“Oh, God. No.”

“You’d be surprised how many people say that in the end. I always tell them the same thing… God’s not with us.”

A crime-caesar and a crime-brutus

The Strangers in Paradise chapter or story arc that began with Love Me Tender finishes with Immortal Enemies. The fifth trade paperback, it takes Moore’s comic series/graphic novel into conspiracy-theory territory, not for the last time.

Title: Immortal Enemies (Issues #6-12 of the third series)

Author: Terry Moore.

ISBN: 1-892597-04-7

Buy from: Amazon.com or
Amazon.ca

The original issues include the last three that Moore would release with Homage, the company he formed with Jim Lee, Kurt Busiek, and James Robinson, before returning SiP to his own imprint, Abstract.

Premise:

Francine and Katchoo appear to be settling into a relationship, but Katchoo leaves to see where she stands with David. Both get caught in their past involvement with the evil Darcy Parker, who is even more powerful and connected than we previously suspected.

Another character, recently introduced, also reveals an association with Parker. Sinister developments jeopardize the lives of all principal characters.

High Points

Issue #8 moves from a violent development in the thriller plot to a less threatening confrontation in Francine’s life. The latter actually proves at least as interesting, and certainly more entertaining. Francine’s encounter with her two ex-boyfriends comes to a tentative conclusion, and the story then turns back to the earlier episode, where a key character appears likely to die. Moore manages to balance these elements, and keep us informed of certain plot-related political developments without interrupting the flow of the comic.

Low Points

Strangers in Paradise has never been strictly realistic, and has always included exaggerated comic-book touches. Emotions are heightened, cartoony slapstick occurs, and ordinary people routinely stumble into wild adventures. These have never threatened to overwhelm the series’ more realistic elements. Immortal Enemies reveals a far-reaching conspiracy that meshes uncomfortably with the rest of the saga. Imagine that an extra-terrestrial appeared in a James Bond movie or, say, an afternoon soap opera suddenly introduced a mad scientist’s freeze-ray, or a superhero comic revealed that a long-dead villain had been manipulating the main character’s life for decades.1 It’s not that any of these genres were realistic to begin with, but each has created a set of expectations, and only very careful handling can make a raising of the stakes work.

Moore handles matters better here than he will in the future, but I’m still left with the feeling that SiP’s world should be far different if the plot depicted here were real. The effects on characters would be farther-reaching. And the conspirators would have to handle their business differently than they do here. While it is absurd that Darcy Parker would mark all of her undercover girls with the same tattoo, thus making them easily identifiable, it really isn’t an issue here; I can accept this as a comic-book flourish. However, that anyone playing at the level depicted would make the obvious error she does with Veronica’s reassignment defies belief, even in SiP’s pulp-fiction world. The basic conspiracy depicted isn’t even that far-fetched, but it would require a good deal better organization than we see here to have gone undetected for so long. These people are the wealthy thugs depicted in past issues. They can run dangerous criminal operations; they’re so far out of their league with this plot that they would have been locked up years ago.

There was no need to bring the story’s thriller elements into tinfoil hat territory. If readers are concerned about the fate of some relationships or Francine’s quest to find Polaroids taken by an ex, we will certainly be drawn in by a threat to the characters’ lives. They can have deadly enemies—- that has already been established—- but they don’t need to be power-juggling Illuminatiesque enemies.

To his credit, Moore handles this business fairly well here, and resolves a number of loose ends. He won’t be nearly so successful when he reintroduces the Big Six many issues later.

The Scores

Originality: 4/6. This issue takes SiP into some newer territory.

Artwork: 6/6. Moore continues to experiment with form, often in small but effective ways. This story includes at various points pages of text, illustrated musical accompaniment, and visual allusions to television and cinema. Like a good director, he continues to use varying distances and angles. Careful readers will also enjoy the ongoing attention to detail. A paramedic (who vaguely resembles Tintin) hauls off a patron of Casey’s gym in the background of one panel.

Story: 4/6. Given the nature of the enemies that our heroes cross, this ends very gently.

Characterization: 4/6.

It would be easy for Freddie’s self-absorbed sexist character to become tiresome, but Moore limits his involvement, and handles him with a deft comic touch. This story also features the return of Detective Walsh, in a significant role.

These issues also feature the best depiction of Darcy Parker as villainess, though I was glad when she finally took a bullet.

Emotional response: 4/6.

Flow 6/6. Moore handles multiple characters and settings with ease. His flow, however, works only if you have been reading the series.

Overall: 5/6.

Moore continues to toss in bits of craziness. A flashback to the 80s features two New Jersey plumbers blundering into a lesbian bar while trying to pick up chicks. They’re named Ralph and Norton and resemble the characters from The Honeymooners. Once again, some engaging poor players wander into the story, and then back into some real life which we half-believe continues outside of SiP’s panels.

In total, Immortal Enemies 33/42.

1. Yeah, but we can hope the Bond one never occurs.

The Timeshredder’s reviews may be found here. The review of Moore’s Strangers in Paradise continues weekly, as the series comes to a conclusion.