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Lee Loughridge

Rome West

On Thanksgiving, we celebrate the Pilgrim’s feast of 1621 for the year’s harvest and for their partnership with the Native Americans. Although this holiday smacks of colonialism, white supremacy and is historically inaccurate, let’s just imagine if America was “discovered” in 323 AD by the Romans and our timeline was radically changed.

Brian Wood, a favored author of mine (although he is currently mired in some sexual harassment controversy), along with co-author Justin Giampaoli, takes the trope of an alternate timeline and tries to breathe some new life into it. Told in eleven vignettes, the only thread is that all the characters are descended from the Valerius family originally from Rome.

323 AD Manahatta (NYC): Several Roman galley ships are pushed off course when a violent storm strands them in the Hudson River Valley area of modern-day New York. Legionnaire Lucan Valerius, who has a gift for learning languages, takes command when the Captain is washed overboard. When the Lenape tribe greets the bedraggled soldiers there is a small skirmish, but Lucan understands that diplomacy is the key to their survival, and this first contact leads to the first of future alliances with the Native Americans of the region. Each side believes their deal is the better of the two.

847 The City of Val Seneca (Rochester, NY): A 500-year jump is excessive, as we are led to believe that the descendants of a ragtag group of less than 100 Roman soldiers have remained a central force in government, and have retained the language and customs of their ancestors. As the only Roman men were soldiers, the only way they continued their bloodline was through intermarriage with the local tribes. So I find it incredibly unlikely that the Valerius family looks so white, and that Roman traditions are so prized.

990 The Outpost of Roma Dorsetus (Newfoundland): The Vikings discover an outpost in Vinland and the soldiers there put up an epic fight.

1492 Concordia (Caribbean Islands): Columbus lands and finds an advanced civilization speaking Latin already there. Shocked, he shares that the original Roman empire fell years ago, and makes reference to Jesus Christ, which seems to be news to the island leader. This seems off, as the original soldiers from Rome would have heard of Christ back in 323 AD, so this conversation seems disingenuous.

1503 Roma Auster (Norfolk, VA): In the eleven years since Columbus landed and his ships were seized, the Valerius family studied the European technology onboard, and are now weapon makers themselves. Alliances and wars with certain tribes are mentioned.

1545 Lepido (Panama): The Panama Canel is being constructed already? And Rome West is at war with the Aztecs? Alrighty then.

1869 Sioux Colonia (Davenport, Iowa): Now a Valerius heir is taking a leisurely transcontinental train around the nation and she thinks about the history of the nation, that has some parallels with our world. She meets a storyteller- obviously, Mark Twain is in any timeline!

1939 The Port of Barentsland (San Francisco, CA): A mass murderer is on the loose, seeming to target those with Roman bloodlines. The police struggle to solve these hate crimes.

1941 Washoe Colony (Lake Tahoe, CA): Love story with a bit of commentary on the Valerius family branch that the new bride belongs to. A sweet tale, but it didn’t fit with the other stories.

1979 Rome West, Capital City (NYC): James Bond is a Valerius!

1989 Roma Bareas (Portsmouth, NH): A college student faces extreme prejudice as public opinion has turned against the Valerius family and she is being judged for what her family has done centuries before. I actually wished this story was longer, for it had some biting commentary about cancel culture and paying for the sins of the past.

I am a fan of artist Andrea Mutti’s sketchy work, who has collaborated with Wood before. The grittiness of wilderness living and the gore of war are shown in a realistic manner, with earthen tone coloring that is evocative and helps convey the story even more effectively. All the pages are divided into quadrants with some smaller panels within, there is no elaborate splash pages or large panels, but these workmanlike configurations match the tone of the story.

Overall, this story disappoints. The two authors take what Wood has done well in the past- detailing the rise and fall of a family over the years (Northlanders- Icelandic Trilogy), vignettes with characters studies (Rebels), and mixes it with social commentary (Briggs Land) but it doesn’t quite gel in this story. There are too many leaps of logic with too much time between earlier stories, and then there are too many clustered at the end. This graphic novel should have had more entries, and perhaps then it would have fleshed out into a more cohesive narrative, and become what the authors were aiming for but missed.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! May your choices today make your family proud in the future.

-Nancy

Wood, Brian, Justin Giampaoli, Andrea Mutti. Rome West. 2018.

Briggs Land: Lone Wolves

“Secure the perimeter. Protect the land. Preserve the family.”

When I first read Briggs Land (V1) I said it was an absolutely riveting new series about “an American family under siege” by both the government and their own hand. Set in rural upstate New York, Briggs Land is a hundred square mile oasis for people who want to live off the grid. Established in the Civil War era, the Briggs family would give sanctuary to those who wanted to live a simple life, but this anti-government colony has taken a dark turn in recent times. The village that grew within it’s fences has morphed into a breeding ground for white supremacy, domestic terrorism and money laundering. So, would the second volume deliver following such a strong start? I’m glad to report- yes!

