There are a number of ways to determine how good a comic is. One of the most obvious is how much the reader cares about what happens to the characters in the story. As good as the story and art may be, if the characters don’t mean anything, then the rest of the comic is a waste of time. American Carnage has a captivating story and gritty art that draws the reader in. The book already had strong characters, but issue four proves how much.
Bryan Hill’s writing has been consistently great since the first issue of this DC Vertigo series. American Carnage has done a great job of drawing readers in, despite its very delicate subject matter. If there is one knock that could be made, it’s that protagonist Richard Wright may come off a times as a little too powerful. Sure, he has taken his lumps, but it seems impossible to beat him. And if the hero cannot lose, how can the reader care about the story?
Still, Richard is a great protagonist. He is brave, willing to take the most dangerous risks, and can handle himself in a fight. Along with these more heroic qualities, he also has a tragic past. He is not just a hero for the sake of being one; he’s a good man who is trying to redeem himself.
Is the fact that Richard is a tragic hero enough to overcome his knack for overcoming the odds? Or is he just another uber powerful character that readers enjoy seeing beat the bad guys up but do not care about otherwise? American Carnage #4 proves without a doubt that Richard is a character readers care about. Hill has managed to write a hero that may be something of a trope at times, but is still human enough to care about. It will be hard not to worry about Richard towards the end of the issue — the last page is downright depressing.
Arguably, more impressive has been how well Hill has written Jennifer Morgan. Villains with a bit of a good side to them is nothing new in literature. As a matter of fact, many times writers try too hard to give the big bad a sympathetic side. Hill has done something just a little different with Morgan. She is a single mom and her daughter cannot hear. It sounds like Hill may be trying too hard to make Morgan likable.
Issue #4 proves this is far from the truth. Yes, she cares deeply for her daughter, but Hill does not try to use that to try to make readers understand her more extreme opinions. There is definitely an internal struggle going on in American Carnage (Hill continues to show that the class divide is as big of an issue as the racial one), and there is no doubt where Morgan’s allegiances lie.
American Carnage is a story that deals with ugly truths. Artist Leandro Fernandez conveys this perfectly. Full page shots never look epic and instead look realistic. A fairy tale told in the story is still dark and foreboding. Characters are constantly in shadows as if to hide their true motivations. Few artists do as good a job of visually telling a story as Fernandez does.
The fourth issue of American Carnage exemplifies what a great job writer Bryan Hill has done on the book. The story remains engaging, but it also showcases what an excellent job Hill has done creating characters. Watching what happens next is interesting thanks to the great story and well written characters.