Cla$$war (Com.X)

An exploration of superheroics and George W. Bush-era politics gets revived and re-issued in this handsome hardcover collection.

210 pgs., color; $24.99
(W : Rob Williams; A: Trevor Hairsine, Travel Foreman)
One reason superheroes remain a staple of comics and graphic novels are the opportunities they offer for wish fulfillment. I’d love to see George W. Bush (our 43rd president) with “LIAR” branded across his forehead. I’d also love to be a fly on the wall at the moment when he realizes that he was never in power—that he was just a puppet manipulated by people far smarter and more capable than himself who didn’t blunder through life shielded by their legacy status. That’s assuming, of course, that he’s capable of such a realization.
Sad to say it’s unlikely I’ll ever get to see either of those things in real life, but thanks to the reissue of the British comic Cla$$war at least I’ve gotten to experience them in paper and ink. Cla$$war is sort of an underground legend: every possible thing seemed to go wrong for this comic from the initial issue being delayed due to the terrorist attacks on 9-11 to a burglary that drove its publisher, Com.X, temporarily out of business. And yet people who managed to read one or more of the six issues (three were published in 2002 and three in 2004, with a change of artist between) found it bursting with energy and creativity and speaking directly to the times in a way few other comics did.
Fortunately, Com.X has revived and recently re-issued Cla$$war in a handsome hardcover collected edition with excellent art quality and many extras. The material is no longer “of the moment” and there’s a certain dated aspect to this comic but it’s still worth a look. The setup is that the U.S. has a secret program led by an ex-Nazi scientist to give ordinary humans superpowers. The superheroes thus created are known by the code name “Enola Gay” and are used to support and augment America’s conventional military forces. Their powers are hardly unique—the American is basically Superman, Burner can control fire, the Heavyweight is a cross between Mike Tyson and the Incredible Hulk, and Icon is like Wonder Woman without the magic lasso and in a much more revealing costume—but it doesn’t matter because the real story is that one day the American finds out it’s all been a lie and becomes determined to expose the truth to the world.
One among many reasons it’s worth checking out Cla$$war is to see the early work of several people who went on to bigger and better things. It was Rob Williams’ first gig writing for comics (he’s since worked on Wolverine, Judge Dredd, and several Star Wars series, among other things) and overall the story is pretty good, although there are times when I got exasperated with details which were just too first choice and made the strip less effective than it might have been. I know that not all comics are created for the ages, but surely he could have come up with something less obvious than a U.S. invasion of the Caribbean island of “Glenada” and a more convincing reason for it all than a covert drug operation. It’s too bad he didn’t exert a little more thought and give his superheroes more interesting powers even if the powers themselves are not the focus of the story. But naming the superhero gang after the airplane that dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima was a nice touch and I love placing the opening scene at the Lincoln memorial, a setting which represents both America’s ideals and the truth that we often fall short of them. The creators may be Brits but they certainly are up on their American cultural references.
The first three issues were drawn by Trevor Hairsine (who was later named one of Marvel’s “Young Guns,” and was most recently seen on last year’s Killapalooza from DC/Wildstorm) and the last three by Travel Foreman (who has since worked on X-Men Unlimited, Ares: God of War and, most prominently, Immortal Iron Fist, among other things). Both have a feel for portraying action and creating big, impressive panels, so although you will notice differences in their work it’s no more disruptive than the three Heath Ledger replacements in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. The collected edition is labeled “Series One” but from what I can ascertain it’s unlikely that the comic will be continued.
Extras in the collected edition include introductions by Andy Diggle, Craig Johnson and Rob Williams which will set up the context for you if you didn’t experience Cla$$war when it was a new comic, a cover gallery, the original script proposal, and seven pages of pencils by Hairsine and four pages of sketches by Foreman. You can preview some of the art at here, courtesy of Comixology. | Sarah Boslaugh

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