Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing The Private Eye 3, originally released June 28th, 2013.
Technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself.
Vinton G. Cerf
The New York Times
Drew: In 2009, the highest court in France declared access to the internet a basic human right. In 2010, Costa Rica’s Supreme Court issued a similar ruling. Greece even wrote that right into their constitution. I tend to agree more with Vinton Cerf’s op-ed piece (quoted above) than the courts and councils of these countries, but that only dredges up the stickier question of what rights are enabled by the internet? The freedom of speech is an obvious example, but it also obviously existed before the internet. Sure, the internet facilitates the distribution of ideas, but so does being published by Random House, and nobody would claim that publishing contracts are an inalienable right. To me, the internet isn’t nearly as much about the freedom of speech as it is about the freedoms of convenience and anonymity. I would argue that neither of these are rights, per se, but does something need to be a right for someone to feel injustice when it is taken away? More importantly, how might that sense of injustice deform society? This seems to be the question at the heart of Private Eye — and the reason its setting doesn’t simply resemble a pre-internet world.
Issue three reveals that the masked francophone assassins we met at the end of issue two aren’t exactly shooting aces. PI and Raveena escape, a little worse for wear, to PI’s grandfather’s. It’s now clear that their assailants were hired guns, and PI can no longer pretend that what’s going on isn’t his problem. Meanwhile, DeGuerre reveals to Nebular that he has some kind of missile.
We’re also treated to a closer look at PI. The issue opens with a dream sequence which suggests that his interest in mysteries was solidified when his mother was found dead with no leads on her killer. I say “solidified” because young PI is clearly already interested in mysteries — he’s reading Encyclopedia Brown, and his bedroom wall features a Blade Runner poster. This series has gone to great pains to reveal as much about PI as possible through his pop culture consumption — something particularly interesting given that most people today share their favorite movies/books/music lists via Facebook — but I’m most interested here in what the rest of the scene says about PI. Writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Marcos Martin go to great pains to make PI as vulnerable as possible leading up to that scene, having him recall a particularly private moment while they strip him naked.
The cover (which cleverly acts as a first page) cues us in that this is a dream sequence, but these cues are what tip us off to the private nature of the scene that follows.
That’s not to say that Blade Runner isn’t a loaded work to allude to. The comparisons to this particular story about a detective in the future are obvious, but it also suggest that Raveena may not be so dangerous after all. Back in issue one, I mentioned my suspicions (raised by the Maltese Falcon and Angel Face posters in PI’s office) that any love interest may turn out to be a femme fatale, but Blade Runner‘s Rachel poses no threat (other than the obvious existential one).
I wouldn’t normally put so much weight into a single piece of set-dressing, but Vaughan and Martin have been particularly clever in revealing their story via these small details. I love the way the apparent revival of Blockbuster Video can reveal so much about this post-internet world, or what Gramps’ “Free Assange” poster says about him. Those details manage to distill a great deal of exposition into seemingly insignificant details, allowing the world to grow around us in a surprisingly organic way. We fill in the gaps that would have felt hackneyed if spelled-out.
Perhaps the biggest allusion, though, comes in the form of Gramps’ teevee, a wall-sized screen that just happens to double as a surveillance device. The image immediately calls to mind 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, seminal works in the “dystopian narratives everyone has to read in high school” genre. That’s not to be dismissive — both are fantastic books — but to say that they are loaded. Not only does the teevee represent entire novel(a)s about surveillance, censorship, and freedom, the ubiquity of those works make them a cultural touchstone — Vaughan and Martin can be certain that the vast majority of their audience will understand the allusion. Seeing the CNN logo applied to that idea — and PI’s aversion to it — is a bold commentary on modern television news.
I’m having a hard time getting over how rewarding this series is to think about — there are so many details buried so deep — and I’ve yet to even approach the meta-commentary of releasing this comic exclusively via the internet. At first, I thought that was just kind of a cute joke, but each issue reveals that it may say a great deal more about this story. Patrick, I hate to saddle you with addressing that particularly daunting subject, so here’s a softball: did you get a Jules/Vincent vibe from those bumbling french hit men (and what do you suppose they call a quarter pounder with cheese in France)?
Patrick: Ha! I love the thought of these two guys as a sort of reverse-Jules-and-Vincent. That’s an interesting set of characters to pick up on, because they’re not just telling of the kind of fiction that inspires this storytelling, but the place itself. Both Pulp Fiction and Blade Runner are set in LA – hyperbolic fantasy versions of LA, but they’re both recognizably Los Angeles. Vaughn seems to revel in these details as well – PI and Raveena make the quick jog from the Chateau Marmont to Sunset Boulevard and hop on the 2 bus. It shouldn’t surprise you to know that that’s all accurate. And you bet there’s a McDonalds just down the street from there. Fun fact: the storefront that the Block Buster will take over after the cloud bursts is currently a Chase Bank. I don’t know that we know anything about what happened to the financial system when the internet exploded, but maybe that’s a hint that they didn’t fare too well.
I think this setting helps legitimize a lot of the story. Not only can we quickly lock into the noir concepts, but there’s a shorthand for the character here as well. A few years ago, Patton Oswalt did an interview with the AV Club where he pointed out that one of the great strengths of the TV show Community, is that the characters are all trapped in their own little bubbles of pop culture, and have to fight against their own filters in order to connect with each other. Oswalt ascribes this quality to the show’s creator, Dan Harmon, who is a transplant to the LA area. I know defining oneself by the pop culture one enjoys isn’t unique to this part of the country, but it is particularly pronounced here. What can I say? It’s a big movie town.
There’s also a weird intersection of the past, the present and the future at play in this series. The elements of this fiction that are most startling are those that ring a little too close to reality. That that Orwellian television – the one that can hear all of your conversations? Microsoft’s XBox One will be in living rooms by the end of the year, and will be hooked up to an ever-watching, ever-listening Kinect. I tend to agree with Raveena’s sarcastic assessment of the invasion of privacy:
Even in a world where they’ve been burned by the internet before, the convenience of being able to talk to your teevee is just too great to pass up.
Drew, I totally agree that this thing is almost thematically rich to the point of distraction. We do a disservice to Martin’s impeccable eye for action and drama by spending so much time not fawning all over his art. The page where PI starts to remember the assault at his place is amazingly dynamic, and the zoom effect that pulls the readers out and away from his eyes and over to the eyes of their attackers is stomach-churning in its sense of motion. Arguably, half a second passes between the first panel and the last, but each image is necessary for the drama of the moment – the pinnacle of which is masterfully staged: both our heroes, both our villains, and two bullets in mid-flight.
There’s really not a single action beat that feels inconsequential or even remotely muddled. Even when there’s precious little real estate to explore the amazing world Vaughn has created, the psychological profiles of his characters, and a goddamned mystery, this team still takes entire pages to stage their action clearly and effectively.
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?