They’re taking comic characters from my youth and making movies about them, and I don’t care. I love comics and I love movies. The types of movies that they make from comics are generally not my cup of tea.
We Stand On Guard feels like a movie treatment. I could even see how it may have made it to the script stage as a screenplay. It had a solid three-act structure, it had character development, it had action set pieces, it had humor and drama and half-baked social critique. It had a semi-blockbuster ending that hinted at the sunnier outcome that producers and executives would have required, and probably would have come in around a hundred pages.
That’s not to say it is bad. It is solid escapist entertainment, delivered by master craftsmen, Steve Skroce and Brian K. Vaughan.
Skroce excels at delivering character designs that are solid; you can see the personality in the rendering and you never confuse characters for one another. This story even has two characters portrayed as youth and adults, and you know immediately that you’re looking at the same character. (Credit to Vaughan as well as building the script—even if there were a lesser artist, context would provide the information.) The art has a fussy, obsessive line that seems influenced by co-conspirator Geof Darrow—they both worked on The Matrix movies. There is a skull-explosion that could have come straight from Hard Boiled or Shaolin Cowboy. (Skroce drew Marvel comics in the 90s and his art had a softer brush stroke and more open design.) His art supports the storytelling so that you never get lost in the fuzziness found when some artists take shortcuts.
The color, by Matt Hollingsworth, is consistently impressive. Never over-rendered, always highlighting key information, he is also a master craftsman. He avoids cliches in story points like flashbacks and technology (computer screens or science fiction weapons) and uses the palette to support the tone of the scenes.
The plot and ideas here seem right in the Vaughan wheelhouse. Science fiction influence that never feels so futurist that you’ve never imagined; big stakes seen through individuals rather than communicated by narrators or exposition; dark humor; and a strong sense of family, through both blood and circumstance. These are themes and techniques consistent with the books I’ve read by BKV and the ones that keep bringing me back to his work.
Brian K. Vaughan’s story is interesting and clean, and suffers only from comparison. It lacks the depth of character of his longer stories, and the inherited (read: unearned) gravity of the few Big Two superhero books of his I’ve followed. As a self-contained, one-and-done mini-series, it delivers. Seeds planted bear fruit later, characters are consistent if broadly drawn, lines that would be hokey delivered on the screen work fine when internalized, and the before and after story arcs that we are encouraged to imagine provide context for what we experience in the chapters presented.
A solid entertainment that felt worthy of the time spent with it, which is exactly what I hope for from a blockbuster.