Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Timothy Truman's "Scout" comic series

“Scout” is probably one of my all-time favorite series of comic books, written by artist and guitarist Timothy Truman and published by the stinky hippy managed, ill-fated Eclipse Comics which was itself an independent bastion during the “Direct Distributing” years taking on the likes of Marvel and DC.  “Scout” debuted back in September of 1985 and at that time I was just sixteen and a junior in high school.  Now, when it comes to comic books I’m not big on super heroes … I was far less a “Superman” kind of comic book fan than I was a fan of comics like “The Unknown Soldier”, “Sergeant Rock”, “The Losers”, “Weird War Tales” and the various horror comics.  Comics and I parted ways for a while, several years in fact, and when we met back up my interest in comics had changed considerably.

“Scout” piqued my interest because it had relevant issues in a time when those issues were still both relevant and a possible outcome to (then) current events.  I know that sounds kind of like a cop-out but “Scout” hit hard and it hit true, for the time that it came out swinging.  The series took place in the (then) year of 1999 in a story setting where the United States had been knocked far down the world political power ladder.  America was being punished for years of ecological waste with heavy sanctions levied against it by the other countries of the world (kind of like Germany was punished at the end of World War I).  Despite all the liberal guilt based background, the actual story followed the spiritual quest of a Native American Apache Indian by the name of Emmanuel Santana (who was actually named for Carlos Santana, the musician, which Truman was friends with).  

Santana was an ex-US Army Ranger on a spiritual mission to destroy several mythical monsters of Native American folklore that had come to plague the land.  These monsters could take on human form and thus infiltrate various power structures of our once great country.  This particular quest comprised the first seven issues of the series, after that, the series got pretty serious up until the 24th issue which ended the first series.  Along the way, Santana is reunited with an ex-lover, Rosanna Winter (also a US Army Ranger who, along with her psycho Ranger teammate Raymond, is tasked with hunting down Santana).  Santana also meets up with Beau Le Duke (a gun toting, beer guzzling, bearded real man’s man), Monday the Eliminator (who is a mostly immortal warrior created back in the time of the Greeks) and a mercenary group called “The Swords of Texas.” 

(Rosanna Winter would have her own off-shoot series, four issues, in the “New America” collection and “The Swords of Texas” got their own four issue mini-series as well to bridge the gap between the first series of “Scout” and the second series.)

“Scout” was gritty from the start, and it had a rough, shaky start to be sure.  When I first read it I noticed that it had that kind of Pepe Moreno “Rebel” feel to it (and I’ll discuss Moreno’s “Rebel” and “Generation X” in followup postings).  Originally published bi-monthly, “Scout” was later announced to being rescheduled as a monthly series.  “Scout” had a lot of growing pains and I was there for its birth as well as its whole life run.  “Scout”, in one form or another, was published from the fall of 1985 to the summer of 1989 and it was an epic run for a comic.  Equipment and hardware in the series were period specific and easily recognizable to anyone who followed pop culture action shows or movies … Monday the Eliminator preferred to carry a Franchi SPAS-12 shotgun (the iconic shotgun of the 1980s) and later had a cybernetic eye implanted so he could chip into a 5.56mm “smartgun” (itself a heavily modified M60). 

Emanuel Santana carried an Israeli made 9mm Uzi submachinegun (the iconic SMG of the 1980’s) and in the first few issues a Automag .44 caliber automatic magnum (much like Clint Eastwood’s character “Dirty Harry” used in the movie “Sudden Impact”).  Later a Colt .357 Python magnum revolver with a ribbed barrel was included and Scout carried a 5.56mm Colt M16, a H&K CAWS automatic 12 gauge combat shotgun, a 7.62mm FN FAL battle rifle, hand grenades, knives and later in the series, a British made .303 Lee Enfield bolt action rifle of WW2 origin.  Emanuel Santana’s outfit was a mixture of pop culture (a leather jacket with an American flag on the back), military surplus (his duty belt, holsters, and fanny packs) and traditional tribal Native American fashion (bandannas, war paint, groin cloth and boots).  He rode a Harley Davidson Sportster … that ever so ridiculous icon of 1980’s faux motorcycling because back then (and to a lesser extent today) Harleys were considered “cool” and “tough” even if they could live up to neither aspect of their pop culture reputation.

