Don’t Blame Canada! Vaughan and Skroce’s We Stand On Guard

I love science fiction that’s full of strange and shiny future devices, from spaceships to laser guns to talking robots. I also love science fiction that focuses on the social and the political, relationships we take for granted shifting in the near future. But you know what I love best of all? Science fiction that has both, like new Image comic We Stand on Guard.

This Is Not the War You Were Looking For

We Stand on Guard is set a century from now, and tells the story of Canadian resistance fighters struggling against an invasion by the USA. That’s an unusual and intriguing idea. It’s an unexpected underdog story, with giant mechs thrown in for good measure.

And lets be honest, I think most of us outside the USA feel somewhat intimidated by that country, even a little trodden upon as we see our governments, economies and cultures drift ever further into the thrall of American dominance. The idea of America as a bullying invader has an immediate resonance, fairly or not, and the idea of watching plucky underdogs fight back against dastardly Yanks will have many of us cheering in the aisles of our comic shops.

I know, American readers. It’s not entirely reasonable or fair for us to view your nation this way. But think of it like this – usually Americans get to be the goodies. Why not mix things up this time?

Quick Clear Characterisation

Though I’ve never been there, there’s something hugely appealing about Canada. It seems like the USA’s more mature, thoughtful sibling, rugged and polite but living in the shadow of its sister to the south. Sure, I hear the name and I instantly start humming the ‘Blame Canada’ song from the South Park movie, but that’s doesn’t mean I can’t take a serious interest in the place too, so Canadian protagonists biased me in favour of the book.

But what really won me over was how well these characters are written. We don’t meet most of the resistance fighters until halfway through the first issue, but they’re a varied bunch, well enough written to make several of them stand out in the space of only a few pages. Actions speak as loud as words, and writer Brian K. Vaughan lets those actions show character almost as much as the dialogue does. I want to spend more time with these people. I want to see their struggle, not because I fear the stars and stripes, but because of who these characters are.

I also have to mention Steve Skroce’s art, which brings the characters and scenery to life. There were a couple of panels early on that felt awkward to me, but once the story got going his art really flowed, full of life and character.

I don’t read many comics monthly as they come out, but this one’s going on the list. I want to know why this war happened. I want to know where it’s headed. But most of all, I want to know what happens to there characters, and that’s what damn good fiction’s all about.

Lets finish with the Canadian national anthem, as sung by the country’s most exuberant son.

Is America the Afterlife?

15695408576_f3e40566af_zJ R R Tolkien seemed to think that we go to America when we die. After all, at the end of The Lord of the Rings Frodo and others sail off into the west to eternal life in a beautiful land. Two of the fundamental underpinnings of Tolkien’s work were his Christian beliefs, including heavenly rewards for good people, and the idea that Middle Earth is a sort of pre-historic Europe, from which our modern myths originate. That ship leaving the Grey Havens, it’s taking people to heaven across the Atlantic.

OK, so I’m crossing the streams of Tolkien’s layers of meaning here. But it’s an idea that Paul Cornell ran with much more literally in ‘Ramesses on the Frontier’, his contribution to the mummy anthology The Book of the Dead. Ramesses I awakes to find himself in a rather unexpected version of the Egyptian afterlife, crossing the United States in search of his eternal reward. It’s a fun idea, and a quirky story.

But would I want the USA as the afterlife? As a Brit, I find that idea troubling. Sure, the scenery’s fantastic, but what would my chances be of getting a decent cup of tea? Not to mention the bread – it’s so sweet. And that’s before we even get into the noise and the lack of proper queueing.

No, if the afterlife lies to the west then I’m hoping it’s Canada. I hear good things about their donuts.

European mythology and sailing away into death also feature in my collection of alternate history and historical fiction stories From a Foreign Shore, which is free today and all this weekend on Amazon. If you enjoy fiction that reinvents the past then please check it out.

Picture by davebloggs007 via Flickr Creative Commons