About a quarter of a way through writer Robert Venditti and artist Mike Huddleston's political thriller OGN The Homeland Directive, I started thinking about the classics in the same vein like Three Days of the Condor or The Marathon Man. The premise of this Top Shelf release, involving CDC researcher Laura Regan finding herself inexplicably targeted and on the run from shadowy elements of the government in the midst of a sudden, mysterious outbreak, moves along quickly while having, at its core, one of those sort of John Birch-bred conspiracies that seemed to be the stock of, I don't know, 70's pulp espionage novels maybe? After they stopped being all suave and debonair and moved more into the Mack Bolan territory--and then the plot is about how the government just has to do this one monstrous thing and everything will be alright? Maybe that's not accurate, but it feels like as good a point of comparison as any.
Venditti's story leaps past skepticism and right into full-bore cynicism when it comes to our political institutions: on the one side, there's the hawkish, grizzled Homeland Security Chief, a veteran from the last, presumably right-wing administration, and on the other, the politically calculating but spleen-less new, faceless guy in the Oval Office who talks a good game about national security, but isn't willing to entertain the methods of his predecessor. So the book then becomes about "National Security," complete with the scare quotes back there and a pretty dim view of those men and women tasked with protecting us. The Homeland Chief is one of those old guys who speaks with certitude: if only the idiot suits would just listen to him, he could save us all, dammit--why can't you see that it takes a couple of dead baby chickens to make a secure omelet or something along those lines.
You actually start to wonder how a guy like that could enlist the confidence of the surely few dozen people it would take to pull off what he's attempting to accomplish here. What kind of weird arrogance is Venditti suggesting motivates old white guys willing to pull the trigger on thousands of his fellow citizens? Then I realized something that answered both he he'd be able to staff up for his little plot and why he thought he was right and it kind of led to another question: why did the large chunks of the country wet their pants at the prospect of the Guantanamo "detainees" (can we just call them P.O.W.'s now?) being imprisoned an American soil? Mostly under-educated foot soldiers, super criminals these guys are not. Or how about the fact that we have a term like "enhanced interrogation" in our lexicon, such a slim-sounding, almost innocuous concept, which dances right up to being torture, except it kind of isn't so some would reason. And it all comes back to fear and how given a long enough timeline, you can twist any kind of rationale for whatever you want to do out that one emotion.
And I'm not even saying that The Homeland Directive--a solid thriller that kind of becomes more Enemy of the State (but thankfully not Eagle Eye) by its conclusion--burrows that deeply into the ideas of fear and security. Obviously, I didn't really in that paragraph up there, but this kind of fiction elicits this kind of reaction from me and I kind of get angry and then drained trying to make sense of the last decade of decisions that has made paranoia--not vigilance the status quo. It makes the idea of a "homeland," such an ominous term that conjures up images of concrete borders keeping out the undesirables, another one of those watchwords that has less to do with security and more to do wining instead of being morally correct.
And maybe the funniest part of it is that I could see both nuts on the Left and the Right suspecting the most recent administrations of the crimes the villains in the Homeland Directive get up to. Because if there's one thing that no one has a monopoly on anymore, it's being completely convinced that the government is out to get you. One of the things I respect the most about the book is that it's not an entirely monolithic threat--it's simply unchecked authority and the proverbial loose cannon doing his thing and I can't decide if the resolution of the book is entirely honest with how cleanly things would all shake out or if, as presented here, a real conspiracy did break out, the bulk of Americans would just roll their eyes at the small percentage convinced that the government wants to enforce some kind of crypto-fascist, orgiastic, Nazi, Muslim, Socialist agenda upon the nation who might just accidentally be right one time. Venditti actually has a character make a joke about it near the conclusion and I almost feel like that's where the real drama of the story comes in--when one of the lunatics is right for once.
So, while I don't think The Homeland Directive was necessarily a home run--a solid double thanks to the sometimes impressionistic and appropriately frantic nature of Huddleston's art--I think there's enough there to make the right kind of reader angry if they're in the mood for it.
The Homeland Directive is on shelves now from Top Shelf.