USAgent’s second issue is almost the archetypal example of a modern Christopher Priest comic. Priest – the author and editor of many a comic – has had a string of recent books, all with very, very similar styles. In Deathstroke, Justice League, Vampirella, and the like, he’s cultivated a very recognizable style with a set of very distinctive stylistic and thematic choices. Lots of small panels; these black ‘title card’ panels that, in a very television-like way, announce both the scene’s location and give it a thematic title; a very political subject matter that very explicitly handles political themes and political subject matter – this is a book about politics and espionage.
I count five of those title cards in this issue alone.
Regardless, USAgent may be a classic Priest book, but that’s not a bad thing. The man behind Deathstroke and Black Panther is good at comics, and this isn’t an exception. Think of it like Quentin Tarantino: his works are idiosyncratic, but they’re also very good.
This issue continues to follow John Walker, the titular USAgent, as he attempts to uncover the secrets behind the destruction of a plant for an obvious Amazon stand-in somewhere in West Virginia. Meanwhile, Walker struggles with the traumas of his own past as his younger sister reappears, and works to navigate the complicated intricacies of Valerie Cooper’s spy world.
Incidentally, points for Valerie Cooper. She’s a real fun character who does not appear nearly as often as she should.
The most interesting parts of the issue, however, are the ones that explore Walker’s past. USAgent doesn’t really work well as a protagonist, because he is, to be frank, kind of a dick. He’s a mean person. Which doesn’t mean that he’s a bad character; he’s a great one. As an antagonist in Mark Gruenwald’s run on Captain America, Walker is a delight to see bounce off Cap, and he serves a similarly interesting role as a foil to Hawkeye first in West Coast Avengers and then later in Thunderbolts. But a character that is actively mean, rude, short-sighted, and – and this is coming from a guy who likes the USAgent, even! – just not a nice person makes a tricky hero for your book.
Priest makes the USAgent more interesting by really exploring him in the context of PTSD. Walker comes from a family that is living, even if the book won’t make it explicit, in the shadow of war. The inciting incident that drove Walker into becoming the Super-Patriot, then Captain America, then USAgent, was due to war, really: Walker’s older brother came back from the Middle East with PTSD, and severe mental illness that went untreated, and John Walker has been living in the aftermath of that since.
Georges Jeanty’s art, however, is not anything to write home about. It’s not bad, by any means. It’s just workmanlike. Exactly what you’d expect from a Marvel comic in 2020, but when compared to that just beautiful cover from Marco Checchetto, you can’t help but be a little disappointed.
Overall, USAgent #2 is an interesting, if flawed, book, coupled with mediocre art.
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