The two new non-Sandman Universe titles released as part of the DC Vertigo relaunch have both incorporated social issues into their narratives. Border Town addresses the growing tension surrounding undocumented immigrants while Hex Wives looks at the misogynistic attitudes in society. The latest series, American Carnage, keeps with the theme as it tackles white supremacy in our country through the backdrop of a murder mystery. In the first issue, writer, Bryan Edward Hill, artist, Leandro Fernandez, and colorist, Dean White, build a strong foundation for an interesting noir tale.
An F.B.I. agent is killed by lynching in his yard as his home burns behind him with his dead family inside. Though the culprit is found, the agent’s ex-partner, Agent Curry, isn’t satisfied and feels there is a bigger plot behind her friend’s death. She hires disgraced agent turned P.I., Richard Wright, to infiltrate a white activist group and investigate the murder from that end. Wright finally makes contact and receives a glimpse of what he’s really gotten himself into.
Hill does a good job with pacing throughout the debut issue. The first few pages are intense, with Agent Curry confronting her partner’s killer, and they draw the reader in. Later, the story slows down to develop the characters and give them depth. You can sense how Richard’s past has informed his identity struggle of being a biracial man who can pass as white. In addition, the main antagonist, Wynn Allen Morgan, is not your run of the mill, sheet-wearing racist. He has the charisma and confidence to perform outreach in minority communities despite his reputation. The writer also has a nice build up of scenes where Wright gradually makes his way into Morgan’s organization, gaining momentum for that final page.
Fernandez’s art and style lends to the crime genre, creating a dark, tense mood. Appearances and identity are motifs that run throughout this issue, and the artist’s use of shading plays with these ideas. Sometimes a character’s face is half shown in darkness, enhancing their duplicitous nature. Whether it is a biracial undercover agent or a philanthropic community leader with white supremacist ties. Other times, a full silhouette is used showing no distinguishable features. In addition, White’s palette and restrained colors help add to the gritty tone.
Overall, issue #1 of American Carnage is effective in grabbing the reader’s attention, setting the stage and tone and introducing the main players. The mystery and premise create enough intrigue to follow along with the case and learn more about the characters. The creative team have the makings of a story that is a worthy successor to the crime series from the Vertigo of yore.
Learn more about the series, from our interview with Bryan Edward Hill here.