American Carnage opens its second arc with its protagonist, Richard King, given a clear direction that sends him into murky water. The series, written by Bryan Edward Hill and illustrated by Leandro Fernandez, is a modern noir about a disgraced former FBI agent sent to infiltrate a white supremacist organization after a member murdered an FBI officer investigating their organization. Richard is depicted as a man of two worlds in multiple ways -- he's a white-passing mixed race detective doing the FBI's dirty work while secretly working for them off the books. And last issue put Richard in an even more precarious position, as his love interest Jennifer (the daughter of Wynn Morgan, the leader of the white supremacist organization with aspirations of being a US Senator) revealed that she knows about his FBI connections and current work, and that she'll lead him to his goals if he helps clean the disparate and rebellious parts of her father's organization.
In this issue, Richard is given his first assignment: to use his FBI connections to rescue a childhood friend of Jennifer's from both himself and the Aryan Brotherhood that he's fallen in with. Meanwhile, Richard's FBI handler Sheila meets a new FBI contact that could threaten her undercover operation, that we as readers know isn't all that undercover. It's a clear direction for the title, one that gives Richard a more firm purpose besides simply trying to stay alive while also advancing the agendas of everyone who is trying to manipulate him.
American Carnage's continued success is predicated on its careful balancing act between unflinchingly showing the true nature of the white supremacist organizations constantly pushing for legitimacy in the real world and creating a compelling story painted in shades of grey. For instance, in this issue we're reminded that Jennifer, the majordomo of her father's organization, was molded by her father and had her innocence ripped away from her at an early age. Jennifer is implied to be a victim herself, ruthlessly turned into a weapon of her father's will. However, she's still the quiet power behind her father's organization, an active force of evil. Is she truly a bad person (Jennifer, to my knowledge, has never spouted the racist rhetoric of her father) or is she simply working for an evil cause out of association?
On the flip side, we have Richard, a good man now willingly working for Jennifer, who even seems to want to continue his romantic relationship with her despite knowing where her allegiances lie. When his assignment goes south, Richard calls in a shocking partner to help, one that pushes him further down the same path that Jennifer may have once walked. Richard is a good man who looks ready to kill some bad people for a bad organization for a good cause. Does killing white supremacists to help other white supremacists make Richard culpable in Wynn Morgan's rise, or is he still walking a righteous path?
There's no easy answers in American Carnage, and that's part of the book's appeal. It's a book that takes the latest form of racism in America and uses it as a frame to examine human nature and our own actions. What makes a person good or evil? Is it their upbringing? Their actions? The thoughts in their heads? It often uncomfortably reminds us that the monsters in society are people too, they have friends and children and loyalties, all of whom they can lead down a darker path in a moment's notice. This is a fantastic and nuanced series, one that combines gritty criminal drama with a hard look at the worst parts of society.
Published by Vertigo Comics, an imprint under DC Comics
On May 15, 2019
Written by Bryan Edward Hill
Art by Leandro Fernandez
Colors by Dean White
Letters by Pat Brosseau
Cover by Ben Oliver