Uncle Sam Wants You

These days it gets harder and harder to be a patriot. The United States has never been the idealistic bastion of freedom and hope that many wished it to be, but historically symbols embodying the strengths of this dream have spurred Americans on.

Unfortunately, these symbols have been co-opted into perverse parodies of their intent: The magnificent bald eagle, a beautiful natural symbol of elegance and beauty, has been stolen by the military-industrial complex as a symbol of might-makes-right; the Statue of Liberty is virtually ignored as we drive the masses from our shores. Steve Darnall and Alex Ross take a fresh look at another symbol embodying the spirit of idealism in DC Comics’ limited series, Uncle Sam.

The Uncle Sam pictured in Alex Ross’ magnificently painted pages differs from the star-spangled gentleman usually portrayed in political cartoons and the classic "I Want You" Army posters. We first meet this Uncle Sam as a homeless derelict dressed in the remains of a Yankee Doodle suit. Ignored by the masses and unsure of his own identity, Sam takes the readers on a walk across America and through some of the unsavory events of U.S. history.

With Sam we revisit the massacre of the Blackhawk tribe in 1832 and witness the savagery committed there in the name of Western expansion. Sam’s "demented" conversation with a lawn jockey brought to life offers a brief glimpse of this country’s horrifying actions toward its African-American population even through the mid-20th century. Sam’s horror mirrors that of the reader as these atrocities confront our own nationalistic identity.

Just as powerful are Sam’s glimpses of life in modern day United States. The book bombards us with hundreds of media-inspired images: farm foreclosures, the bombed Murrah building, racially motivated attacks, and innocents suffering here in the "land of the free."

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1998
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