Writer: David Pepose
Artist: Lua Casalanguida
Aftershock Comics, 2021
Those readers who are preppers or lurk on the sub-Reddit r/bugout will be attracted to the premise of this title. Scout’s Honor is a limited issue comic is set in a North America ravaged by civilisational collapse. Even nine thousand, five hundred and sixty-two days since nuclear war, fires still billow from smashed cityscapes. In addition to the usual ruined buildings and abandoned cars, much like Vault Comics’ excellent Giga (which we plan on reviewing this week), the abrupt and fiery end of our contemporary world has spawned a religious order. In Scout’s Honor, a religious warrior sect called the Ranger Scouts order is plainly a futuristic militarised version of the Boy Scouts of America. It is an audacious creative concept – and like the best of creative output, seems obvious in hindsight.
That high altitude assessment of the title underestimates the world-building that writer David Pepose and artist Lua Casalanguida. Mr Pepose tells us:
SCOUT”S HONOR centers on a cult that has risen from the ashes of nuclear holocaust… and their bible is an old boy Scout Manual. I’ve described our series as Fallout meets Mulan, with a hint of The Hunger Games, and The Handmaid’s Tale for good measure.
We would add Mad Max. The apparent antagonists in the story, a bunch of marauders called the Highwaymen, garb themselves in decidedly neo-punk costumes.
The survivors otherwise live in compounds, protected by armed zealots, all trained in the arts of survival, lead by a messianistic leader. So far, all good. At the other end of the bounds of imagination, however, are mutant beasts created by the nuclear war. In areas such as Chernobyl and Fukushima, abandoned by humans because of high radiation levels, animals famously flourish. But that is only part of the story. As noted in this disturbing article https://www.thoughtco.com/chernobyl-animal-mutations-4155348, no one gets super-powers from exposure to hard radiation:
“If the damage is severe enough, cells can’t replicate and the organism dies. Sometimes DNA can’t be repaired, producing a mutation. Mutated DNA may result in tumors and affect an animal’s ability to reproduce. If a mutation occurs in gametes, it can result in a nonviable embryo or one with birth defects. In 1989 and 1990, the number of deformities spiked again, possibly as a result of radiation released from the sarcophagus intended to isolate the nuclear core. In 1990, around 400 deformed animals were born. Most deformities were so severe the animals only lived a few hours. Examples of defects included facial malformations, extra appendages, abnormal coloring, and reduced size.”
Animals affected by a nuclear war either die or fail to reproduce. Giant radioactive Gamma Boars with glowing green eyes depicted in the first issue of this series, Suicide Hornets telepathically controlled by a big-brained Queen seen in the third issue, and the many-eyed giant Hellspider from the fourth issue, remind us of 1950s science fiction. Such post-apocalyptic threats have been rendered kitsch through passage of time. These perils are rather at odds with the entirely believable, bleak scenario otherwise depicted in the story.
The protagonist is named Kit. Kit hides a secret. Kit is female, in a world where, like The Handmaid’s Tale, women have a decidedly subservient place in society. She is a member of the exclusively-male Ranger Scouts. Indeed, amongst the junior echelon of the Ranger Scouts, she is the best of the best. With the help of her father, Kit goes to significant effort to hide her gender.
The Ranger Scouts follow the guiding words of their long dead founder, Doctor Jefferson Hancock. When a young boy named Eddy is killed by a Gamma boar, there is a bleak eulogy which summarises the legacy of Doctor Hancock:
“Let us recite the words of the true Prophet… Before the bombs fell and the skies burned, he taught us the strength to survive in the wilderness… because he knew there was another world beyond our sight. Yet Doctor Hancock also taught us life us a cost – and today, we solemnly pay that price. Edward was a loyal friend, a brave soldier, a true Ranger Scout. But as your scoutmaster, let’s speak of the ultimate truth – that while we remain behind to tame the Badlands, Edward now resides in the Great Arboretum! He communes now with doctor Hancock himself, and together they build a better world for the rest of us! Edward has transcended, fighting for what he believed in. but in our sacred brotherhood, we never stand alone. ”
We are being shown an American version of the Teutonic Order, medieval warrior knights who believed they were transcended upon their deaths in battle. Introducing religion into a work of fiction, especially perhaps a comic, requires finesse. Religions often, but not always, require a solid raison d’etre, ritual, a creation theory, an adversary which epitomises “the other” or evil. To us, the most obvious example of a pseudo-religion in fiction is in Frank Herbert’s Dune (of which we have reviewed the original comic adaption here https://www.worldcomicbookreview.com/2020/10/12/dune-the-official-comic-book-adaption-revisited/) and even then, Mr Herbert has the Fremen practice a religion which is plainly an offshoot of Islam, obviating the risk of too much fantasy.
But what of comics? Within European comic books, in the Asterix series, Asterix and his fellow Gauls repeatedly invoke Toutatis, a Celtic god, without any exploration as to what that might mean. In the US, DC Comics’ Superman reveres Rao, who for much of the time came across as a Kryptonian version of a benevolent but invisible Judeo-Christian God (until revealed first in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman: Endless Nights (2003) to be a living star, and later in Justice League of America (2016) as a rapacious god-like figure). The deities of DC Comics’ / Vertigo Comics’ The Sandman are “sub-gods” of sorts: the Judeo-Christian god sits over them in a hierarchy, as does Lucifer, but they each sit over gods of myth and antiquity. Starfire, an alien character mostly associated with the Titans comic books, worships a living god called X’Hal who has no underlying religious purpose. Marvel Comics’ Thor is a Norse thunder god who is not worshipped by the characters he interacts with – Thor is more of a science fiction adventurer then an immortal deity to be revered in a temple. The wonderful fantasy Kill Six Billion Demons, published by Image Comics, on the other hand is all about godhood, and clearly draws upon Hindu sagas for inspiration ( see our review of volume 1 – https://www.worldcomicbookreview.com/2019/07/12/kill-six-billions-demons-volume-1-review/ ).
It is rare, therefore, to see a survivalist cult in a comic.
At the conclusion of issue 1, after a vicious fight with highwaymen led to the discovery of an old United States Marine Corps site guarded by robots, Kit learns the truth of Doctor Hancock’s death – he was in fact killed by a mob of Ranger Scouts shortly after Armageddon. Doctor Hancock, his final minutes displayed by a futile hologram transmission, is less of a religious survivalist fountainhead than a frantic scientist whose experiment has run out of control. In the beginning of Scout’s Honor #2, we learn that Kit’s ambition upon her mother’s death and her exodus, under the protection of Ranger Scouts, from the Badlands was to become a Ranger Scout herself. By the conclusion of issue 3, we learn that the civilisation which slowly rises from the ashes, its zealotry fuelled by Doctor Hancock’s words, are a series of lies. Kit herself is compromised by the lie of her gender. By issue four, death in the uncompromising plains of the Badlands, hunted by the pink and clawed Hellspider, being splashed with acid rain, and with a sulphur storm brewing, is inevitable.
As described in Acts 9:3-9 of the New Testament, while on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians, Saul the Pharisee is blinded by a light and led to conversion by a flash of light. Manichaeism was a widespread religion in the West prior to Christianity, and was based on the belief that god was, quite literally, light. The ancient Iranian religion Zoroastrianism regards its supreme being as the source of light. In issue four, Kit has her own epiphany by lightning. Mr Pepose draws yet again upon religious indicia. In the final issue of the tale, due for release shortly, will Kit become a new prophet for human survivors?
This is an engaging and entertaining work. Our principle regret is that we will not revisit Kit’s world upon the conclusion of this series with the release of issue five.