If you read this issue only once, and with the same investment you’d give to most comics, you might be tempted to put it down after you’re done and wonder, What the hell did I just read? You’d think after seven solid issues, you’d have a firm grasp on the story and all you have to do is coast towards the resolution. But Spencer’s not interested in giving us an easy ride, even in the series’ final hour. If you want to get the most of the issue, you’re going to have to give it all your focus, just like its predecessors.

You’re also going to have to accept that Spencer purposely keeps a few things open-ended, like the exact nature of John Bull (or Frank, as he prefers to call himself) and how his cycle of murder and resurrection came to be. Spencer just barely manages to depict these things as forces of human nature, pushing the race towards greater things, but that’s almost purely theory. If you’re the type who likes straight answers, this issue will be a kind of torture.

You’ll be happier giving credit to all the information Spencer does give you, even if he does spread it in pieces across the four periods, forcing you to put it all together yourself. While Frank never comes right out and says his goal is global harmony, it’s fairly clear that’s what he’s after. Edmond actually comes closest to saying it, asking, “So is that my destiny? To free my fellows from their hidebound cage of prejudice? To change the law and force society to accept my kind?”

Frank doesn’t give a direct answer, but it’s close enough. “Baby steps, my little tin man, baby steps. For now it is enough that you know you can be loved and that you use that courage to make a change.”

If you’re still left in doubt, there’s still Shahara’s closing monologue and Maplewood’s big achievement to support you. Still glowing from successfully solving her part of the case, and the appreciation that came with it, she enthuses,

“I’m not saying everything’s perfect now, but that’s how it’s always been with the English and strangers. We freak out for a bit until some idiots go too far and then we side with the underdog… And once that happens, the strangers start to get the only thing they always wanted—to know they are loved. So sure we’ve still got a long way to go, but a long harvest takes time to reap.”

Lucky her, she actually gets to see that harvest come to fruition once Maplewood destroys the Pulsewave. It’s ambiguous whether it’s her desperate cry (“Know you were loved!”) that awakens the world to that fact, or whether it’s the restoration of their memories, including of all the “beauty things” in life, that does it. Either way, it seems like Maplewood and Shahara stand before a world finally ready to accept all the love it has to offer, though what kind of world that looks like is up to you.

Their victory and Edmond’s victory are somewhat diminished by Frank’s participation. While he tries to portray himself as merely a spark for “some single agent of good or lone agent of death” to work change on the world, this issue emphasizes just how firmly he pushes those agents there. He’s the one who forces the Order of Mithras to acknowledge Edmond and glorify Shahara; he’s definitely the one who leads Maplewood to the truth of who she is and how to make things right; and he’s the one who condemns Charles for doing nothing by giving nothing back:

“Desire unfulfilled, hope failed, ambition crushed, greed unslaked, redemption lost. Never to receive forgiveness, never to know you are loved, Karl Weissman. Nothing. Forever.”

And with Charles gone, Frank goes ahead and saves the German airman anyway, invoking great change himself. Frank has such a direct hand in events that it makes you question the need for any of our investigators at all, other than his supernatural existence would distract people from what he’s trying to accomplish.

Even though all four of our artists have done right by the series, I think it’s really Ornston who set himself apart and made a name for himself on this series. His art isn’t conventionally attractive, but it has the far greater value of being immediately recognizable as his own. Lotay, too, is original, but the blocky simplicity of her work limits its range and impact, with some visuals looking a bit like childish scribbles. Winslade has his moments, like the darkness descending upon Charles as he faces an eternity of oblivion in a noose, but ultimately he, and Hetrick as well, has art too much in the ordinary way to stand out.

Some Musings:

– To be honest, I still don’t really get the blood-drinking part. Makes Frank seem more than a little messianic, although he admits a preference for Elvis Costello to Jesus in the issue.

Grade

B+

Conclusion

Satisfying, after all the work you put in, though not everything is equally sold.