Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Bloom is Off the Rosa

If all goes according to plan, by the time you're reading this I should be well on the way to recovery from a partial diskectomy surgery I'm having on October 20. Because I doubt I'll feel up to posting anytime soon after that, I'm working ahead a bit.

I'm also cheating a little. My somewhat alphabetical cruise through the Comic Cabinet should have me reviewing Miracleman at this point, but I'm skipping slightly ahead and will come back to Miracleman. Even though it's only about 20 issues, it's some heavy work that needs a bit of thought.
Instead of Miracleman, I'm going with another Eclipse book, 1987's New America. This was a 4 issue miniseries that spun off of Timothy Truman's Scout, which I'll also be looking at in the not too distant future. New America features the story of Rosa Winters, one of the main supporting characters in Scout. New America was written by John Ostrander and Kim Yale, the former of whom has been a frequent collaborator with Tim Truman on various projects. The art was by Gary Kwapisz, who I can honestly say I know absolutely nothing about. He may have been picked for this project because his art so closely resembles Truman's work. In fact, without looking at the credits, I would have thought Truman did the art, but a quick Google glance tells me Kwapisz did a lot of work on The Savage Sword of Conan, which seems a good parallel to the style Truman employs.

But enough about the art. New America is not a stand alone series. There's no way you could understand what's going on in it without having first read Scout. Having not read Scout in many years before re-reading New America, I had some trouble recalling some of the characters and the geopolitical status quo at the start of the story. As I recall, Scout started out set in the late '90s in a world in which the US has fallen on very hard times. The USSR remains a superpower, but the US is not. Canada is now a power and Israel has consolidated the entire Middle East under its leadership. Considering what has actually happened, fantastical would be a pretty good description of this future. In Scout, at the beginning, the US was ruled by a Reagan stand-in who had been in office for much longer than his 2 terms. By the end of the series run he had been dead for some time and the US was in a civil war of various small state and city interests. If the country was being held together at all, it was under President Laua Carver, who had been Vice President. Carver was a recovering heroin addict who had also fallen in love with Rosa Winters, her personal guard, but Carver was killed by her Vice President, Bill Loper, who became President himself. Loper, by the way, was originally a spiritual adviser to the Reaganesque president. No denomination is specified, but he appears to be a Protestant of some stripe.

Winters was a special forces soldier who had trained with Scout, Emanuel Santana, from the time they were teens. The two had also been lovers, on and off, with each still retaining strong feelings for the other. Santana, though, had gone on a vision quest and then a prolonged insurrection of his own making, which had made him a priority target of the US government, such as it was. Winters had remained with the US government risen to the highest circles of power, though behind the scenes. Although she and Santana had gotten back together during the run of Scout, they were apart for good by the end of the series.

New America picks up somewhere around 2003, if my math is correct. It never says at the beginning, but a later happening in 2014 is noted to be 11 years later, so 2003 it is. Each of the first 3 of the 4 issues tells the story of an insurrection Winters has created. She's a rebel leader now, fighting to remove Loper from power by any means necessary. In the first story she goes to Mexico, which is ruled by a psuedo-communist government allied with the USSR. Mexico is working on a deal to sell Baja California to Japan, which is apparently a cross between feudal Japan and capitalism without restraint. Winters is working with an Israeli special forces team put together by an Israeli Mossad agent named Avner.

Avner appeared in Scout, too, and always reminded me of John Constantine. Trench coat. Blonde. Cigarette dangling from the lips. Loosened tie. Behind the scenes manipulator of other actors. Kind of distracting, actually. There's no magic or demons or swamp monsters, so what's John Constantine doing in a dystopian future story?

Anyway, Winters and her team bring together a priest and a Russian union organizer to start an insurrection of peasants against the sale of Baja to Japan. The movement grows and there's an inevitable confrontation between the peasants, who have been armed by Israel, and the Mexican government. The priest is assassinated at a rally, and a battle ensues between the peasants and the Mexican troops. The Mexican president is there and is killed. Civil war ensues. Of course, the priest wasn't killed by the Mexican government but by Winters's team's sharp shooter. Winters was unaware of this order that Avner had given and is particularly unhappy because she had fallen in love with the priest. In fact, she and the priest had mutual feelings, but he was unwilling to forgo his vows. In the course of the fighting, Winters loses her right hand to the sword of the Japanese leader who was trying to buy Baja. Her hand is replaced with a wire gun shaped like a hand and controlled by her thoughts. Despite our declining state of affairs, it appears that the US has still made major advances in technology, though not a lot ahead of where we were in 1987.

