By: Brian K. Vaughan (story), Marcos Martin (art), Muntsa Vicente (colors)
The Story: The only thing harder than bursting the cloud is putting it back together.
The Review: When I was a newly-minted freshman in high school, a classmate extended the first overture of digital friendship I encountered in the new millennium. AIM* was the Facebook of that period, meaning it was largely the province of youths who had way too much time on their hands. Lord, the many hours I spent hooked to my 56K Netzero connection, just to occasionally participate in the most inane conversations that were mostly emoticons.
At the time, though, this was just about one of the coolest things you could do, along with everything else internet-related. Nowadays, chatting, downloading, and browsing have become so much a part of my life that I only vaguely recall how I got by without them. In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to imagine what life would be like if, by some disastrous circumstance, we’d have to live without the internet again. As Vaughan sets out in Private Eye, however, an internet-less life would probably be an okay one. In some instances, it might even be an improvement.
Books—real, physical, flippable, shareable tomes—take on new importance, which explains how libraries rose up to once again become integral institutions, and how bookstores were saved from obsolescence.** Gaming becomes less attractive, once you realize that pitting yourself against yourself or an A.I. doesn’t have quite the unpredictable satisfaction of connecting with other players. The obsession with celebrity culture is apparently on the wane, with Raveena pondering in disgust, “Why the hell would anyone want to know what an actor’s baby looks like?”*** Heck, even salons, those antiquated gatherings of thinkers and talkers, have been revived.
So all in all, once you set aside the rather lonely insistence on anonymity, life without the Cloud is actually rather pleasant. Which is why the revelation of DeGuerre’s ultimate goal—“bringing back…internet”—is at once threatening, profound, and brilliant, all at once. For us and older-gen characters like Patrick’s grandpa, the return of the internet would be an event worth celebrating, but for this new, disconnected society, it’s a real menace.
Privacy, which is at an all-time premium in Private Eye, will go out the window. We all know that anything we do online is at risk for exposure, but we tend to minimize that risk. We think we’re too unimportant for anyone to care about such intimate details of our lives, anyway. But think about the implications of the cloud-burst Patrick keeps mentioning; think of what would happen if suddenly everything we did on the internet was laid bare. How much of it do you really want others to know, and to what lengths would you go to keep it hidden? At the moment, it’s not clear how the internet plays into DeGuerre’s plans or philosophies, but as his secret spy equipment in the TeeVees prove, this is a man who doesn’t put much stock into privacy.
This is all tasty food for thought, but Vaughan spends just as much time putting in the grunt work to develop the characters, making them even more attractive as our guides to this story-world. For all of Vaughan’s uncouth language and graphic imagery, the man really is a sentimental guy. The fact that he lets Patrick wallow in ye olde “Everything I do just ends with people getting hurt” shows that Vaughan likes his protagonists to have big hearts underneath their prickly exteriors, just like Raveena’s pick-me-up speech on honoring her sister’s memory, or Patrick’s ex-lover demanding one last, true kiss as payment for his services.
Atmosphere is the big focus of Martin and Vicente’s art. As much detail as Martin puts into his work, you get the sense he doesn’t do so just to scintillate your eyes alone, but to evoke a bigger impression from the visual as a whole. Notice the way he changes the appearances of the background players in accordance with the settings. The folks at the celebrity cemetery are tall and slim, wearing high collars, long drapery, a more chic and polished attire. In contrast, the people down at the Tubes have mismatched outfits, most of which exposes their rather flabby, unappealing bodies. Similarly, Vicente changes the color palette from bright and warm to dim and seedy as needed.
Conclusion: There’s some fantastic world-building going on, and every other part of the story runs as smoothly as you can hope for.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * AIM, for those of you too young to understand, is an acronym for AOL Instant Messenger, a chat client. AOL, for those of you too young to understand, is an acronym for America Online, one of the earliest popular internet providers. Some of you may still have tin cases of free AOL hours lying about the house, which you should consider donating to your local museum. I use mine for coasters; I may be a hillbilly.
** Not sure how I feel about Book Soup being around, though. There used to be one in my area and without exception, it carried the most pretentious, unreadable selection of literature I’d ever attempted to skim. Which perhaps explains why Book Soup carries so much writing from a radical like DeGuerre.
*** The mania over Prince William and Kate Middleton’s sprog probably would have caused Raveena to physically spit up.