American Carnage #1 / Writer: Bryan Hill / Artist: Leandro Fernandez / Colorist: Dean White / Letterer: Pat Brosseau / Publisher: Vertigo / November 21, 2018
Modes of Color
I noticed three color modes while reading American Carnage #1: hot, sickly pale, and shadowy. These descriptors also apply to the themes of American Carnage, a comic that deals with incendiary injustices, sickly truths about America, and secrets waiting to be uncovered.
Colorist Dean White knows how to use the whole box of crayons. He uses specific combinations to convey specific themes, such as when FBI agent Sheila and ex-fed Richard talk in a parking garage. The buildings and skyline behind them appear burnt red while a pale fluorescent blue bathes the parking garage, casting the characters in dark silhouettes. We learn Sheila had to drop her investigation into a hate group and its suspected leader. That leads to recruit Richard, who left the force after gunning down a young black man in error; the color of their exchange supports the interaction.
Art and Lettering
Characters who are suspicious of others or are feeling each other out are frequently positioned certain ways by Leandro Fernandez’s artwork. Through these visuals, we get a sense that everyone has something to gain from Richard. As a mixed-race man who passes for white, he has access to many people’s good graces. Pat Brosseau’s lettering is standard but effective, including the use of a serif font for captions denoting setting and creating the impression of an official investigation being recounted.
Shiela makes a couple of questionable decisions, as well as Richard’s victim. I’m not sure if Bryan Hill simply gave them flaws in judgment, or if they’re stupid. First, Sheila interrogates a suspect in the lynching of an FBI agent in his house without backup, and she lets him go to the bathroom alone. She later comes up a staircase with gun drawn looking for him, as if she couldn’t have followed him to a bathroom or just made him pee his pants. Why give any leeway to a suspected murderer with prior arrests and an outstanding warrant for narcotics possession? Sheila says in her report that she suspected the suspect would run. Why let him out of her sight?
Second, in Richard’s flashback in which he shoots an apparently harmless black person, there’s a wrinkle in the shooting that all but dares the reader to kind of blame the victim. Richard has his gun drawn. He shouts at the suspect when the suspect reaches into his jacket to pull a smartphone out. Perceiving the action as a threat, which Richard shoots. The dialog between Richard and the suspect is muted, but they clearly shouted at each other before the shot was fired. I hope they revisit this scene in a later issue to further explore the context of that heated moment. Otherwise, it seems out of place; Hill seems particularly interested in the nuance and motivations behind people’s actions elsewhere in the story.
When Richard interviews his way into the white nationalist group, he tells them,
“Thank you for not making me ashamed of who I am.”
By that point, Richard has been chastised for using the n-word. He also presents himself as a recovering alcoholic who lost his license. Which aspect of his persona is he thanking them over? What would each one mean for the group to accept? Before the conclusion, Richard receives a welcome to a poolside cross-burning BBQ heart of darkness. However, I think the story has a lot of exploration left beyond admonishing racist straw men and women.
The white nationalists’ leader delivers a speech to a black church. He appeals to their distrust of government over narcotics and gun violence (and peddling his book). He probably took notes during the Black Jeopardy sketch with Tom Hanks. His daughter speaks Spanish as a matter of course for life in California. The cover and featured image in this article show a burning cross juxtaposed next to the American flag. That same flag is flapping next to a forest that could go up in flames all too easily. Hill & Co. have a lot of fertile ground left to cover, and I hope the series continues to lead readers to interesting questions, including how to light a blaze as well as prevent one.
Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 hidden explosives.