While America and Canada have never actually been at war, there have been many stories depicting the two nations going at it, such as Image’s We Stand on Guard by Brian K. Vaughan and Steve Skroce. This “conflict” between the two nations was even explored in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, producing the Oscar-nominated song “Blame Canada”. We can add Little Bird to this list, which is now published as a trade paperback with the Eisner Award-winning seal of approval.
The eponymous Little Bird is a young resistance fighter battling against an oppressive American Empire, while searching for her own identity. With her home country of Canada in ruins, she seeks to rescue her warrior mother, who is taken hostage as Little Bird goes on a desperate quest to free the legendary Axe and reignite the flames of resistance.
From the first issue alone, the creators don’t hold back on their hard-hitting message, as despite the overall book’s somewhat alien presentation, this is a version of America that rules all in the service of God. In one panel, the captions say “The United Nations of America” that takes place in “New Vatican”. Although there’s no stabbing towards the current American administration, there is no denying that this comic in exploring an American dictatorship, which is an also a powerful church that is doing horrible things in the service of our Lord. The ideas here are similar to Dark Horse’s Invisible Kingdom, but Little Bird has its own identity through the art and the writing.
Known for his work on Dark Horse’s House of Penance, artist Ian Bertram is the real eye-opener of the series — all of his designs, from characters to environments, look both mystical and grotesque. In terms of world-building, there are touches of American and religious iconography, but the world is so alien that it would rival the surreal sci-fi of the late Jean Giraud’s comics. Every page gives the reader something new, from the variety of panel layouts, to Matt Hollingsworth’s multi-layered coloring. As this is essentially a war story, there is plenty of gore-tastic action that is stomach-churning with characters getting sliced up and burned to a grisly death.
Throughout all five issues, the world feels huge where there are multiple perspectives and characters have their own agenda, including villains who are in a position of power and using it for personal gain. At its heart, this is a story about self-identity and family, which is ultimately through its titular protagonist. Through her narration, which reads like you’re experiencing a dark fairy tale, Little Bird is pushing herself to violent means to achieve her goals whilst wrestling with herself, in regards to finally getting the dark secret history of her family. All the heroes and villains are facing their own gray morality in a sci-fi war that, despite its presentation, feels relevant in our troubling times.
The ideas may be familiar if you’re well-versed in dystopian sci-fi, but Little Bird is a piece of storytelling that pushes the boundaries of what you can do in the comics medium.