Graphic Novel Review: Give Me Liberty


I've been on a bit of a dystopian kick of late. One of the works I've read, for the first time in ages, is Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons' Give Me Liberty.

Originally published in 1990, Give Me Liberty tells the story of Martha Washington, born in the year 1995 and primarily taking place in 2009 through 2012. It takes place in a dystopian America, ruled by the initially popular President Rexall, elected in 1996. Her father is killed in protests following his election. She and her family live in the Carbini-Green housing of Chicago. In this America, it is essentially a prison for impoverished African-Americans. Rexall, a strong conservative, is re-elected in 2000 and 2004, with the 22nd Amendment being repealed. Elections are suspended in 2008 due to the possibility he might lose.

The Green is a hellish environment for young Martha - and for anyone else. She eventually finds her way out after she suffers a mental breakdown after witnessing her favorite teacher murdered - and her killing his killer. Her time at a mental health hospital is brief due to budget cuts, making her homeless. She eventually finds her way into PAX, an American "peacekeeping" force which accepts everyone, no questions asked. She's just a young teenager when she joins up.

Much of the story is centered around America falling apart. Rexall is put into a coma after a fire-bombing of the White House, with most of his cabinet killed, putting the unlikely liberal Howard Nissen in the presidency. He signs peace treaties, sends PAX (and Martha) to preserve the rain forests of Brazil, grants land to Native American protesters, etc. However, America continues to fall apart under the pressure of hate groups, fast food megacorporations (who object to the protection of the rain forests), the Middle East, an insane surgeon general (you'll have to read it), etc.

There's a strong element of satire in this - for example, fast food megacorporations have giant burger-mecha fighting in the rain forests...

This being Frank Miller, the humor is very politically incorrect. Rereading it recently, I found myself uncomfortable with things like "the Aryan Thrust" - a gay Nazi hate group. Or with radical feminists forming a new Confederacy in the south...

With those huge caveats, it makes for a rather interesting read - it's interesting when you push away the crude satire how much the dysfunctional United States of the comic rings true today. Just remember you are dealing with Frank Miller - though thankfully not the caricature of himself he became in later years (All-Star Batman and Robin, Holy Terror).

The comic also brings to mind Mayfair Games RPG Underground!, which also took place in an America falling apart, a setting also dosed with dark humor. Published a few years after Give Me Liberty!, I always felt it took a number of cues in tone and art from it.

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