I gotta say, I was expecting more.
I’m a fan of Nate Powell. I have a couple of his books, a few of his minis; they’re all pretty good. I was happy for him when Any Empire blew up. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons I went to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival a few years ago was because he was there. After reading Swallow Me Whole (where the theme was a refreshing “you can’t just will yourself into mental health”) and seeing his brushwork, I was excited to see his next project.
On the surface, Any Empire is about three friends who are exposed to various levels of violence and how they’re affected by this violence as adults. It sounds like my kind of book. For the first 2/3, it reads like my kind of book too: it starts off slow, when the characters were kids, and then jumps around to see how a variety of events affect a variety of character traits. We see how the boys glorify war and we see how a protective motherly instinct can be just as violent; we see the conflicting message about violence brought through by the media. About two-thirds in, though, the books takes a turn; it takes a cop-out turn.
One of the characters steps on a landmine and becomes a cyborg. Then he is in charge of invading his home town. Then we’re shown at a variety of points, how these characters could have affected this outcome if they just would’ve made different choices (not in an interesting Sliding Doors type of way, but in an unimaginative “just say no” type of way). At the end, the whole book ends up being a Lennon-ish “Give Peace a Chance” anthem instead of the very interesting novel about how exposing children to various levels of violence can affect their adult lives (how great could this book have been if everything played out naturally, or took a Sliding Doors approach, or – to be more honest – if we saw how stabbing turtles in elementary school turned some characters into sadistic assholes and turned other characters into regretful three-dimensional people)
It started out as my kind of read. It ended up being very forgettable.
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