"We Stand on Guard" #1 kicks off the new series by Brian K. Vaughan and Steve Skroce, and it's a book that has been anticipated since the second it was announced. Vaughan's career has ridden high on titles like "Y: The Last Man" and "Saga," to say nothing of his television work like "Lost" and "Under the Dome." Skroce's comic credits are much smaller (primarily "Cable" and "X-Man"), thanks to the Wachowski siblings snatching him up to storyboard many of their films, including "The Matrix Trilogy," "Cloud Atlas" and "Jupiter Ascending." All of this is a roundabout way of saying that, with the pedigree of the creators on the title, expectations were understandably high.
That being said, the first issue ambitiously begins with the bombing of the White House by unknown parties in 2112, followed by the United States immediately bombing Ottawa. Jump forward a dozen years and the book begins in earnest; in the Northwest Territories, we see Amber, a young woman who survived the Ottawa attack, trying to survive even as she encounters both American battledroids and the Canadian resistance. Of course, things don't go terribly well. Vaughan does a good job of laying out the world of "We Stand on Guard" in a quick manner; the first handful of pages in 2112 set up the conflict in a matter of minutes, and then the shift to the title's present day of 2124 gives us just enough glimpses of life on the edges of society that it's what we don't see that dangles just out of reach.
While we're getting a good feel for the world, the characters themselves are still little more than brief sketches. Our protagonist Amber is non-entity as a child in 2112 and, in 2124, she's someone who spends most of the issue being surprised or listening to exposition. While she gets the big final moment of the issue -- and one that gives her a certain amount of steely resolve -- we still know almost nothing about her, and even less about the rest of the resistance group named the Two-Four. It's the weak point of "We Stand on Guard" #1; it's hard to care about these characters when we know little more than what they look like. When one character dies with no warning, there's no sense of loss or regret; it's just a face that won't be in the next issue.
On the other hand, Skroce and Matt Hollingsworth's art is great from start to finish. Skroce's art has gotten much more detailed since I last remember seeing it, and it's jaw-dropping. Not only is every little strap and buckle in a cockpit attentively drawn, but so is every single rivet and bolt holding the machinery together. Trees in the background have individual snow-covered branches. Throughout it all, the bigger picture isn't lost either. Characters are drawn with strong faces and postures, and they move with a grace that feels instantly realistic. The battle machinery is genuinely breathtaking, coming across both as a logical next step in military technology while still feeling slightly fantastic. With different models and configurations, each appearance makes you as a reader want to stop and look at it in great detail, even as you also want to turn the page to see it in action.
"We Stand on Guard" #1 looks fantastic, and the world that Vaughan and Skroce have created is appealing. Given time, there's no doubt in my mind that the characters will become more defined and we'll grow to care about them. For now, though, the rest of the comic is so good that it's a rough patch that's easily overlooked. "We Stand on Guard" had high expectations tied into its very DNA and, overall, I think readers will be very pleased with what they find.