We Stand On Guard #1 by Brian K. Vaughan & Steve Skroce Review

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<i>We Stand On Guard</i> #1 by Brian K. Vaughan & Steve Skroce Review

For more than three years, Saga has been Brian K. Vaughan’s medium for large-scale emotion flexing. Since issue #1, space opera—published by Image Comics—has tugged at our heartstrings from the point of view of Hazel, a girl born in the crossfire of an intergalactic war. If you’re somehow still in the dark, think of it like Romeo and Juliet—just in space, and if the two’d lived long enough to pop out a little one and start arguing. But it’s safe to say that after 29 issues, we’re growing no less attached to the extended family Marko and Alana started.

The Canadian background of We Stand On Guard might have little to do with Saga’s adventures in space, but Vaughan’s latest Image release shows him on a well-worn path. Two neighboring lands stand at odds—the surprise pairing being the U.S. and Canada—and a female protagonist is born somewhere among the collateral damage. It’s all a lot to take in through a first issue, but Vaughan and artist Steve Skroce’s first offering of We Stand On Guard’s world is intriguing, emotional and engaging enough to stand alone as a story. Issue #1 is not a mere snapshot of a land we’ll inhabit over the next half year, but a realized journey into a solidified world—partially thanks to the issue’s 40-page size, and partially thanks to Vaughan’s pithy storytelling.

We Stand On Guard Interior Art by Steve Skroce

Spoilers lurk ahead, and they look as harmless as the first two paragraphs of this review.

While Saga delivered the pint-sized Hazel, Vaughan channels international conflict in We Stand On Guard through Amber, a Canadian civilian who loses her family, her home—pretty much everything—after U.S. Air Force missiles litter her hometown. Decades pass, and we reconvene with Amber in Canada’s freezing Northwest Territories. She’s doing the whole Bear Grylls thing when she bumps into “The Two-Four,” a band of Canadian civilians fighting against heavy-duty American mechs. They fall under attack by a mech, surprisingly manned by an American soldier, which provides a graceful scenario for Amber to prove her allegiance to the group. Like I said, we learn plenty about Amber within the pages of WSOG #1. One of those things? She fucking hates Americans, and that gets her a quick spot in the Two-Four. But with Amber, we learn that we’re not just dealing with a victim of war-torn countries; she’s brutal. And WSOG differs from its space-aged counterpart in that it doesn’t ask you to decide which side is worse: The U.S. is awful, Canada is trying to stand its ground and, as Two-Four leader Chief McFadden points out, Canada is made up of Supermen and Superwomen.

We Stand On Guard Interior Art by Steve Skroce

With the work of Skroce—whose storyboard art has been featured across the bulk of the Wachowskis’ film work, including The Matrix—no line strays in the mechanical renderings of AT-AT-style snow beasts, save the scraggly American emblems that imply the terrifying possibility of an army of these things. Fans of mech-war stories like Metal Gear Solid won’t feel out of place in Skroce’s mechanical renderings, which take on animalistic qualities of wolves and bulldogs compared to MGS’ serpentine designs. The mostly gray world Amber inhabits, set off by the occasional spray of orange and red from a building-scale explosion, doesn’t hurt the comparison. But the meat here is in the expressive faces of WSOG’s characters, whose designs emote hard and give a nice contrast to the enemy’s enormous, sterile machines. The sun-deprived, caucasian humans blend among the snow-packed fields, and the issue’s limited color palette (courtesy Matt Hollingsworth) has a certain lulling effect—save pages with big ol’ explosions and purple tear gas. Over 40 pages, there’s a certain fatigue in picking out details in Canada’s blurry north. Maybe that’s the point.

But in all, WSOG is a great peek into the world we’ll inhabit for six issues. And with Vaughan’s ongoing series already dozens of issues deep, WSOG is a great reminder of the emotional punch the man can pack in a single coimc with brand new characters. Instead of crossing my fingers that something happens in issue #2, I’ll be ready to dive right back into the action in August.

We Stand On Guard Interior Art by Steve Skroce