"Do you believe in magic? Do you believe that two men could be wounded seven times by two bullets? Do you believe that eighteen witnesses could just magically up and die over the next three years? Ask not what your country's done for you. Ask what your country's done to you." Twisting JFK’s words and twisting history Uncle Sam is a bizarre and thought provoking trip through American history taking in some of the countries most notorious events and putting a new perspective on them. Steve Darnell’s Uncle Sam never quite lets you in on what is happening, the story involves a ragged old man dressed in red and white striped trousers and a battered waistcoat and long jacket. He could be any old tramp, couldn’t he?? From the very cover of the book he stares out almost accusingly, with strong eyes, from a pavement as passers by walk on, his hand is outstretched, but it’s uncertain if he is asking for help or pointing at the reader. Inside the book the story begins in a hospital A&E where Sam kicks up a stink barking nonsensical presidential sound bites to an indifferent and captive audience. Unsurprisingly he is ejected into the streets to fend for himself, and he does just that, grubbing for scraps of food in a dumpster. Is it really Uncle Sam or a madman? We get a confusing insight as he has a flashback to an earlier incarnation, Sam and his wife, “this is not my beautiful wife?” and he is about to go off to war with the English redcoats. The story is convoluted and deliberately so, it’s the nature of history after all and to be honest it isn’t the story that makes this book important, it’s the idea behind it. Uncle Sam whether he is real or not is an Icon, maybe an icon of an America past but he still has power, the power of what Uncle Sam stood for. The story is basically a dissection of that icon and its demise, and Uncle Sam whether it was intentiona
l or not has committed many crimes. We are taken to the battlefields of Blackhawk, walk amongst the strange fruit of post abolition lynchings and the disillusionment of the dust bowl farmers. All broken promises…. In the past there have been as many anti American rants as there have been blindly patriotic ones. I was afraid that this book would devolve into either one, breaking down the icon that is Uncle Sam for the sake of it. Uncle Sam manages to strike a balance, on one hand it admonishes the reader for the crimes of the past and on the other it offer hope for the future. It takes all the bad and all the good and makes us responsible for it. I think what this book is aiming to do is show us the past and the present but also give hope for the future, part of the story has Uncle Sam meeting his antithesis, Uncle Sam, not the Uncle Sam of old but a shiny sparkly stilt walking actor in a political rally. Sam sees what he has become, a parody of himself, iconic yes but an icon for greed and corruption, not truth and justice. He later faces the iconic Anti Uncle Sam, sat smoking dollar bill cigars atop a mountainous throne of TV’s straddled across Capitol Hill. Basically the story is about the struggle to retain the ethos upon which the country was founded, freedom and equality, and not pay service to the place it has become, to return to the old values of simple responsibility for ones actions. America never truly gained freedom and equality for all but it should never stop striving for that goal. I have so far concentrated on the elements of the story, mainly because the story and the message is so powerful but the story and much of its raw emotion is supplied by Alex Ross’s artwork; the water colours are almost photo realistic and give towering strength and humbling pathos to the central character all in the same page, leaving a lasting mental image to go with Darnell’s ideas. In fact the very nat
ure of the story, exploring the idea of iconic figures means the by definition the character of Uncle Sam, Columbia and Britannia (yes we get a look in too) is two dimensional, it couldn’t be a strong icon if the ideas behind it weren’t clear cut. But Ross’s artwork breathes life into the fallen figures of past glories and provides a luxurious canvas for Darnell’s story to glow on. Without having a good grounding in American history it’s difficult to put some of the elements and the ideals presented in this book into context but Darnell and Alex Ross present a very evocative picture of what has been and what could be if only we tried. Writer: Steve Darnall Artist: Alex Ross Price: $9.95 Publisher: DC Comics ISBN: 1-56389-482-3
Clad in star-spangled rags, a mystery man named Sam wanders the streets of an anonymous American city, struggling to remember his true identity and the purpose in his life. Is he Uncle Sam - or one of US? This is an intelligent political analysis of an american icon.