Eighties Rewind III

I’m fuzzy on my cyberpunk bon mots and so is Wikiquote. Was it William Gibson who said that today’s nightmare future is tomorrow’s ordinary day? Around that time he or someone like him would have been saying that or something like it, Howard Chaykin was creating American Flagg!, the post-apocalyptic cop comic in which the Future looks at the ruin of Terran civilization—nuclear war; plague; general societal collapse and I forget what all else—and says, “Fuck it, man, let’s go bowling.”

Metaphorically speaking, I mean. I don’t remember if there was any bowling in the series or not. (There was basketball. With cesti! I am telling you about these books before I reread them because there’s no reason for you to delay picking them up on my account.)

Reuben Flagg is a former actor from Mars, where what’s left of the US government and the heads of most of Earth’s major corporations escaped during the collapse (which happened, in Flagg’s timeline, in 1996). When Flagg gets replaced by an animated version of himself—”The series got renewed. I got cancelled,” is one of his tag lines—he comes to Earth to join the Plexus Rangers, more or less the cops, the twist being that he played a Plexus Ranger on TV. Artistically, Chaykin favors zipatone and dynamic poses, but beyond Chaykin, the book owes its visual style as much to letterer and FX creator Ken Bruzenak as anyone. The stories are satirical political thrillers. Take a Ross Thomas novel, punch it up with copious explosions and cheesecake and run it through the Sciencefictionator, and you’re pretty close to a Flagg! story. Chaykin’s politics have the simultaneous anti-capitalism and anti-Sovietism of the Cold-War-era social democrat. The sexual politics of the book are retrograde, though it must be said, Chaykin’s chicks do look hot. And there’s a talking cat.

Flagg! was in publishing limbo for a couple decades after publisher First Comics collapsed. These books were long overdue for a reprint. These early issues where Chaykin handles both art and script are the best of the series.

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