With a title like The Homeland Directive (Top Shelf Productions), you might immediately assume that this Robert (Surrogates) Venditti/Mike Huddleston graphic novel has its roots in post-911 angst. That it does, though the political thriller also looks back to earlier shadow government cautionaries like The Parallax View. Its opening epigram from Ben Franklin (“Those who give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”) is familiar, if still pertinent, while its central act of terrorism is an all-too-plausible one.
Directive’s protagonist is a CDC researcher named Laura Regan, who has been targeted along with her colleague Ari Musa by the Secretary of Homeland Security Albert Keene. Doctors Regan and Musa obviously Know Something that the Machiavellian Keene wants covered, and the attentive reader quickly realizes that it must have something to do with bio-terrorism. Our heroine is nearly iced by a red-nosed assassin, but a group of government agents gone rogue (“We work for them, not with them.”) rescues her. From then on, Laura and her saviors are on the lam — as a series of Homeland Security news bulletins portray her first as her colleague’s killer, then as a child abductor. “We’ll know they’ve exhausted all their options when they mention the kids,” one of the savvy government rogues notes.
Venditti paces his story strongly for the most part (the finish seems a bit rushed) and even leaves room in his full-blown conspiracy for a few good men and women. The faceless president (are those Obama-esque ears?) is even left out of the shadow government work, and when he learns the truth of what Keene has been up to, takes matters into his own hands — ironically employing the same red-nosed killer to tidy things. Our primary window into the Way Things Really Work is our idealistic young doctor, of course. Since one of the rogue agents is from the (fictional) Bureau of Consumer Advocacy, we’re treated to several glimpses at the ways our paperless society has made us all vulnerable.
Artist Mike Huddleston provides a variety of color and background schemes to differentiate this suspenser’s settings. His scenes in government buildings, for instance, are rendered in washed-out grays, while segments with Laura Regan are primarily done in earth tones. A series of one-page montages showing the cross-country victims of the bio-terrorism plot is brightly colored (as if to emphasize the diversity of the effected population), as the sequences set in BOCA get rendered on blue-lined graph paper. What could be distracting proves effective, largely through the artist’s tight control of his characters — and the strength of Venditti’s crisp conspiracy yarn.
If you don’t finish this GN feeling just the slightest bit paranoid, you haven’t been paying attention.