By: Si Spencer (story), Meghan Hetrick, Dean Ornston, Tula Lotay, Phil Winslade (art), Lee Loughridge (colors)
The Story: Four detectives are better than one.
The Review: I speak from some experience when I say that when you have a lot of people working on the same project, no matter how different they may be from each other, there has to be some common ground for them to stand on or the project fails. In Bodies, the differences between our four detectives are even greater from the spans of time that lies between them, but there has to be some reason why these four were chosen, and the best way to discover it is to see what they have in common.
This issue makes that task easy by calling attention to something the last issue downplayed: each of our detectives live under the pressure of discrimination. Edmond muses how his closeted homosexuality may result in his imprisonment; Charles Whiteman changed his name (Karl Weissman) to escape from anti-Semitic barbs like the one thrown by Sean Mahoney, uncle of the man he interrogated; Shahara can’t freely discuss her Muslim faith with comrade/romantic interest Barber, much less the racist protestors bashing her car.
The only one who doesn’t quite fit in is Maplewood. She herself claims, “There was a horrible accident…and everyone forgot everything…except me, for some reason.” That definitely distinguishes her from the feral boy who attacks her in her quarters, but we don’t know if he does so because he resents her still semi-functionality or because of his near lack of it. Even his paraphrase of the Goulston Street graffito (“You’re the one who’ll not be blamed for nothing!”) is inconclusive; it could imply prejudice on his part or it could just be a random quote from a broken mind.
But who are we kidding—there is nothing random about Spencer’s story. Its great delight comes from how seamlessly he knits motifs and clues together, teasing at the edges of a great revelation just beyond your sight. The boy’s quote has a direct relationship with the Whitechapel murders, which ties into Edmond’s era, as does his earlier mention that “Padraig the Barber signed off on the four”; Edmond gives Molly, his prostituting beard, a copy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sign of the Four in exchange for her services. The sign of four may also refer to the four-lined symbol of the Order of Mithras.* It’s also worth mentioning that Padraig happens to be the name of the man Charles tortured and apparently killed, while Barber is the name of Shahara’s cop friend.
And then there’s the constant appearance of the letters “KYAL,” which serve quite handily as an acronym for “Know you are loved,” a saying of the Order, which is repeated by Maplewood’s young companion, Bounce in #1. The words sound compassionate, but they carry a menacing tone in this series, especially once Maplewood reveals a room full of equipment marked with “ΚΨΑΛ” (or Kappa Psi Alpha Lambda, which can stand in at a pinch for “KYAL”)** and which she identifies as “Death machines. Murder machines.”
Ornston probably has the most distinctive, striking art in this series, with a bleakness enhanced by his constant hatching and Loughridge’s gray and red palette. But he and his co-artists, despite completely different styles, all have the same care in their storytelling: the natural transitions between panels, the clear expressions from the characters, the wealth of architectural detail, even from Lotay, who has by far the roughest linework of them all. It’s Loughridge who keeps the mood consistently tense, however, keeping his range of colors limited and mellow so the energy never rises above a certain level.
Conclusion: A painstakingly, elaborately crafted mystery that will yield layers every time you read it.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * Some notes on the Order: Mithras most likely refers to a mystery religion/cult in the Roman Empire. #1 offers support for this; Paxton asks Ladbroke how he became “a Leo,” and Ladbroke replies, “By the will of the father.” There were seven grades of initiation into the mysteries of Mithras, with Leo landing in the middle and Pater (“father”) at the top. There is also potential Mithran symbolism in the bodies’ injuries: the torch (“Burns on the thighs…”), the whip (“…flagellation marks across the chest…”), the slaying of the bull (“At least one deep stab wound…). Finally, Molly (who’s almost certainly connected to the Order) asks Edmond, “Shall we play the game of cow and bull,” and both animals are featured prominently in the Mithraic mysteries. A bull’s head also appears on the cane used to knock Edmond out later on.
** I’m no philological expert, so I don’t know exactly how Psi and the letter Y match up, but Y as pronounced in Greek is “epsilon”—get it? Also, the use of Greek letters also aligns with the Order since the Mithran cult originated in Roman times.