Since the harrowing opening sequence of the debut issue, writer Bryan Hill and his team have managed to keep raising the stakes, steadily building the tension across every page, scene and installment. Here, in the penultimate issue, “American Carnage” #8 brilliantly sets the stage for what promises to be an explosive, unforgettable finish. (Warning: may contain minor spoilers.)
Written by Bryan Hill
Illustrated by Leandro Fernandez
Colored by Dean White
Lettered by Pat Brosseau
Bullets fly and blood flows when Richard’s plan to exfiltrate one of Jennifer’s childhood friends from the white nationalist narcotics business goes awry. Meanwhile, Sheila’s new FBI overlord makes his move as DC Vertigo’s acclaimed Los Angeles crime saga continues in this stunning issue. MATURE READERS
Earlier this week, on the eve Juneteenth, the day that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell held a press conference in the Capitol Building. Not coincidentally, a congressional subcommittee created to explore the idea reparations for African Americans was set to hear testimony from expert witnesses the following day. Clearly, McConnell sought to strike first in order to frame the conversation in accordance with his party’s long held position: No one alive owned slaves. It all happened a long time ago. We’ve done a whole bunch of good stuff. Plus, I mean, come on! We elected a black president! How can our country be racist…?
It’s an argument we’ve all heard before: we live in a post-racial world. Everyone is equal now. Sure, some people do and say some horribly racist things, but they’re the outliers. #NotAllWhitePeople are like that. These are complex issues. There are good people on both sides. Anyway, can’t we be civil?
Like its predecessors, “American Carnage” #8 takes place in a post post-racialized world. Its core characters harbor no illusions that prejudice and racism have been relegated to the dustbin of history. Accordingly, from the drop virtually every scene has been a tense, racially-charged, unblinking interrogation of identity and belonging. And nowhere is this more clear than in the exceedingly complex love/hate relationship between the two main characters, Rick (who is descended from a mixture of African and European ancestors) and Jennifer (who is conspicuously blonde and white). Until now, they’ve only ever danced around the edges of their different identities, even as they contend with burning crosses on the front lawn and a ceaseless onslaught of White Power propaganda.
Here, finally, in the brilliantly constructed penultimate issue, everything comes to a head, catapulting toward a chilling final scene in which Jennifer asks Rick, “What’s it like to be black?”
In virtually any context, this could be an emotionally charged, highly fraught question with no easy answer, inextricably bound to who is asking whom and the power dynamic between them. Notably, Jennifer poses the question while stretched the length of Rick’s living room couch, feet up, smoking a joint, exuding power and privilege on virtually every level.
In the preceding two pages, Rick had been startled to see her, instinctively pulling his gun on the shadowy figure in his kitchen. She’d arrived while he was gone, completely unannounced, making herself at home while he was off attending to the incredibly violent work she’d demanded of him.
In panel after panel, Jennifer barely moves, one hand behind her head in a casual power position, blowing pale plumes of smoke into the purple-blue darkness. Standing a few feet away, feeling unwelcome in his own home, Rick is a mere shadow, his face nothing more than an inky black silhouette. In fact, for nearly 8 solid pages, Jennifer’s blonde hair and dull, striped red shirt are the only colors beside a narrow range of dark blue, black and purple.
After first not getting an answer and being told to go home, Jennifer calmly asks Rick again, “What’s it like to be black?”
Refusing to be baited by the daughter of a known white nationalist who’s running for senate, Rick simply responds, “It’s different for everyone. And it’s hard for all of us. You want more than that, read a book.”
It’s an incredibly raw, highly effective scene – reflective of the whole issue and indeed the entire series – remarkable in its restraint and collective artistry. On the surface there is a layer of visual quietude, a serenity that belies the intense passions that roil barely beneath the surface. Visually, it all might look and feel rather unremarkable at first glance, but trust me, it’s not nearly that simple. This is a creative team who completely trusts each other and the story they want to tell, presenting it the way it demands to be told, quite often concealing as much as they reveal.Continued below
To be clear, Hill’s story doesn’t adhere to the increasingly staid 5-issue trade paperback format. Eight issues into the series, we’ve never felt the reprieve – much less any catharsis – that often accompanies the conclusion of the first arc. Rather, even now the action continues to rise, ascending to new heights as it escalates toward its one, ultimate climax. In the world of serialized comics, it’s an approach that feels both novel and novelistic, a testament to Hill’s command of story structure and pacing.
One of the most common refrains in all of storytelling is “show, don’t tell.” Hill’s incredible script for “American Carnage” #8 is a true master class. On the surface the pictures aren’t flashy, but his deceptively elegant, tautly written dialogue undeniably shows everything we need to see to perfectly set the stage for what promises to be an explosive, unforgettable finale.
To be honest, I’m pretty doubtful that Mitch McConnell would ever heed Rick’s advice and read a book in order to understand what it’s actually like to be black in America in 2019, but if he ever does, “American Carnage” should be right near the top of the list.
Final Verdict: 9.2 As it hurtles toward its final climactic chapter, “American Carnage” feels increasingly raw and primal, a deft combination of action sequences and brilliant dialogue. This is a must-read series. You need to see how it ends.