As with every, this year’s Independence Day was a time for fireworks, barbecues, and… uh… thinking about the flag. I don’t know. I’ve never been that good at the whole Independence Day shebang, possibly due to growing up in Hawaii, where historically our perceptions of America have been ambivalent at best: on one hand, hooray for statehood in 1959; on the other, boo to the U.S. annexing us in 1898. Add to this the turmoil that America is experiencing right now, and I was not exactly in a fireworks mood this year (although I could always go for a hot dog). It is crisis time for sure. And in a crisis, there’s one thing you need to do: read some comics.
From single issues to graphic novels, these six must-reads tackle the complex issue of what it means to be American in a world like this one.
PREACHER BY GARTH ENNIS AND STEVE DILLON)
What starts out as a modern take on the Western turns into a sprawling epic interrogating the codes that regulate “American” identity, whatever that might be. Through the wild adventures of its title character Jesse Custer, his sharp-shooting, take-no-B.S. girlfriend Tulip, and his best friend Cassidy—an Irish vampire who left his home country for the New World—
MAUS BY ART SPIEGELMAN
PUNISHER: DO NOT FALL IN NEW YORK CITY BY GARTH ENNIS AND STEVE DILLON
Another Ennis and Dillon joint, and a 9/11 issue to boot. Not in an obvious way—there are no planes here, no rescue workers lifting rubble off the wounded—but conceptually: how can the average American come back from this?
NAT TURNER BY KYLE BAKER
Your Fourth of July dose of righteous fury. Baker’s
FURY: MY WAR GONE BY BY GARTH ENNIS AND GORAN PARLOV
How do you love a country that’s spilled so much blood around the world? That’s the burning question at the heart of
TRUTH: RED, WHITE, AND BLACK BY ROBERT MORALES AND KYLE BAKER
Inspired by real-life histories of American science exploiting black people’s bodies, such as in the Tuskegee syphilis experiment or Henrietta Lacks, this heartbreaking miniseries details the rise and fall of Isaiah Bradley, a black American soldier who became the first Captain America before anyone had even heard the name Steve Rogers. Bradley, the only survivor among a group of black soldiers who are forcibly experimented upon in attempts to create a super-soldier, liberates Jewish prisoners from a concentration camp, lays waste to a whole lot of Nazis, and undertakes superhuman missions for the U.S. government—only to be court-martialed, imprisoned for 17 years, and expunged from official records.
Oh, and in case that weren’t bad enough, the super-soldier serum causes cognitive degeneration, so he can’t even remember his amazing accomplishments. A massive downer? Totally. But somewhere in there lies hope: despite the efforts of those in power to erase Bradley’s legacy, his story was still told. And, possibly, the stories of other Americans who were marginalized, oppressed, erased, and screwed over will someday see the light of day too.
What’s on your Fourth of July reading list? Tell us below!