Back in the mid-seventies, when Jimmy Carter was running against Gerald Ford for the U.S. presidency, director John Frankenheimer was filming Black Sunday, the movie based on Thomas Harris' novel about a terrorist attempt to assassinate the president at the Super Bowl. Because the flick was made during the campaign season and scheduled to be released after the election, Frankenheimer shot separate sequences featuring look-alike versions of each candidate as the standing president. When the movie came out in the first year of the Carter presidency, I remember one critic wondering if the moviemakers had been wishing that former college football hero Ford had won the election. His presence at the Super Bowl would’ve made more story sense.
I've been thinking about that troubled movie production while reading the first three issues of IDW's new horror series Snaked. A robustly grotesque political nightmare, Snaked is set in a near-future America where Hillary Clinton has already been elected president. Reading it, I found myself channeling that long-ago movie critic and wondering if scriptwriter Clifford Meth was praying that Barack Obama would go away: not for any political reasons, just because an Obama presidency would really ruin his story.
Snaked tells the tale of William "Bill" Timmons, a GSA auditor assigned in 2001 to dig into the finances of the nascent Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. As issue #1 opens, it's September 10th, 2001, (yes, the date is significant) and we're in a psych hospital with a former "special consultant" to the Clintons named Morgenstern. Timmons, we learn, is being held in maximum security at the Pentagon, but the first time we see him, it's a month earlier on Riker's Island. Lying on a bunk with a copy of William F. Buckley's Up from Liberalism in his hand, he's sharing a cell with an obnoxiously loquacious prisoner. When said blabbermouth prisoner makes reference to the reason that Timmons is behind bars, he stirs his cellmate's wrath with fatal consequences.
Timmons, it turns out, is a member of a tribe called the Nechashim: snake people who live in hiding from ordinary humanity. Though once worshipped in Egypt and India, they've moved to America where they can get lost in the crowd, molting every eleven years and occasionally dropping their disguise to snack on a human body part. "Americans are too preoccupied to notice us," Timmons' grandfather tells him at one point during a childhood flashback, "too busy hating their jobs and praying they won't lost them." For reasons that are revealed at the end of the third issue, though, certain members of the government are aware of the Nechashims' existence and plan to use Timmons as the fall guy in a serpentine plot that somehow involves the real reasons behind 9/11 as well as an assassination attempt on President Bush and the ultimate election of Hillary to the White House. "There's no winning with politicians," Timmons' ultra-violent absentee father tells him during their first reunion. "They'll turn on you every time."
Author Meth structures Snaked as a series of flashbacks that force the reader to pay attention, as they reveal the facts behind a nonstop series of personal and political betrayals that push our anti-hero into taking grisly vengeance. Nobody in the story is what he or she first appears to be – and it's a toss-up as to who will ultimately turn out to be the snakiest character in the story. Each of the first three issues contains at least one good act of appalling violence to keep the horror heads reading. (Worked for me!) But with one notable exception, we don't feel bad for any of the victims. All of the adult characters – even one we're told is "dumb as a bag of hammers" – are too duplicitous to engage our sympathies.
British artist Rufus Dayglo has a thick brush style that is clear enough to depict the story's violence without getting too clinical about it. (When you consider that one of these acts involves a prisoner's castration, perhaps we can be grateful the guy didn't go all S. Clay Wilson on us.) His work shares some of the same expressionistic tendencies as Australian artist Ashley Wood (the two have even worked together on a Tank Girl comic), though, in general, I find Dayglo's art more immediately accessible. While he's not averse to sticking a map of the constellations in the sky background or deconstructing several characters' faces into little more than outlines during a foreshadowing dream sequence, such visual antics do not disrupt the flow of Meth's deeply cynical, serpentine horror tale.
Snaked has reportedly been optioned as a movie, with an IDW trade paperback collecting the full five-part story set for July '08. Just in time for the Democratic and Republican conventions, though whether this proves to be propitious scheduling is something only the gods of American politics know for certain. Me, I find Meth & Dayglo's free-wheeling horror comic plenty entertaining even without the "real-life" political trimmings.