The Secret History of D.B. Cooper

Image of The Secret History of D.B. Cooper
Release Date: 
April 24, 2013
Oni Press
Reviewed by: 

“What a gripping and entertaining trip.”

In November of 1971 a man who has come to be known as D. B. Cooper boarded a Boeing 727 bound for Seattle, Washington. While in flight he informed the flight attendant that he had a bomb. The pilot relayed his demands to the ground crew, and the plane eventually landed in Seattle.

Upon landing in he released the passengers and flight attendants. While the aircraft was refueling, Cooper picked up $200,000 in cash as well as four parachutes. Once the plane had returned to the air, he quietly parachuted over the Pacific Northwest with the cash and according to many, a brand new life.

Speculation as to the truth about D. B. Cooper has fueled many an argument over the years. It is still the only unsolved act of air piracy committed in America.

But not once has anyone ever thought to make the claim that D. B. Cooper was an agent for the CIA suffering from the actions and effects of psychotropic drugs administered by that august governmental organization.

In The Secret History of D. B. Cooper artist and writer Brian Churilla grounds his story in the reality of the 1971 highjacking. He also firmly plants the character of Cooper in a highly imaginative mixture of reality, a second dimension named The Glut and the hardboiled, two-fisted action of Cold War secret agents.

Mr. Churilla places Cooper in an apparent dream state where his life seemingly occurs across two dimensions. One is an easily recognizable world of a real world reality, the other is a dimension known as The Glut. With a one-eared teddy bear by his side, Cooper assassinates powerful political opponents of the CIA. He is an operative of the Cold War still fighting Mother Russia.

This is a scenario that perfectly fits the massive paranoia that became slowly grew across America from the late fifties and sixties. By the early seventies a combination of The Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy had all come together to cause many to question the behavior of a government that only 20 years earlier had saved the world.

Who knows what actions the CIA was undertaking in the name of freedom without telling its citizens?

Cooper is part of the CIA’s very real program, Project MKUltra. Its purpose was to conduct mind experiments on citizens as well as foreigners. Starting in the late fifties, this covert program was sanctioned by the U.S. government. As a matter of public record it was finally disbanded in 1973.

Placing Cooper inside the middle of the very real Project MKUltra program gives Cooper’s story such a sense of reality that the excursions into the dream state of The Glut becomes easily acceptable for readers to understand.

Combining the government’s fear of communism with Cooper’s own natural paranoia, Mr. Churilla skillfully moves from the global to the deeply personal in the space of just two panels. For Cooper is not just fueled by misplaced servitude to a government that is slipping into darkness, he has also lost his daughter Donna. She has simply disappeared. Cooper suspects a government operative, but he can’t prove what he believes to be true. So he continues to work for the CIA until he can prove his suspicion.

As he travels through The Glut, he pursues both monsters and Donna through this curious dimension. With a burning desire to find his daughter, Cooper is compelled to move forward. When a monster dies in The Glut, so does a Russian official or agent.

It is Cooper’s flawless record as an assassin that keeps him safe within the confines of the CIA. That is he is safe until an agent he suspects of having kidnapped his daughter as well as being a Russian double agent decides to come after him.

So much of this sounds complicated but as laid out by Mr. Churilla, the story is a joy to follow. As the surprising twists and turns reveal themselves each one feels perfect inside the world he has built for us. In the end it is the power of the Government (and its agencies) that is a thousand times scarier than any portal to another dimension.

Expertly written, one line sticks out above all others, “We’re the CIA, we don’t need warrants.”

Working in a style that recalls Mike Mignola’s work on Hellboy as well as a bit of the best of Darwyn Cooke on classic DC series The New Frontier, Mr. Churilla moves from the softness of a child’s memory to the very edge of nightmares with grotesque monsters that could easily populate a Predator or Alien move franchise.

In one magnificent page ending the first chapter he concocts a perfect mix of an early seventies hallucination with a touch of late sixties hangover. At a key moment a reference to Alice in Wonderland reaches back a century in time to remind us that the scariest place of all is our own mind.

Originally published across five separate issues, this new hardcover version collects the complete storyline. This is The Spy Who Came in from the Cold married to The Parallax View and illustrated with occasional nods to the psychedlia of Steve Ditko’s Dr. Strange.

What a gripping and entertaining trip.