–WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD–
This book exceeded all my expectations in the best of ways. Reading small descriptions doesn’t do the depth of this issue the justice it deserves. Briggs Land, USA is nearly one hundred square miles of wilderness. It is owned and controlled by the Briggs family, a group of anti-government secessionists. They claimed to live freely and peacefully, but with the rise of religious extremism, criminality was the only thing they could turn to.
Jim Briggs, patriarch and incarcerated criminal, has been running the empire while locked up. His wife, Grace, pays him a visit to say that she is taking over the land and control of the community. He warns her against it, as do the prison guards, but Grace is relentless and determined. After meeting with her sons (Isaac—youngest, Caleb—oldest, and Noah—middle child), she and Isaac head home while the other two are dealing in some financial and homicidal business. During the night, two shadowy figures appear at the house, so Grace pulls a gun on them. Isaac tries to help, but they run away. He jumps in the car to try and catch them, but it triggers a bomb and, well, you can guess what happened next.
Writer Brian Wood cleverly delivers a lot of background information on each member of the Briggs family. This isn’t done in caption boxes (well, only a few), but rather two detectives who are following the Briggs family. The man, Agent Zigler, is telling the woman, Andrea, all about the family. This serves as most of the narration as we watch the Briggs family prepare for Grace’s newfound leadership.
There are a lot of concepts in this issue that, while grotesque and outright idiotic, speak for a lot of common cultural practices in the U.S. today. Three particularly stuck out to me: sexism, racism, and cultism. These are concepts that have long since plagued our society. All are represented here very blatantly and effectively.
It is mentioned how Grace is a woman and shouldn’t be in control because of it or how she needs to obey Jim because he’s her husband or how she got married at a young age and “performed perfectly to expectations” and “left the running of the business to Jim.” People obviously doubt Grace’s ability to control and run Briggs Land. There hasn’t been too much backlash just yet (the guys who were breaking in were probably sent by Jim out of spite, not so much because she’s a woman), but comments like these make it clear that the female sex isn’t respected nearly as much as the male is.
In terms of racism, Caleb has a swastika tattooed on his chest. Agent Zigler explains that Jim is a white supremacist. There is mention of the freaking Aryan Brotherhood! For anyone who doesn’t know, the Aryan Brotherhood is a white supremacist prison gang, with over 10,000 members operating in and out of prison. They’re responsible for something like 30% of the murders in the federal prison system. They’re fierce, relentless, brutal, and Jim is one of them—not to mention an anti-Semite, too.
The people on Briggs Land are secessionists. This means that they have withdrawn from the U.S. and started their own hostile and government. The land is, of course, on American soil (Northern New York, to be exact), but there is even a sign that says “YOU ARE NOW LEAVING THE UNITED STATES.” It’s a fair warning and an active indicator of a cult-like atmosphere and operation. The last historical secession led to the Civil War; who knows what kind of chaos Briggs Land will bring to the U.S.?!
The fact that Jim has been ruling from prison says a lot about the federal prison system and how ineffective it is. Privately owned American prisons exist for money, unfortunately, and don’t include any sort of rehabilitation for inmates. Therefore, they stay in their own angry, criminal mindsets so much that they are able to communicate and have influence where they aren’t even living. Part of me wants everyone in Briggs Land to just forget about Jim because he shouldn’t have the power that he does. In fact, he only has power because other people give him power. If everyone decided to pull a Grace and defy his “ruling” of them, nothing would happen. He would be locked up and life would go on. Prison is weird.
Wood’s writing is smooth, steady, and paced perfectly, so we are kept on the edge of our seats, but aren’t overwhelmed with too much information at a time. There are a lot of narrative techniques that Wood uses to properly educate us about the Briggs family. Even so, I am left with questions that I am itching to find answers to.
Artist Mack Chater does a great job of illustrating this issue with clarity and a solid narrative. However, some of the detailing isn’t too realistic and therefore comes off as kind of emotionless. Characters are reactive to a certain extent, but their body language says more than their faces do. I’m hoping we can get some more detail in future issues, because this is a book with a lot of heavy concepts. I’m dying to see how everyone reacts to the reality of the world their living in.
This is an amazing issue to start off the series. Wood’s writing is enthralling beyond belief, and there’s so much more to think about than just the storyline. The values that some characters hold are so warped and irrational. As of now, all I can hope is that Isaac and Grace are alive and well. For anyone into sociology, anthropology, politics, and a damn good story, you can’t miss out on this!
Written by: Brian Wood
Illustrated by: Mack Chater