This is a prime example of how words and art can work in perfect harmony to produce the kind of immediate and intense impact that only graphic storytelling can. Originally published as a two issue mini series by Vertigo Comics, the “mature reader” line of DC Comics, this comics masterpiece is now available in a single volume (I would recommend getting the hardcover, although it is also available in paperback). This brief plot synopsis appeared on the back cover of the original first issue:
Clad in star-spangled rags, a man named Sam wanders the streets of an anonymous American city, struggling to remember his true identity. But he’s plagued by inner voices that carry him on a time-traveling journey to the dark heart of America . . . and hint at his own violent past. Is he Uncle Sam—or one of U.S.?
Uncle Sam is much more than just a revisionist history lesson. Sam’s efforts to regain his past reveal the dysfunctional relationship that most U.S. citizens have with their mother country. They mistakenly believe that our government has fallen from the state of near grace in which it was immaculately conceived in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. The disjointed memories experienced by Uncle Sam and shared with the readers peering into his soul reveal that, for all its deserved honors as a pioneer for liberty, this nation has always been tarnished by greed and the misuse of power. Facing this painful realization about our nation’s past is the important first step in building a better future, because if you believe your country has done no wrong, it’s easy to believe that it can do no wrong.
Of course, given the factual basis for this story, Alex Ross uses the photographic quality of his paintings to reinforce the authority of Steve Darnall’s text in a way that no other artist could. The horror, both in Sam’s haunted face and the tragic scenes of America’s equally haunted past, could not have been conveyed so powerfully without Alex’s unerring eye for accuracy and realism.