So. 2010. How do you remember it? Martha Washington remembers it as the year she joined the youth-pax corps. This is after President Rexall repealed the two-term ammendment, created cordoned-off slum housing, which systematicallyled to young Martha’s life being entirely hell. I mean it. Death of family, death of the few other responsible adults around, her commitment to an overcrowded insane asylum … But things must be looking up, right? Rexall’s in a coma, his replacement is a great guy, Martha’s in the corps, saving the rainforest – it is all now looking up?
In brief, this is Frank Miller’s monster-future dystopia. Set in the future & free from the DC universe, this, much like The Dark Knight Strikes Again, lacks a lot of the requisite subtlety of The Dark Knight Returns. Where a softer hand in returns made for a wonderfully nuanced masterpiece, Miller’s later works (including All-Star Batman and Robin, I hear) feature shock-and-horror controversy that read as pretty tired after a while. Martha Washington is interestingly written, but this is overshadowed at times by how much it has aged in the intervening years.
Because it is the 1980s writing the 2010s, a thinly-veiled Reaganish madman presides over issues of pollution, oil refineries, the Amazon rainforest, Native American reservations and so on. It isn’t impossible for comics of thirty years ago to tackle today’s issues – but it is much harder when the commentary is composed of cultural figures thrust forward in time, bound and gagged. This is a pretty hallucinatory world, which at the one time wants to be taken seriously, at another has a robot Surgeon General get kicked off a jet for fun.
A landscape of madness, the first Martha Washington series charts an America shredded at the seams. Interesting, but a little too on the nose. To quote Neil Gaiman: “Normally journalists would point out how very filled with politics all the other British writers of the school of eighty-something were, and that Sandman wasn’t. And why is that? And I would hesitantly suggest that I thought that Sandman might have been a bit more political than they thought, and they would say no, it definitely wasn’t; where was Margaret Thatcher, after all, and why hadn’t I shown her eating babies with her vampire teeth?”