Review by Frank Plowright
The Central Intelligence Agency is the USA’s foreign spy service, and frequently operates as if boundaries don’t apply to the organisation. One result of that attitude was codenamed Project MK-Ultra, which ran from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s experimenting with assorted substances in an attempt to perfect a truth serum. While some might question the aim, the methods are without doubt objectionable. However, the search began long before, with experiments undertaken during World War II.
Stewart Kenneth Moore is working from an as-yet undeveloped screenplay by Brandon Beckner and Scott Sampila, with a graphic novel always a good visual aid to drop in front of a potential movie backer. However, whatever the intentions of the writers, Moore throws everything into his work, producing a visual tour de force, picking up on every opportunity the outrageous history supplies. The left sample page is one of several from Moore’s prologue depicting Albert Hoffman, a researcher at Sandoz laboratories having accidentally created the potent hallucinogenic drug LSD, which is where the story of MK-Ultra begins.
CIA director Richard Helms destroyed most documentation about MK-Ultra in 1973. It means so much of what has emerged about it and its methods is unverifiable, and given their primary source of experimentation was LSD, how reliable can anyone be considered? If Helms destroying the records wasn’t fuelled by a fear of whether journalists would look in other directions after Watergate it could be considered a stroke of administrative genius. Moore provides his own journalist, San Francisco based Seymour Phillips who seems the only person wondering what an arrested drug dealer was doing with a kilo of acid. However, his initial enquiries only make him a marked man, but once tempted back, the rabbit hole beckons.
Moore delivers reality as well as he delivers unreality, except as the book continues there’s a gradual merging of the two. After all, everyone believes the CIA are always watching somehow, even back when techniques were less sophisticated, and that seems borne out when Phillips is approached by a source. He’s fried and paranoid, but his extraordinary tale is disclosed in fragments, some of which Phillips is able to verify. Breckner and Sampia tie the outrages together via some referenced sources, as the CIA move from testing in-house to setting up in San Francisco. As presented by Moore, the agents are perpetually suited, a cackling chorus and a collective ethical void seeing the volume out contrasting the wholesome TV land of the 1950s with their reality.
While truth remains elusive, Moore’s chaos is addictive and Volume 2 concludes the madness.