By: Brian K. Vaughan (story), Marcos Martin (art), Muntsa Vicente (colors)
The Story: Life can be rough for a man in a future of pay phones and no wifi.
The Review: In Vaughan’s afterword in this issue, he explains why he’s offering The Private Eye strictly online, “where we could offer our new work to readers around the world the second it was finished—DRM free, in multiple languages, for whatever price each reader thought was fair…we thought it was the simplest way to widely distribute what we really about: original stories and beautiful art.”
An inarguably noble motivation, of course, but I couldn’t help thinking that it took years of doing major projects with DC (Y: The Last Man) and Marvel (Runaways) for Vaughan to develop the profile he has, and it is only that profile, with all the reputation and credibility that comes with it, that allows Private Eye to reach out to as wide a readership as it does. How likely do you think a maxiseries about a “futuristic U.S. that no longer used the internet” would find commercial success otherwise?
With that in mind, let’s simply appreciate the good fortune and circumstance that allowed Vaughan to bring such a story to us. Even more than Saga, which is really an old story in new clothes, Private Eye shows off Vaughan’s cutting imagination in the same way Y: The Last Man did. From the very first page—heck, from the very cover—the series throws you headfirst into its dazzlingly unique world, threatening to overwhelm you with its bizarre sights and sounds.
So let’s get our bearings. The place: Los Angeles (our protagonist is reported as fleeing across “upper Wilshire Boulevard”). The time: some sixty years into the future (a commercial on the “teevee” advertises for an upcoming car sale celebrating the country’s “tricentennial triumph”). The setting: a society where everybody can choose their “guise,” either by holo tech or flatex; where investigators, journalists, and police have melded and divided into the legitimate “press” and the felonious “paparazzi”; where privacy of identity reigns supreme in the law of the land.
It’s not quite dystopia, but it is a stark vision of the future, and nearly all such futures are preceded by a disaster in the past. So it goes here: we learn that some decades before, there was the bursting of “the Cloud,” and all the secrets anyone thought to keep within it came raining down for everyone else to see, leading to the world you enter now. This kind of specific portrayal of the future always bears a message for us in the present, and Vaughan, given his past work, clearly excels at that kind of thing.
An intriguing world to be sure, but what of the characters who will navigate us through it? Our protagonist is one Patrick Immelman, one of the aforementioned paparazzi, whose style of operation is that of your classic P.I.* Like most gumshoes, Patrick provides a valuable service on the outskirts of the law, tracking down the most precious commodity of all in this world: identities and secrets. His latest job (from a beautiful dame—it’s always a beautiful dame), however, will get him involved with more than a guy looking for one last glimpse of his high school sweetheart. When you’ve got a man looking for you, and that man’s nom de guerre is actually “De Guerre” (translated from the French: “Of War”), you’ve got to take that seriously.
For a story like this, you need an artist who can highlight its uniqueness without actually calling attention to it, and this Martin does brilliantly. He draws spectacular scenes full of bizarre details with amazing casualness. If you just glance at any given page, you might take it as a normal slice of life. But when you take a moment to get a really good look at what you’re reading, you’ll see the incredible richness actually before you: crowds of people where every person has a completely different outfit; rooms chock-full of props; and over it all a retro-modern design sense that feels chic and radical at the same time. Props to Vicente as well for giving Martin’s somewhat emaciated linework plenty of body and popping hues.
Conclusion: As good of a debut as you can possibly hope for—hip, intelligent, sensitive, and boldly imaginative, on both the written and artistic fronts.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * Notice the repeating motif of “P.I.” And here’s one more: on the door to Patrick’s office is л—the symbol for “pi.”