By Robert Venditti and Mike Huddleston
Tight, Hollywood ready action thriller is not the first thing you’d mention if I asked you to name a typical Top Shelf book. Of course, this may well be a good thing – maybe it simply proves that there’s not really any such thing as a typical Top Shelf book?
So, in addition to the recent rom-com drama of Gingerbread Girl, the left-field literary adventuring of the LOEG, the all-ages work of Owly, Korgi, Johnny Boo et al, we have these Hollywood ready thrillers cropping up in the wake of Venditti and Weldele’s The Surrogates.
And make no mistake The Homeland Directive has big budget Hollywood thriller written all over it, although seeing Vendetti’s Surrogates didn’t set the world alight at the movie theatres recently may put the spoilers on that. But even though it may never get to be the film it probably deserves to be, it doesn’t mean it’s any less cinematic and Hollywood blockbuster in its scope.
This has all those key elements you probably look for in a smart, fast paced thriller, whether it’s movies, books or comics. The strangest thing about comics is that something so commonplace throughout other media is practically a rarity in our little medium. Weird huh?
The plot is simple – we’re in the well-trodden corridors of high level conspiracy here, with Venditti covering terrorism, national security, the role of the state in surveiling its subjects, the role of those subjects in questioning the state. But he does it in a fast paced thriller, that fair rockets along from start to finish, one big breathless rush of story that never lets up the excitement.
Now, given that one of the leads is Dr Laura Regan, “one of the world’s foremost authorities on viral and bacterial“, it shouldn’t be too hard to work out how someone in power intends to carry out their plot (although the particular delivery method itself is a deviously clever one), but knowing how it’s going to happen isn’t a detriment to your enjoyment. Not at all.
Regen quickly finds herself on the wrong side of the law, framed for the murder of her research partner, on the run, and with the clock ticking towards something very, very nasty about to be unleashed across America. There are bad guys on her trail, her every move is being traced by a team at the secretive Bureau Of Consumer Advocacy (BOCA) – the Federal agency that tracks you, electronically, from cradle to grave.
Her only help comes in the form of an unlikely trio of rogue federal agents, including an escapee from BOCA….. although as with a few things in here, it’s probably best not to think to deeply into how they got together. In the best tradition of thriller writing…. sometimes these things just are.
The story itself, although nicely done, does seem, at times, a little like a thriller by the numbers, employing a fair few ideas and tricks we’ve seen or read many times before in countless smart thrillers. So you have all the chases, the surveillance, the cyber-tracking, the political intrigues… the works. But that lack of originality isn’t so bad – in a way it’s like accusing a new band of nicking a song, when really you know that all they’ve done is nick a few chords – after all, there’s only soo many ways you can take the original elements and mix them all up.
The characterisation is light here, with several characters only really getting enough page time to be painted in the broadest of strokes, but just as the lack of originality doesn’t hurt the reading experience, neither does the lightweight characterisation – there’s simply too little time to get to know the cast.
So the individual elements may have a familiar feel, the characters may be light on characterisation but it’s not a problem – it’s the clever and effective manner in with Vendetti has put them all together that makes the book such an enjoyable read. It feels as good as some of the European thrillers I’ve read and enjoyed – and that’s high praise indeed.
But what perhaps gives The Homeland Directive it’s unique edge is the artwork. Mike Huddleston really pulls everything out of the bag for this one … mixed media, styles, sepia, colours bursting from the page – so much so that on first flicking through the book it all looked a little all over the place.
But once I started reading it became clear that this was no accidental thing – each character, each plot strand, every different situation – they all have their own particular look. Once this slots into place, you realise that Huddleston is doing something quite brilliant, something that really adds to the tone of the book.
The Homeland Directive is a great thriller. It’s also a fairly predictable one. But hopefully, you’ll realise that it’s not a problem – this is all about the fun and thrills of getting from one end of the book to the other, and Venditti’s story, alongside the inspired visuals from Huddleston, really do the trick. Who needs a movie – just read this and you have that movie experience in a way several hundred million dollars would never be able to match.