Nov. 21. Lettering is by Pat Brosseau.
American Carnage introduces readers to Agent Sheila Curry, who doesn’t want to close the case on her former co-worker who was found lynched. Curry wants to pull disgraced former FBI agent Richard Wright, who is racially mixed but looks white, back into action unofficially, to infiltrate an organization headed by Wynn Morgan — a man with extreme views who she suspects is tied to white supremacists and ultimately the murder she’s seeking justice for.
Richard is based on Hill’s own experience, living between socio-economical and cultural worlds. Unlike Richard, though, Hill is not white, and he spoke to people whom Hill described as self-avowed white supremacists as research for Wynn Morgan and his daughter Jennifer.
Since this is not a world where evil and good are rarely pure, Morgan is an adversary who plays the long game. "While everyone is afraid of the chaos they see, Wynn Morgan sees opportunity in providing a pathway through the chaos," Hill explained while laughing. "In a lot of ways, he represents my utter contempt for salesmen... In Wynn’s case, the product he’s offering is a bankrupt ideology that blames and assigns your power to other forces."
As for Sheila, she is on a path of righteousness by trying to bring justice for her murdered friend, even if that means she has to work outside of the law.
"The difference of tyranny and egalitarian rule can often be how much we let our emotion be in charge. For Sheila, how much of her soul is she willing to sacrifice to do what she thinks the 'right thing'?"
The rich rewards of American Carnage come in the subtle details and development of complex characters, navigating the gray areas of their own ideologies. Carnage presents none of this in simplistic ways; it claws at the roots of the issues while allowing readers to decide on their own how to feel.
“I don’t think the world needs a comic book to tell it that violent hatred is a bad thing,” Hill notes. "What I find interesting is exploring the roots and the causes, and the common denominators of these things... remembering that everyone is a person that’s made choices and suffered the consequences of those choices to be the person that they are.”
Visually, the challenge Fernandez has is to paint an equally detailed vision of the experiences — the resentment and lies they are suspicious of. Body posture and other ways to help take some of the burden off of Hill’s dialogue. "My goal is to have them share all the complexity of human movement and emotion in different situations," Fernandez explains. "Doing other things besides talking while they are in the middle of a conversation, for example. Bryan gives me a lot of space to play with this."
Ultimately, American Carnage tries to explore the answers to a question that Hill is most interested in: How do people become monsters? That transformation is one of the big themes of the series.
"When I see someone do something monstrous in the real world, my first question is, you were a child once," Hill pondered. "No child dreams of becoming what you are. What happened that would lead you to this place? Is it something innate? Is it something learned? A combination of the two?"
American Carnage #1 goes on sale Nov. 21 in print at your local comic shop or in multiple digital formats.