Hadrian’s Wall 5

Today, Patrick and Mark are discussing Hadrian’s Wall 5, originally released March 29, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

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Patrick: Simplicity is an illusion. Every relationship that falls apart, every job that is lost, every hope that is abandoned comes at the end of a long, complicated road with no singular culprit. But it’s human nature to try to compartmentalize these things: she left because I cheated; I was fired because I was always late; I don’t have time to pursue my dreams. That’s clean, almost absolving us of our sins of disappointment. Hadrian’s Wall 5 delivers the answer to the series’ central mystery to this point, only to pivot from solution to inevitably more-complicated problem, insisting on the non-simplicity of this narrative. That dovetails nicely with Simon’s own memories of his failed relationship with Annabelle, which failed not through a singular action, but because these people were incompatible. Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel and Rod Reis’ story of murder-in-space refuses to be anywhere near as simple as the first four issues would have you believe.

Which isn’t to sell short those first four issues. I praised the first issue for wearing its genre trappings on its sleeve, but presenting an almost unsettlingly well-rounded protagonist. Issue 5 turns that same microscope on the macro story, and introduces a band of rebel colonists (or is it colonial rebels?) who immediately get the truth about Edward’s death. Selina is hilariously flippant with this information, especially considering having it would have closed off Simon’s arc 4 issues ago.

It should be a bombshell, but at the time they’re being boarded by aggressive rebels, and that resolution needs to be swept under the rug as quickly as it surfaced.

Emotionally, that’s what we’re seeing in Simon’s flashbacks. The evident flashpoint for he and Annabelle breaking up is his relationship with Terry. At least, that’s the narrative Simon was writing for himself at the time — he chews Edward out for telling his wife that they were spending time together. That sucks, and it would still make Simon a terrible dude, but the truth is so much more complicated than that — they have become different people that can no longer communicate, and that no longer value the same things. See how hard it is to articulate that second thing? “He cheated” would be so much easier, so much cleaner, and Reis even takes that simple narrative for a spin, weaving an efficient narrative.

I mean, look at this thing: we get the couple in one of their most intimate environments – in bed together. Simon even strips down to his underpants to make the nudity literal. Panels one and four show Annabelle and Simon’s wedding rings explicitly. Then, as a slice of ultimate simple symbolism, Reis isolates Simon in his own discrete panel at the bottom of the page. Clean, clear, obvious, understandable. But Higgins and Siegel aren’t interested in such pat and dry statements, so the next two pages agonizingly stay with our characters as they talk it out. 

Which is devastating. Obviously.

And that’s precisely when the issue pivots back to the Hadrian’s Wall, and its complexities keep compounding. Not only is the crew being held captive by radical colonists, Simon’s starting to hallucinate the ghost of his air-locked former boss / ex-wife’s lover. OR IS HE!??! Ghost Edward acknowledges that he might just be a hallucination, but that just opens the door for the insane possibility that he’s somehow something more. That’s prompts all kinds of questions, blowing right past “what are these rebels up to?” to “what is the nature of life and death on the edges of space?”

Reis’ design of the rebel commander helps to sell this idea. In a series full of overcoats and dully futuristic outfits, she stands as something spectacularly different.

She’s bold enough to be featured on the cover of the issue — and that’s before we even meet her.

Mark, I guess I have to pose the question to do: does this feel like a meaningful pivot or does it sell the last couple issues upstream in favor of a more sensational story? Also, it’s kind of alarming how easily the captain gives up control of his own ship, right?

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Mark: I like your read on the issue, Patrick, even if I don’t necessarily agree that the book’s inciting question — who murdered Edward? — has truly been resolved. It’s clear Selina believes that Annabelle killed him (or, at least, she believes it’s the most politically expedient solution), and Simon believes it as well, but that doesn’t read like the definitive word on the matter to me.

Part of my reluctance to accept Annabelle’s guilt is that the issue offers up another equally plausible solution: Selina killed Edward. While we don’t have a full understanding of her possible motives for doing so (and Annabelle confesses as much), Selina is by all accounts capable of offing Edward if she felt the situation warranted. But much of my reluctance is in the way Annabelle is written post-“reveal.” I’m leaning on genre tropes here, but generally in detective stories when the killer is unmasked they drop their facade to reveal the monster lurking within them. That’s certainly not the case here, as Annabelle’s characterization remains consistent with how she’s been portrayed previously. Plus, conveniently finding the drugs that poisoned Edward in Annabelle’s room just screams SET UP. (And I’m still not convinced this doesn’t end with Edward’s death being a tragic mistake.)

But perhaps the biggest indication (which I only discovered after returning to ComiXology to confirm some spelling for this write-up) comes from the issue’s promotional blurb:

“With Thetan Rebels hijacking the ship, investigator Simon Moore must prove his ex-wife’s innocence… or risk starting a world-ending conflict.”

Frustratingly, only a little of that comes to pass in Hadrian’s Wall 5, which is a bummer since it feels like a pretty big spoiler.

Except maybe not. I agree with you, Patrick, that the start of this second arc it feels like a pivot away from the central mystery that motivated the first four issues. I’m a fan of Agatha Christie-style locked-door whodunits, and the introduction of the Thetan Rebels onto the ship acts like a contamination of the simple premise Higgins and Siegel started with. And while “the material” the rebels keep demanding may yet be just a macguffin to distract us from a larger purpose, none of the back and forth about it is compelling enough at this stage to warrant the inches devoted to the debate. Especially when our main character is haunted by the spectre of the dead and scarred Edward, and who possibly just died from the side effects of drug withdrawals.

Hadrian’s Wall 5 marks a book in transition, like season 1 of LOST into season 2. Hadrian’s Wall is looking to sustain itself long term, and that requires opening up its world to introduce more characters and more sources of conflict. My hope is that amidst all of this future-proofing it doesn’t lose what made it work in the first place.

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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?

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