Child of Rage , the ninth Strangers in Paradise trade paperback, collects the second half of this story arc or chapter that started with My Other Life. It also had me thinking about Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy.
Title: Child of Rage (Issues #31-38 of the third series)
The issue also includes several works of SiP art, by Moore and others. These include a tribute to Peanuts creator Charles Schultz and a meeting with characters from Jeff Smith’s Bone.
Author: Terry Moore
Dick Tracy? Are you serious?
If you’ve read the old Dick Tracy, from its height in the 30s and 40s, when it became a cultural reference-point, to its shark-jumping 60s, when newspapers dropped the strip like fish offal, you know that the detective’s life went in some new directions at the end of the 1950s, and a large percentage of Gould’s readership couldn’t follow.
Tracy was never realistic; he lived a comic-strip version of a cop’s life. No one was surprised when he used comic-strip technology or chased down cartoon villains. These things defined the strip, and even if you weren’t a reader, you might still recognize the two-way wrist radio and the grotesque rogues gallery. Readers accepted these as parts of Tracy’s world. Then, quite suddenly, the hardboiled, fedora-wearing cop had access to an interplanetary space coupe, flying cars, and death rays. His adopted son married an inhabitant of the moon. Seriously, for more than a decade, Tracy had an extraterrestrial daughter-in-law and a hybrid grandchild—- before Gould relinquished the strip and later writers undid years of continuity. The new elements shattered the reality of the strip. They were about as welcome as Klingons would be in a James Bond movie, not because either James Bond or Dick Tracy is realistic, but because his version of reality doesn’t include space aliens. A series should understand that it can’t go in certain directions.
Strangers in Paradise should never have gone in the direction of these issues.
More later. On the with the review.
Katchoo is blackmailed into returning to the criminal world, this time by running the computer-based portion of the syndicate’s operation. Her actions bring her up against the deranged Veronica. Francince and David, meanwhile find themselves in difficult situations.
1. Francine’s interactions with an discoveries about Lillian may be somewhat clichéd, but Moore demonstrates here the kind of storytelling and characterization that he does well. Heck, he even makes Casey and Francine gazing at the stars look good.
2. While I’m critical of the direction in which Moore took the crime plot (and some of the accompanying drawing seems sloppy by his standards) the noir scenes of violence in #36 pack a punch.
David and Katchoo’s unsavory histories were established early on, but they should have been more plausible unsavory histories. Katchoo could have been the high-price call girl, involved in blackmail, that we initially thought she was. Had Moore gone no further with her criminal past, that past still could have caused any number of complications. However, that this twenty-something from a broken home could run a multi-billion-dollar enterprise while pretending to be a reclusive male executive and falling into full-blown alcoholism violates even SiP’s elastic reality. Furthermore, it takes the series into directions which don’t serve it well, and which Moore does not handle nearly as inventively as he does other storylines. It takes talent to make the ordinary (well, SiP gives us the comic-book version of ordinary) extraordinary. In taking us into his over-the-top action movie conspiracy thriller, Moore does not raise the stakes. He settles for less.
Lowest point? Everything conspiracy theorist Marshall Weinstein speculated about the Big Six turns out to be true, and more. Heck, they even arranged the 1929 Stock Market Crash. “That’s awful,” he says, just before he dies.
I felt myself nodding.
Artwork: 5/6. The layout remains good; the scenes in
the snow are effective. Unfortunately, we see fewer of Moore’s characteristic whimsical and bizarre details during this chapter.
Story: 3/6. This has been addressed elsewhere. I would add that the conclusion to the underworld plot seems especially forced.
Characterization: 4/6. The characters remain believable when addressing the more everyday problems. Katchoo and Brad’s encounter at the conclusion is one such example. I don’t buy Katchoo as “Mr. King.” Veronica acts too much like an off-the-shelf obsessed psycho, especially when she expresses her jealousy over Katina.
Emotional response: 4/6.
In total, Child of Rage receives 28/42.
Strangers in Paradise involves the adventures of three people in love, whose lives are far more event-filled (and far more often at risk) than those of their readers. These issues involve characters and circumstances clash with SiP’s context of reality, just as the space coupe did with Dick Tracy’s. Indeed, Moore seems uncomfortable with the overblown developments. He skips ahead a year so we don’t actually have to see Katchoo’s gradual immersion into the criminal element or David’s recovery from his injuries. The adventures chronicled here feel like the imaginative play of little kids. When the threat has passed, the principals return home. Their lives are affected significantly by their internal relationship drama, but the wilder adventures of the past year appear to have had little long term impact on them. Everything Francine has been through gives her should give her some perspective on her situation with Brad and Katchoo. Instead, she remains emotionally where she was when this adventure began. She might as well say, hey, mom, I was kidnapped, and David killed someone, and, and, Katchoo was running a multibillion-dollar corporation but then we got the bad guys!… So, what do you think of Brad?
In issue #43, Moore acknowledges the complaints this storyline raises. Curiously, the manner in which he does drew even more complaints. That can of worms opens in the next trade paperback, which (despite the flurry of complaints it initially received), restores the series. It will be reviewed in about one week’s time.
The Timeshredder’s reviews may be found here.