Bill Schwartz and Zachary Schwartz appear to be the two kids who not only actually paid attention in their American History class, but were also enamored enough with some of these early 19th-century figures to craft some folkloric tales of their own. That’s essentially what they do in “American Legends” #1, painted by Studio Hive and the first of five weekly issues, which takes place in New Orleans on the eve of the Lewis & Clark expedition and the exploration of President Thomas Jefferson’s newly-purchased Louisiana territory. Certain parties don’t want Jefferson’s venture to succeed, however, and there are players on both sides who are familiar to those well-versed in early American lore.
Davy Crockett, Mike Fink and Marie LaVeau are among the names readers might imagine their great-grandpappy citing as he tells many a moonshine-induced tall tale around a roaring campfire, and they’re also central characters in this modern-day tale of folklore. Make no mistake; the resemblance to actual historical figures is most definitely intentional, as is their involvement in some decidedly fictional exploits. It’s fictional, unless Crockett and Fink really were attacked by a zombie in an encounter that has been forgotten over the course of the past two hundred years. It all works just fine, though, as these individuals have prominent places in plenty of books labeled both fictional and non-fictional, so occurrences like these are no harder to enjoy and accept for what they are than any other classic folktale.
It even enables the integration of purely fictional characters, like Sally Thunder, into the story without any kind of struggle. The writers nicely blend fact and fiction into a brisk and energetic romp that entertainingly fills in the spaces that history has left open. The first half of the issue is spent introducing the half a dozen or so members of the main cast, which is done quickly without any kind of backstory. Such context, for those who want it, is provided in the character bios at the end of the issue, but anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of folklore won’t have difficulty figuring out who’s who. The second half brings them together and introduces the story’s conflict, and by issue’s end the story is fully in motion and readers are engaged.
The overall look of the story as presented by the folks at Studio Hive is mixed; the mood is beautifully captured by way of their colors, but the composition suffers elsewhere. Characters often look inconsistent from page to page, but the uniquely identifiable appearances of each one, as wisely designed by the artists, stave off any confusion as to who any of the players are when they reappear. There isn’t much fluidity in the art, either; the characters often look stiff and panel-to-panel flow is often abrupt. The Schwartz’ story is capably rendered, but the art doesn’t impress enough to enhance it; it’s largely the story’s idea that carries it more so than its appearance.
“American Legends” #1 takes many legendary characters that readers might have thought they didn’t care about and puts them into a story that will change that. There won’t be a daily dose like in history class, but a weekly fix will deliver the next best thing.