In this second volume an unsuspecting couple wander too far while hiking and inadvertently wander onto Briggs land from the southern border of Canada. They run into Grace’s youngest  son, Issac, a former soldier who panics that the couple will tell authorities that he is hiding out. While he doesn’t harm them, he locks them in a cabin and then consults with his mother and brothers Caleb and Noah on what to do.

Image result for briggs land lone wolves
My husband and I hike a lot, so I couldn’t help but imagine us accidentally trespassing on someone’s land!

When the local media start to  piece together the missing hikers with the Briggs family, law enforcement jump at the chance to surround the compound and lay siege to the armed community. As we learned in the first volume, don’t underestimate Grace. She has an effective plan for dealing with the law and the locked up hikers.

In the midst of all this jailed patriarch Jim Briggs, furious that he has been supplanted by his wife as leader, plots revenge. He still has strong ties and allegiances within the village, and plans a way to hurt Grace and regain power. But we are given a poignant flashback as to how Jim had callously used his son Noah as a cover when he attempted to assassinate the president twenty years ago, and we see why Grace’s sons and many in the community have sided with her. We also get some additional plot threads about Grace’s daughters-in-law. We learn some of the reasons they joined the family and discover their mettle in dealing with authorities and outsiders.

Several illustrators are credited with the art, and as such, sometimes the style can change significantly from one chapter to another. This is somewhat distracting,  but the earth toned color palette throughout gives it enough consistency. I loved the guest artists that did the variant art and enjoyed their interpretations of the characters. I’ve read enough graphic novels by now, that often at first glance I can recognize an artist’s style and know who drew it before I even see their credit.

This series is a perfect read in our current polarized world, with all the outcry about guns and the NRA. While I am a strong proponent of gun control, I can still enjoy this nuanced view of a militaristic family and the morally grey area in which they lead their lives.

-Nancy

Deadly Class: Reagan Youth

This book came highly recommended to me by the two of the best comic book gurus out there- Kevin and Charles from Graham Crackers in DeKalb. They don’t steer me wrong when I ask for purchasing selections for my library, so I was anxious to read it. I did not love it at first. Confused I went  to the store yesterday to talk to them about it before I finished my review. I had the best conversation with them and wish I could have taped it, for they shared such passion and deep insight about the book, that I was then able to see it through another lens and it upped my opinion of the story.

Set in San Francisco in 1987, Marcus is a Nicaraguan immigrant whose parents died soon after coming to America in a freak accident with a mentally ill woman who was committing suicide. Sent to a group home for several years, Marcus, who is now a teen, escaped and was living on the streets.  One night he is recruited by a daring young woman named Saya to join Kings Dominion Atelier of the Deadly Arts, a high school for assassins. Attended by children of the world’s top crime families, the cliques in the school are literally killer. Marcus gets involved with a motley group and must follow the professor’s assignments of killing a vagrant who has committed a sin and “deserves” to die. He and his partner Willie bond, and a true friendship is formed under dire circumstances. Later these two, plus Saya and a few others, set out on a road trip and are a followed by deranged man from Marcus’s past. The group’s confrontation with this villain sets up story lines for the future.

More than the actual story, it is the themes of this series that set it apart. Marcus is a symbol of the disenfranchised and is morally ambiguous. He is no hero, but brings to light the discontent that some youth feel when faced with a threatening future. Damaged by society, these youth on the margins feel they have no recourse except through violence. As Charles and Kevin opined, some big changes in our world have only come to fruition through violence. Martin Luther King Jr was able to further the Civil Rights Movement through love and non-violent means, but he was counterbalanced (and helped) by Malcolm X’s methods, as Gandhi was also helped by radicals. Their musings were thought provoking and made me look at this comic in a new way. This story takes those thoughts to an extreme, but as a tagline on the back cover says “Change the world with a bullet”. See my review for Genius: Siege that also worked with the idea of using violence for change.

The artwork is stellar with a coloring palette that sets the tone for the narrative. The era of the 1980’s is accurately represented through the art, with an authentic and gritty vibe. The panels are varied, with some bold choices, and visuals that stand out. Another strength is the introduction by David Lapham and afterward written by the author, both which delve further into the fascinating background of how this comic got started.

Initially, I struggled connecting to the story. I had a rather straight-laced upbringing and didn’t easily connect to the youth of this school. However, by the ending everything came into focus. No matter what, teens (and adults) are looking for connections with others, and that is a universal need.

-Nancy

Aside: If you live in the northern Illinois region, you must go to Graham Crackers in DeKalb for your comic and graphic novel selections. Located on the NIU campus, this store has superb customer service and the best employees. It would save me time at work if I ordered our graphic novels online, but I refuse, I must go in and browse.  Kevin and Charles guide me on my purchasing selections, and they happily expound on books that they feel would be worthy of purchase and warn me against books that are weak (I wish I had listened about Civil War II!) or aren’t being continued.

Reminder, Rick, Wes Craig & Lee Loughridge. Deadly Class: Reagan Youth. 2014.

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