Power dwells in the places and times between. Shamanic traditions of magic and religion rest on this psychological foundation. The name of this series resonates with that psychic fact, as sunrise and sunset have long been in known as the best times to kill, die, make love, and cast spells.
In Sundowners #4, writer Tim Seeley explores much more than the boundary between day and night. He is interested in the line separating good and evil, which is not the same as that between right and wrong. His avatars of that difference are Andrea Bisch , who believes she gains super powers for the defense of Good if she first commits a wrong such as taking the Lord’s name in vain or shoplifting, and Brandon Westphal, who thinks he energizes his super powers for Evil by doing the right thing for street people and jail inmates. The two of them hold they are the embodiments of a bet, a Grand Experiment, between God and Satan. Whether this is true or a case of folie a deux proves one of the most interesting questions so far in this very mysterious series. Or perhaps, as would-be vigilante Concerned Citizen notes when caught in the web of their struggle, the best response to the Grand Experiment in walking the line between salvation and perdition is “Shit, man. Welcome to Chicago.”
While that particular drama spools out, others walk their own lines. Karl Volf, imprisoned in a church by a seeming cult called The Jubilant, finds himself facing the Illuminatrix, perhaps an extradimensional being opposed to other invaders from outside normal reality. Tia Alcala, near comatose from an apparent suicide attempt, likewise has visions of this struggle taking place beneath the folds of ordinary perception Are Karl and Tia prescient or simply, or not-so-simply, mad?
And then there is the case of David Shrejic, the psychiatrist who heads the Sundowners Therapy Group. Shrejic proves vain, ambitious, cowardly, and manipulative. He believes the Sundowner Syndrome he has discovered, defined as a belief one is a superhero and not to be confused with the real-world condition of that name whereby some demented people become agitated at night, will bring him respectability after a past of incompetence, neglect, and scandal. He is also caring about his patients, and seems to genuinely want to help them. He is the only one of the group who does not believe himself a hero, and the boundary he walks is the most twisted of all.
One limit that Seeley might do better to regard more closely is that between one issue and another, and between a monthly periodical and a trade collection. Seeley’s great strengths of character and relationship are on fine display here, but so is his weakness for baroque, slow-moving plots that read much better in trades than in single issues.
Sean Dove’s color palate favors sickly greens and browns, pallid tans and oranges, and lurid reds, all suggesting a world infected with subtle disease and disorder. But Jim Terry’s pencils provide the most subtle messages. Terry favors regular panels in stable grids, often with six or more panels per page. This arrangement, reminiscent of Steve Ditko or Dave Gibbons, lends a sense of objectivity, a feeling that we are watching the story unfold through a set of well-constructed windows, even when the panel borders are created by the outstretched limbs and flowing robes of the Illuminatrix. This deepens the philosophical quandary of whether what we see, and what the characters see, is real, or else whether we are watching a documentary examination of insanity playing out in everyday Chicago. Terry’s figures seem static and posed, not as if they are consciously trying to project an image, but as if they are trying to move carefully through a fragile reality, ever aware that if they proceed clumsily someone might get terribly hurt. When emotion, movement, and violence do manifest, it is with a raw intensity that bespeaks forces barely bridled. We know that these people find themselves in a world they cannot trust. And we know that the worst of it is they cannot trust themselves.
The mysteries have deepened and the dimensions have knotted. Or is it only neurosis curdling on itself, and psychosis cutting across the world like a bloody blade? We will probably never get clear answers; this just isn't that type of story. However, it would be better if we had a more lucid statement of the questions.