Striking Back : Nate Powell – “Any Empire”

ABOVE: Lil’ Rambo

Like “Swallow Me Whole,” Nate Powell’s “Any Empire” (2011) is set in the Southern town of Wormwood. It also examines the way siblings interact, and once again the graphic medium allows for unusual visualizations of mental processes ( the militaristic mind-set, this time around.)  But whereas “Swallow Me Whole” was remarkable for its subtlety, “Any Empire” is a heavy artillery assault; tanks literally invade Wormwood toward the climax. Such things really DO happen, (the army has been known to run military exercises in American towns) but Powell fails to make it believable within this context; in fact, for a page or two I was wondering if this little invasion wasn’t the result of another metaphorical bee-swarm of madness, like the one in “Swallow Me Whole.” This is twice, I notice, that Powell’s endings feel rushed, an escape from the responsibilities imposed by the thoughtful story that came before.

ABOVE: Gee, war!

Powell tries to drop truth bombs about how play-ground militarism molds the lives of children. Basically: “Give me the child until he’s seven, and I’ll give you the man. Give THAT child a G. I. Joe, and I’ll give you the bullying soldier.” Eh. As a bleeding-heart pussy pacifist who played plenty with toy soldiers as a kid and still enjoy my brutally violent comics here and there, I’m left unconvinced by the severity of his logic, (not too distant from the techno-phobic conservatism that claims video-games are the inevitable gateways to murder sprees.)

The style is once again unimpeachable and more than worth the read, (particularly enjoyed the pages in which characters pass classroom notes) but did anyone need a character to solemnly announce that “War is Hell”? We know, we’ve heard. What’s more, Powell knows that we know and we’ve heard, and he should have trusted his story to show us.  Next time let’s keep the preachy parables for Sunday mass, shall we?



Or at least let the preachy parables embrace their preachy nature. Powell pays a bit of homage to Hugh Harman’s 1939 cartoon “Peace on Earth”. It’s one of Harman’s best, a remarkable balancing act between animal funnies and trench warfare horrors that is earnest but not sentimental. “Gee, I’m sure glad there ain’t no more men!” says an un-sappy cartoon squirrel upon hearing of that murderous, war-happy, thankfully extinct creature.


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