By Brian Churilla
32 pages, color
Published by Oni Press
The legend of D.B. Cooper is rather impressive, when you think about it. A man hijacks a plane, gets $200,000 in ransom money along with multiple parachutes, has the plane take back off, then jumps out with the money and is never seen again. Almost none of the money (all of the serial numbers recorded before being handed over) is ever discovered. Even the name "D.B. Cooper" is an error; all that was known was that he bought the ticket under the name "Dan Cooper." In other words, D.B. Cooper is the perfect person to write a comic book about. And so far, I’m impressed with Brian Churilla’s utterly bizarre and out there take on the man, because it’s not quite what you’d expect.
D.B. Cooper, as it turns out, is a CIA agent who travels on the psychic plane, conversing with a one-eared teddy bear named Lee and wielding a katana, able to assassinate people through this surreal world that are tucked away safely in the Kremlin. It’s a strange recasting of a mysterious public figure into something about as far off from reality as one can imagine, but it’s to Churilla’s credit that I think it works. It helps that Churilla keeps the reader off-balance for the first half of the issue, shifting back and forth between the psychic world and the real one, talking about cigarettes that never run out, goulash, and missing daughters. By the time you realize that the two worlds are connected, you’re deep into the first issue and your attention is presumably firmly grabbed.
Churilla delivers a lot of exposition about both Cooper and his role at the CIA, but at the same time leaves a lot of it to be discovered in future issues. We know about his missing daughter, but not why she’s gone or if the glimpse we see was really her. We know how Cooper enters the psychic world and for whom, but not how this will connect with the skyjacking that occurs just a week later. It’s a careful laying of breadcrumbs for the reader, with the idea being that the further we follow the trail, the closer we’ll be to that jackpot. In these early stages, I feel like we aren’t being led astray.
Churilla’s art for The Secret History of D.B. Cooper is fun; it’s a rounded, slightly puffy style that reminds me of a strange mixture of Mike Avon Oeming and Kelley Jones. His drawings of Cooper look simultaneously tough and soft; he’s visually approachable (especially once the sunglasses come off), but when he’s down to business, look out. What sold me on Churilla’s drawings, though, was how he draws the psychic world. From the Kremlin looking like a massive alien corpse, to hills made out of grimacing faces, it’s a surreal and entrancing world. Churilla regularly switches between the two by having one bleed into the next, and it’s an attractive and effective way to establish the link between the two places. The action sequences are strong, too; they’re easy to follow, and while there’s a little bit of gore, it’s drawn in a pleasantly cartoonish manner that will more likely have you chuckling than grimacing.
The Secret History of D.B. Cooper #1 is a good debut for the series; it establishes enough of the strangeness to hook you, but leads you on with more than enough held in reserve that you can’t feel like you already know all of the tricks and turns in store. I don’t remember seeing comics by Churilla before now, but I’ll definitely remember his name. If nothing else, I know I’ll be reading The Secret History of D.B. Cooper #2 in April. Check it out.