Written by: Brian Wood
Art by: Andrea Mutti, Luca Casalanguida, Joan Urgell
Colours by: Lauren Affe
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover: Matthew Taylor
Published by: Dark Horse Comics
“Rebels: These Free and Independent States”, to be published as a complete volume in February 2018, is the sequel to the acclaimed “Rebels: A Well-Regulated Militia”, a 2015 historical fiction which captured hearts for its gripping portrayal of the American Revolution. Written by Brian Wood (DMZ, Briggs Land) in association with Dark Horse Comics, the second volume of “Rebels” moves away from the infancy of America and instead explores its adolescence, where piracy, fresh aggression from Britain, and intense political division threaten the very fabric of the new union. An official summary is detailed below.
Set in 1775, Rebels told the story of Seth Abbott, who joins the fight to win America’s independence. The new series, Rebels: These Free and Independent States, finds his son, John, coming of age as Congress authorizes America’s famous first navy, “the six frigates.” John Abbott signs up to defend his nation from multiple threats.
Andrea Mutti, (Prometheus: Life and Death) once again takes up the pencil to bring Brian Wood’s script to life. Lauren Affe (colors) and Matthew Taylor (cover design) make up the rest of the team for the eight issue series.
What is immediately relevant when you flick open the pages of “Rebels” is how culturally significant the story remains in its second iteration. While the first volume of the series was perhaps most striking for its portrayal of veterans, a fact which saw it strike many chords in the post-Iraq era, “Free and Independent States” takes a far sharper look at the mounting issues in the American heartland today. The tale of John Abbott, a fictional shipbuilder whose patriotism and prodigy push him to design the American navy, at first seems slightly wayward—a far-cry from the captivating story of his father. Yet, as the series progresses, this slow momentum works in Wood’s favour, as elements of earlier issues re-emerge and leave readers with a lasting impact. Chief among these was character development. Wood chooses to play out most of plot in John Abbott’s head, a fact which at first distracts from the wartime narrative we’re expecting. In time however, we come to appreciate the small crop of characters the narrative is devoted to—Alice, Judge, John and his parents. They are by no means the names found in history books, and yet they serve as a reminder of who history rightly belongs to. The backdrop of the war of 1812 in many ways also acts as a mirror-reflection of the political climate of today, in which external threats, partisan politics and increased military spending dominate the discussion. Within this, it’s admirable that Wood manages to focus on a separate aspect of the 21st century: the struggle to find ones identity. John Abbott’s world, in which a lack of social skills or a questionable ego leaves ones excluded, will resonate strongly with the youth of today, whose many external problems play second fiddle to other internal questions as “Who am I?” and “What am I meant to be?”
In terms of art, “Rebels: These Free and Independent States” has a rustic appeal, a charming if reserved style whose colour palette shifts little if any attention away from the story at hand. What the artwork does do is give us a very unforgiving and gritty look at the real early America, a world too-often glamorised in Hollywood. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the three shorter stories which follow John Abbott’s tale: The Virginian, Brooklyn Heights and The Green Mountain Boys. Arguably, these stories serve as the darker “B-side” to the volume, and don’t shy away from sharp criticism of the revolutionary heroes we’ve come to know. Even so, the lack of exposition and snappy dialogue gives them broad appeal.
Overall, “Rebels” builds upon what Brian Wood achieved in Volume 1, a mean feat considering it juggles themes far more complex than its predecessor. Hopefully, stories like John Abbott’s can remind people not of their battles, but what exactly it is they’re fighting for. As Alice puts it, when she stands atop the mast of the USS Constitution and stares out across Boston, and in effect, America.
“It. You. This. I get it. It’s Special.”
In Stores February 21st.