Horse of a Local Color: “Storm Dogs #1”

In the first issue of Storm Dogs, released last week, you’ll find a very easy, very flawless example of why writer David Hine and artist Doug Braithwaite are at the top of their respective games.

Hine evolves a classic city mouse/country mouse scenario. Imagine if you will, Dear Reader, investigators from off-world land on an Old West-style mining planet to investigate a largely trivial crime–the death-under-mysterious-circumstances of seven laborers-cum-petty-criminals. They’re at such a great distance, technologically speaking, they may as well be from the future of Amaranth, this distant mining colony planet. And worse still, these investigators need to unplug from The Weave (their internet of the mind), and dial back their tech by some hundred-something years so as to not pollute Amaranth’s own technological progress.

The coalition isn’t an easy one for Amaranth either. Why would the distant government send a crack team of investigators to uncover the reason behind the deaths of largely uncared about individuals? For the hard people of Amaranth, the answer to the deaths is a simple one–they that died lacked the fortitude to endure. And the off-worlders being here now, well more and more that’s beginning to seem like meddling. And meddling will disrupt an already hesitant relationship between Amaranth and the government.

Braithwaite, as artist, unfolds a glorious drama of propositions. Rather than simply situate readers (in the opening pages) with the locals and their idle target practice they make of the great preponderance of lifeforms on Amaranth, Braithwaite zooms out from the lifeforms themselves. Interspecies competition is simply negated by the locals who uses those species as target practice. Just as brewing rivalries between the locals are rendered meaningless after the arrival of the off-worlders. Just as boiling tensions between the locals and the off-worlders are invalidated by the weather conditions on the planet.

Braithwaite is able to find the absolutely perfect angle and a sophisticated pacing that mirrors perfectly the drama of evolving scale that Hine’s narrative leads us into. Scattered throughout the story, we encounter beings, creatures, characters, come to be defined more and more by their situational contexts, than by their inherent tensions and biases.

It’s this synchronization between the drama of context and the drama of evolving scale, synchronization that is so elegantly articulated by the diverse strengths of Hine and Braithwaite, that forms the core of Storm Dogs. Moreover, it’s this synchronization of the two dramas that makes Storm Dogs feel like necessary reading, particularly in the wake of the last few weeks that have stood witness to both Sandy and the Presidential Election.

There are parts of New Jersey lost to the sea, in the wake of Sandy. Yet very few have articulated the need for a three-phase plan that would see disaster relief followed by reconstruction, followed by the building of new infrastructure that would make the North East heavy weather-ready. Watching news broadcasts and commentary, more and more, it seems like action is being discounted in favor of what amounts to name-calling. President Obama’s strong collaboration with Republican Governor Chris Christie stands in stark distinction to what has become the usual cynicism–the foreboding that no compromise may be reached on essential issues, that America is growing ever more localized, more provincial, and the fear that the greatest threat to national security might be the impending dissolution of “e pluribus unum” as high concept for the nation.

In a strange twist, Storm Dogs returns us to Chris Carter’s unexpected hit TV show, X-Files, and asks of us, could Carter’s unmitigated and surprising success be repeated? At its heart, behind and beyond the search for evidence of extraterrestrial incursions and paranormal events, X-Files was a show about a deep optimism. Two young investigators grow wizened over the course of nine years of story-time. The find themselves at a crucial nexus–on the on side, elements of a power elite have bartered away American destiny, and sold out to alien overlords, on the other, regional interests find it easier to disengage from the idea of the Union. X-Files mirrored the America that entered onto the world stage from President Grant to FDR, where Washington DC was perpetually being reclaimed by those who promoted the idea of a national identity, a national consciousness, a More Perfect Union.

In a crucial way, Storm Dogs evolves those ideas in the original X-Files that over time have come to seem ever so light more naive. Storm Dogs isn’t the story of young investigators attempting to reassert an idealistic, “stronger, loving Washington” and bridge the gap between that Washington and Middle America. What we’ve come to understand in the decade or so after 9/11, is that events and larger contexts shape us. And what taking down both Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden has taught us, is that we’re at our best when we assert ourselves as active participants in shaping that larger context. As we approach the fiscal cliff, and the ostensible decay of the idea of “e pluribus unum”, Storm Dogs reminds us that we are actors of global consequence. And that we shape the contexts that shape us. Unassumingly then, Storm Dogs is the evolution of not only X-Files but of the kind of American idealism seen during the Clinton Years.

RATING 7 / 10