Today, Patrick and (guest writer) Ben are discussing The Private Eye 2, originally released May 7th, 2013.
Patrick: I don’t like the board game Clue. However, there are some things that are supremely satisfying about it: that setting is incredible; those characters are iconic; pulling the cards out at the end to see if you had guessed everything correctly – that’s all good. But 98% of that game is simply gathering information, which ends up being far less engaging than if you were actually a detective solving Mr. Body’s murder in a creepy old mansion. If you were actually there, you’d get to know the suspects, form attachments with them, get a feel for the rooms, investigate the weapons. Clue lacks emotional investment – that’s my point. Now that The Private Eye’s central mystery has been established, Brian K. Vaughan eschews the information-gather phase in favor of a deeper look at his characters. Instead of answering questions about what happened, he answers the question of why the P.I. should care.
As a consequence, there’s not that much that transpires here that we didn’t already know about by reading the first issue. The P.I. has his teenage wheel-man, a precocious 16-year old named Melanie, ferry him to Taj’s apartment building. But when he gets there, the Journalists are already there investigating his client’s murder. Feeling no need to honor his contract with a dead woman, the P.I. bails. During the investigation, Deputy Correspondent Strunk interviews the victim’s sister – Raveena – specifically asking about the name “Patrick Immelman,” which was scrawled on Taj’s arm. Once the Journos have left her alone, Raveena warns the P.I. that this is all going to come crashing down around him, what with his password appearing on the victim’s arm. But the warning comes too late, as the “bad guys” kick in the P.I.’s windows and draw their twin pistols.
And that sequence is incredible. It’s a single-page show stopper that’s basically a masterclass in effective visual storytelling. There are a lot of normal comic conventions that have to be thrown out with the drawn-for-digital model, one of them is the awesome power of the two-page splash – an always-effective shortcut for conveying how dramatic a specific moment is. This series can still sorta do that, but the lead-in to the full-page is much more important. Otherwise, it just comes off like a slightly bigger than normal panel. So, like, when the bad guys break in to P.I.’s apartment, the tension has to come from the page before they burst in, guns a-blazin’. While it might be hard to tell what you’re seeing the first time you read it, the second panel is the bad guys starting their descent, and every other panels after that shows their progress, concluding with a shot of our heroes through the exterior windows. We see those same windows in the next panel, just from the inside, and the tension between where the bad guys are and where the good guys are reaches an exhilarating boiling point.
I mean, at this point, it almost doesn’t matter what comes through that window: it’s the most exciting thing ever.
Which is perfect because, Vaughan isn’t in the habit of dishing out more information in this issue – at least, not about the case. But the P.I.’s life is starting to come into focus. Check it out – we got to meet a friend of his this month – not a client, but an actual friend. Melanie’s an interesting case, both in that she can tell us a lot about the world of The Private Eye and the character of the P.I. I love the idea that young people aren’t allowed to take on nyms, and that the P.I. would view this as some luxury of youth. Children aren’t burdened with having to hide their identities – it’s like they haven’t learned to value anonymity yet. Check out how flippantly Mel “auditions” a nym.
And the P.I. uses Mel as a chauffeur because he can’t get a driver’s licence without giving up his actual identity to the DMV. That coupled with the fact that we still don’t know this dude’s name, lends a little credence to Mel’s accusations of paranoia. In a world that is very protective of its identities, our hero seems to be the most protective of them all. Early in this issue, he offers the following advice to Mel:
You want my advice, get into as much trouble as you can now, so your name will actually be worth disavowing someday.
Which means there’s something in P.I.’s past that is worth going through extraordinary measures to hide – it’s not just your run-of-the-mill vanity or embarrassment that drives him. The P.I. needs the anonymity and everyone else is just abusing it. As an example, here’s what’s in Raveena’s closet.
And accompanying those S&M masks is the simple phrase “everyone needs their secrets.” Is that a secret that needs to be kept secret? Do these characters obsess over a privilege that actually serves any purpose?
With that, I’ll pass it off to my old friend, Ben. I didn’t mention the time we spend with the straight-laced journalist that we last saw chasing our hero in the first issue, but it gets me excited that we’ll be seeing more of him. Vaughan always finds a way to dramatize the journeys of all of his characters, and it looks like this series is no different. Are you excited to get to know him too or do you wish we’d stay tighter on the P.I.? Do do you wish we’d just get to the case already?
