Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Things What I Like: Scout

Earlier in the week I spent some time talking about my love of post apocalyptic fiction. I did so as an opening for a review of Wasteland, which is a fine book by any measure. I would be remiss though, if I neglected to mention what is, perhaps, my favorite comic book in the genre.


In 1986, just five years after graduating from the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, Timothy Truman launched Scout with Eclipse. Truman was riding the success of the Grim Jack franchise he had established with John Ostrander earlier in the 80s and Scout ended up being another well received title, if not as popular as Grimjack had been.

Scout ran for an initial 24 issues and was relatively unique in the genre of post apocalyptic fiction for two reasons; the catalyst of the apocalyptic setting, and a native American protagonist who wasn't patronizing to the native American community*.

Throughout the 80s, and even into the 90s, the clear majority of stories in the genre had a nuclear exchange, or more rarely a non-nuclear war, between the two most prominent super powers the world had ever seen; The Soviet Union and the United States of America. This was a natural reaction to the fear and paranoia that the cold war had given rise to and if you aren't old enough to remember the cold war, it's difficult to explain just how pervasive these scenarios were**.

Instead of featuring a nuclear wasteland as a setting, Scout had something more subtle and a little smarter. In it's own way, more likely and therefore believable. In Truman's apocalypse the environmental policies of the US had led to greater and greater ecological devastation. This wasting and polluting of the nation's resources led to increasingly harsh sanctions against a USA in ever deepening financial trouble. The result was a breakdown in law and order, with lost confidence in the government and people taking the law into their own violent hands. In 1986 it seemed a little far fetched. In retrospect one wonders if Truman is prescient***.

The titular protagonist of the story is Emmanuel Santana, an Apache Indian and former Army Ranger. He's a man with demons, literally. Santana is beset by visions and visitations from demons and gods out of the myths of Apache spiritualism. They play the roles of both tormentor and guide, pushing Santana along a path of destruction that has other Apache demons in their sights. These spirits are very real for Santana, but the audience never receives any confirmation or their corporeality , and there is some ambiguity as to whether or not Santana is actually in communion with ancient spirits, or has simply been driven insane. Despite this, Santana believes in them fully and they are each powerful catalysts and motivators in Santana's life, featuring prominently as characters in the story.

Truman treats both Santana and his spiritualism with a degree of respect and accuracy that wasn't common at the time and is still somewhat unique. The roles of the spirits and their character traits are taken directly from the Apache mythology, lending them an authenticity not often seen in American comics****. Truman rarely, if ever, delves into cliches of the American western mythology, instead relying on science fiction and fantasy elements to carry the mysticism. The spirits and Santana himself are simply who they are, straight characters played against the background of a crumbling and increasingly insane world.

The series continued after its initial 24 issues with a few short run books and even as an insert in Truman's first album, Marauder by his band The Dixie Pistols. In 1988 Scout; War Shaman was started, picking up the story 10 years after the end of Scout. The US is in even greater disarray and appears to have faced a complete or nearly complete breakdown in law and order. Santana has found a measure of peace with his wife and two children in a hidden oasis of relative comfort. When his wife dies Santana's peace is dismembered and he, his boys, and his returning demons, leave their protected valley to search for a new home, crossing paths with both old enemies and old friends. Grudges die hard when the world ends.

Scout: War Shaman was among Truman's finest series in my opinion, with art and scripting that was much tighter and cleaner than in the first volume. Unfortunately, the flood that led to the demise of Eclipse comics in the early 90s gave Scout and Scout: War Shaman a Kirk sized double fist to the gut. The flood wiped out the inventory of back issues making the book scarce. When the company went under, Todd McFarlane bought the IP for the entire Eclipse catalog. This led to years of rights conflict for Truman; not only for Scout, but also for Grim Jack as well. Two more additional Scout series had been planned, but never saw the light of day for what should be obvious, but frustrating, reasons*****.

CORRECTION: In the comments to the original article, Truman himself has responded to some inaccuracies. Truman is sole copyright and trademark owner for Scout, and there has never been an ownership conflict with Todd McFarlane or anyone else. It appears that I convoluted some of the details surrounding the problems with Grim Jack, which was publised at First rather than Eclipse, with that of Scout. He goes on to explain how problems with Grim Jack have been resolved and even mentions that Grim Jack: Manx Cat will be published by IDW later this year.

In recent years, trade paperbacks of the first 16 issues of Scout have appeared from Dynamite Entertainment, yet for some reason the remaining 8 issues have, to my knowledge, yet to be collected and reprinted. Nor have there been any trade collections of Scout: War Shaman. I can only presume that this is the result of more rights issues. Unfortunately, if you're a fan of the series like I am, then the only way to get the entire story is to scour boxes for single issues that are getting more and more difficult to come by. It's a book that's worth the search though, and if you've never read it, I recommend starting the quest now.

Originally published at []

*Not played by Anthony Quinn.
**Try to Imagine if American Idol went to war with The Daily Show and both had large stockpiles of weaponized sub-prime mortgages that could be launched from gay weddings, potentially destroying millions of cute cat videos in an uncontrolled DRM storm.
***Remember to start stockpiling water and ammunition!
****See also: Jonah Hex
*****As if you really need more reasons to get a hateon for McFarlane.

1 comment:

  1. Okay, you convinced me. I'm totally downloading the torrent now. Failing that, my birthday is coming up...