Title: Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story
Author: Mat Johnson
Illustration: Simon Gane
Published: 2010 by Vertigo Comics
Dark Rain is a fictional heist story set against the backdrop of an historical moment in both time and space—a flooded New Orleans immediately after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. When Katrina hit, I personally thought it was an event of such a magnitude that it would find its way into more comics. After all, it’s a medium that has a long reputation for wrapping current events and recent history into its story lines. What I find interesting about Dark Rain, though, is that it is more true than most readers realize while they’re reading it.
There are two fundamental elements taking place here. The first is that there is a fictional narrative of Dabny and Emmit, two ex-cons who, despite a recent history of bad luck, now see a golden opportunity to rob a flooded bank. This comes into conflict in two ways. They are physically confronted with the reality that Dark Rain, a private security contractor (read: mercenaries) have been deployed to protect the bank, and their twisted Colonel has a similar heist plot in mind. They are also socially and morally confronted with the reality that the people around them, their neighbors and fellow community members, desperately need their help.
The second over-arching element is a political and social commentary of how Hurricane Katrina was handled: how the event intervened in millions of lives, and subsequently, how opportunists intervened in the disaster for financial gain—a reality that has been under-reported, largely because it was in the aftermath of the disaster, after camera crews and reporters packed up and went back to their regularly-scheduled programs.
Seriously, I have yet to find a review of Dark Rain that points out what, to me, was so obvious it made me buy the book—the fact that the name Dark Rain is an allusion to Black Water, the largest private military contractor in the U.S. at the time. They have since changed their company name to Academi, in the face of horrifying investigations into their practices both in the U.S. and particularly Iraq (as of right now, in 2012, there are more private military contractors in Iraq than there were U.S. soldiers, ever. A reminder that the Iraq War is still going on—it has just been privatized.) For more information about this, I highly recommend picking up Jeremy Scahill’s book Blackwater: the Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
Now I don’t know if Mat Johnson had this in mind, but I find it incredibly difficult to believe otherwise. Blackwater was deployed to New Orleans immediately following Hurricane Katrina, to protect “valuable assets” in the city. There is a great video of Scahill talking about witnessing this first-hand while he was covering Katrina as a reporter for Democracy Now!. After hearing that testimony from an award-winning investigative journalist, I also find the storyline of a heist to be ironic—if not, also, subtly alluding to Blackwater’s activities. Scahill points out in the talk that the company was hired by the Department of Homeland Security to deploy to New Orleans, at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of $950 per man, per day. If that’s not a heist, I don’t know what is.
I’d like to think that was all part of Mat Johnson and Simon Gane’s plan… but I’m still having a hard time tacking that hypothesis down as proven–seriously, no one has written about this?! Still, it gives me pause to think about some of the critical reviews I’ve read of this work. The common criticism of Dark Rain is that the personal story doesn’t mesh with the social/political commentary. Maybe those reviewers, in reality, are complaining of all that space those written words. As the cold hearted Colonel would say….