In the second issue, Winters and her Israeli team travel to Alaska, which is now an "independent" kingdom, though actually a pawn between the USSR and Canada. (Kind of funny, considering Sarah Palin's affiliations with the Alaskan independence fringe. Funny to me, anyway.) Winters infiltrates a Mexican drug lord's family as an assistant to the drug lord's daughter, who's being married off to the Alaskan king's son. The king has another son and a daughter, too. The plan is to kill off the king and all of his family, so he'll have no heirs, and make the USSR and Canada each think the other was behind it so that they'll be engaged in their own dispute and stay out of the US. There's much intrigue, as the king is married to the daughter of the Canadian PM, the king's brother-in-law is in charge of Russian troops stationed in Alaska, and the king's wife is having a romping good time having sex with the Russian ambassador. The younger son hides behind plants a lot and listens in on conversations, while the daughter is about 5 and not particularly present for the story. The plan goes well but for the part where Winters kills the Israeli who shot the priest in the last issue and takes the little girl to raise as her own daughter. Still, no one seems to mind that too much. I would have liked to have seen more about the relationship between Winters and the girl she raises as a daughter, but this series is more of synopsis of events than an in depth story.

In the third issue it's time to destabalize South America, which is stable because it's ruled by drug lords. The drug lords also rule a large chunk of the southern and southwestern US, so they need to be moved out of things. The drug lords are holding the Pope prisoner in Colombia and issuing edicts in his name. This has helped keep the people from opposing the drug lords. Winters and the remaining Israeli team infiltrate again, this time getting into where the Pope is being held while the drug lords' troops are outside expecting a frontal assault. The Pope is reading a weekly message that the drug lords have prepared, except that Winters and her team have substituted a new message of insurrection against the drug lords, and have taken out the forces that were to cut off the radio signal if the Pope went off message. The people rise up to protect the Pope and he's whisked out of the country to the US. He's supposed to be taken to Jerusalem from there, according to the deal between Winters and Avner, but she wants the Pope in the US because of his political influence that will help her rebuild the US. In a standoff with the Israelis she even kills 3 of the team she had been working with and with whom she'd become close friends. Naturally, this sours relations with Israel. It also seems like a bad political tactic. Winters isn't ruling the US. Loper still is. She needs Israeli assistance to overthrow Loper, as there doesn't appear to be anyone else willing to help.

In the final issue, Avner has provided information to Loper that allows the US to shoot down a plane in which Winters is flying. It appears she has died in the crash. Loper has also obtained Winters's personal journals that describe all of the insurrections and other activities she has lead. This causes many supporters of the insurrection to abandon the cause. A year and a half after Winters is shot down, which was in 2014, Winters's ally, Senator Creek, has been captured by the US. After much torture, he's being interrogated by Loper and tells Loper that Winters is still alive. She was lying low while she recovered from major cybernetic implants being surgically placed to save her life. Creek says she's coming to kill Loper. Loper is enraged and kills Creek. Winters is then seen in the desert. It never says why. She's having an introspective moment about how much she doesn't like what she's become, both physically with the cybernetics and in terms of what she's done over the years to try to re-unite the US. She runs across an Apache family, which turns out to be Emanuel Santana's wife and kids. Winters runs off, upset because she loves Santana and could never have children with him because she was sterilized during her special forces training as a teen. That's it for the Santana story. Winters then gathers some mercenaries and lays a trap for Loper, eventually cornering him while he's making a last ditch TV appeal. With all the hardware in her that fires bullets, she cuts him to little pieces. She tells the American people that, for good or ill, she's now the new government.

New America bit off more than it could chew, I think. It tried to encapsulate 13 or so years in 4 issues. It started off with no history for a new reader, so there was no good launching pad for the story. Even with having known the preceding story, and much of the narrative coming from Winters's first person accounts in her journals, I didn't feel like this was the Rosa Winters that I knew from Scout. She started out that way, but I didn't buy into the journey that made her mostly machine and ruler of the remnants of the US. The transformation rang hollow. Yes, there were the insurrections she lead to destabalize allies of her enemy, Loper, but those mostly involved killing people she wouldn't have had ties to. The love of the priest seemed forced to create a tie there, so I couldn't get into her loss. The deaths in Alaska don't seem like they would have meant much. The relationship with the adopted daughter was never explored, just stated. Only the killing of her Israeli friends seemed like it would be deeply affecting to her, but I had a hard time buying into the rationale for killing them. The trade off of having the Pope under her control versus alientating her Israeli allies didn't add up.

New America just doesn't hold up to Scout's standard. As I said, I'll look at Scout soon, but my memory of Scout was a much deeper development of the characters. I've held onto these books because 1) Winters was one of my favorite characters in Scout, 2) 4 issues doesn't take up much room, and 3) the covers by Tom Yeats are just beautiful. Those made me think of Winters more as a real person than the story between the covers. Even the homage to the movie Patton is more evocative than much of the story within.

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