Jonny Cannon’s The United is an anarchic mix of post modern superheroism, with shades of classic Marvel UK, late 90s British Invasion books and the best of the current Indie supers scene, all bursting forth from this epic new collection. .
This new hardcover collection, The United: Welcome to The Shitshow, brings together the various issues of Jonny’s underground series into one epic hardcover (featuring a gorgeous cover from Adam Falp), and wraps it all up with a new 78 page story. Set in a dystopian and anarchic world, the story involves the titular band of heroes who are brought together for the better good, but soon begin to discover the world is not as simple as it first seems.
Cannon has created a really ambitious, and layered take on the Brit superhero team, mixing classic capes like Captain Britain, the supernatural undertone of Alan Moore and the ultra-violent modernism of Mark Millar. What starts off as fairly generic superhero fare evolves and develops revealing secret government plots, sinister experiments and mysterious cults along the way. At the core of the story are heroes Brittania, Boudica, Battalion and The Scotsman, who are a mix of classic superhero tropes that we all recognise, but that are used build a story using the familiar language and characterisation of the genre. What they lack in originality they make up for in bombast and brashness.
The United has that in your face approach to superheroes that we love in the work Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison or Mark Millar and there is a lot of the ‘Celtic Superhero’ style that we recognise from books like The Boys, The Authority or Zenith. Basing it around the Scottish referendum and having a main hero in a kilt also helps make that link to Scottish superhero series if the past, (even those not set there) and Cannon has a writing style which is definitely influenced and inspired by his fellow Scottish writers. It has a sense of dark humour, brash language and punk-ish tone that is a million miles away from the polished heroes of the Big Two.
However, the book it reminded us of most is Dan Butcher’s Vanguard. The idea of taking a classic British team in the vein of Excalibur, and then layering on violence and bloodshed to make things into a dark satire of the genre, has a lot of parallels between the two. It also reminded us a lot of the wonderful Death Sentence from Monty Nero for the same reason.
Creator Jonny Cannon pulls multiple duties on this one, as writer, artist and everything else, and you can definitely see his style and confidence evolve as the series works through. The opening chapters feel very ‘underground’ and raw, and lack the finesse that later pages develop. The characters, while familiar, can be a bit difficult to follow in the rough black and white line work at the beginning, but as Jonny finds his voice and his style develops things begin to fall into place by the end of the book. Reading this volume in its entirety feels very much like Jonny is working out the series in front of our eyes, and while this can make for a challenging read in the opening half, it reaps rewards as by the end it the pieces come together to make a well resolved story.
With this collection bringing together disparate chapters, the timing of it all feels quite odd at times, as he story leaps about in time and feels like it was written at different periods as well. As such, it can be quite disjointed in places with scenes stopping and starting as if from nowhere, the dates and times leaping all over the place, and characters appearing and disappearing at will. However this gives it a raw energy and pace, that could easily be lost if too much time was spent on exposition. It’s a whirlwind of ideas and energy and while not everything lands, there is usually something along very soon to help distract you from those missed steps.
While not always the most polished of reads, The United has this raw energy and passion to it that you can’t deny. It’s ambitious and edgy with plenty of rough edges, but rather than being a negative it gives it kind of punky, anarchic spirit which a more polished project would lack. So if you’re looking for something to fill the gap as you wait for the new series of The Boys, or new issues of Vanguard or Death Sentence, then the United will definitely bring your reading back together.