Thursday, October 25, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #298: American Century, Vols. 1 & 2 by Chaykin, Tischman, Laming, & Stokes

Here's a lesson I could stand to learn: if I pick up a book in a field I've been following reasonably closely for my entire adult life, and that book came out during my adult life, and I can't remember hearing anything in particular about it, it's very likely that's because the book is not actually all that good.

But let me pretend to change the subject!

Today I'm here to talk about American Century, a Vertigo series from around the turn of the millennium, written by Howard Chaykin and David Tischman and with art by Marc Laming and John Stokes. I found the first two collections of this series randomly a couple of months ago, and, since I'm reading everything I can get my hands on for this Book-A-Day run, they went into the hopper before too long.

I had, as far as I could remember, never heard of American Century. Now I know why.

Our Standard Chaykin Asshole this time is named Harry Block, and he's the usual mid-career Chaykin hero: unsatisfied with his quiet suburban life in 1949, cheated on obviously by his mouthy, demanding, hot-to-trot wife [1], and called up for the growing conflict in Korea. So he bugs out, and American Century sets up to be the story of how he wanders through various unpleasant episodes in history over the next however-many years. In the end -- I see from looking it up on the Comic Book DB -- there were twenty-seven issues, but only the first nine were collected into these two books.

And that's probably because this is dull, difficult-to-follow, and boring. Harry Block should have been the American Harry Flashman, but Chaykin-and-Tischman aren't Fraser, and even pure Chaykin would probably have gone in the same direction.

The two books are Scars & Stripes and Hollywood Babylon; I do not recommend that you seek them out.

In the first one, Harry changes his last name to Kraft and flies planes for smugglers in Guatemala during a simmering civil war between the American-backed government and Communist insurgents, with a side order of the evil profiteering US Fruit Company. Chaykin and Tischman make this boring, and Laming and Stokes manage to make a naked woman look unrealistic, which I thought was impossible for a mainstream comics team.

Hollywood Babylon brings Harry back to the states, to LA obviously, and to more Chaykinesque intrigue, this time among movie stars and a US Senator and a gossip columnist. This is also dull, and Harry only peripherally involved in any of it. (He also doesn't narrate the stories as strongly as I think he's supposed to: his voice isn't distinctive and it isn't pervasive.)

You've probably never heard of American Century. There's a reason for that. I recommend you let it be forgotten once again.

[1] Remember that all of those things are bad in Chaykin-land: women should do what men tell them to do, and only be sexpot with the hero when he demands it.

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