During the odd grifter's interregnum of the last few weeks a particular image came to mind. The image, reproduced above, depicts the President of a dystopian American turning into a monster and clinging to power. I am not sure how it was jogged from my memory, but it seemed to fit the last few weeks since the election. It is from the comic book Scout written and drawn by Tim Truman and published by Eclipse Comics from 1985-1987. It was one of my favorite comics growing up even though judging by its status today, and conversations with other comics fans, it has been overlooked or forgotten. I haven't been able to forget it, and in many ways it seems to be a better guide to our present than the superheroes from the same era who have only become more central to popular culture.
I still have the whole run in a box, and decided to reread it over the holiday break. The premise is very much one of an American Empire in decline. Ecological degradation, changing global politics, and internal corruption have left the US a shadow of its former self in the far off year of 1999. The story of the empire in decline is ambivalent, on the one hand, rising Soviet influence has left the US isolated in a version of the "domino effect" that was central to the propaganda of the right, but at the same time the US is depicted as a country caught in the pinchers of corporate power that has decimated the environment, on the one hand, and racist and evangelical myths that have destroyed political life, on the other. This tendency to take from right and left fears of US decline is further complicated in later issues when it turns out that both the US and the USSR are under the control of a global conspiracy. Moreover of the two intertwining narratives of decline, external isolation and internal corruption, the narrative focus is primarily on the later, it is a story in which the principle struggle is against the fascist attempt to found a "New America," an America where the restoration of America's lost glory is thoroughly implicated with the increase of power for evangelicals, corporations, and those who have sold out to the former.
The story focuses on Emmanuel "Scout" Santana a member of the Apache nation who, as a young man was forcibly conscripted into Army Rangers as his reservation was cleared by the US government when uranium is discovered underneath it. At the beginning of the series Scout emerges from the mountains driven by visions of his "Gahn," his spirit guide, to kill the "four monsters" of Apache lore. To Scout these monsters are the giant owl monster, the buffalo monster, the eagle monster, and the antelope monster. As he hunts them down these monsters turn out to be a pornographer with political connections, the owl monster; the secretary of agriculture whose connections to agribusiness has destroyed farms and the ecology of much of the country, the buffalo monster; an energy secretary whose attachment to fossil fuels has further eroded the environment, the eagle monster; and the media apparatus that distorts and hides the crimes of the first three, the antelope monsters. The first few issues hinges on a kind of ambiguity: it could be the story of a man who under mental illness or drugs thinks he sees monsters or it could be a supernatural story of a country under the control of ancient monsters. What holds these two stories together is the fact that these men might not be monsters in the supernatural sense of the word but are clearly monsters in every other sense of the world. I think that Scout is ultimately a science fiction and supernatural comic, but it is also a story that makes a case for understanding a world in terms of myths of monsters and violated natural orders makes more sense than understanding the world in terms of fantasies of lost national glory.