The Secret History of D.B. Cooper by Brian Churilla is a fantasy interpretation of the real-life unsolved case involving air pirate D.B. Cooper (available July 16, 2013).
This intense and fast-paced graphic novel is based on an infamous case of air piracy, the only unsolved case of its kind in the United States to date. On November 24, 1971, a man identifying himself as Dan Cooper (the D.B. came about due to a media misunderstanding) hijacked a Boeing 727 with claims of a bomb. He demanded two non-military issue parachutes and two hundred thousand dollars, which he received before leaping out of the aircraft somewhere over the Pacific Northwest. No one knows whether he landed safely and made his getaway or whether he perished, but numerous theories have circulated since. This novel makes a fine though clearly fantastic attempt at providing an explanation and solving the case.
The Dan Cooper presented here lives a life of the mind. Not of the intellect, but of a strange dream-space called The Glut that is somehow connected to physical reality and accessible primarily through the application of psychotropic drugs. Cooper moves through The Glut as an operative for the CIA, seeing and doing impossible things under the auspices of Project MKUltra, a real-life CIA mind control program started in the 1950s.
The Soviets have become increasingly aware of his activities, as described in the following briefing:
As you all know, for the past eighteen months, we have been the target of a clandestine operation by the Americans. This campaign has resulted in the deaths of nearly sixty Soviet operatives, officials and officers. Intelligence indicates this is the work of a solitary enemy agent. Furthermore, he has performed all of these assassinations from afar. You’ve been given dossiers detailing how this is accomplished. The man’s alias is “D.B. Cooper.”
The Soviets have trained their own counter-operative to enter The Glut to combat Cooper, as well as established a mole within the CIA to feed them information about him. To the Soviets’ frustration, neither effort has yet come to fruition, even as their list of casualties lengthens. While Cooper is well aware of all this—as he is of many things he shouldn’t, logically, know—he doesn’t particularly care about his physical or even mental well-being. The only thing that matters to him is using The Glut to find his missing daughter, Donna, as his supervising physician tries to explain to the CIA agent sent to audit their operations:
[Cooper] confided in me that he’d seen Donna in The Glut. He’s become obsessed with making contact. By doing so, he hopes to glean her whereabouts here, in our realm. This obsession, in conjunction with a steady diet of drugs and murder have caused irreparable harm to his psyche—his consciousness is splintered. He now exists in two realms simultaneously. What’s more, I have no evidence to suggest he is even aware of this phenomenon. It’s as if... as if both parts of him... seem to be guided by a common destiny.
It should come as no surprise that on the heels of this assessment, the supervising agent tries to shut the whole operation down. Cooper, however, will not be stopped.
I won’t ruin how or why he winds up getting on the Boeing and triggering an investigation that has stumped the FBI for almost fifty years now, but I will say that I found the overall ending very satisfactory. Brian Churilla has written a graphic novel filled with plot twists that, had they been handled less rapidly, might have lost their ability to stun. As it is, reading The Secret History of D.B. Cooper is like being on a hallucinogenic roller coaster, helped along beautifully by the mood-perfect art. Mr Churilla handles pathos just as well as he handles scenes of action and of terror. The pages depicting Cooper’s relationship with his family have just as much impact as the scenes in which he’s fighting nightmare creatures in The Glut, or the gory results of his assassinations. The gorgeous colorwork of his drug-induced descent into The Glut was another highlight of a novel filled with show-stopping scenes and revelations. The Secret History of D. B. Cooper is the perfect blend of espionage and horror comics, seamlessly blending both with real-world mysteries in a way at once entertaining and moving.
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
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