American Century: Scars and Stripes

By Howard Chaykin, David Tischman, Marc Laming & John Stokes (Vertigo)
ISBN: 1-56389-791-1

The “straight” adventure strip, with a free-wheeling hero travelling the globe righting wrongs – long a mainstay of comics and strips – has to a large extent vanished from the assembled genres that make up the modern graphic narrative industry – at least in the English speaking world. Possibly the last – and wickedest – hurrah of the form came from a cruelly underrated series by one of America’s best creators: Howard Chaykin.

Wearing his sly and savvy social and historical commentator’s hat, the fabled bad boy of popular culture and frequent writing partner David Tischman created World War II veteran Harry Block, who won the war but loathed the peace, chafing at his boring pilot’s job, his cheating wife and his smug, scuzzball racist friends as they all chase the new American Dream in the Halcyon summer days of 1949.

When the Korean conflict flares up and he’s recalled to Active Duty, Harry decides enough is enough and flees to South America. If he’s going to be shot at again he wants it to be personal and not because some grasping, incompetent @$$h*le orders it…

Taken from issues #1-4 of American Century, this introductory saga finds him in turbulent Guatemala using the name Harry Kraft and sucked into a CIA-sponsored revolutionary war as his comfy smuggling gig brings him to the attention of Soviet Agent Provocateurs and the beloved “Santa” Rosa, bleached-blonde Angel of the Poor and bed-mate of the increasingly isolated and desperate General/Presidenté DeSantiis.

The American Way just won’t give Harry a break and the murderous, bloody results are going to repaint World maps in ways that ordinary people will regret and resent for decades to come…

Smart, complex, sexily cynical, headily political and darkly comic, this sardonic left-wing parable simmers with attitude and the no-nonsense clear-cut art from Marc Laming and John Stokes continues that splendid tradition of a decent man in a bad place that began with Captain Easy and Terry and the Pirates but adds enough uncompromising contemporary punch, smut and gore to captivate anybody over 16 who’s ever read a newspaper.

The series ran to 27 issues and only this volume and the follow-up American Century: Hollywood Babylon (ISBN: 1-56389-885-3) were ever collected, so there’s plenty more to see should Vertigo ever wise up and continue to re-package them. Of course, best of all would be a couple of definitive editions and an all-new sequel…

© 2001 Howard Chaykin, Inc.and DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.