By: Ed Brubaker (story), Sean Phillips (art), Elizabeth Breitweiser (colors)

The Story: Jo successfully completes her mission to Yoko a band.

The Review: Although the implosion of Amsterdam is really a small-time accomplishment for someone like Jo, it’s also given us a glimpse of all the kinds of things Jo can do to people, especially men, with her talents.  If nothing else, it’s been fascinating watching each of the Amsterdam men—Skip, Tom, Jon, and Lance—have a completely different experience with their memory-stricken guest, even though they all inevitably break down in the end.

Though they’re all ultimately doomed by their relationship with Jo, the nature of their decline varies according to their individual personalities, at least where Tom and Jon are concerned.  The songwriter’s already self-destructive genius eventually consumes him from within, while the guitarist’s tendency to follow the lead of his bandmates is amplified, allowing their actions to build to the point where he can’t avoid the splash damage.  For these two, Jo seems to intensify their inherent failings, but the effects she has on the others are more difficult to classify

The late Skip is an especially hard case.  How did the most intelligent member of Amsterdam, with no unsettling backstory to speak of, become the first to lose control?  It’s unlikely that Skip was simply suppressing a psychotic streak he had all along, since Brubaker never even alluded to such a thing as he did with Lance or the completely deranged Wulf.  Maybe she unleashed all that secret resentment he had for her seeming ingratitude and obliviousness to him.  Maybe his own rigidity buckled under the pressure of her irresistible allure.

While there’s obviously a lot of variables as to how each man’s madness manifests, none of it ever seems random, which is a testament to Brubaker’s cunning character work.  Wulf and Lance couldn’t possibly seem more different when viewed separately, but the closer they draw together in the story, the more their resemblances come into focus, setting up Lance to follow in Wulf’s obsessive, homicidal footsteps, down to the habit of hanging men from ceilings.  Looking back, the signs of Lance’s unspooling were all there: his impulsive violence at the second bank robbery, a flashback to a grisly suicide (whose, we’re not sure).

But it’s easy to retroactively use incidental circumstances to further damn a person we already know has gone off the deep end.  It’s the kind of thing you do after a school shooting or a string of serial murders.  The much more difficult task is predicting who is susceptible to that level of monstrosity and when it will reveal itself.  Even after you make the connection between Lance and Nelson, who’s already proven to be a capable killer, you don’t see him on the same page as Wulf until his captive chillingly recalls that sometime between Jo’s departure and the present, Lance had “killed a family and stolen their camper-van.”  And you still can’t tell whether Lance was always capable of this kind of violence (as suggested of Wulf), or whether Wulf passed on his sadistic tendencies upon the despair of his death, making Lance’s present actions the curse of an unfulfilled ghost.

Phillips’ art, like that of many of the great artists, looks deceptively simple at first, but reveals its sophistication upon closer examination at key moments.  Lance’s transformation from long-haired alt-rocker to long-haired crazy person becomes more of an evolution once you see the character in his transition phase, shortly after Jo frees him from Wulf’s grasp.  It’s not just the shorter hair, which has the natural effect of giving him a more masculine, serious appearance.  The bandage over his freshly broken nose explains the misshapen snout on his older self’s face, and there’s a distinctly threatening, black-eyed expression he wears when a kid discovers his identity that signals his future homicides.  Breitweiser knows better than to undermine Phillips’ inky lines and shadows with overly vivid hues, filling the pages with the darker, earthy tones of a Cormac McCarthy novel.

Conclusion: While most works that end with the deaths of nearly all the characters usually fall into the soap opera category, Brubaker-Phillips bring enough sense and taste to give all the deaths meaning.

Grade: A-

-Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Of all of Amsterdam, Darcy’s the one I feel sorry for the most.  Poor girl had to watch her band, boyfriend, and friends get brutally Yoko’d