There’s an episode of Futurama where Fry and Bender are sent off to a far away planet to battle a species of alien ball things (they joined the Army for the discounts, but “war were declared”). The dramatic pivot – if such a thing could exist in an episode that included Zapp Brannigan, the disembodied heads of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, and a running gag about M*A*S*H – is when Fry learns that the planet wasn’t just a rock, but the home planet of the aliens. In other words, we were the invaders, the bad guys.
That, largely, is the big idea behind We Stand On Guard, in which a small band of guerillas in the Canadian wilderness fight back against marauding invaders from . . . the United States. It’s an interesting idea and in the hands of Bryan K. Vaughn – of Saga, The Private Eye, and many others fame – you’d think it would be more interesting. As it is, the six-issue run is too short to do anything all that original and, in the end, it turns into a better executed version of Red Dawn. With, you know, Canadians.
You see, in 2112 (a Rush reference, surely?), somebody bombs the White House. In response, we blow the ever loving shit out of Canada. You may think what happened in the South Park Movie was bad, but that’s just peanuts to what we do in We Stand On Guard. Fairly quickly thereafter we’re thrown into the story of Amber who, along with her brother, survived the initial onslaught and lived to fight another day. The story flips back and forth between the present (2124) and the past as Amber and her brother escape advancing American forces.
Why does any of this happen? It’s not really clear, even by the end of things. Sure, some Canadian general confesses to the White House thing, but it’s clear he’s been beaten (at least) and so I suspect this isn’t supposed to be the final word on things. Why we freaked the fuck out and razed our long-time peaceful neighbor doesn’t even get a cursory explanation. We’re out for Canadian water, but whether that’s a happy accident of the invasion or the goal of it is never clear.
Which is a shame, because beyond the initial setup the story plays out like any where the main character joins a plucky band of resistance fighters. It’s bloodier than most, but in the end the good guys win (at least for now) because, you know, they have to. As my brother is fond of saying, “because it’s in the script.” The brief run time doesn’t allow for any of the characters to get defined beyond archetypes or for any kind of interesting world building that doesn’t directly relate to the story We Stand On Guard is rushing to tell.
We Stand On Guard has a lot going for it, anyway. The art’s quite good, clean and vivid. And Vaughn has come up with some really awful ways to get people to talk. Let’s just say that in a hundred years we’ve become even more fluid with our “enhanced interrogation techniques.” And, say what you will about the short nature of the book, that means it doesn’t drag at all. It’s fast paced pretty much from the get go.
Which is precisely the problem. It’s an odd thing to say, but this would have been better had there been more of it. The Private Eye got ten “issues” (since it was originally released in digital format only I’m not sure how they compare to regular comic issues) and that seems about the minimum needed to tell a story set in a new world populated by new people. Maybe there’s a comics equivalent to a director’s cut out there, somewhere, that would fill in some of the blanks.