Lucid

Lucid is the graphic novel series by Michael McMillian, best known for his role as the delightfully creepy quasi-evangelical-pastor-turned-cult-leader Steve Newlin from the second season of the HBO series True Blood. McMillian also worked on the True Blood graphic novel put out by IDW.

Lucid doesn’t have anything to do with vampires. Not yet anyway. It’s the story of a world where magic is real, where Merlin was a historical figure that did some pretty important stuff, and where combat mages are employed by Majestic Intelligence, a super-secret branch of… the Secret Service? Certainly the federal government, though this particular agency is so black that it makes the NSA look like a FOIA processing center.

I. Majestic Intelligence

It’s not entirely clear exactly what Majestic Intelligence is. The Secret Service is currently part of the Department of Homeland Security, but until 2003 it was part of the Treasury. This may come as a surprise. When most people hear “Secret Service” they hear “Presidential bodyguards.” And that’s true. The Presidential Protection Division is responsible for the personal safety of the President, Vice-President, and other VIPs. Governor Romney, as a “major presidential or vice-presidential candidate” as identified by the Secretary of Homeland Security, has his own Secret Service detail. Gary Johnson probably doesn’t, but whatever. The Uniformed Division is the division specifically responsible for security around the White House, the Vice-Presidential residence, and foreign diplomatic missions.

But this is actually only part of the Secret Service’s mission. The larger and older part is the investigation of certain types of financial crime, namely forgery and counterfeiting of US currency and bonds, plus wire fraud, identity theft, various financial scams (including so-called “Nigerian” or 419 scams), certain kinds of computer fraud, etc. This is why the Secret Service was part of Treasury for so long.

Historically though, the Secret Service was part of the many-headed hydra that is/was US federal intelligence operations. The Secret Service was created by Abraham Lincoln (somewhat ironically) on the day of his assassination and tasked with the investigation of counterfeit currency in the aftermath of the Civil War. At the time, it was one of only three federal law enforcement agencies–the FBI wouldn’t be created for almost fifty years—and it had major domestic and international law enforcement and intelligence-gathering functions for most of the latter part of the nineteenth century.

We don’t actually know when Majestic Intelligence was created. But as the world seems to contemplate magical activity going back millennia, and current mages know about “Merlin’s Wall,” a spell apparently cast by Merlin which banished some of the more malevolent magical creatures into a different reality, the idea that the federal government has had an agency specifically tasked with dealing with magical threats is not implausible. Further, as the Secret Service was one of the earliest intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the country, long pre-dating the CIA, FBI, NSA, etc., all of which were created in the twentieth century, the idea that a super-top-secret organization might have found its home in the Secret Service… actually makes a certain amount of sense. Especially if Congress didn’t know about it, which it doesn’t seem to. This organization would thus fall into the same kind of category as the NSA did for the first few decades of its existence, i.e., “No Such Agency.” So whether deliberately or by accident, McMillian has placed Majestic Intelligence in the one place it’s most likely to have existed, should it date back to the nineteenth century.

One minor quibble though: the head of Majestic Intelligence is portrayed as reporting directly to the President. This isn’t impossible, but (1) it’s kind of unlikely, and (2) the President wouldn’t really refer to such a person as a “cabinet member.” As to the first, secret intelligence agencies like this one don’t seem terribly likely to report directly to the President, for two reasons. First, they’re designed to operate over the long haul, and there’s a new President every four to eight years. That means that such entities are going to be more comfortable smuggled away in the massive federal bureaucracy than having a direct line to the Oval Office. The head of Majestic Intelligence is going to want to report to a career civil servant who will survive a change in administration, not an elected or politically appointed short-timer. So an undersecretary or even a division chief. This would potentially make for less drama—fewer secret meetings with the President—but would probably be more realistic.

As to the terminology, McMillian is probably using this as shorthand for “someone who reports directly to the President,” but that’s not really what “cabinet member” means. With the exception of the Vice President (who is elected), and the White House Chief of Staff (who is an employee of the President with no official political authority), cabinet-level officials are all nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. But there are other people who aren’t cabinet-level officials, or subject to the advise and consent process, that would likely have the ear of the President. For example, the Director of the CIA technically reports to the Director of National Intelligence, but to think that General Petraeus couldn’t get the President on the phone if he needed to seems far-fetched.

