By Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Listen, I know there were crime procedurals before Law & Order (and there have been plenty since), but that show was such a mainstay of my formative pop-culture years that I can’t help but think of it every time I encounter a new fictional criminal investigation. What’s remarkable to me about that show is how entertaining it could be in spite of having an entirely rote structure (it was so set in stone, in fact, that they decided to enshrine it in the very title of the series). That is, the drama was never in whether they caught the culprit (they always did), or whether they would be convicted (they were found guilty or pled out the vast majority of the time), but in how they did it — or more precisely who was doing it. Individual details of the case might be interesting, but only inasmuch as they prompted quips from Briscoe or righteous indignation from McCoy. The procedural is an excuse to watch detectives do what they do best, so giving those detectives big, distinct personalities makes or breaks the whole exercise. In this way, Charles Soule has truly stacked the deck in his favor, cramming four larger-than-life investigators into tight quarters and giving them a hard case to chew on.
Intriguingly, what makes this case hard isn’t a lack of leads, but an overabundance of them. Cypher’s internet whispering is almost too effective, yielding dead end after dead end. Much of the issue lives in that space, as the team chases down every yahoo that bragged about running into Wolverine for street cred or likes on twitter. It lets our investigators flex their skills a bit, but it also gives them opportunities to bounce off one another in unexpected ways. I was already a fan of Frank and Misty’s ex-NYPD camaraderie, but Soule hints at something more.
Soule is sticking close to Matt’s perspective, so this budding romance has to play out in the background, but it’s kind of endearing to watch this scene play out through Matt’s eyes — his buddies are maybe into each other! At least something good will come of this investigation.
All of those leads turn up dry, so the team only catches a break when they pick up an emergency call from a ranger outpost in Saskatchewan. And it’s here that the issue shifts from a procedural to something else entirely. Where the first half of the issue might have been understood as inevitably leading to a break in the case, the second half shifts things to more of a straight-up manhunt before flipping the scenario on its head. The hunter becoming the hunted is a shift we’ve seen enough to become somewhat blasé about, but Soule’s pacing manages to keep that twist a real surprise, and artist Matteo Buffagni’s is able to goose it with genuine horror.
This is a great surprise, made all the more effective by the way the first half of the issue lulls us into a false sense of predictability. My compulsions aside, this isn’t an episode of Law & Order, so the good guys getting their man is far from a given. This issue reminded us of that in shocking fashion, making it clear that absolutely anything is possible.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?