Saturday, January 12, 2019

Book-A-Day 2018 #377: Scout and Scout: War Shaman by Tim Truman

These aren't books, exactly. The first two-thirds of Tim Truman's mid-80s Scout series was reprinted in two trade paperbacks by Dynamite, a little over a decade ago, and I reviewed them a couple of years ago.

That's not what I read this time.

Truman recently kickstarted the long-delayed third Scout book, Marauder, and I backed it, since I'm another one of those people who have been waiting since 1989 for it to appear. (No complaints: I spent many of those years in publishing myself, and know just what can stop an idea from turning into a finished book -- there are millions of ways for a book to die and only a handful for it to thrive.)

As part of that project, Truman provided digital collections of the two original series -- covers and story pages, without most of the original backup stories, ads, and whatever other editorial matter was in those comics. [1]

That's what I read: the stories from Scout and Scout: War Shaman. Not the comics themselves, but the biggest pieces of those comics. And not books, because this world isn't good enough to have all four of those pieces as actual books. But Truman organized it as four volumes, and that's what it would be, in that better world where they all were published as books. So that's how I'll think of it, and write about it.

I'll illustrate it with some appropriate covers -- the Dynamite books for the first two volumes, and the covers of the first issues reprinted there for the last piece of Scout and for the shorter War Shaman series. And I'll hope that Marauder is enough of a success to turn all of those other things into real books, again or for the first time.

A man can dream, can't he?

Scout is set in a dystopian then-near-future world: the far-flung future of 1999, as seen from a deeply Reaganite 1986. Emmanuel Santana is a young Army Ranger deserter, of the Apache people, and he's been having apocalyptic visions. A spirit guide called the Gahn comes to him and tells him that the mythic "Four Monsters" of his people's folklore are alive and in charge of what's left of America -- and it's his job to kill them all. I went into some more details of the worldbuilding in that 2015 post: go there for more details.

The important thing is that the Gahn is real and what he says is true. Scout is both SF and fantasy: there are supernatural monsters that prey on mankind, there are wild talents that some people have, and there are giant bipedal mechs for war. (It's also of the strain of SF that saw the Warsaw Pact as being more stable and economically sound than they really were: in Santana's world, the US collapsed more comprehensively than the USSR did in ours, under pressure from an expanding communist bloc.) Death is real and common, the US has all gone to rack and ruin, and what leadership is left to the US is corrupt or confused or just wrong -- and barely democratic, even at the beginning of the series.

Scout was Santana's code-name as a Ranger: I don't have the expertise to judge if that's a thing that Army Rangers actually had or have. But this was the '80s, and a comic needed to follow the superhero model as closely as it could to succeed: the title had to be the short, punchy, semi-superhero version of the main character's name. (Badger, Nexus, Grimjack, Zot!).

The first Scout series started with the "Four Monsters" storyline, in which Santana killed those monsters, who all also happened to be powerful men closely connected to the corrupt Houston-based US government. That led to a certain amount of turmoil, to Santana being wanted as an outlaw, and to the second storyline, in which the followers of a secondary character in "Four Monsters" took over NORAD as part of a Biblical-slash-Tolkienian apocalypse by fire foreseen by their literally visionary leader. Santana was drawn into that conflict as well, and solved it in a violent way.

Santana is at the center of all of the Scout stories, but he's not the mover of the stories. He would much rather live quietly somewhere, but there's nowhere quiet to live. He's a wanted man from before the series starts, and forces much greater than him keep intersecting with his life or deliberately dragging him back in.

The third major storyline in Scout, which doesn't have an overall title as far as I know and has never been collected in a physical book, starts with Santana being captured by the government and tossed in a psychiatric facility. (They don't give him a show trial and stand him up to be shot because...well, there's no in-story reason, so the reader is left to  make up her own mind about forgetfulness and bureaucratic inefficiencies and plain incompetence.) His path intersects with that of Monday the Eliminator, whose back-up stories prior to that point are not included in this package. (My guess is that Monday's world was originally separate from Santana's until Truman had a better idea.) Monday brought a conspiracy-theory sense of history to Scout that doesn't entirely gel with everything else Truman had already thrown into the mix -- if were his editor, way back when, I would have suggested leaning into more mythology, either Apache or other Native tribes or even European interlopers.

Anyway, Santana teams up with Monday, breaks out of the asylum, and heads to a very SFnal conclusion to the first series, which has a lot of strong points but is mildly unsatisfying in the same ways as a lot of other SFnal Sword-of-Damocles endings.

In the real world, there were two short miniseries following the end of Scout -- New America and Swords of Texas -- which covered the next ten years of the timeline and extended the stories of various secondary characters. Those books have never been reprinted, and I think they were mostly by other people, so they probably never will be, unless Scout gets inexplicably popular.

War Shaman picks up Santana's story that decade later, in the early twenty-teens. The crapsack USA of the first series has been through a devastating civil war and essentially torn itself apart: there seems to be no government over large swaths of the country, Mad Max-style. One remnant faction from the civil war, led by Santana's old Ranger compatriot/one-time lover/nemesis/ally Rosa Winter, has survived and is now expanding more violently than the reader is likely to be comfortable with. Santana spent that time getting married, having two young sons, and seeing his wife die of an environmental cancer. He still wants to live quietly, away from the world, but the world finds his quiet hideaway, and he's back on the road looking for another quiet place -- supposedly, though he does get caught up in a lot of trouble that he could have avoided if he kept his head down and didn't try to fix things.

But this time he's responsible for those two boys: Tahzey and Victorio. They're about five and three: old enough to run and hide, but that's about it. And Victorio has the same kind of visionary powers as the religious leader in "Mount Fire" did, which attracts those religious lunatics. And Santana has plenty of specific enemies left. And this is a dangerous landscape to begin with, full of bandits and raiders and would-be despots. It will not end well for Santana.

At the time, Truman promised that the Scout saga would run for four major comics series -- the original Scout, War Shaman, Marauder, and Blue Leader. Other things intervened, and Truman is only now working on Marauder, now that the real world has overrun his fictional timeline. But SF is never prediction anyway: every world is a potential world, and not being true doesn't change that potential.

Emmanuel Santana's world is a vivid one, anchored in the Southwestern deserts and in Truman's faithful, careful evocation of Apache folklore. Santana himself is a great character, and is surrounded by many others -- most of them drawn more broadly than he is, but all still real people in a dangerous, dark, real world. Scout is one of the great comics dystopias of the '80s, along the better-known American Flagg! by Howard Chaykin, and it deserves wider recognition. Maybe Marauder will make that happen.

[1] I owned copies of all of these comics before a flood in 2011 destroyed every floppy comic I did own. So I can't now check the digital collections against the originals. But I do have memories -- and the cover blurbs for some back-up features -- to tell me there was some other stuff in those comics.

1 comment:

Melita said...

Dnag it! I wish I'd known about the kickstarter. I've like Truman's work since GrimJack.

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