The Homeland Directive

Posted by on February 22nd, 2011 at 2:00 PM

Robert Venditti and Mike Huddleston; Top Shelf; 152 pp.; $14.95; Softcover; Color (ISBN: 9781603090247)

One of the most beautifully illustrated original graphic novels in recent memory, The Homeland Directive is a fascinating espionage-and-conspiracy-theory drama centering on a biological threat to the United States and a research doctor at the Center for Disease Control who may hold the key to solving the crisis.  Although the visuals are emotive and powerful in their transitions between full color, sepia or black-and-white, as well as the techniques of ink wash, scratched and grainy filters, and sequences for which the term psychedelic does not do justice, the narrative itself has a few weaknesses that do unfortunately detract from the book’s overall impact.

Known to audiences from his earlier Top Shelf books, The Surrogates, Venditti takes a cue from recent political memory as The Homeland Directive opens with a focus on the electoral capital gained by an incumbent president playing the homeland-security card.  While it is clear that there is an obvious disconnect between the presidential advisor Anders and the Director of Homeland Security, it is less obvious what secret operation the director is implementing to identify terrorist threats to the country.  Venditti wastes little time with exposition or backstory and delves directly into the action as government agents target two CDC doctors for assassination.  A subplot thread concerns the events unfolding within a hospital as another medical doctor tries to solve a seemingly incurable disease that is killing a child patient.  The result is a clean and crisp running dialogue that suits the unfolding drama.

Dr. Laura Regan’s abduction and apparent rescue at the hands of a covert, hodgepodge of other government agents from the FBI, Secret Service, and Bureau of Consumer Advocacy (BOCA) is the central storyline Venditti develops.  Although he alludes to an interagency mandate that brought these various individuals together, it remains unclear as to how a member of the FBI would know to trust someone working in BOCA.  Venditti never hints at any previous exploits the team has undertaken and as a result, the operation with Dr. Regan is either evidence of a well-oiled machine that has succeeded in the past or an extremely lucky series of circumstances that play out in her favor.  Unfortunately, the medicine and the science threads take a back seat to the cat-and-mouse pursuit of Dr. Regan.

The most fascinating aspect of this chase is the time Venditti spends with BOCA and Regan’s team.  Additionally, the secondary characters of the Homeland Security Director and his team are actually much more intriguing than the central focus Venditti has on Regan and her three-person band of federal aides.  Even when Regan and the agents discover Homeland’s plot, the rush to the end, the strange and rather abrupt inclusion of the Mafia, and a mistake by one of the key team members makes the last chapter seem tacked on or hurried as if Venditti had to meet a page limit rather than achieve a natural ending to his narrative.  In fact, the intercession by Anders toward the end comes far too close to being a Deus Ex Machina.

Even with its plot deficiencies for this reviewer, however, the book is still strongly recommended over the majority of recycled, superhero punch fests.   It remains an engaging story and if for nothing else than Mike Huddleston’s artwork alone, The Homeland Directive should warrant the attention of readers.

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