Out of the Vault – Scout

So last week, I talked about Airboy, the 80’s revival, published by Eclipse, of the 40’s Hillman character. Two things about Airboy that bear repeating in reference to this week’s title.

Number one, as mentioned last week, Airboy was an odd mix of gun-heavy action-adventure and lefty politics. Airboy’s foes included anti-communist fighters in South America, the American military-industrial complex that profited from them, and evil non-environmentally aware corporations. His allies were communist guerillas and eco-terrorists fighting in the name of social justice.

But then, Eclipse was bar none the most blatantly political of comics publishers in the mid-80’s, putting out not only a number of very political books, but also publishing several series of anti-Republican trading cards, like Iran-Contra trading cards, Drug Wars trading cards, Friendly Dictators trading cards, and the “Bush League.”

And number two, co-“creator” of the Airboy revival was fan favorite Tim Truman, who had first come to prominence with his artwork on Grimjack, a science-fiction adventure written by John Ostrander and published by First Comics. Truman left Grimjack and came to Eclipse in 1985 to write and draw his own book, a sort-of post-apocalyptic adventure titled Scout. And as it turned out, Scout was even more political than Airboy.

Scout was the story of Emmanuel Santana, an Apache who had deserted the United States Army Rangers to wander the American Southwest desert before being called upon by a spirit guide to a great quest to kill four monsters and their master, “Slayer of Enemies.” Santana is a badass.

The four monsters are figures from Apache legend, who are disguised as prominent members of human society. For instance, the first monster he faces is Al, an obese pornographer whom only Scout can recognize for what he truly is: that classic foe from Dungeons and Dragons, the owlbear.

The other monsters include an ex-stand-up comedian turned Secretary of Agriculture and a robot controlled by the Vice-President (an ex-TV preacher),  before Santana kills the monsters’ leader, Slayer of Enemies, who is, of course, the President himself, an ex-showbiz personality turned politician.

And see, I thought there was some interesting stuff that could be done with that idea, that Scout is killing these monsters that only he can see. So is he actually saving the world or just, you know, tripping on mushrooms or something? You could have some fun exploring that. But Truman barely touched the surface of it. Instead, he played it more as a political satire.

Because if you know anything about the politics of the 80’s, you know that this was a thinly-veiled shot at Reagan and his supporters on the Christian Right, like Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. Which means that the liberal practice of fantasizing about assassinating a President with whom they disagree while at the same time complaining that it’s conservatives who are the ones spouting all the hateful rhetoric wasn’t limited to Bush’s term in office.

So like Airboy, Scout was a weird experience for me. Because while all the politics left me a little cold, I liked the action and the artwork. Truman’s figures were always a little stiff, and always looked pissed-off, but in Scout, he went to great pains to depict the surroundings as well. A lot of care went into detailing the deserts and mountains and cornfields. Would that so much care had been put into detailing the basic premise behind the world, which was your everyday leftist fantasyland.

Scout‘s America (in the far-flung exotic future year of 1999) was a faded, dying place, isolated from the rest of the world due to Soviet control of Africa and South America. Even Japan had fallen under the Soviets’ influence, with only the Middle East standing firm, due to Israel’s aggressive expansion into Iran and Iraq. Meanwhile, the east coast was uninhabitable due to toxic spills and nuclear accidents, and the rest of the country was starving.

Got that? It’s not stated outright, because it’s buried in the fundamental assumptions that underlie the world, but the premise is that the U.S. was doomed because of its reliance on the chaotic free market, allowing the worst excesses of bad corporate actors to pollute the land, while poor land management (due a lack of central control) caused overfarming and a loss of fertile soil and water supplies (exacerbated by catastrophic climate change, or as it was called back then, “the greenhouse effect”). Meanwhile, the Soviet Union, with its rational control of markets and strong land management policies, would thrive and prosper, bringing most of the rest of the world under its umbrella. The triumph of Communism was inevitable, with or without nuclear weapons, because Communism was just plain superior.

And yeah, you could say that I’m reading too much into it, except that in one of the early letter columns, Truman said that Scout was based on extensive research, and that the future he was predicting was all too plausible. But history showed that fears of imminent environmental catastrophe and Communist domination were simple paranoid fantasies, in the same vein as the new ice age hysteria of the 70’s or the population bomb fantasies of the 60’s.

I actually stuck with Scout for its full run, 24 issues, plus 5 issues of a sequel series titled Scout: War Shaman. But the further the series ran, the more depressing it got, until even the characters I liked started getting on my nerves. So I let it drop.

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