Isolation, Violence and Ideology: A Dangerous Visit to Briggs Land

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Isolation, Violence and Ideology: A Dangerous Visit to <i>Briggs Land</i>

Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Mack Chater
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: August 17, 2016

Brian Wood often focuses on outcasts. The shifting cast of characters in Northlanders were isolated from those around them—some by choice, some by geography and others by a combination of both. The Vertigo series DMZ featured the Free States, a secessionist group enmeshed in a civil war with the American government. Both sides of the war could be considered ideologically relatable or ideologically repugnant, and neither hewed too closely to a traditional political right/left dichotomy. Briggs Land heads even further into that quagmire, pushing questions of freedom and political violence. And whether it’s read as a crime story with political overtones or a story of social conflict with a body count, it’s off to a gripping start.

Informational text on the opening page establishes the basics: the Briggs family operates a compound in upstate New York; the current head of the clan Jim Briggs, is in prison; the government has become more wary of the group’s beliefs and presence. And then the family’s dynamic shifts, as Jim’s wife Grace makes her move to take control. The comic offers constant reminders that many members of the Briggs clan aren’t exactly pleasant people. Jim is in federal prison for an attempted assassination and one of his sons sports a swastika tattoo.

Briggs Land #1 Interior Art by Mark Chater & Lee Loughridge

Grace, however, is more of a mystery. “She could be full-on Aryan Nations, or just an old-school hippie secessionist,” says one of the federal agents monitoring the family, a narrative device that allows for both exposition and a counterpoint to a cast of characters with tendencies towards bigotry, misogyny and general extremism. Her narration only makes an appearance late in the issue, giving a sense of her own beliefs and motivations relative to those around her. The different voices create a volatile combination, and the numerous conflicts and power dynamics threaten to escalate to a dangerous level.

Briggs Land #1 Interior Art by Mark Chater & Lee Loughridge

Mack Chater’s artwork, colored by Lee Loughridge, is the definition of understated: it gives off a great sense of place, whether that location is a penitentiary, a hotel room or a sprawling survivalist compound. Chater imbues a good sense of the characters’ different body types and facial expressions. It’s reminiscent of Michael Lark’s work on Scene of the Crime: A Little Piece of Goodnight—the kind of solid work that never calls attention to itself, but makes the world of the comic that much more tangible. And, though the plotting is dense and abounds with characters whose histories entangle, the highlight of the comic may be a long, wordless sequence of the drive to the Briggs compound, tense and deeply effective. The final page, with three silent and vivid panels, neatly establishes the stakes of this series.

Briggs Land #1 Interior Art by Mark Chater & Lee Loughridge

Wood is venturing into provocative territory here, with few traditionally sympathetic characters in the mix so far. But the conflicts and dynamics in this issue make for a good introduction to a nerve-racking world where questions of isolation and freedom play out on a violent stage. The compound where much of this issue is set may not be somewhere many of its readers would want to visit in real life, but it promises to be the backdrop for some deeply compelling drama.

Briggs Land #1 Interior Art by Mark Chater & Lee Loughridge