High Roads trade paperback, May 2003, DC Comics/Wildstorm Productions/Cliffhanger!
writer: Scott Lobdell
penciller: Leinil Francis Yu
inker: Gerry Alanguilan
letterer: ComiCraft, Sergio Garcia
editor: Alex Sinclair
TPB editor: Kristy Quinn
On a somber day that commemorates a tragic benchmark in America’s war on terrorism, I found myself reading High Roads, a six issue miniseries about another of our country’s conflicts, arguably our greatest, World War II. I can’t think of a better way to summarize the series’ plot than the description on the trade paperback’s back cover:
What do you get when you combine an American hayseed, a washed-up British thespian, a failed Kamikaze pilot and Hitler's former mistress? Well, throw in an ice castle at the top of the world and you've got High Roads, the latest in a long line of Cliffhanger action/adventure series!
Nic Highroad and his friends set out to steal Hitler's most prized possession - and end up trying to save the world. Of course, along the way they have to fight off a Nazi-ninja crops, jump from a moving train, and outsmart the Master Race . . . but in the end, Hitler's FINAL final solution comes to something of an unexpected conclusion.
I stumbled into High Roads while perusing the library shelves for today’s dose of comic book goodness, and although I was initially uninterested in the concept, Yu and Alanguilan drew me in with their intense, energetic artwork. During the opening sequence, Highroad scales the icy walls of a Nazi Arctic fortress, carrying a ticking time bomb in his teeth. He is futilely attacked by a sentry and a Nazi fighter plane until he plummets to the depths below, at which point the flashback to the real story begins. Yes, that introductory sequence was as visually thrilling as it sounds, thanks to the artists’ capable depictions and ample use of perspective and pace. Lobdell’s corn-fed dialogue throughout the tale sometimes clashes with Yu’s realistic illustrations, but in the end, I felt like I had read an exaggerated account of a true twist in history. The characters are likeable, the romance isn’t too sappy, and the action is compelling. Needless to say, I liked the read.
Alas, in the context of today’s historical significance, I can’t help but analyze High Roads on a deeper, somewhat more significant level. In many ways, on a simplistic level, World War II and our current “war on terror” are similar, in that both hinge around a tragedy that cost a nation innocent lives, and both feature a political terrorist that has become the proverbial mascot for their respective war. Of course, the ultimate tragedy of WWII was the Holocaust, which, in most historical fiction about that era, becomes a footnote at best in contrast to the satirically depicted evil of Hitler and his Reich. In High Roads, Hitler comes off as a sexually deviant blunderer, which is comical by today’s standards, but unfortunately insensitive on a grander scale. World War II was sixty years ago, but all things considered, that’s only sixty years, and some of folks that experienced this evil firsthand are actually still alive. I’m sure eighty-year-old Holocaust survivors aren’t reading Wildstorm comics, but their grandchildren might. How long before someone asks granddad, “Papa, did Hitler really let hookers dress him up like a baby and spank him?”
Will the literature of the future depict Bin Laden as a cave-dwelling nincompoop without referencing the circumstances of 9/11? Will the survivors of the Twin Towers tragedy understand that such plot devices, despite their roots in reality, are intended for entertainment purposes only? I’m not talking about political cartoons. High Roads is not Doonesbury. It’s an Indiana Jones-esque adventure. It’s fun. That’s not how I hear our troops describing their stint in Iraq, but then again, maybe I’m listening to the wrong talk radio shows.
I’m reminded of an inflatable slide I saw at a roadside carnival some time ago. Kids were sliding down the Titanic’s deck into a swimming pool, apparently having a great time. The Titanic disaster was one of the most perilous of its time, and we’re less than one hundred years removed from it before we turn it into a carnie attraction. Will we be seeing the Twin Towers human slingshot anytime soon? Definitely within the next ninety years, I reckon.
I understand that this review took a turn away from comics for a bit, but the power of any successful work of fiction is its uncanny ability to make the reader think about reality in a different way. Further, as I’ve said before, the A Comics A Day challenge is not only subject to the comics I manage to get into my mitts on any given day, but also to the very day itself. Today happens to be September 11. I don’t know what the future will hold for our current conflict or our commemoration of this tragic day, but looking at current historical and artistic trends . . . I hope we take the high road.