Unexplained mysteries, no matter how radical or bizarre, have always been, to some extent, an obsessive interest of mine. Things like Roswell 1947 or The Zodiac Killer have fascinated me – both with the factual evidence available, and the speculative theories offered from both believers and questioners alike. Both examples cited have had their share of fictional representation in media, but the mystery of D. B. Cooper has yet to have a central role in stories”¦ until now.
While some fans may protest that the television series Prison Break had the Cooper mystery involved, it was not the central focus of the story. Finally, the enigma has entered the universe of comic books in a starring role, with Oni Press’ The Secret History of D. B. Cooper, affording a wildly speculative adventure mixing science fiction with espionage and psychedelic overtones.
For those uninformed, the name D. B. Cooper has long been associated with one of the greatest, and unexplained, robberies and airline hijackings in history. The name was applied to an unidentified individual who hijacked a plane from Portland to Seattle in 1971, managed to extort $200,000 (roughly equivalent to $1 million in modern economic terms), and parachuted to his escape. The following manhunt and investigation yielded little, and since then, the event has become legendary and prone to many speculations and theories. According to Wikipedia, the D. B. Cooper mystery “remains the only unsolved air piracy in American aviation history“.
Thus when I heard that a comic series was coming out called The Secret History Of D. B. Cooper was coming out; I couldn’t help but sink my teeth into it. Initially, I figured it would be a realistic speculative tale on how Cooper managed to undertake what he did.
I was very wrong.
In its place, and pleasingly, the resulting comic is a science fiction styled mystery, laced with hypnotic psychedelic hallucinatory imagery. The style feels like Men In Black mixed with Carnage: Mind Bomb, with a nice dose of 007 mixed with Barbarella. In short, the experience puts forth a proposal that is more bizarre than any possible theory I’ve read about Cooper – and makes for a compelling and fascinating read.
D. B. Cooper is principally an honorary CIA Agent. Obsessed during the 1960’s with the possibility of clandestine operations involving the brain and paranormal abilities (such as those outlined in The Men Who Stare At Goats), Cooper is engaged to take on assassinations that he can accomplish through these mysterious means.
Under the medicinal guidance of the unnamed scientist referred to only as Doctor, and the reluctant bureaucratic supervision of Agent Saunders, Cooper is subjected to a substance that makes him enter a hallucinogenic state. As he does, he penetrates another world/universe, referred to as "The Glut". In this universe, he is accompanied by a one-eared red teddy bear sidekick, while he hunts down monsters that are actually psychedelic avatars of his real-world objectives.
The writing across the first two issues by Brian Churilla is captivating, and extraordinarily surprising. The content is an astonishing detour compared to what readers would expect a book about D. B. Cooper to be about. In fact, it flowers the real legend even further, by providing an incredible backstory that makes the authoritative account of the hijacking look mundane, and very boring.
There’s a lot of ground to cover in the series, and it’s early days seeing we are only 2 issues in, but the introduction is a fine example of how to quickly grab the attention of readers. As we progress into the second issue, a lot more depth is explored into the family history of Cooper, as well as some probable foreshadowing for how the upcoming issues may play out.
Churilla’s art is enthralling and I’m sure will be considered to be seminal in years to come. The landscapes of The Glut are extremely imaginative, taking on an organic appearance, with areas composed of heads, teeth, eyeballs, orifices, bowels, and other human body organs. The monsters are hideous, and their imagery crucial to the development of the story. Within The Glut, the saturation of the colors is toned down (with the exception of the red teddy bear with one ear), a measured effort to consolidate the tonal feel of the universe.
Meanwhile, in the real world, the colors are rich, but dulled by the tedious hues and the darkened shadows. This selection is deliberate, and a possible representation of how Cooper perceives reality itself. On the other hand, the slaying scenes are rich in the colors that symbolize the geographical location in which they occur – lots of reds and crimsons for the USSR for example. There is ample gore and blood, with Churilla mixing horror themes in for good measure to mix in with the psychedelic sci-fi elements.
The Secret History of D. B. Cooper is a comic book series to keep your eye on. I am reminded of some earlier comics that ended up making their way into film – Timecop and Men In Black as examples, and I could see this rich tapestry that Churilla is threading having pronounced promise to flourish in film media. His conceptualization is rich with much potential, and I am highly looking forward to the third issue and beyond. An amazing debut for a series – I’m sold on the concept and loving every second of it with very little criticism to mention.
The Secret History of D. B. Cooper is a delectable indulgence for the eyes and the mind – jump into this one as soon as you can.