World War II is the most popular war depicted in comics, most likely due to the fact that the modern comic book industry co-existed with the war, and those creators came up with ideas and characters that linger in continuity even today. But other historical conflicts continue to make their mark in comics, such as the American Revolution in the Lagos Brothers’ Sons of Liberty.
Sons of Liberty is a work of historical fiction, which may seem out of place on this blog, but considering we’ve written about real science couched in science fiction and culinary lessons embedded in a dramatic manga, using a fictional story to teach history isn’t completely off-base. Unfortunately, Sons of Liberty is loose with facts and its accuracy is shaky to non-existent, focusing on two escaped slaves that gain superhuman powers.
The story takes place in a number of real locations and features Benjamin Franklin and his son, but these places and these characters could have been anywhere and anyone, adding nothing unique to the story; Benjamin and William Franklin are really only there for the electricity angle they can add. The book spends a lot of time focusing on the two boys as escaped slaves, a point that is repeatedly hammered in for the reader, as they are abused by their slave master, chased down by a slave hunter, discriminated against by the world at large, and helped by kindly white men who believe that “all men are created equal,” so to speak. The real icing on the cake is when one of these kindly white guys teaches the two boys, Graham and Brody, an African martial art. At this point we’ve left any kind of historical analysis, choosing instead to follow a role of empowerment, similar to the current Hudlin-era of Black Panther.
And there is the main narrative problem with this series; if Graham and Brody really existed with the superhuman powers and skills they gain in this volume, then the American Revolution and the practice of slavery in the United States would have ended quite differently. Superheroes existed in World War II and the writers had to come up with ways to explain why Superman didn’t just capture Hitler and end the war right then and there. Though the Sons of Liberty are not Superman, it is not unreasonable to say that they would have a huge impact on history if they really existed.
Besides the historical accuracy problems, the storytelling, both in its text and art, is poor. The story plods along, introducing characters and situations bit-by-bit that go nowhere, promising a payoff that never comes in this volume. One particular nitpick I have is that Brody sometimes calls Graham “Grey” with no explanation; I assume it’s a nickname but this is never clearly explained and really only serves to confuse the reader, as do many other things in the book. As for the art, the coloring is more complex than the static and unclear pencil work it supplements, and the colorist has a strange habit of choosing one color for each page and bathing everything in shades of that color. Some pages are yellow, or blue, or purple-tinged; there is never a balanced mixture of colors, leaving each page feeling either washed-out or too dark. This is particularly harmful in the action sequences, which are unclear and poorly paced to begin with.
Overall, the book feels incomplete; incomplete visually, emotionally, and most of all, plot-wise. Everything is setup for future volumes, and we never actually see the heroes that are promised to us by the cover illustration, merely two scared little boys.
Sons of Liberty
written by Alexander and Joseph Lagos
art by Steve Walker
color by Oren Kramek
letters by Chris Dickey
published by Random House (New York, 2010)