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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Uncle Sam (1997) | Graphic Novel

Uncle Sam
Uncle Sam
 is by Steve Darnall, Alex Ross, and Todd Klein

During times when confidence in the U.S government is steadily declining, the people tend to zero-in on the potential causes and jump to a conclusion. At the end of the day, they’re right when they say that modern corporations and politicians are to blame. At the same time, that’s a vague generalization that leads to very little change. Uncle Sam seeks to find the root of the problem, and it may have accomplished its goal thanks to one brief scene.

Uncle Sam #1 & #2 (collected in a 2009 reprint) tells the story of a homeless man named Sam who is “clad in star-spangled rags” (Uncle Sam), and speaking in “presidential sound-bites” (Greil Marcus) as a way to make sense of where he is and the state of the nation. His dementia-caused wandering takes him through a (mostly) chronological journey of America’s rough patches, while his real one has a back-drop of the end of an average political campaign.

Darnall takes readers behind the curtain of the political process, while still keeping an appropriate, spectators distance from it. He doesn’t take readers into a political headquarters because this deception shouldn’t be considered privileged information. It still may be shocking to some. It is for Sam. As he wades through history, the dichotomy of the nation takes shape. Darnall draws a realistic, but optimistic picture, the nation has made progress, but the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Uncle Sam confronting a warped version of himself
Copyright 2009 DC Comics/Vertigo

Ross, who co-plotted Uncle Sam, paints the picture beautifully. Having said that, I only have Kingdom Come to compare Uncle Sam to, and Kingdom Come just looks better. Maybe it’s by the necessity of the story, or maybe it’s personally easier to find little DC superhero details than little American history details. Objectively though, there’s a certain lack of physical depth to the environments and backgrounds in Uncle Sam, but that shouldn’t deter anyone because every panel still looks like a gorgeous cover, and they’re almost worthy of becoming a full-size poster. Sam is nearly life-like, and if he wasn’t the book would fall apart.

America is a tough country to root for, and it always has been. That’s Uncle Sam’s key revelation. America didn’t go downhill a century, or even decades after being established, but as it was being established. Specifically, cleaning up Shay’s rebellion (remember Shay’s Rebellion?)

Memories of Shay's Rebellion
Copyright 2009 DC Comics/Vertigo

Darnall and Ross create a clear line between where we are, where we’ve been, and where America will always return to. While “America” has a certain “comfort zone,” they’re proud of the progress the country has made and are simply asking for vigilance.

Sam’s journey reminds us that the citizen makes all the difference.