Not that anyone’s keeping track,* but we’re three months away from the two-year mark and this series is only on issue nine? What is this, S.H.I.E.L.D.?** In one way, I don’t mind it; any reason to not spend money for a couple months at a time is a good reason. But this kind of scheduling is a drag in so many other ways. Most importantly, your expectations build over time, so an issue will face an even higher burden when it finally does come out.
Maybe that’s why you’ve had a vague sense of disappointment with the most recent issues, including this one. There’s a rocket about to launch and throw the world into chaos with internet power and when all is said and done, you’re still waiting for it to get off the ground by the time you’re done here. This time, there’s none of the social commentary that gave earlier issues their meat. There’s no time for that; with the situation about to explode, Vaughan makes some last-minute efforts to seal your connection to the characters, just in case one or more of them don’t survive the blast.
Almost all the energy is focused on Patrick, which makes sense since he’s the one in most danger at the end of the issue. Vaughan wisely expands upon the Batman-inspired origin story in #3 by taking us to the funeral, which he infuses with his usual dark comedy as masked men and women stand around, listening to another masked man deliver a eulogy for Penelope Ignatius, “…aka ExWhyZed…aka Ms. Exalted…aka Beverly Hillson…aka Thomboy…aka 4hardwire6…aka Mom.” Boy Patrick is still processing what’s happened, a struggle manifested by obsessive question to a strange man who offers his condolences and, more significantly, wears the same invisible coat and eye makeup that Patrick does now. The awkwardness of their interaction is that perfect blend of amusing and sad that Vaughan’s so good at writing. It’s a flavor of life few writers manage to capture.
Beyond Patrick’s personal hang-ups, the scene develops the strongest relationship in the series, that between him and his grandpa. This moment predates the cantankerous luddite period of the old man’s life, and all buttoned up in his dark suit, Patrick’s grandpa is the most credible he’s ever been as he passes on real pieces of wisdom: caution in trusting the promises of disinterested authorities, the pointlessness of revenge, and the unknowability of human nature: “But you want answers, you might as well study the universe. ‘Cause you’re sure as shit never gonna get any from people.”
But like so many Vaughan characters, underneath the rough talk and scathing sarcasm is a deep well of feeling. Perhaps this is a way of showing that they’re afraid of dealing with their emotions, much less expressing them. Consequently, when they do manage to say something sincere, you know that the situation is critical and you’re seeing them at their most vulnerable. That moment when Patrick’s grandpa sullenly steps in to help the C.N.N. reporters, then adds quietly, “Just promise you won’t let anything happen to my boy,” well—that’s a moving moment for someone who’s usually so out there (and who initially never intended to take in Patrick at all).
The rest of the issue is a nice bit of thriller-type action, with the ebb and flow of advantage going back and forth between the teams of Raveena and Patrick and De Guerre and Nebular. Many comics fail to give you that visceral excitement you get watching similar battles in movies and TV, but somehow Martin manages to pull it off. Of course, that landscape format does give a more cinematic feel to the proceedings, but Martin also has great instincts for picking and choosing what to show in each panel and how much. Page fifteen*** is a great example: the gun flying out of Nebular’s hand as Patrick tackles him, Nebular’s elbow in Patrick’s face, the unclaimed gun, Raveena dashing towards it. The stakes are clear, but the direction is not, and that’s what makes great action.
* Me. I’m keeping track, because my obsessive-compulsiveness won’t allow otherwise.
** Coincidentally enough, however, I hear it’s finally coming back. Which is a surprise to me because I’d thought it had been quietly canned.
*** A major plus of the PDF format is I can actually cite page numbers, which I often wish comics would have more of.
– “Forensics say they’ve never seen an iPhone like it.”
“That’s because it’s a fuckin’ Zune.”
“A what?” Hey, I own a 64 gb ZuneHD, just to let you know, and it’s still going on amazing. So take that, Apple nerds!
The issue itself is all that it should be; I'm just not sure it's entirely worth the wait.