By: Jim McCann (story), Rodin Esquejo (art), Sonia Oback & Arif Prianto (colors)

The Story: Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf?

The Review: I can’t remember the last time a “Whodunnit?” managed to actually surprise me at the end.  I can’t even remember when one successfully kept me in the dark halfway through the story.  Most mysteries wind up being anything but because they make it so obvious who the culprit is early on.  Don’t even bother pulling the “person you least suspect” trick, because folks are so savvy nowadays, that’s the first person they suspect—and they’re usually right.

McCann cleverly turned that trick on its head by making it clear the person you least suspect deserves the status.  With Jo established as a character of confidence, McCann has the freedom to make everyone else as shady as possible, to have every opportunity to mislead and deceive you.  Astonishingly, he’s managed to do what so many mystery writers fail to do: make you suspect everyone.  No matter how hard you try, you can’t really make a snap judgment on anybody; you have dirt on all of them.

With that in mind, the only way you can work toward solving the mystery is figuring out what each suspect’s motive in attacking Elle may be and deciding which is the strongest.  And you can’t work off what you see on the surface either.  A lot of time has been spent emphasizing Dane and Elle’s relationship problems right before her accident, as well as Eddie Jr.’s plainly callous, unfeeling behavior.  Yet lovers’ spats and sibling tension seem a tad too obvious for what McCann is going for here, so you might, in a counterintuitive way, suspect them the least.  See what I mean?

And there always remains the possibility that a bunch of them are all in it together.  What with a mysterious briefcase (which appears again this issue) and files having to be downloaded, you get the sense that a bigger, more important conspiracy is in the works.  You have scientists and corporate honchos and cops and doctors all involved, so the scale of this mystery has to be very, very big indeed.  It can’t just be about a senseless attack on a drama queen.

While McCann won’t come right out and say it—you’d look down on him if he did—he makes it pretty plain that if there’s a big conspiracy at the end of all this, it must have something to do with Elle’s inexplicable body-snatching power, the glaring bit of the fantastic in the middle of all this drama.  Not even the Garden or “Memory Wall” count as outstanding concepts since they could all just be in Elle’s head (with Dr. Crenshaw admitting, in a moment of existential doubt, he and Bobby could just be illusions Elle dreamed up).  Elle’s possession of the comatose has real consequences in the physical world; that, at least, is something she’s not just imagining.

Esquejo’s exquisite art is both lush and delicate, fully-fleshed as it looks.  This is real classical form he’s putting into this series, and it clearly stands out from all the angular, sketchy sort of drawings that have become so run-of-the-mill in mainstream comics these days.  Esquejo also makes some very interesting directional choices; it’s not often you get shots of characters from their backsides or long panels with lots of negative space, and the issue looks that much more sophisticated for it.

Conclusion: Admittedly, I’m dying for some major revelations to start dropping, but I expect that’s just playing into McCann’s game.  Devilishly intriguing from front to back.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Call me paranoid, but is there a special reason why McCann won’t show the last three digits of Jo’s phone number?  Maybe he just doesn’t want to tempt anyone into actually trying to call it.

– “That, Doctor, is all I can relay.”  What the hell kind of nurse—or anybody—says stuff like that?  She’s definitely in on the whole thing, whatever it is.