Sunday, May 20, 2007

Saying "Nice doggie" until you can find a rock...

A dip into the Last Shortbox this week for a look at an unusual hero, Retief of the CDT:

Keith Laumer's Retief, #1 - 3: Mad Dog Graphics,
April 1987 - August 1987
Adapted by Dennis Fujitake and Jan Strnad

When I was young, I devoured the Retief books and stories by Keith Laumer. For those not familiar with this source material, they chronicle the escapades of minor foreign officer in the futuristic Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne as he attempts to keep the peace despite the best efforts of his hidebound and petty fellow diplomats. Thoroughly suffused with early-sixties impatience with with The Organization, and informed by Laumer's own diplomatic experience, the stories showed how one man in a gray flannel spacesuit has to use his own initiative and bend - heck, break - the regulations to achieve his objectives.

I ate it up.

Don't get me wrong: the stories don't have any kind of counter-culture vibe to them; Retief is a loyal career diplomat. He just doesn't have any patience with form over substance or rules before results.

The comic books capture this sensibility just perfectly. Retief struggles not merely against the usually boneheaded, often selfish, and sometimes evil machinations of the various parties with whom he interacts, but also with his CDT superiors, whose by-the-book plans are at best useless and and worst counter-productive. In order to save lives, prevent war, and maintain peaceful interspecies relations, Retief must use wit, guile, and cunning, all of which he has in abundance.

Which is not to say that Retief isn't above the shrewd application of a little personal violence from time to time. Whether it be in ritual combat

or more in action hero style,

Retief can handle himself pretty well, thank you. But more often than not, he spends his time snooping around and asking questions,

figuring stuff out, outsmarting his opponents, and hoisting them by their own petards.

And in the end, Retief wins not just by beating someone up or stopping a plot, but by actually doing what foreign officers are supposed to do:

Each of the three issues I have is a done-in-one, but there's enough plot, action, and dialogue in thirty-one pages for them to be called graphic novels (well, at least novellas). This books are just dandy, every bit as good in their way as the original paperbacks I read, with the added benefit of Fujitake's exquisite linework. His draftsmanship is magnificent, and his retro-tomorrowland art design for the series is perfect.

If you ever have a chance to pick any of these up, do so.


According to the GCD, there were a total of six issues of the title put out by Mad Dog, plus another one-off called 'Retief of the CDT.' Amazon lists a 1990 paperback, but I haven't found exactly what is collected in it.

Doesn't that recording device Retief has up there look just like an iPod Nano?

And I so want a jacket like the one he's wearing in the two-panel clip.

(The title of this post is Will Rogers's definition of diplomacy.)


Anonymous said...

If ever there were a character that should have found a home on the big screen it would be Retief.
Who would play him in film?

Walaka said...

Some years ago I would have answered "James Garner" without hesitation. Nowadays? Maybe Jake Gyllenhall?