I have read a fair amount of alternate history in my time, but I can’t remember any of it being as wildly entertaining as The Civil Four. It could just be the history geek in me, but a comic where Lincoln survives the assassination attempt on him and the South somehow wins the Civil War despite Lee surrendering because of some dabbling with the dark arts and enslaving the spirit of Ben Franklin? Yeah, that’s my idea of a good time. (Seriously, Ben Franklin’s ghost, called forth with the key he used to discover electricity and imprisoned by demons. Good stuff.)
But all of that happened in the first issue of the series, giving us the background for this strange new world. In issue #2, we learn more about the players on both sides. The Civil Four, comprised of Abe Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Harriet Tubman, and Johnny Appleseed, are not doing so well. Lincoln escaped assassination but is due to be hanged by the victorious Confederacy. Grant is in jail with a wicked hangover. Tubman has bargained her soul to save some innocent people and now finds herself trapped in servitude, much like Franklin’s ghost, to the bad guys. And Appleseed finds himself fighting some insanely powerful robot on a train. The baddies, comprised of Robert E. Lee, John Wilkes Booth, and a man known only as the Dandy, seem poised to enjoy their victory over the North. It’s a page-turner, largely because of how intriguing the players are. They’re actually more caricatures than characters (Lincoln and Appleseed the frontier-fighters, Booth the bad actor, Lee the scheming tactician), but are so well done that I don’t mind it. I found myself laughing out loud on the bus as I read their exploits, which doesn’t happen much to this jaded MTA traveler.
The most striking part of these comics is their art. I would say that the drawings are black and white, except that the background is sepia-toned, which gives them a distinctly old-timey feel, as if you were reading them in some newspapers from the Civil War era. While the historical characters are fairly recognizable, they play up the caricature angle. And when Johnny Appleseed tells one of his tall tales, it looks like a cartoon. “Pow”s and “Kablam”s about in the fight scenes, and when someone gets hit on the head, they see stars—just like in all the cartoons I remember from my childhood. I really appreciated that vintage feel, which was perfect for the story being told. I can’t wait to find out where this whole thing is going, because for the life of me, I have no idea. I’m hoping the surprises continue in the next issue. I give it 4.5 out of 5 Lightning Bolts, with a key attached to summon the spirit of Benjamin Franklin.
THE CIVIL FOUR #2
Writer: Casey VanHeel
On Sale: June 11, 2014
Publisher: C4 Comics
To find The Civil Four on comiXology go to the series page, issue one is up right now! Issue two should be live Wednesday 6/11.
The Civil Four isn’t Casey’s first book reviewed on What’cha Reading. Check out Juan Pineda’s review of Palooka, a noir crime story wrapped in a wrestler’s cape. – Chuck (the editor monkey)