After more than a decade of intrigue, comedy, romance, conspiracy theory, oddball cameos, concealed identities, fluctuating sexual orientations, and off-the-wall art, Strangers in Paradise concludes.
Title: Strangers in Paradise: Ever After
Artist and Writer: Terry Moore
After one of the three original central characters dies, Strangers in Paradise finally draws to a problematic conclusion.
Issue #85 focuses on Francine, reintroduces Freddie Femur, and brings perennial bit-part loser Pat back for one final, amusing appearance.
Events turn more serious, and #86 neatly juxtaposes a nearly-wordless depiction of the events surrounding David’s passing with the experience as David perceives it, either in his dying mind or some actual afterlife. For several pages, only the dead talk. The world of the living appears in images that do not require commentary. David’s death contrasts with the text-heavy reaction to Griffin Silver’s passing, depicted at the start of Ever After.
If the final conclusion disappointed me, Ever After still demonstrates the innovation that has made this series one of the most discussed in the genre’s history, and one which has consistently drawn nontraditional readers.
Instead of the bittersweet reconciliation suggested by previous scenes set in the story’s future, Moore forces a “happily ever after” between Francine and Katchoo that could have happened at any point in the last four years. It makes for a mediocre finale, and it contradicts the future that had once been a pivotal structuring point for Strangers in Paradise
This isn’t just fanboy whining about continuity. A long-running series might tweak its history, if it has a good reason for doing so. Take, for example, the character, Casey. She appears briefly in a future segment (in Love Me Tender) in a manner consistent with the character we first met, but entirely at odds with the person she became as Strangers in Paradise progressed. Fans have been willing to overlook this inconsistency, because the change gave us something better: the development of Casey from insecure dipstick to interesting, flighty but empowered woman.
However, the ten-year separation and eventual reconciliation of Francine and Katchoo had been a significant structural element during much of SiP‘s long history. It was also a very moving future, and one which left many questions that could have been answered in dramatically interesting ways. Indeed, as late as Tattoo, Moore’s stories were answering those questions. The sudden change does not read like a postmodern comment on fiction or continuity. Rather, the second half of Ever After feels like the work of someone who grew tired of his story.
We also learn that Casey has always beenthe person we saw her become. She was actually an agent of Tambi’s who was only pretending to be a dip. Never mind that this contradicts years when we’ve seen Casey in role, even when she was alone. Moore undercuts an impressive, interesting journey of character for the sake of a shocking revelation that serves no really useful purpose.
Originality: 3/6. The final issues largely repeat popular series elements, and they lead to a clichéd conclusion. The artistic presentation continues to feature innovative elements, and they bode well for Moore’s future in the industry.
Artwork: 6/6. Moore’s artwork looks deceptively simple. He communicates much about character and setting through careful attention to detail. Issue #86 demonstrates remarkably economy in the use of language; the images carry the story.
Story: 4/6. The first half works well, and Moore has handled the death of a central character (certainly, not the first character to die) in an interesting manner.
Characterization: 4/6. Terry Moore continues to depict the central characters with the underlying humanity that made the series consistently interesting. The often-maligned Freddie Femur continues to surprise us. Brad, on the other hand, barely appears at all. Terry Moore has relegated him to a plot device. The new development in Casey’s character, however, undercuts years of interesting development for the sake of an unbelievable surprise twist.
Emotional response: 4/6 These issues feature some impressive points, but Moore really needed to end this series sooner.
In total, receives a score of 30/42.
Strangers in Paradise still features some impressive, innovative approaches to the graphic form, and at its best, demonstrates the possibilities of comics to entertain a wide range of readers. Moore has depicted atypical characters with believable history and psychology. He has juxtaposed thoughtful commentary with amusing parodies and silly cameos. He has used the history of the medium to comment on his own character in stories, most notably in Love Me Tender and the brilliant Tropic of Desire. The better issues should be read by anyone interested in comix and what the form can be. It’s a landmark series, but its conclusion fails its original promise as a true graphic novel.