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July 20th 2010

Cla$$war:

The Collected Edition

Review by Steve Ray

Rumours of a film for critically acclaimed, unfinished series

Cla$$war was originally a six-issue mini-series published by independent publisher Com.X between 2002 and 2004. Written by Rob Williams and drawn by Trevor Hairsine and Travel Foreman.

In the past I have always picked up titles from the independent publishers with some trepidation. While some have been outstanding (Flaming Carrot, Concrete, Moonshadow and the original run of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the early 80s to name a few) many were really just some lush art joined together with awful dialogue and paper-thin plots (I won't name these because I don't want to ruin my Image as an impartial and unbiased reviewer).

When I was asked to read and review Cla$$war I will readily admit that I was expecting more of the latter...

… I've been wrong before.

I guess the only way to sum up the story is as a political thriller with superheroes. It deals with a government programme which creates superpowers in people via genetic manipulation and how the leading character, The American, deals with the revelation of the “truth” that the U.S. Government is covering up.

I know what you're thinking; been there, read that, yawned and binned it – those were my exact thoughts whilst reading the first half of the opening chapter. Thankfully I persevered.

The main character is to all intents and purposes Superman or Captain America – the iconic stand-up all-American hero. He learns that his beloved country is backing and covering up illegal and immoral events all over the world, and that he and his team of similar powered compatriots have been willing pawns in these operations for years.

Now, once again, I know that this is a staple in many comics and movies over the years and I also was wondering why this book had received the glowing reviews it had plastered all over the back cover. I'm very glad that I did let my curiosity get the better of me.

This comic is set in a world similar to our own, but where super-powered beings are not only real, but out there and fighting for us regular Joes and Joannas. I know that Alan Moores Watchmen already did the whole parallel reality thing back in the 80s and this initially seemed to be a bit of a re-tread of similar ideas, but I was actually around in the late 70s and early 80s so knew of the events that Watchmen portrayed and read it at a time when – sadly – it was a lot more relevant than it is today, especially for new readers.

There comes a point in Cla$$war (page 30 to be exact) where this particular book becomes very relevant indeed. I don't want to give anything away - because I now honestly think that every serious comic fan should read this book - but suffice it to say that The American makes his feelings on his country, his government and his President perfectly clear. This leads to him leaving his team, becoming an enemy of the state and going on the run with not only the entire U.S. Army and all its government agencies gunning for him, but his former super-powered team-mates as well. This team (called Enola Gay – very clever) is made up of people who, while they are “super” are by no means all heroes. The majority are in fact corrupt, flawed and painfully realistic characters.

What follows is action-packed, thought provoking, ultra-violent and at times disturbing, but – and it's a fine line to balance – never gratuitous and always essential to the plot. The confrontation between The American and the teams strongman, Heavyweight, is – quite literally – jaw-dropping.

A favourite sequence is the creation of the next superhuman, a super-being created to track down and destroy The American. I can only describe this character as a cross between “The Fly” and something which could only previously be found in the innermost, hitherto censored, blocked, hopefully banned and subsequently never acknowledged recesses of H.R. Geigers darkest imaginings.

While the book started off slow it relentlessly builds into something I can only describe as cinematic, and if the online rumours are true that may well be where the story will next appear. The visuals are clear, concise and – whilst graphic – never flashy or over-commercial. This may put off the casual reader who may be more into comics for the art than the writing, but those who know good, clear well drafted comics when they see them and want a meaty story will not be disappointed.

Now I come to the one major, glaring and downright mind-numbing criticism I have for the book. The one thing I hated about Cla$$war was reaching the end...

… Because it doesn't have one!

The story was initially intended to be a 12 part series but up to this point only the first 6 have been completed (and thankfully collected as a hardback graphic novel). I am eagerly keeping my eyes peeled for Vol. II because, even if the lovely folk at Liberation Frequency don't ask me to review it, I would be more than happy to part with my own hard-earned cash to find out what happens next!

In summation I will say that while it may not be regarded as a Watchmen for the early 21st Century, Cla$$war  is definitely a worthy continuation and elaboration on the ideas and themes set out by its famous predecessor, not just a copy or rehash as many others of recent years have been.

Now then Com.X... get going with Vol. II!

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