II. Other Issues

Lucid raises several other issues as well.

For starters, a fair amount of summoning activity goes on. This is actually the subject of a question we got on our recent Reddit AMA. This is a big one, and we’re going to devote a post to it.

Also, the book posits the existence of “Her Majesty’s Secret Secret Service,” a British analog to Majestic Intelligence, and presumably operating at a higher level of secrecy than MI5 (focused on domestic intelligence and security) or MI6/SIS (focusing on foreign intelligence and security) but taking part in the operational spheres of both. Obviously, this is something that would happen if it needed to, and these kinds of super-black agencies probably have national and international communications and operations on an as-needed basis. But it’s worth pointing out that the real US Secret Service does regularly interface with foreign intelligence on the issues of protecting VIPs, so this is doubly plausible.

III. Conclusion

Lucid is a pretty good read and a great first-effort by McMillian. Interestingly, Zachary Quinto of Heroes and Star Trek fame is attached as an editor, and his production company, with Warner Brothers, has optioned the comic to be produced as a movie! There doesn’t seem to have been any news since this past May, but these things take time.

8 Responses to Lucid

  1. When you say that Congress doesn’t seem to know of it, do you mean that the knowledge of the existence of magic is very tightly controlled? If not and the existence of magic is publicly known then it’s only logical to assume that such an organization exists.

    • I don’t know if it’s that obvious that “magic exists” implies “so the government has a secret bureaucracy/agency to deal with it”. A substantial portion of the U.S. Public believes that angels exist, and a similarly large number believe that ghosts exist. I don’t think that either of those substantial groups assumes that there’s a secret agency in the federal government specifically to deal with them. (I’ll concede that there IS such an assumption around those who believe that aliens exist.)
      Popular media references: “Highway to Heaven” TV series, Ghostbusters, Men in Black.

      • Not really. Most Americans do believe in, say, angels but very few believe that an angel is watching them right this second and if they don’t return the wallet they found on the ground the angel will write them down for possible damnation.
        There’s something of a real life relevance gap between believing that the Abrahamic God exists and has creatures called angels and actually knowing that someone has the power to resurrect the dead and send them on a murderous rampage because this person has done it before. One has you going to church on Sunday, the other has you demanding the federal government do something about the maniac.
        For a somewhat related example (although in this case all of it is based entirely in reality) think of the difference between reactions to nuclear power in the 1920s/1930s compared to reactions in the 1950s/1960s. One has people saying ‘oh how interesting’. The other has people saying ‘we’re one step away from the apocalypse, we need an organization -the IAEA- handling this now!’

      • James Pollock

        1942. “Blowups Happen”, Robert A. Heinlein.

  2. Is it fair to say that this is an area we just don’t know about? I mean, there could be a Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (like in Hellboy comics) not because ghosts and goblins are real but perhaps because every sitting President of the past hundered or so years has believed in ghosts and goblins and has chosen not to shut it down. And the head of the bureau would have to answer to the President because otherwise they would be virtually autonomous: presumably every sitting President would be told of its existance and be assured that they were doing things that were absolutely necessary for the defense of America and, hence, no President would look into it further. After all, what’s a billion or so dollars a year compared to the total defense budget?

    • In a post-WWII world maybe. Prior to it if something was expensive and not championed by very powerful Congressmen it’s budget would get horribly slashed if not outright removed.

      • Ryan Davidson

        Actually… that’s not strictly true. One of the reasons the Administrative Procedure Act was passed after WWII was precisely because it wasn’t as true as Congress wanted it to be.

        Specifically, FDR had assumed sweeping executive powers during the war, including the creation of secretive defense organizations with little to no congressional oversight. Congress was willing to put up with this during the war, but unlike today’s Congress, they were unwilling to cede that kind of power to the executive. So once things settled down a bit, they passed a law which makes it a lot harder for the executive to go off-message.

        That isn’t to say that black agencies didn’t continue to exist. The budgets of the NSA and CIA are still classified, as are quite a few other Defense-related agencies. Many of these budgets are authorized by Congress, but the details of the budgets are not. It’s functionally a lump sum that the agency can spend however it likes without public or even congressional oversight. Hiding a few tens of millions here and there would be a trivial task.

      • James Pollock

        The CIA also operates several businesses, some of which actually turn a profit.

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