Thursday, April 24, 2014

Series Review: The Private Eye

The Private Eye
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated by Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vicente
Panel Syndicate

The Private Eye is an ambitious sci fi/detective series, published exclusively online by co-creators Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin under the Panel Syndicate banner. The Private Eye is offered on a DRM-free, pay-what-you-like model. More to the point, it's one of the best comics you'll read, online or offline. The story is set in the year 2076. This is a world which looks somewhat like what you'd imagine the future to be (tall buildings, futuristic cars), but there's no online connectivity. At some point (but well prior to the events of the story), there was an event where "the cloud" burst and for forty days and forty nights, all of everyone's deepest, darkest secrets became public. After that, no one trusted the internet anymore. Privacy is highly valued in the "present" time of the story; people go out of their way with masks and pseudonyms to hide their true identities in order to maintain their privacy. Interestingly, the Press has assumed the role of law enforcement, investigating crimes.

The story centers around a private investigator, known either as P.I. or by the pseudonym Patrick Immelman, who's approached by a beautiful woman (as these sorts of stories often tend to start) named Taj in order to run a background check on herself to see what sorts of dirt might turn up. When she's found dead up dead the next day, the case gets more serious.  P.I. is approached and essentially blackmailed into investigating Taj's murder by her sister Raveena.  P.I. And Raveena are almost immediately attacked and they go on the run, with some assistance from P.I.'s grandpa, who was a young man in our present day and still has a lot of trouble adjusting to the world of the story. Information is a lot harder to come by in 2076, as there is no internet and people's library searches are federally protected. P.I. and Raveena learn that Taj had been under the influence of a powerful man named De Guerre. During course of the first 5 issues, it becomes clear that De Guerre was responsible for Taj's murder (and some others as well) and is on the trail of P.I. and Raveena now, as part of his nefarious scheme to bring back something called "the internet".

In Issue 5, P.I. And Raveena make their way to the library - they get away from librarian shooting at them only through the help of P.I.'s teenage sidekick/driver Melanie. Unfortunately there's a car crash and she's injured at the end of Issue 5. In the current issue, Melanie is recovering in the hospital when she's approached by the press to get her story, unfortunately she's abducted by De Guerre's French henchmen, who engage in a firefight with the reporter. P.I. and Raveena follow a lead all the way out to the old Santa Monica pier, which no longer looks out onto the Pacific, but instead onto a giant sea wall, several hundred feet high. They find the home of Nebular, a scientist who's been working with De Guerre. At the same time, Nebular and De Guerre are heading out to Santa Monica, thereby setting up a big showdown in the next issue.

Vaughan and Martin have created something special with this comic. The story is a richly designed and detailed world, full of amazingly rendered touches. We don't know all that much about any of the characters in the story (as they come from a world where privacy is highly valued), but we're given enough to make them interesting. The art from Marcos Martin and colors from Muntsa Vicente are vibrant, detailed, and remarkably rendered. Every character has a tremendous amount of detail, and the setting (a futuristic world where most people where elaborate masks and costumes when outside) lends itself to the artistic team really getting to let their imaginations run wild. It would also not be a surprise to suggest that Vaughan (co-creator of Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina and Saga) knows how to build a world; he and Martin have done so skillfully here. Like the best science fiction, this story may take place in the future but it's about right now. The way these characters live (zealously guarding their privacy, not trusting any form of online communication) is a great commentary on how we live today, where we share everything online and trust in the security of the cloud. The idea of the cloud crashing down in a flood of data and thereby remaking the world is a great reinterpretation of the Biblical story of Noah*; the world that would emerge afterwards really would have to be different in order to function.

One example of the creative team's skill in world building, storytelling and social commentary is P.I.'s grandpa. He is a great recurring character in the issues and a source of comic relief, but he's a lot more than that. He goes on at various times about how he can't get any wifi or "bars" on his phone, and he's covered in tattoos. He defends the way they used to live, sharing everything because they had nothing to hide. It's funny to see an old person going on about these things, because these are the things that concern us now. So we see in this comic relief that all things are cyclical, and that all of the old people in our lives were young once, and everything we hold to as modern and exciting may someday seem quaint and ridiculous to our grandchildren. If it makes us a little uncomfortable, the creators are doing their job by giving us something to think about along with a terrific story and stunning art.

There's probably something ironic about The Private Eye only being available electronically. Don't worry about that though; this is a rich, interesting, beautifully rendered story in any format.

* A recurring theme in the books being reviewed by me, it seems.

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