by Stephen Hardman
The modern drug war is often traced back to 1971 and US President Richard Nixon’s declaration to wage a “new all-out offensive” aimed at defeating America’s “public enemy number one” – drug abuse. Initially the policies focused on funding treatment programs aimed at tackling the demand for drugs. Nixon stated that efforts of interdiction and eradication would be destined to fail. Two years later he forgot his own words when the US launched a massive interdiction effort in Mexico, creating the DEA in the process. Since then the US has been fighting a war which many people believe cannot be won, at least not in a traditional sense.
Sombra, a four-issue limited series, written by Justin Jordan, with art by Paul Trevino, and colours by Juan Eseche, explores America’s war on drugs through the eyes of DEA agent Danielle Marlowe. Her father Conrad is a DEA agent who has gone rogue in Mexico and Danielle is manipulated into drawing him out by her bosses so the DEA can shut him down, and avoid a publicity nightmare in the process.
When Danielle first arrives in Mexico City she meets with the local police chief. He believes that America has brought the madness of the cartels to Mexico. His opinion is that stopping the cartels is now impossible. All that can be done is to limit the killing.
Conrad also believes that America’s fight is a futile one. Driven mad by his inability to fulfil his task of breaking the Cartel stranglehold on South America, and tipped over the edge by the Cartel killing of one of his close colleagues, he has adopted ever more gruesome tactics, Cartel-like tactics, in an attempt to stop them for good. Like Kurtz in Apocalypse Now he has become immersed in their world and can no longer see outside of it.
Ultimately Conrad is also doomed to fail. His daughter, tasked with bringing him in, disrupts his plans to create an army of murderous children. After a showdown between Conrad and his nemesis – Cartel boss Rojas – Danielle escapes leaving her father to an uncertain fate.
The final issue of this excellent mini-series ends with images of hope for the future represented by one of the children now released from Conrad’s maniac grasp, alongside commentary on the problem at the heart of the ‘war on drugs’ – America seeing a problem to solve, but not seeing the bigger picture, and failing to find solutions that work.
Sombra explores subjects and themes which have fascinated observers for decades. Numerous books both fictional and non-fictional have focused on the cartels of South America. Don Winslow followed up his fantastic novel Power of the Dog with Cartel in 2016, staking his claim as the pre-eminent exponent of cartel fiction. Documentaries have focused recently on the people affected by the drug trade on all sides. TV series such as Narcos have mined the fascinating history of some of the larger than life cartel bosses and their bloody battles with the police, army and Government agencies. The big screen has seen films such as Sicario drawing on the same material. As long as there is a demand for the drugs that are smuggled out of South America the fight between the American government and the cartels will continue. The nature of that fight may change but the fascination with the subject is likely to endure.
Stephen Hardman is a trainee Legal Executive Lawyer who currently resides in Bath, in the UK with his wife and their cat. Among other things he writes in his spare time. He is currently working on a novel which he hopes to finish soon, and he has written a few short stories as well, though has not had anything published. Yet. Stephen loves reading and is a huge crime fiction fan; George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, and Ken Bruen being particular favourites. He is an editor and contributor at the geek culture website Geeks Unleashed.
His obsession with comic books knows no bounds and he loves sharing news and reviews of all the great comic books and graphic novels being published right now. He also loves listening to music and seeing bands live, and is always seeking out new bands and musicians to obsess about.
You can catch him on Twitter @HardDaysWrite.