Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing The Private Eye 5, originally released December 21st, 2013.
Drew: There’s a touch of irony that the greatest mystery in a detective story is the detective himself, but mysterious detectives are the best. The questions that surround their existence reflect and emphasize the mysteries they’re hired to solve. If that seems too tidy, bear in mind that the mysterious detective falls out of the format of a detective story: while he is busy grilling everyone else about their pasts, his stays conveniently in the dark. Some stories largely ignore this aspect of their detective, treating them as a force of nature designed to solve cases, but many more have mined rich emotional connections from their heroes’ mysterious pasts. In this way, Private Eye may bear more in common with Blade Runner than just its futuristic LA setting.
The issue opens in the aftermath of the car crash — PI and Raveena make it out with a few bruises, but Melanie has been whisked off to the Schwarzenegger Medical Center. PI is ready to call it quits, but Raveena is able to convince him that the only way to stop more deaths is to keep digging at DeGuerre. They meet with another Private Investigator — this one specializing in celebrity gossip — who points them to the tubes. It’s there that they encounter an acquaintance of Taj’s, who reveals exactly what kind of counterculture message DeGuerre was all about: bringing back the internet.
One of my favorite parts abut this series is what it says about our relationship with the internet. Specifically, that the internet has so deformed what we expect of the world that there’s really no way to return to a pre-internet age. In a world where anonymous handles and facebook stalking are no longer possible, they are simply replaced with physical masks and literal stalking. People have gotten so used to the lack of consequences that they can’t fathom giving up these behaviors. This issue also hints at something akin to the relative anonymity of chatrooms or message boards — places that encourage the free exchange of ideas — suggesting that the internet might not all have been about frivolous activities and slowly sacrificing your privacy.
Then again, these are all perspectives from users. We think Facebook is here to connect us with each other, but it’s really there to make money. That is to say, the internet is not some kind of diffuse representation of the people, but corporate interests masquerading as such. Those corporations have even more to lose if the internet goes down, and would have to get even more creative to keep those enterprises running in its absence. Specifically, they’d have to work a heck of a lot harder to pry personal information from people still embarrassed about the cloudburst.
This kind of spying certainly seems like something advertisers — who have also gotten used to the freedoms afforded by the internet — would want access to. What could be more effective that a sales pitch designed to your exact situation?
This scene plays out exactly as you would suspect (hint to all lackeys: if your evil boss asks you who else knows about this super secret thing you just discovered, don’t let on that the secret could easily die with you), but Vaughan brilliantly makes the death a long, messy one, paralleling the slow triumph of corporate interests over individual freedoms. I also appreciate that DeGuerre is left with the very real problem of cleaning up his mess. He calls up one of his hit men to help — once again channeling Jules and Vincent from Pulp Fiction — and we get just enough to know that it’s slow, mundane work.
Meanwhile, we get a few more dribs and drabs about PI’s life. We learned a bit about his mother’s death back in issue 3, but he’s largely been a cypher. Here, we learn that he had a romantic relationship with Star Maps, the celebrity Private Investigator he turns to for a lead on DeGuerre.
It’s played for a bigger surprise than it really is (that kiss would be a non-event if Star Maps were a woman), but it is the first glimpse at an actual personal life for PI. Until now, he’d been a consummate professional with some kind of tragic history and a goofy grandfather who is a caricature of what today’s teenagers will look like 60 years from now. Still, this doesn’t give us information about his personal life so much as it draws our attention to how little we know about it. We’ve been so focused on the world around him that it’s easy to forget we barely know the character at the center, but Vaughan is subtly pointing us back to what may be the real mystery here.
Shoot. The world here is always so complex, I always burn through my word count before I have a chance to praise Marcos Martin’s stunning work here. His impeccable choice of image allows him to pace a scene perfectly, drawing out the murder or conveying exactly how long that kiss was. I neglected to include my favorite sequence — the chase at the tubes — but I’m hoping you can remedy that, Patrick. Wasn’t that an incredible page?
That’s the entirety of the page there. I absolutely love that this sequence gives the reader the opportunity to switch between the wide shots and the close shots as you best see fit. It’s like you’re put in the director’s chair and given all the tools to craft your perfect chase scene. There’s something almost Where’s Waldo?-esque about the larger drawing that just invites reader participation, so the smaller insert-panels are less depicting what’s happening, and more inviting the reader to imagine these actions in this rich full space your eye already has access too.
Martin’s work here is incredible, but I’m going to have to echo the sentiment of a few of the folks in the letters column and praise Munsta Vicente’s courageous coloring. Vicente’s application of bright solid background colors are illogical and non-intuitive, but those same colors give the story a vibrancy and visual momentum it would lack otherwise. In the sequence above, the colorful panels act as inserts — additional information — so the disconnect between the color we see and the color we expect to see can we waved away by likening them to flashcards, or those instructional pamphlets you get on a plane. However, Vicente is not content to let that electric palette rest in gimmick – several of the backgrounds are dictated by emotion, rather than, y’know, what they’d actually look like.
Let’s take that opening scene at the crash site for example. Vicente persistently presents the night sky as a straight-out-of-the-Crayloa-box purple. This isn’t some kind of very dark blue-ish purple that emulates the way city lights get trapped in LA’s foggy night sky (which is real and also looks awesome), it’s purple.
And it’s not even anything so trite as to establish an emotional short hand – we’ll see purple skies later in the issue, but we’re not meant to make a connection (conscious or subconcious) between these moments. This simply forces us to look at the important details in the scene by removing those that don’t matter. The sheer amount of screen time (a phrase I deem appropriate in this digital-only medium) that PI gets in this issue without any background-support supports Drew’s idea that the question of who our hero detective really is is the greater mystery.
I’m also still very interested in the grandfather character. Drew mentioned some of the stronger arguments the issue presents in defense of the internet, but Grandpa’s little outburst in the the middle of the issue acts as a casual reminder of just how meaningful the meaningless applications of the internet are. He’s playing some kind of first person shooter (always rendered in loving detail by Martin and Vicente), and he’s frustrated that the machine won’t take him on-line to play with other people. PI, a little too short to be polite, tells him to just play by himself. This is an old man, no longer in his mental or physical prime, this may be the only opportunity he has to play with someone else, and PI’s attitude in this moment might show an uglier side to romanticizing a non-internet era.
Then we get another one of these no-real-background moments, this time with Gramps at the center.
Vaughan’s characters are quick to dismiss this as nonsense, possibly even evil machinations of the internet, but as Drew points out above, they’re going to engage in this kind of activity anyway – with or without the internet.
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?