American Century #1–8

Writer: Howard Chaykin & David Tischman
Penciler: Mark Laming
Inker: John Stokes
Colors: Pam Rambo
Letters: Ken Bruzenak
Editor: Shelly Bond
Assistant Editor: Will Dennis
Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics $2.50 US $4.25 CAN

American Century #1American Century #6 page 8; © 2001 Howard Chaykin, Inc. and DC ComicsThe year is 1949 and Harry Block is dissatisfied with life. He’s got a good job as an airline pilot, a beautiful wife and a home in the suburbs but Harry doesn’t want any of it. Harry feels empty and the petty, venal concerns of everyone around him are sucking the life out of him.

Thanks to the Korean Conflict and a draft notice, Harry finds the opportunity he needs to fake his own death and start over. He adopts the new name of Harry Kraft and ends up in Guatemala where he finds work as a smuggler. Throughout the course of the first four issues Harry also manages to get involved in some Cold War shenanigans complete with an Eva Peron like first lady and a convenient revolution.

After a lot of death and mayhem, Harry decides to dye his hair blond and return to the U.S. He ends up in Hollywood as a security guard on a studio lot. Issues five through eight introduce us to a plethora of thinly disguised Hollywood icons—Michaels and Leonard can be recognized as Martin and Lewis; Eloise is a gossip columnist styled after Hedda Hopper; Senator Ted McRand as Red hating Senator Joe McCarthy to name a few.

After reading eight issues of this title, I’m not prepared to go any further. Why? Mainly because I got sick of the constant dark, depressing, cynical tone of the stories. Harry Kraft is our anti-hero and he is definitely more “anti” than hero. Even though Harry seems to enjoy nothing more than screwing many different women and playing the tough guy with even tougher guys we’re supposed to believe he has hidden depths because he reads novels by Mailer and Hemingway. Mostly he just comes off as an asshole.

While the point of this series seems to be watching Harry Kraft react to the hypocrisy around him and stamp the situations he gets involved in with his own ruthless brand of cynicism, we’re not given much reason to care. There’s no bigger picture to Harry’s purpose beyond living for a while in one place until the crapola hits the fan and then moving on to the next country or town where he can get embroiled in another little hypocrisy play and screw some chicks.

The artwork by Mark Laming and John Stokes is well done. The layouts are clear and they can handle illustrating anything—from 1950’s era jets to cars to blonde movie star bombshells. The backgrounds are richly detailed and the character designs are spot on for the period.

Now for the not so good. There are so many minor characters in these two story arcs I found that often I couldn’t tell them apart. One dark-haired guy in a dark suit started to look like all the other dark-haired guys in suits. The women were much easier to tell apart because of the varied hairstyles and colors.

In a line full of anti-heroes and stories tinged with the darkest desires of humanity, American Century appears to be the perfect fit. However, the lack of character motivation for Harry Kraft bogs the stories down and they end up being nothing more than exercises in showing you how corrupt and ugly people can be. Chaykin and Tischman are writing a comic for someone out there but it’s not me.

You should be able to find these issues in your local comic shop and DC has collected a trade of the first four issues (American Century: Scars and Stripes). You can also go to www.dccomics.com for more information about American Century.