What made the comic interesting besides the ingredients that went into the comic itself was the fact that not only was Timothy Truman a musician but he put a lot of music into his comic as well.  One of the characters that Santana encounters is called “Guitar Man” and it is “Guitar Man” who plays his Fender Stratocaster loudly while the enemy base is burning around him.  “Guitar Man” always seemed to be the embodiment of Jimi Hendrix, at least to me; that’s the vibe that I got from that character.   Missy, a woman that Santana rescues early in the series, goes on to become a pop star with her own band.  In this way, the comic had that kind of “Streets of Fire” feel to it.  In issue number 16, Truman even included a flexi-disc record that you could play on your record player (some of you won’t know what that is) … a two song soundtrack for the comic itself.   

After a brief respite from the comic, Timothy Truman and his band “The Dixie Pistols” cut a vinyl record of blues rock that was inspired by the comic itself, another first and this time a LP based soundtrack to a comic book.   

The record included a mini-comic detailing some of the events after the first 24 issue “Scout” series concluded, namely the marriage of Santana.  Santana found a wife, was married, had two sons, his wife died, and he went back to traveling the devastated America with his sons.  The mini-comic paved the way for the introduction of the second full length series and sequel to the first; “Scout: War Shaman”.   

That series lasted sixteen issues and ended with the death of Emanuel Santana.

During this time, two other “Scout” series were produced; “New America” which chronicled Rosa Winter’s violent rise to American political power and “The Swords of Texas” which told the story of the mercenary group that had played a big part in helping Emanuel Santana.

There was even a technical manual / handbook published which detailed and gave the specs for all of the equipment that Scout and his friends used in the series as well as profiles, maps, etc.  One of the neater vehicles introduced in the series was the Israeli giant mecha called "Big Moishe".

“Scout” was one of those iconic comics that, if you got onboard with the first issue and managed to hang on until the end then it was an epic ride and one of those kind of artistic events that you “had to be there for” otherwise you just couldn’t really get the feel of what it was like to have been part of it.  Today, finding all of the issues let alone the flexi-disc and the vinyl album by The Dixie Pistols would be a real grail quest.  I’m glad that I’ve got all of my original stuff and every few years I sit down and revisit Emanuel Santana’s journey through the Second American Civil War, throw my Dixie Pistols vinyl album on the old turn table and just lose myself in some great childhood memories.

I guess what strikes me as interesting is that as I’m writing this it has now been 28 years since I first picked up my first issue of Truman’s “Scout” at Brendon’s comic shop there on Hardy Street in Hattiesburg back when he had opened a shop right next to the hobby shop.  Twenty-eight years ago, way back in September of 1985, I was sixteen years old and the year 1999 was still so far away that it might never be reached.  1999 was a mythical, magical year.  Warren Publishing had an entire series of adult graphic magazines sold under the “1999” banner.  There was “Space: 1999” the old TV show from the 1970’s where the Moon was blown out of orbit by a nuclear chain reaction and went hurtling off into space on adventures every week and the pop artist Prince wanted us to party like it was 1999 in his hit song.  
1999, way back then, was so far away.

What is interesting, though, is that way back in 1985, at fourteen years in the future, the year 1999 was as far ahead of us (then) as 1999 is behind us (now) in 2013.  Think about it … Not only did we make it through the long fourteen year climb up to 1999 but the world didn’t end either and, now that we are the same amount of time and distance on the other side of 1999 as we were in front of 1999 way back in 1985 it is interesting to stop, take a deep breath, and look back at just how far we have come as well as what our expectations of our future once were.

Think about it for a minute ... the iconic year 1999 is now as far behind us as it once used to be in front of us.  That year is now as far behind as it once was ahead of us.  I find it interesting to look back on how we all thought the world was going to be … and to see how it really turned out.

The future isn’t what it used to be and that may not be a bad thing.  For all the troubles that this once great nation now has, for all the wrong choices that it has made politically in the last five years, thankfully, this once great nation doesn’t resemble the nightmarish hell that the United States in Emanuel Santana’s time is portrayed as. 
There isn’t a Second American Civil War … at least not yet. 

