COMIC REVIEW: Rebels: These Free And Independent States #3

RTFAIS 3

Oh, now I get it.

Three issues into (and more than halfway through) Brian Wood’s new historical epic, the devious masterplan is finally revealed. It wasn’t just John Abbot’s childhood we were catching the barest glimpses of as Wood tapped away at the fast-forward button. Staccato images are the theme here. The disjointed stagger I found so alienating last time is part of the point. This is fiction as slideshow. Which I suppose all comics are, really; this is just knocking things up a level.

As an approach, this has its limitations. Most obviously, it means last issue’s out-of-nowhere cliffhanger evaporates just as quickly as it arrives. On the other hand, it’s probably the only way to condense the kind of epic scale and historical sweep Wood is going for into a mere five issues (whether or not that’s actually possible at all is a question best considered at the end of this miniseries). And certainly, the motivation for this approach has finally clicked here: this is about those free and independent states.

Yes, OK. Can’t pat myself on the back for being able to read a title, can I?  But the specifics matter, now that Wood is putting his money where someone else’s mouth was. The question raised here is to what degree Vermont, and by extension each and every state, can remain “free and independent” having signed up for federal control. John Abbott returns to the forests of his youth to find the trees have been marked just as they were when his family were British subjects. What difference does it make that New England is shipping its lumber to the coast for Adams’ warships, rather than George III’s?  What can citizenship on paper mean when the whole damn country seems willing to punch you out for admitting the slightest variance in spirituality? And what good is being essential to your new country’s defence and expansion if the state responds to that by taking your life over completely?

This is a smart route to take, something far more interesting than the hollow jingoism you might fear a title like this might fall into (though the series’ first British character shows up this issue and is exactly the one-note sneering idiot you’d expect). I rarely come across an American secessionist movement I can sympathise with – they always seem to be seeking the freedom to do the worst things possible for the stupidest reasons imaginable – but there’s obvious worth in reframing America’s birth as a series of conflicts and compromises, rather than the immaculate conception it is so often presented as.

So with the central idea finally revealed, I’m more comfortably on-board with this series than I have been previously. Problems persist, however. There’s the obvious one of having just two issues left to explore a theme that’s only just swum to the surface. But there’s also the fact that, despite Wood smartly mirroring Vermont’s enforced compromises with America in Abbott’s own career, our protagonist is so reserved and insular that we experience everything here at a remove. This title has finally become properly interesting, but it still isn’t properly engaging. The end of this issue suggests this too may be fixed going forward, but with 60% of the story already behind us, Rebels is going to have to work exceptionally hard to ensure it will be remembered as anything other than a minor disappointment.

Title: Rebels: These Free And Independent States

Publisher: Dark Horse

Rating: 3/5

Reviewer: Ric Crossman

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