By Scott Southard. The wizened 1989 action movie that is We Stand On Guard continues along the path it’s laid for itself with pointed smarts and harsh violence. And boy, do I love that this thing’s stayed true to its mold. In Brian K. Vaughan’s scarily believable setting his characters are lent emotions that allow the audience to identify with them in honest ways. We’ve grown to care for this misfit band of wannabe heroes, and now that we’ve made it to the fifth issue, we finally begin to see some payoff. Nothing quite like the thrill of a good comeback.
So where are we? A dystopian Canadian future, and an unprovoked military assault from the resource hungry United States. We’ve followed a not quite invincible team of combatant rebels and grown to love the ones who haven’t been brutally killed in the line of duty as they attempt to hold off the American invasion. It’s a terrestrial Star Wars (or a Predator with more Predators). It’s a refined version of the against-all-odds fight for the good of mankind that we’ve seen and loved for decades. For some reason (really, for many reasons), this one feels a touch more plausible.
The issue opens with a perfect example of BKV’s redefinition of the construct. Continuing an immaculate adaption of the “Just shoot, dammit” standoff, the hostage, Dunn, demands the good guys fire even if it means his life will be taken along with his captors. Obviously, the rebels come up with a plan to save him and kill the bad guys, but the setup is the meat of what we come to experience. The way such a classic scenario makes the blood pump through my veins is something that will never get old. BKV parlays that moment into a damned-if-you-do suicide mission in We Stand On Guard’s robot-centric future, and completes half of the Official Stallone Cinematic Checklist in one swift motion.
What makes We Stand On Guard stand out as an elite series is its tweaks of the classic formulae. The old trope of the dimly lit room full of military bad guys is outdated and simply untrue. So Vaughan has gone and made the bad guys act like real life bad guys. He doesn’t simply portray the governmental machinators as evil-minded villains, but as hesitant trigger-pullers that deem war a jingoistic means to an end. At points, he portrays them simply as suckers who’ve bought into a well-constructed utilitarian narrative for the cause of America. In a time when well-constructed narratives surround us in the media, the believability of these characters can almost make one uncomfortable about their own state of existence.
Brian K. Vaughan lets us revel in the satisfaction that comes from the first moments of the underdog rebels’ counter-attack, as Amber Roos & Co. decide to go toe to toe with the American forces that have been tracking them from the start. He finally lets us breathe, showing us signs of hope for the crew we’ve come to care about. He shows us a glimpse of heroic reckoning and retribution (I think it’s important to point out that the last page forced my fist to pump and an audible “YEAH” to fly from my mouth). But most of all, he walks us through the narrative we’ve seen a million times before, and this time he manages to make us care more than ever. We Stand On Guard is playing out better than Sly, Arnold, or JCVD could ever have imagined.
Written by Brian K. Vaughan.
Art by Steve Skroce.
Colors by Matt Hollingsworth.
9 out 10