“We Stand On Guard #3”
Writer: Brian Vaughan
Artist: Steve Skorce
Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth
We are three issues in on the new near-future sci-fi book from Brian Vaughan and Steve Skorce, and we finally get a bit of breather on the action front. Last issue Chief McFadden was captured while on patrol, and this issue is dedicated to the fallout from that. On the American side they are engaged in some truly horrific psychological torture to get her to reveal her base, and on the Canadian side they have to decide whether they need to abandon that base or try to fight it out. Although the action is at a minimum this issue — minus some brutal interrogation sequences — the tension is the highest it has been in the series yet, and the build-up for what I presume will be a massive confrontation in the next few issues is nearing its climax.
In addition to the two threads running through the issue we get more pieces of Amber’s past and the early days of the war. Some of the theories behind the war get a little more spelled out in this issue, and the prevailing idea that America incited the war as a means to get clean water (which is in short supply due to climate change) seems to be taking traction. It certainly is a likely possibility, and one that pops up again later in the book with some other characters discussing it. In true Brian Vaughan fashion, of course, this is also accompanied by a small info-dump of some trivia notes that he came across during his research. He has gotten a lot better about weaving them into the conversation organically, but it would not be a Vaughan book without that little bit of trivia tossed in there.
The most interesting aspect of this issue for me is the development of the character known simply as “Ma’am,” who is in charge of hunting down the Canadian forces and the lead interrogator of Chief McFadden. It would be easy to dismiss her as a merciless commander who does not flinch or cringe from doing the dirty work, but through her unfaltering loyalty to America and her belief in her cause there are hints of something much deeper. There is a brief, single-panel shot which suggests that she is just a woman doing her job, and that it is taking more of a toll on her than she is letting on. The hint of anguish in her eyes is an absolutely subtle touch, and with a lesser artist I would say it is imagined, but Steve Skorce is too talented to dismiss it like that. There is more to this character than we see, and it will be interesting to see if the “blood for water” theory actually pans out, and what that might do to her if the truth she holds so close is not actually true. That is just a hypothetical, of course, and three issues into the book is too early to be going into the intricacies of the war’s origin.
Not everything is perfect about We Stand on Guard, most notably its fairly glacial pace. In each issue we have gotten basically one major event in amidst a large amount of world and character building. Information is being tossed as us quickly, but little in the way of actual events are occurring. This may change once a full scale engagement begins, but for now the characters and plot only inch forward a little at a time. The main issue this highlights is how quickly Amber has become a core member of the Canadian fireteam. Given the circumstances of her joining the team, and how quickly McFadden was captured after that, her full scale acceptance into the group seems a bit rushed. It is possible that there is more going on here than we can see, and there may yet be plans within plans regarding this.
We Stand on Guard may only be on its third issue, and the pace may be rather slow at this point, but there is a lot of nuance packed into these issues. Additionally, those of you who have been waiting for Steve Skorce to be let off the chain to draw some epic fight scenes, well, it looks like that is right around the corner now. There is a lot to absorb in these issues, and this one in particular needs to be read closely, but it is worth the extra effort. Saga may be getting all of the attention right now, but We Stand on Guard is absolutely worth your time and money. Do not miss it.