Ben: Thanks Patrick, I consider it a deep honor to have the chance to write for Retcon Punch, and an even deeper honor to be talking the Private Eye 2. To be honest about your question, I’m very interested in what happens to the P.I., but what has me engrossed in this issue (as well as the first) is the world that Vaughan has created. At this point, I would probably read a story entirely about the mundane adventures of a garbage can as long as it told me more about this world. So do I care about journalist? Sure. Do I care about the P.I.? Absolutely. But since there are already gazillions of noir stories I could read, what grips my soul are the implicit mysteries teeming in this creative world, mysteries just begging to be solved. The street scenes in The Private Eye are my favorite example of this. Filled with imagination and creative verve, they show landscapes that hold out the promise of answers and certainty, if only we knew what they meant.
What makes this opening panel so compelling for me is that it is familiar – cars, people, trees, telephones – but everything is tweaked just a little. I always wonder about the stories behind all the interesting costumes wandering the streets, and can’t help but ponder why there are public phones in a society where the cars don’t use their wheels. I’d argue that the scariest things are not the most graphic or dark, but works of art that make the just unrecognizable enough that it isn’t quite home anymore. Vaughan’s world is ours, but just different enough that every page invites and teases the reader deeper into the story.
I should stop and disclose that I’m actually surprised about this. While I regularly read Retcon Punch, I don’t read comics. Seriously, I don’t read comics. In my life I’ve read Maus and Palestine and The Alcoholic and that’s about it. But in his original review Patrick said you absolutely had to read The Private Eye, and not wanting to disobey his order, I picked it up and read it over and over again. I was astounded to find that I couldn’t put it down.
I think I can explain this best if we go to the tubes…
This page is a powerful blend of immersion in the world of The Private Eye and in the particular story of the P.I. we’re following within it. In a single page we’re introduced to a beautiful mountain landscape, an alternative (seedy) community outside of the single high-rise city we’ve been exposed to before, and a storyline floating through the middle of the landscape. At this point the reader doesn’t know how any of this fits into the narrative of our P.I., but the dynamic way this is drawn conveys space, movement, and the passage of time all in one beautiful shot. Words are often minimal in this issue, and the way the plot serves to guide us through the imagined world of the P.I. keeps Vaughan from needing excessive exposition. The beauty and imagination of the art can’t be understated, and this makes the reader’s experience is somehow lean and luscious at the same time.
While we learn a little bit more about the P.I. in this installment, for every inch of information given to the reader, a foot of mystery is added to the story. Nowhere is this better illustrated than the developing relationship between the P.I. and the sister of the murdered client. I certainly didn’t expect HER to have a connection to the P.I. and the vague information from his past we learn about through their interactions only whets our appetite for more! Their interactions are so loaded that I’m not sure whether I’m more interested in knowing about the P.I.’s past or the current part of his life we’re following. I’d say that’s about as high of a compliment you can give regarding character development in a story.
The last feature of this issue I’d like to highlight is how carefully faces are drawn and guarded in the world of The Private Eye. Eyes in particular are critically important. Nyms and masks and cloaks conceal the eyes of almost everyone in this world. Even our P.I. seems to have a constant and looming mask of shadow around his eyes. However, there is one incredible moment where the P.I. gets down to business. Desperate to convey truth in a world based on deception and anonymity, the P.I. demands that Taj’s sister look straight into his eyes. We see them stare into each other’s eyes and the shadows disappear from the P.I.’s face. This moment, perhaps, is the deepest truth we’ve seen so far in The Private Eye.
Patrick (rightly) highlighted the stunning scene at the end of the issue where two strangers burst through the walls Mission Impossible-style. But what I think makes it so effective is its development out of a rare moment of intimacy in the story. After they look each other in the eyes, we are treated to a page full of white illuminating and isolating an awkward but tender hug.
In a style so full of bold colors, prominent silhouettes, and imaginative scenes, the spartan nature of this panel gets to the heart of the P.I.s world. And in a life built on many-layered deception, a quiet connection with another human is both rare and profound. From this moment of passing tranquility, the action insistently builds up to the breathtaking final scene. With that, I’ll say Bon Soir.
Ben is a seminary student, musician, and imagination lover living in Milwaukee, WI. He spends his precious free time eating delicious food, reading, and whining about the weather. Perhaps one day he’ll accomplish his goal of eating for the cycle at Miller Park (Hotdog, Brat, Polish, Chorizo, Italian).
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?