Comic Picks By The Glick

The Homeland Directive

April 29, 2013

Now I’ve talked before about how writer Robert Venditti has been getting work at DC on projects both low-profile (“Demon Knights”) and high (“Green Lantern”).  This comes in spite of the fact that he hasn’t been a very prolific or well-known person in the industry, though his best-known project “The Surrogates” was adapted into a movie a few years back.  So, when I saw this on sale at WonderCon I decided to pick it up and see what I had been missing.  Between this and “The Surrogates,” was I behind the curve in appreciating the writer’s talents, or has DC made a big mistake in asking him to lead the “Green Lantern” franchise into the post-Geoff Johns era?  As it’s always the case when two extremes like that are posited, the answer is somewhere in the middle.  “The Homeland Directive” is a political thriller that’s as slickly made as it is familiar.

We start off in a routine meeting between The President and one Albert Keene, the Director of Homeland Security, that segues into a more ominous one between the former’s chief of staff and the latter.  Albert is told that another terrorist attack on American soil would be unacceptable in this coming election year, and we soon find out that he has taken certain steps in order to ensure that.  We’re then introduced to one Dr. Laura Regan, one of the world’s foremost microbiologists as her partner is taking her to the airport as she’s set to give a keynote speech at a symposium in New York.  While she makes it to the airport in one piece, her partner is subsequently knocked out and abducted by parties unknown.

It looks as if the same is going to happen to Laura after her speech at the symposium, but she’s saved by the intervention of three people.  F.B.I. Agent Nathan Pollack, Secret Service Agent Gene Robillard, and Ted Wycheck of the Bureau of Consumer Advocacy.  Or, the money man with connections, the muscle, and the nerd, respectively.  They believe that the government is trying to kill her because of something she knows, possibly in connection with the series of unexplained respiratory illnesses springing up in the nation’s major cities over the past few days.

From there, “The Homeland Directive” becomes a tightly wound thriller as our protagonists have to stay one step ahead of the government and figure out exactly why it wants Laura dead.  Venditti keeps things moving along at a rapid pace as the crew has to deal with all of the pitfalls of staying off the grid in our modern age.  The book is pretty smart about the majority of them and also has a good sense of humor about it as well.  Of course, some stupid mistakes are made; or rather, they have to be made in order to ratchet up the tension for the final act when the net starts to close in on everyone and people start getting shot.

It’s still a pretty involving tale, though, even if its message about the potential for the abuse of power by the government is as old as it is tired.  That there are people out there who would circumvent our rights and compromise national security all in the name of “the greater good” is not a new idea and Venditti fails to give his antagonists unique or deeper motivations in order to make them interesting.  However, I will concede that the means by which their plan is implemented was unique and rather clever.  I won’t spoil it here, but their plan for making the world a safer place was something I hadn’t seen before or considered in the first place.  It’s different enough that seeing their plan followed through to the end may have meant for a more interesting and morally complex tale.

The same can’t be said for the art, which would’ve benefitted from being a little less complex and ambitious.  Now, Mike Huddleston is a very good artist and if you’re not familiar with his work, then I recommend you check out his collaborations with Phil Hester, “The Coffin,” and “Deep Sleeper” for proof.  Though his storytelling here is clear and easy to follow, and he does great work with conveying the characters’ emotions, he makes a number of odd stylistic choices that ultimately distract the reader from the narrative.  Huddleston uses several different coloring schemes to differentiate places and plot threads, which would normally be a help to the narrative.  However, the styles aren’t consistent and a lot of the time the colors he chooses wind up being really garish shades of green or red that come off as very odd in this very grounded story.  The artist also experiments with computer generated imagery in the story which is even more distracting.  Faces of buildings really stand out and look awkward against Huddleston’s otherwise solid hand-drawn art, and there’s one scene early on which features a rendered cup for no good reason.  It’s featured in all of two panels, and has no real purpose for being there.

I was ultimately entertained by “The Homeland Directive,” but I wasn’t left feeling any more confident about seeing Venditti take over as the writer of “Green Lantern” or that he could successfully follow Paul Cornell on “Demon Knights.”  What he does here is produce a comfortably entertaining take on a familiar suspense setup that doesn’t do a whole lot that we haven’t seen before.  Now, I can imagine that DC editorial thinks that’s what makes a good comic book writer these days, but I doubt that kind of thinking will keep “Green Lantern” relevant (or sustain its sales) in the post-Johns-era.  If anything, I’d like to see Venditti keep producing more stories like this and “The Surrogates” than transition into mainstream superhero writing.  If the industry wants to expand, it’ll need more quality genre books like this one than another decent superhero title.  Hopefully Venditti will be giving us more like it while he’s showing us what Hal Jordan can do now.

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