So if you’re like me and you like finding new and interesting stuff then I’ve got a real grail quest for you.   I've got all of my Scout series, extras, flexi-disc and vinyl record.  How about you?


Saturday, October 05, 2013

Damnation Alley

Feeling in a vegetative mood I decided to blow the dust off the old "DA" DVD, throw it in the XBox 360 and take it for another spin after all these years.  I was not disappointed.  Sure "DA" has problems and loop holes but tha's what makes it what it is.  The effects are dated but "DA" is still a solid "B" movie.  Never intended to do anything but entertain a viewer with their mind solidly thrown into neutral, "DA" lives up to expectations and remains a cherished part of my post-apocalyptic media collection.


"Damnation Alley", by Roger Zelazny, was originally written as a novella in 1967, turned into a novel in 1969 (the year I was born) and then made into a movie based very, very, very loosely on the book in 1977 (the year that "Star Wars" first hit the big screen).  The book illustrated above is the edition that I first owned and read in the mid-1980's, a time when post-apocalyptic drama was in high demand.  I'm pretty sure I still have this novel in my extensive collection, I see no reason why I would have ever gotten rid of it ... it's a great story full of post-apocalyptic wonder and like so many facets of my childhood I like to revisit it every decade or so just to kick the tires and do a few smokey burnouts down "Memory Lane".

All in all, "Damnation Alley" is another example of the cliche where someone says "the book was a lot better than the movie."  In this case, it is true.  Damnation Alley was a pretty cool movie, all given, but it had very little to do with Zelazny's book and by "very little" I mean that it took the basic premise of post apocalyptic mayhem, took the name of the main character and used the idea of driving an armored car across a blasted American wasteland and ... yeah, the rest of it they just kind of made up.  


The one part of the movie, where the big war board shows all of the Russian ICBMs coming over the pole to hit American targets, the launching of the retalitory strike and the different canned film footage of nuclear explosions ... that's how we all thought that we would go, probably in our sleep at a few minutes till midnight but in the 1970's and early 1980's that's pretty much how we figured the human race would end.

"DA" starred several recurring Hollywood actors ... George Peppard, pretty boy Jan-Michael Vincent, and Paul Winfield.  


As far as action movies go, "DA" is a good 1970's film and it begs, just begs to be remade in this era of "let's remake everything because we've run out of original ideas".  Of course I'd like a more faithful to the book version but then that's just me.

What PA movie wouldn't be complete without some
mutated giant scorpions to cause our heroes grief?

Probably the most iconic thing to come out of "DA" the movie is the armored vehicle that our heroes travel across "Damnation Alley" in ... the "Landmaster".  Long a popular sci-fi vehicle, the "Landmaster" was a twelve wheeled ATV that was armored, was NBC sealed, had a segmented body, could drive with either set of wheels out of commission, had six heavy machine guns, a pair of rocket launchers in an upper turret, full communications suite, a side hatch, a top hatch, a rear ramp that could raise and lower, room for four, bunks, a shower, food and water for extended periods of time and could use standard semi truck parts to repair its power / drive train components.

The original story struck me as perhaps being the spiritual forerunner of John Carpenter's "Escape from New York."  You had Hell Tanner, the last of the Hell's Angels, living in a post apocalyptic California.  He's one of the last of the true bad asses, he's in prison, and he's offered a parole by the governor if he'll run some antidote or serum across country to Boston (or some other blue state Yankee stronghold) that has come down with some disease.  Since it is post WW3 and all humans are precious, California decides to send the medicine in several armored cars (referred to simply as "cars").  These "cars" are awesome armored, fully armed, fully supplied all terrain transports with flame throwers, fifty caliber heavy machine guns, grenade launchers, rockets and two giant blades that can slice out from each side.  In order to earn his pardon, Hell Tanner has to make the run through Damnation Alley, a narrow belt of less-destroyed America plagued with giant insects, giant scorpions, bandits, radiation, and terrific mega-storms.  I won't tell you any more, if you haven't read it, read it.  

You can pick it up cheap at most used book stores.