GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: Scout, Vol. 1
It’s a good time to be a comics fan of my age – someone in his thirties who started reading comics in the late 1980s – since there’s been a continuing wave of reprints of the better comics of those days in more permanent form. A lot of things that I hadn’t read in a decade or more, because the original issues are bagged up in longboxes now buried under other things in a messy basement, are coming back into print on slick paper with square covers. It’s very nice to have these things in a form that fits on a shelf, but I do sometimes worry that some things that I loved at eighteen won’t be as compelling to me at thirty-eight.
I think I was on board for Scout when Eclipse started publishing it in 1987; I’d been following comics for a year or so then, and I knew Truman’s work from GrimJack, which he illustrated over John Ostrander’s scripts. I know I loved it immediately, and have been known to grouse, in the years since, about wanting all of the sequel series that Truman had sketched out, way back then. (Scout: Marauder and Scout: Blue Leader, which I’m still waiting for…but I’m also waiting for Ty Templeton to return to Stig’s Inferno and Zander Cannon to pick The Replacement God back up, so I may just not know when to give up on things.)
I was a bit apprehensive to go back to Scout after twenty years. On the one hand, I was pretty sure I’d still be happy with Truman’s art, since the recent GrimJack reprints (on much nicer paper than back in the day) showed off all of the little details of his line work, and that still thrilled me. But I remembered that Scout was a post-apocalyptic story, and I’ve developed an allergy to those since having kids. (It’s just one of those things – if a book is set in the near future, I work out how old my sons would be in that world, or how old I might be, if I’m not dead yet, and try to figure out what I or they might be doing. Stories that slaughter my family and I, especially as part of megadeaths off-stage for cheap pathos, aren’t things I’m as interested in any more.)
Scout is definitely a dystopic near future; it’s set in a 1999 that we (thank God) didn’t get and can’t get to anymore; one of the futures where the US rather than the Soviet Union collapsed. (And, even so, collapses of big nations in adventure fiction tend to be much starker and final than those of real life – the USA of Scout is practically a barren wasteland populated only by feral gangs, even though it was set only fourteen years after it was first created. Russia, which did collapse in our timeline, is indeed ridden with corruption, but it’s also pretty rich and successful.)
There is a reason why Scout’s world is so nasty – someone made it that way, an evil man aided by four monsters out of Apache legend. (It’s not entirely clear if this evil guy caused the ecological and economic collapse of the USA, or just rode that collapse into power.) And where there’s an evil force in a comic, there’s got to be some good guy to confront it and punch it in the face. That guy is Emmanuel Santana (whose Army Ranger codename was Scout), and he’s the only one who knows about the monsters. We see things through his eyes, so we know the monsters are real, but everyone else around him would be justified in thinking that he’s just eaten too much peyote. This volume collects the first seven issues of the series, in which Scout receives his mission and heads off to find and kill the four monsters and their boss (who we learn pretty quickly is the President of the United States); it also serves to introduce us to Scout’s nasty world.
Aside from my issues with the background – which have nothing to do with Truman, and everything to do with me – Scout does still hold up pretty well. The page layouts look occasionally rushed to my eye now, with too many word balloons for the space, as Truman tries to quickly explain lots of background and complicated concepts in between his action scenes. But Truman was new to writing at this point, so some hiccups are only to be expected – and his dialogue and plotting are fine. The only major thing I’d fault Truman the writer on is not believing in his story enough, and in not opening it up some more to give Truman the artist some more room to really shine. (For example: there’s a fight scene in the first issue involving a flying, cubical, zero-gravity pool – which item isn’t really explained until issue two – that would have greatly benefited from one, or more, larger establishing-shot panels.) Each of the seven issues collected here would have been better served with at least a few more pages apiece – and, probably, would have benefited even more from becoming a ten- or twelve-issue story.
On the other hand, this is an adventure story about killing monsters and overthrowing a corrupt government, and it runs through all of the important stuff in less than 150 pages. These days, it would be a Vertigo series and would take forty issues or so before we even saw the first monster…and it would be written by a Brit who took delight in pointing out all of the horrible things wrong with the USA. So maybe it’s better the way it is.
The original Scout series ran 24 issues, so, if this volume is successful, I’d expect to see two more trade paperbacks to reprint the rest. After that, I can only hope for two collections of the sixteen issues of Scout: War Shaman, and then…well, I won’t hope for Marauder at this late date. Not too much, at least.
Scout, Volume 1 byTimothy Truman
Dynamite Entertainment, 2007, $19.99
Artwork copyright Timothy Truman. All Rights Reserved. Full disclosure: this book was packaged by the editor-in-chief and production director of ComicMix LLC. Like all of our reviews, this review was not edited with respect to the writer’s opinion.