Publisher: First Comics
Writers: Matt and Shawn Fillbach
Artists: Matt and Shawn Fillbach
Publication Date: 2013
Pages: 112 pages
Format: B&W softcover
Retail Price: $19.99
Genre: Mature vigilante shoot ’em up
Sometimes I think if Cormac McCarthy penned comics those books would read a lot like Matt and Shawn Fillbach’s non-Star Wars work. Ok… Maybe McCarthy wouldn’t delve into something like the Fillbach’s Tales of the S.S. Chunky Star, since that’s aimed at kids, but much of the Fillbach’s other recent work does possess a serious McCarthy vibe; heavy on imagery and tone while including great stretches with minimal dialogue.
Originally introduced in The Star-Spangled Adventures of Captain Freebird, back in the late 1990s, our protagonist is a seemingly ageless, seemingly insane Vietnam veteran whose travels and travails focus on an almost reluctant vigilantism. Does Freebird carry the soul of an ancient Indian shaman within his heart? Can he converse with the dead? Can he unconsciously travel to other dimensions? Or is Captain Freebird simply a complete nutter? The answers are somewhat left for the reader to decide although most will learn toward thinking Cap is a lot less crazy than he appearss.
In American Prayer, Captain Freebird has recently escaped from an asylum and has absconded with the ashes of a soldier recently killed in action in an attempt to deliver the ashes to the soldiers estranged father. That wouldn’t be much of a story so Cap is not only pursued by the FBI because of his escape and theft but also a motley assortment of assassins who have been hired by a villainous shaman (not to be confused with the shaman who may or may not reside in Freebird’s heart) who believes eating Freebird’s ticker will provide him with eternal life.
And that’s where my plot synopsis ends as folks now I believe the joy of discovering a movie, or comic, or book is ruined by most reviews. I will mention American Prayer is for mature audiences due to some strong language throughout.
The Fillbach brothers continue to utilize black and white in very interesting ways although American Prayer does have a little more cartoony style than say their work on Lives or Cadaver Dogs. The graphic novel doesn’t suffer from the style choice though since the book is filled with over the top action and humor so it’s a good fit.
Captain Freebird: American Prayer does suffer in a few areas which drop it into the solid buy category as opposed to a must buy. First is the humor, especially Freebird’s annoying tendency to just blurt random phrases, wears thin after a while as that seems the Fillbach’s main approach to displaying Cap’s tenuous grasp on reality. “Well the dude must be crazy since he just said that.” Second, this isn’t the initial appearance of Captain Freebird but it’s not easy to get your hands on many of First Comics’ titles so it’s very possible the character will be new to the reader, as he was for me. Yet, Freebird is a difficult character to begin to identify with since there’s little by way of backstory outside of picking up a few nuggets throughout the tale.
My biggest knock against American Prayer is the crux of the plot isn’t overly original. We’ve seen the story of an oddball protagonist chased cross country by an even odder bunch looking to whack the hero plenty of times before in movies, television shows, and the comic pages. Sure, Captain Freedom is an interesting vigilante character for the most part but the originality of the hero gets bit lost in the Coen Brothers/Tarantino rehash of the first few acts.
What elevates American Prayer above what could have been a mediocre effort is the powerful message Matt and Sean Fillbach deliver at the conclusion. I won’t spoil the finale but it does raise the final score a bit in my book.
Captain Freebird: American Prayer is a nice book but simply not a great tale. I know the Fillbachs are pumped about their Vietnam vet vigilante but it’s tough for the reader to catch that level of enthusiasm. Also, since First Comics still hasn’t launched a website where you can order their books or made more inroads by way of distribution to comic shops so your only real options to get your hands on anything is trying to track it down online or hope First (or Matt and Shawn) makes an appearance at your local comic convention.
One final note is the fact First and the Fillbachs are offering American Prayer absolutely free for any U.S. veteran who’d like a copy. I’d say that’s pretty damn cool, so if you know someone who has served and would like to check this graphic novel out get in contact with First Comics or the Fillbach Brothers.