Sunday, December 20, 2015

Scout (2 volumes) by Tim Truman

On the one hand, I'm amazed that these two books even exist: that a great but forgotten series like Scout was collected at all, almost thirty years after it was originally published as floppy comics. But, on the other hand, I'm vaguely unhappy that this reprint series couldn't manage to last long enough to do War Shaman, the follow-up, as well. And I'm more solidly unhappy that there wasn't a third collection to finish up the actual Scout series -- that's a bigger lack. (I'm clear-eyed enough not to expect the spin-off serieses, but enough of a dreamer to think maybe this reprint project would lead to a huge resurgence of interest in Truman and get him to finally make the other two related series he planned in the late '80s.)

Does that all even out to being happy for what I got? I dunno; it's more like wild swings to one side and then the other. But, still: Scout was republished! (Sure, almost ten years ago -- I'm going to pretend I let them sit on my shelf that long because I was wishing really hard for the War Shaman collections.)

Scout is a dystopian near-future story that mixes SF and fantasy -- and, since it was a near-future in the mid-80s, it's now an alternate past, since this first series took place in 1999. (I could quibble with Truman's timeline, since he really doesn't have enough time for all of his change to take place within a single decade -- if I was his editor back in 1987, I would have recommended stretching out the timeline to put Scout in about 2010 or so, with an entire generation for things to fall apart comprehensively. But the thing about an alternate past is that you can pretend it was different for even longer, if you want -- and Scout is unassailable if you push the divergence point back to the mid-70s and assume the first oil shock was the beginning of the end.)

Emmanuel Santana is an Apache and former Army Ranger in the US Southwest; the US all but fell apart over the past decade, shut out by a trade pact among the rest of the world that left it poor and a second Dust Bowl that destroyed its food crops. There was never a war, but the US would be hard-pressed to be considered a third-rate power. Oh, and four legendary Beasts -- supernatural creatures with the aspects of animals that have incarnated in human form -- are pushing mankind toward a more permanent apocalypse. And the only person who knows about it is Santana, haunted by his heritage and by more immediate visions, driven to kill those four beasts and save his people -- whatever "people" that really means.

There are other main characters, other viewpoints -- including a young woman who is still a Ranger and takes a dim view of Santana's plans, despite their affair back in Basic. But the reader never doubts Santana's quest -- we see the beasts, and hear their plans. They're not just evil men, though they are that -- they are monsters.

That's only the first story, though. Scout's world is thoroughly screwed up, in ways that one man very skilled with guns can't fix by himself. And the stories of Scout get weirder and less focused on Apache folklore from that point -- there's a fan theory that Truman tried to shove every idea he had for adventure stories in Scout, which didn't entirely work, and I have some sympathy for that theory -- but Scout stayed an energetic, exciting story about a world and a main character unlike anything else in comics at the time. (And still unique in comics, though Scout's world would fit alongside any number of YA novels these days.)

In a better world, Scout would have been a big hit, and Truman would have kept it running -- either as a single series, or under subtitles for each new story arc -- for a decade or two, getting better with each story and reaping the benefit of his work. This is very clearly not a better world, though. But we did get 24 issues of Scout and 16 of War Shaman, and not that long ago we got the first sixteen of those comics collected. Three more volumes would finish that up...any takers, comics publishers?

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