Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Right State

Written by Mat Johnson
Art by Andrea Mutti

Right State is a unique political thriller that works well, but probably could have worked a lot better.  It's set at some unspecified after the Obama administration has finished its second term, and was met with some sort of disaster or fiasco which is not explained.  At the point where this book opens, Obama's successor, also a Democrat and also black, is in the midst of running for a second term.  America has become even more divided than it is now between 'red' and 'blue', and the militia movement has gained in strength to a great degree.

The story is centred on Ted Akers, a right-wing talking head who has spent most of his life fighting for veterans' rights on Fox News like cable channels, despite having never fought in a war.  Akers gets contacted by the Secret Service when they receive word that a militia group known as Roots of Liberty, run by a demagogue named Dutton, are planning something for the President's upcoming open-air address to the nation.

The Service figures that Akers would have a better chance of infiltrating the group, especially since the agent in charge is a Muslim, and that's basically the set up for this story.  It's not terribly plausible, is it? And therein lies one of this book's two big faults.  The second is that Akers's character is not developed very well before he gets sent off to crazy-land.  It's hard to understand why he'd be working to help an administration he's fundamentally opposed to, just as it is hard to understand why they would really want him (unless you figure out where things are going pretty early into the book, as I did).

As a Canadian, I do enjoy fiction that shows just how messed up American often is (while knowing we aren't all that much better, and increasingly so), and the Roots of Liberty crowd is pretty interesting.  My problem was that because I never bought into the plot or the main character, I never got all that wrapped up in the book.  Mat Johnson's first graphic novel, Incognegro, was riveting; this one felt a little rushed, like it needed to be out before the American election, and therefore didn't get workshopped or edited as stringently as it should have.

There was definitely a lot of potential in this story, and some of the sequences near the end get exciting, but this book just never gripped me as much as it could have.  Part of the problem is with Andrea Mutti's art - he's a talented artist, but often stiff in his layouts, and it's not always easy to tell which character is which.  I hope that Johnson's next book is something a little closer to home, and therefore perhaps as strong as his debut was.

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