As far back as anyone can remember there have been stories about the underdog. From the biblical David and Goliath to the cinematic Rocky Balboa there has always been someone who fights against all the odds and all the nay sayers and finds a way to win the fight or save the day. These stories give regular people like you and me hope that we can make some kind of grand change in the world. I suppose it could also be said that it is easier to identify with protagonist if they have some of the same flaws and foibles that we have. Whether it is a gambling problem, little chicken legs or just stupidity we can see a little of ourselves in these characters.
Another popular theme in literature is the future world that takes the negative elements we see everyday and amplifies them until we get a dystopian nightmare that would be well at home in a Kafka novel. It stands to reason that people enjoy misery or this type of story wouldn’t exist but I think its that glimmer of hope that no matter how bad things may get there will always be those to stand up for those of us with no voice.
I will admit with regret that I did not read these stories when they were originally published. I have always been a superhero nerd and that until recently stories about governments run amok and the destruction of the environment weren’t really my cup of tea. I suppose I didn’t want to read what amounted to the end result of the world we are living in. Luckily I am much more cynical now and reading these types of stories usually leaves me with a little sense of hope. In these tales of bleak living conditions and abject misery there is almost always a small glimmer of hope. One person in all the world who has the willpower and anger to do something about the horror society has become. And this is where we meet Martha.
The story starts at the beginning with Martha’s birth on March 11th 1995. We are quickly introduced to terms like “the green” and the fact that the sitting president has repealed the 22nd amendment to the constitution allowing him to be president as many times as he wants. The “green” is Cabrini Green lower income housing facility in Chicago Illinois. The facilities have taken the ghettos and projects that we know and replaced them with high walls, barbed wire and a 24 hour armed “security” detail. Class warfare is all but finished as the upper class has found a way to put the dregs of society into a high security oubliette and forget they exist. There is a way out of course, you can always join PAX the governments “Peace Force”. The peace force is nothing but government sanctioned mercenaries who go wherever they are told and do whatever needs to be done. Rape, murder, genocide. As always the grunts couldn’t care less what the reasoning is as long as they get out of their miserable existence and get paid.
After committing her first murder in self defense at around the age of twelve, Martha goes catatonic and spends the next bit of her life in a mental institution. While incarcerated she learns secrets that she shouldn’t know and befriends a psychic during a single meeting through a window. This of course gets her promptly thrown into the street. Once again discarded as more garbage the system just doesn’t want to deal with. Living on the streets brings Martha to her second murder. This time it’s as much about rage as self defense. She’s a two time murderer who is living on the streets after being tossed out of a mental institution. What does a fifteen year old do in this situation? Join the PAX Peace Force of course! The governments “no questions” policy means that their peace keeping task force is chock full of sociopaths and scared teenagers.
And all that is just the first issue of “Give Me Liberty”, only one part of the thirteen stories in this deluxe hardcover edition. Over the course of these stories Martha grows as a person through service and personal tragedy. She learns hard lessons about her PAX bosses and the people they work so hard to subjugate. She makes friends out of enemies and vice versa, rescues childhood chums and saves the world. She goes into outer space, meets aliens and finally dies of old age. Just like the title suggests, this book contains Martha Washington’s entire life. There are jumps in time of course but the important stories are all there. The stories that transformed a poverty stricken uneducated little girl into the savior of humanity. It is a magnificent story that we have all seen before but rarely have we seen the story told with such shocking honesty. Martha’s soul is laid bare over the course of these 600 pages and we get to know her, for better and more importantly for worse. She is a flawed person who isn’t always the best version of herself but in my experience, its those flaws that make the hero interesting.
The book itself is a beautiful slipcase edition designed to fit on a shelf alongside DC comics Absolute Editions. There are more than thirty pages of production sketches in the back. These show how much thought and heart went into the making of these comics. Frank Miller provides the introduction which is a nice look into where his head was at when writing Martha. More so than Miller’s intro, Dave Gibbons give a soul to these stories with his commentary. Preceding each “chapter” Gibbons provides valuable insight about the creative process and what this character meant to both men.
The price tag on this book is steep at $100 but boy is it worth it. A seminal work by genre changing creators is a bargain at twice the price.