Scout Vol. 1 trade paperback
Writer/Cover artist: Timothy Truman
Artists: Truman & Tom Yeates
Colors: Steve Oliff, Sam Parsons & Mike Kelleher
Letters: Timothy Harkins
Editor: Cat Yronwode
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Price: $19.99 US
I have to give smaller publishers such as Dynamite Entertainment, Checker Publishing and IDW Publishing credit for bringing a number of harder-to-find comic properties from the 1970s and ’80s back for today’s readers. There was a lot of strong work being produced in those decades, and not all of it was coming from DC and Marvel Comics. I’d only sampled one Scout comic before, but I was interested in seeing more, especially given the respect I have for Truman works I discovered after he wrapped up Scout. This collection serves as an interesting look at the creator’s most personal work but also as a look back to a different time in comics. Truman set his work in “the future,” but it’s 1999, a future that’s come and gone. He offers some interesting commentary on America and wisely invites his readership into this surreal dystopian story with grounded dialogue and sharp banter.
Communist Russia didn’t fall. It allied itself with other countries, even other continents, growing stable and powerful. America’s leaders paid no attention and wallowed in the U.S.’s status as a super-power, but that status was not to last. Pollution, corruption and isolation have turned a once thriving culture into a barren and hostile wasteland. Emerging from the Arizona desert to tame his corner of that wasteland is Emanuel Santana, who calls himself Scout. Trained by the military and conditioned by his culture and environment, Scout is a warrior who’s been tasked with a mission by the spirits who guide his people. He must destroy the monsters who besmirch the land, and they just happen to be hiding within the persons of criminals and politicians who corrupt and kill without compunction.
Truman’s artwork suits the setting and characters perfectly. Truman has demonstrated that his gritty linework works well for Westerns, with their arid settings and rough characters, and Scout is very much in the vein of those old Westerns. It’s interesting to compare Truman’s vision of the title character today (as depicted on the front cover) and his original take on the character, to be found within the book. Truman’s art has clearly become more refined and detailed, but the original, raw art really suits the character more. I’m reminded of Jonah Hex creator Tony DeZuniga’s artwork here as well as Matt (Mage) Wagner’s early work.
Overall, the visuals are incredibly strong. Occasionally, the panels are too crowded and dense, but it rarely distracts. What does disturb the eye is the inconsistent lettering. The dialogue balloons don’t always flow smoothly, and there are repeated changes in the size of the lettering in order to cram in more information.
Truman has set the story in an almost-impossible world and in circumstances to which the reader cannot relate. One of the elements that really made the title character and the other characters work was the racism Scout is forced to contend with at every turn. He’s clearly an impressive, resourceful and powerful, but he is denied respect by so many characters who see him as inferior due to his race. I live in an area that has three nearby First Nations communities, and one needn’t look far to witness such racism. It’s distressing, but it’s real. Truman’s inclusion of such unfortunate attitudes not only gets the reader on Scout’s side more readily but helps to sell the backdrop.
Truman’s dialogue is remarkably grounded. I love the banter between the title character and his gahn, his animal spirit guide. The creator wisely avoids purple prose and flowery descriptions of Scout’s spiritual mission. I’ve always found that when divine characters speak as though they’ve been lifted out of a Shakespearean sonnet, it’s off-putting.
One thing that drew me further into the story as I read the earlier chapters in the book was the fact that I found I was questioning Scout’s sanity a bit. Was he really on a mission to destroy four monsters? Was he just a loose cannon whose conscience directed him to violently retaliate against the wicked? That initial impression of instability fades as one gets further into the story, but it certainly makes the title character even more interesting.
Obviously, the dated nature of the backdrop is a bit amusing, especially when one considers that the opposite scenario — America’s political dominance — is what has really come to pass in the world. But there’s still relevance to be found here, and Truman’s not completely off the mark. At the heart of the plot is political corruption, of a people suffering as a result of corrupt leaders’ ignorance and inaction. And while America is not a literal wasteland today, one could argue there’s been a cultural famine. I see this volume chief value as an interesting look back at a small piece of comics history, but it has other value as entertainment and a means to provoke some discussion. 7/10