The Life And Times Of Martha Washington In The Twenty-First Century by Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons (graphic novel review).

In many respects, Dave Gibbons work on ‘Martha Washington’ has been over-shadowed by ‘Watchmen’, although looking at the two graphic novels together, the techniques vary enough to make you think you’re seeing different artists. To be fair, much of ‘Martha Washington’ has a deeper colour palate, supplied by Angus McKie, that gives a near photo-realistic texture to much of this work.

Martha Washington was brought up in a ghetto called The Blue’ in a fascist USA and, after a few felonies, decides to join the military PAX where her previous crimes would be erased. Over the course of the opening stories, she has an apparent vendetta with a senior officer, Colonel Stanford Moretti, who even halts his own rise to power to attack her every time she raises her head after he thinks he’s either locked her up in an asylum or even killed her. Can’t tell you more than that because it goes spoiler.

Interestingly, although this book series was conceived back in 1990, where I read the original graphic novel, ‘Give Me Liberty’, much of this saga is conducted in the 21st century and isn’t quite like our own. The technology is superior and the USA’s influence across the world extremely scary. In the introduction, Dave Gibbons points out that he didn’t like where writer Frank Miller was taking these stories until they came to an agreement to make it more a satire. As such this under-current certainly makes this one of Miller’s better works where the material isn’t solely about the violence as a selling point. I should point out that Dave Gibbons supplies the commentary behind the scenes for the whole book.

Something I did spot in one of Gibbons’ later books, ‘The Originals’, is his repeat of character likenesses. Although I wasn’t looking for it in this book, the second American President, Howard Nissen, looks awfully like Byron Lewis, the Mothman from ‘Watchmen’. Interestingly, both are alcoholics.

With ‘Martha Washington Goes To War’, Dave Gibbons points out it was a turn in the graphics when he and Angus McKie got computers and learning to colour on them. Oh, Chief Engineer Coogan looks a little like Walter Kovacs but maybe it’s more to do with his red hair colour which he later shaves off.

Oddly, ‘Martha Washington Stranded In Space’ made me feel it was out of sync with the other stories. I mean its only 2018, can things have moved that quickly.

Considering the Martha Washington stories were done over a 20 year period, you do see an evolution in ideas and style over that period. Martha’s evolution over her own life when seen all together does draw the odd question mark as she moves from soldier to explorer as much as her transition in rank. I suspect had I been reading the graphic novels as they were released, the transition would have been easier than seeing it as a collective.

Dave Gibbons points out that his art style here is more in line with what he did in ‘2000AD’ than what he did in other American comicbooks. The end of the book also looks at various designs, covers and other uses for Martha’s image in promotion at Dark Horse so you do get a complete package.

Although I have mixed feelings about the penultimate story, the opening stories capture something that is worth a look in case you’ve never seen Martha Washington before. It also has Frank Miller writing something away from his normal preferences which is something all normally solitary creatives should try from time to time.

GF Willmetts

July 2020

(pub: Dark Horse, 2017. 598 page graphic novel softcover. Price: I pulled my copy for about £ 16.00(UK). ISBN: 978-1-50670-035-9)

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