The Private Eye #1
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Marcos Martin
Color by Muntsa Vicente
32 pages / Color / Name your price
Published by Panel Syndicate
“Well, one day the cloud burst.”
This week Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin unveiled Panel Syndicate, a bare bones website that, if its first venture proves popular enough, could serve as a platform for truly independent digital comic storytelling. In his afterword to this initial project, The Private Eye, Vaughan explains that he and Martin chose to bypass Kickstarter to keep from tempting fate, eager to bring the product to completion before making any official announcements or promises. As such, this collaboration was long rumored, but only fully revealed now, when you can hop over to Panel Syndicate and download a DRM free version of the issue in a variety of formats in one of several languages for whatever price you think it merits. It’s a gamble on their part. A number of you will simply opt to pay zilch. Honor system, folks. Me, I paid the price of a regular 32 page comic. That still doesn’t seem enough though, given how much I enjoyed this gem. So, I’m further paying it forward by yacking about it good and plenty.
It’s 2076, America’s 300th birthday. Fittingly, this neo-noir zeroes in on both old and new, with a melting pot approach to progress as richly seasoned as the country itself. The social commentary simmers too, as hearty and scalding a broth as Terry Gilliam ladled out in 1985′s Brazil. In Vaughan and Martin’s vision of the not so far-flung future however, faces like Katherine Helmond’s aren’t stretched out with absurd machinery; they’re hidden under holographic displays. Rather than assuming the role of a fish-faced MMORPG avatar in a virtual realm, you become that avatar in the real world. It’s a system much like the one employed recently by indentured staff in McCann & Lee’s Lost Vegas. It’s all part and parcel with a vision of tomorrow where information and secrecy have wound up in a tailspin. As always, this future’s most frightening aspect is its plausibility. It might not even take us 60 years to catch up. Except, can you imagine a world without an internet?
A young private eye, painted as much an “unlicensed journo” as a detective, thrives on exploiting this era of heightened secrecy. He’s deeply nostalgic, festooning his office with posters from old gumshoe movies, cultivating a collection of vinyl and turn-of-the-millenium political texts (hardbound, not digital). Then, he’s not nearly so enamored of the past (and our present) as his delusional, live-in grandfather, the old man decked out in fading, wrinkled tattoos who our mothers continue to prophesy. Vaughan’s depiction of our tech savvy generation fast-forwarded to our natural conclusion, either speaks to a fear and cynicism regarding the perceived virtues of social networking and our readiness to share all forms of data and personal information, or lucid insight about the same. For this reader it registers as something of a mix, but your mileage may vary. The depiction of “the cloud” as an actual meteorological presence might seem silly on paper (or pixels), a bit on-the-nose, but it’s also a totally clean metaphor. A storm brewing. A deluge. It plays to modern concerns about privacy and maybe, just maybe, our recent experiences with actual storms as disasters.
Our Private Eye is wonderfully enigmatic, a character who darts in and out of shadows, employing some urban camouflage to evade capture in a rooftop chase. The Cheshire Cat grin printed at the occipital of his hoodie seems a loving wink to Phillip K. Dick and William Gibson. The young man himself makes for a nice blend of young and old, equally romantic and disillusioned about the era that generated the cloud. An old soul who’s not so wise that we lose him to a high horse. He can also put the dick in private dick, a tad big for his britches when it comes to his own abilities. As the best detectives are.
Martin and partner Muntsa Vicente take traditional detective stories and the comic medium and quite literally turn them on their ear. The issue is presented in landscape format, each page the same dimensions of a regular comic’s, simply rotated 180 degrees. This allows for some nice neon vistas (Magenta skies! Multilingual billboards!) and serves an opening rooftop chase quite well. But Martin’s also known for points of impact, a skill made quite evident with Mark Waid on Daredevil. Both Vaughan and Martin employ frequent use of insert shots, zooming in on signage in outdoor scenes and on the Private Eye’s possessions in a climactic bargaining scene in his office. It adds great visual interest and even some telling thematic parallels or juxtaposition (close up on a gun, which we quickly realize is part of the Maltese Falcon poster on the wall). It’s terrific world-building too. Is that a pack of cigarettes? No, it’s green. And is that…? Oh, marijuana hasn’t just been legalized, but commercialized too! Instantaneous. Worlds like this certainly aren’t new, but they’ve achieved splendid depth in a short amount of time and with great economy.
The Private Eye is off to a dazzling start, and of course, this first chapter ends on a top notch cliffhanger. Unfortunately, I have no idea
when that next installment of this passion project will hit just how regular these installments will be. This is an experiment after all. Hopefully it’s a fruitful one in the long run. I say that selfishly, but also with some investment in the future of independent comic creation, not just for Vaughan and Martin, but for others. That’s part of the plan. For as much as The Private Eye frets over the dangers of shared information, Panel Syndicate is also something of a rain dance, a small but fervent burst of creation to coax more from the heavens.
Let it rain.
Story: 4.5 / Art: 4.5 / Overall: 4.5
(Out of 5 Stars)
Download your copy of The Private Eye right the hell now. Pay what you want, but don’t be stingy. Trust me.