Review: THE HOMELAND DIRECTIVE

Homeland Directive Venditti Huddleston
There once was a surveillance system set up by the United States, in the time after the Cold War and before 9/11, that went by the name, ThinThread, and had the ability to spy on anyone on Earth using emails and phones. But it had a safeguard which encrypted any domestic communication unless a warrant was served. After 9/11, that all changed. The new surveillance system favored by the National Security Agency went by the name, Trailblazer. It was able to mine data, foreign and domestic, just like ThinThread, except it bypassed the safeguard to wait for a warrant when it spied on Americans. Today, there is no longer supposed to be a Trailblazer surveillance system. What may have taken its place is anybody’s guess. It is in this still very murky present that Robert Venditti presents his latest work.

Venditti Homeland Directive 2011
Robert Venditti established himself as a writer with the Top Shelf graphic novel series, “SURROGATES,” which probed questions of identity in a world in the not too distant future where it is far too easy to let your avatar completely take over your life. In his latest graphic novel, “THE HOMELAND DIRECTIVE,” also published by Top Shelf, with art by Mike Huddleston, the focus shifts to what happens when the United States has become a police state.

Homeland Directive Top Shelf 2011
“The Homeland Directive” is, in some respects, a continuation of “Surrogates.” Both works involve a repressive system that permeates the lives of all the characters and is virtually impossible to escape. Both share a good bit of cloak and dagger intrigue and some interesting twists and turns. And the writing, along with the art, in both works is urgent, sometimes choppy and intentionally murky. The big difference is that Venditti’s latest book is set in a much less distant future, bordering on or sitting on the present. After “Surrogates,” I looked forward to what Venditti would do next. I was concerned that “Homeland” would end up being a rehash of past abuses by the Bush administration. That is hardly the case. As the NSA would be more than happy to point out, presidents come and go but “the national interest” presses on.

Having read the book jacket description, as well as the press release, I expected “Homeland” to paint more of a picture of the government’s ability to violate the privacy of its citizens. That alone would make for a good spooky read. Instead, Venditti chooses to run through perhaps one too many spy thriller mazes and, to boot, throw in one huge MacGuffin that serves as a plot device but takes up too much room. Sure, the book jack description does refer to the main character, a Dr. Laura Regan, an expert on viral diseases, framed for a murder because she knows too much, but it also promises to confront the conflict between personal privacy and national security and, on that end, it feels more like a tacked on confrontation. In the story, that conflict is not really tackled as much as accepted.

What I am calling the story’s MacGuffin is the plot by the government to create an incident far bigger than 9/11 to keep the citizenry in line. That is no longer exploring the machinations of government eavesdropping and swerving into a conspiracy theory genre. It sounds like a good spooky read but, like a runaway train, it becomes less intriguing as it keeps thumping down the rails. Instead, try building something up by more elusive and subtle layers, more like what is happening here and now which proves, with every new headline, that presidents come and go but “the national interest” presses on. Truth is stranger than fiction. The fact is, whatever the NSA is doing these days is quite a hard act to follow in fiction.

 

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