Right State by Mat Johnson, art by Andrea Mutti
On slow news days, comic books are sometimes singled out for political bias. In 2010, Captain America #602 was accused of being anti-Tea Party due to signs that appeared during a protest in that issue. Action Comics #900 (2011) caused heads to talk by featuring a story where Superman renounces his U.S. citizenship. Focusing on little details like this ignores the fact that there is a long and proud tradition of openly political comics. While for the most part, the industry’s two largest publishers, DC and Marvel, can be a little gun shy about these types of stories, DC’s Vertigo imprint has featured such gems as Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan, Brian Wood’s DMZ and Joshua Dysart’s Unknown Soldier. Mat Johnson’s Right State is another thought-provoking graphic novel in this vein.
Ted Akers is a conservative media personality recruited by a liberal White House to help stop a possible militia plot to assassinate the President of the United States. An outspoken critic of the administration, Akers seems like the perfect undercover agent to infiltrate extremist group, the Roots of Liberty. What follows is part political thriller, part spiritual journey.
Right State reads like a really good movie treatment, which is both a strength and a weakness. Andrea Mutti’s art is impressive and cinematic, and Mat Johnson’s dialog is intelligent (though a bit muddled toward the beginning). The progression of events moves smoothly, never bogging down. However, considering that underneath the action, sex and swearing this title is at heart a dialogue about warring political ideologies, the length (fewer than 150 pages) isn’t really sufficient to do the core ideas justice. This story certainly could have supported a long mini-series if not an ongoing monthly title. Such a format would have allowed more development of some interesting characters who don’t receive the attention they deserve.
Right State is a tense, fun ride hampered by shadows of how truly exceptional it could have been. It is a respectable starting point for readers interested in graphic novels that wear their politics on their sleeves.
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