When people tell me romance comics are dead, I shove a copy of Strangers in Paradise in their hands.
–Kevin Smith

Strangers in Paradise has always been more than a “romance comic,” but there’s no question that Moore’s work stands apart from most comic-book offerings. The twelfth Strangers in Paradise trade paperback chronicles the rift that leads to the ten-year separation of the central characters, an event which readers have anticipated or dreaded since the second series.

It also features amusing cameos by Robert Crumb and Kevin Smith.

Heart in Hand (#50-54 of the third series)
Author: Terry Moore.
ISBN: 1-892597-20-9

Buy from: Amazon.com or
Amazon.ca

Premise:

This paperback begins with a summary of recent developments, and then takes the narrative in many directions. The ten-year separation of the characters, a key part of the story, will soon take place, and readers will have to adjust to a more fragmented narrative in future issues. In Japan, David continues his efforts to give Tambi an heir. Francine struggles with the possibility of building a life with Katchoo, but both have people in their pasts whom they’ve not forgotten. Katchoo meets “Cherry Hammer,” a dangerous associate of Tambi’s. We learn more about the plot involving the rapist, Dumoni, and see more of the dossier the FBI has compiled on Katchoo.

Towards the end, we see two different perspectives on the incident that will drive Katchoo and Francine apart and Francine back to her fiance.

High Points

Katchoo and Francine race through the streets in a sequence that manages to be entertaining comic-book excess and yet still capture the realistic relationship between the characters. Moore’s best work often involves the kind of incidental moments that comix typically disregard.

In an imaginative sequence, Francine discusses her adult life with the child she once was. Her nine-year-old self expresses disgust at the thought that she might be involved with a woman some day, and recommends that Francine marry a fireman and have babies.

Heart in Hand features the return of a series gag: the voyeur next door. In this case, it turns out to be Kevin Smith, in real life a fan of the series.

Low Point

The scenes between David– Yousaka—- and Tambi—- Mary Beth—- contain touching moments and violent humor. However, I don’t entirely buy the situation. David’s Japanese girlfriend, meanwhile, remains a quiet stereotype. She’s also being misused by David, who usually takes the moral high ground. I hope the series will address this point

The Casey Continuity Conudrum

It seems readers have to wink at Casey’s appearance Love Me Tender in the story’s future, or else assume that Francine will meet a dead ringer for her, also named Casey, at some point. It will be interesting to see if Moore addresses the continuity error. He elsewhere reconciles another, lesser continuity problem, so he clearly cares about such things, and has an imagination to resolve the errors that arise over the years. He also explains (and hints from early on that he will explain) why Japanese/American David has a Chinese last name.1 He even made the “alternate reality” sequences in Tropic of Desire and Brave New World work with a twist that is precariously close to Pam Ewing’s dream2 in Dallas. The difference, of course, is that Moore intended that twist from the start.

Then again, I’m told that the current issues—-the ones counting down to the series’ conclusion, which have not yet been collected in paperback form—-further compromise/complicate the ten year separation that, for years, has been a critical structural element of the saga. I recognize that this is a comic book and Moore will conclude it as he will, but I will be among the legions of fans disappointed if he simply ignores continuity or throws in a “Pam Ewing’s dream” twist2. The early issues feature a remarkably coherent narrative— “damn close” to “seamless,” according to Dave Sim—and the fact contributed to SiP’s emotional power.

The Scores

Originality: 5/6 Moore creates the expected rift in an unexpected but entirely plausible manner.

Artwork: 5/6. The artwork remains strong, and features some imaginative transitions and juxtapositions. We follow Katina’s phone call to Tambi through space, for example. Later, a moderately-disguised Francine examines a book store’s Gay and Lesbian section. The Mystery section is behind her. A Science poster encourages readers to “Explore New Worlds.” This works, and reads considerably less heavy-handed than it sounds.

I liked most of the cameos and amusing bits; the appearance of Pee-Wee Herman seemed intrusive.

Story: 4/6

Characterization: 5/6. Moore has continued to develop these characters in interesting ways. David seems a little out of his element in his portion of the story.

Emotional response: 5/6 The break-up works very well. Its impact, along with the powerful reunion scene in Love Me Tender, means that any future compromising of the Ten Year Separation will seriously damage the story’s power.

Flow 4/6.

Overall: 5/6

In total, Heart in Hand receives a score of 33/42.

1. In an interview in The Comics Journal #276, Moore admitted he created the David Qin character and considered him Japanese/American. He did not initially realize that Qin is very much a Chinese name. From fairly early on, he built the groundwork for his explanation, fully developed in the fourteenth trade paperback.

2.Late-night soap opera Dallas was, in its early years, a ratings hit which established the cliffhanger season finale by turning “Who shot J.R.?” into an international obsession. Its later seasons, however, became increasingly silly, and feature one of the most notorious and risible retcons in television history. Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy), a central character, died at the end of the 1985 season. After a year away, Duffy wanted back onto the show. The solution? His wife Pam had dreamt the entire previous season. The spin-off series, Knot’s Landing, had made Bobby’s death a plot point, and so Bobby remained stubbornly deceased on that show.

The Timeshredder’s reviews may be found here.